Since the 1960s, both mega-events and special economic zones have gained global prominence as agents of urban development. Often relying on extra-legal measures for their realization, these two initiatives further create areas of spatial exclusion in cities. This paper examines their coming together in Tbilisi, Georgia, where costs for the city’s hosting of the 2015 European Youth Olympic Festival were defrayed by the company Hualing Group in exchange for government approval of a 420-hectare special economic zone. Using a qualitative mixed-methods approach, the research shows that combining mega-events with special economic zones poses significant threats to the democratic processes tied to urban planning at both the local and national level. It further demonstrates how the coinciding of such projects promotes sprawl and privately-enclaved urban development patterns. In relation to urban theory, the paper contributes to a growing body of literature examining exceptionality in cities, and looking at how mega-events serve as legitimizing devices for even wider practices of long-term spatial and legal exception, such as special economic zones.

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European Planning Studies
Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism

Gogishvili, D. (David), & Harris-Brandts, S. (2020). Coinciding practices of exception in urban development: mega-events and special economic zones in Tbilisi, Georgia. European Planning Studies, 28(10), 1999–2019. doi:10.1080/09654313.2019.1701995