This article introduces a special issue that responds to a new housing policy direction announced for South Africa in 2014. According to this policy, the state would move away from smaller housing projects towards much larger projects of 15,000 units or more. Some versions of this policy, particularly those articulated by Gauteng Province, set out an intention to build new self-contained cities. Articles in this collection aim to unravel the nature and status of the policy; understand the way in which it was produced; examine which kinds of projects might be included in government's project lists and which excluded; explain why champions of this policy think it is a good idea and how they think it would work; review the concerns of critics; locate this policy in broader historical and geographical contexts; and reflect on alternative ways of thinking about urban change. This introductory article argues that while there have been many debates about the long-term implications of the shift from smaller to large settlement developments, the decision to adopt this approach is not only made with respect to long term considerations but also with respect to short term political imperatives. To the extent that some of these projects will exacerbate urban sprawl, as critics fear, the state might be described as a 'satisficing developer' which opts to pursue a less than optimal kind of development on the urban periphery because it nevertheless provides some gains.