It is well known that the world is transitioning to an irrevocable urban future whose epicentre has moved into the cities of Asia and Africa. What is less clear is how this will be managed and deployed as a multi-polar world system is being born. The full implications of this challenge cry out to be understood because city building (and retrofitting) cannot but be an undertaking entangled in profound societal and cultural shifts. In this highly original account, renowned urban sociologists AbdouMaliq Simone and Edgar Pieterse offer a call for action based fundamentally on the detail of people's lives. Urban regions are replete with residents who are compelled to come up with innovative ways to maintain or extend livelihoods, whose makeshift character is rarely institutionalized into a fixed set of practices, locales or organizational forms. This novel analytical approach reveals a more complex relationship between people, the state and other agents than has previously been understood. As the authors argue, we need adequate concepts and practices to grasp the composition and intricacy of these shifting efforts to make visible new political possibilities for action and social justice in cities across Asia and Africa.