The Making of Global Cities

By Michael Goldman, professor of Global Studies and Sociology
Faculty members, with colleagues from around the world, study cities of the global South in new ways




Shuffling down our street every morning after dawn were our neighbors, living at the other end of the street in the last vestiges of the village, a shrub-encircled group of shabby huts, with pigs, chickens, and cows. They moved with simple tools and hard hats to their place of employment at the other end of the street: a six-story condominium complex being constructed with their sweat and muscle, men and women alike, to house the next wave of technology employees coming to Bangalore. One could imagine this scene through the lens of Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat: simultaneously creating world-class housing for the new professionals and providing villagers with the jobs and the opportunity to literally "make" this global city with their own hard work.

While Friedman marveled at the ways that savvy entrepreneurs in Chinese and Indian cities were producing services and goods for the world's largest firms, the World Bank was busy lending large sums to their city governments for the 24/7 power, water, and transport systems necessary to sustain these dynamic entrepreneurs. At the same time, the management consultants Pricewaterhousecoopers produced a pivotal report, Cities of the Future: global competition, local knowledge, that stated the same theme: megacities of the global South can leapfrog over the serious problems of poverty by providing for their innovative growth sectors and using that ingenuity to become globally competitive "global cities."

It is an attractive but largely untested hypothesis; daring and inventive, it has become the modus operandi of many leaders in cities as diverse as Mumbai and Cape Town, Dalian (China) and Dubai. In Bangalore, leaders speak of the "Singapore model" of efficiency and growth, while in Dalian and Edinburgh, institutes have been set up to train for and emulate the "Bangalore model." What is the basis for these amazing models, how are they designed and implemented, and how do they circulate globally? What are the effects of global-city making on the majority of the city population--those who suffer disproportionately from lack of access to decent housing, fair wages and safe jobs, public water, electricity, and the public goods of a thriving cosmopolitan city? What are the avenues for social change that lead to greater access to urban wealth, resources, power, and opportunity? In other words, how will my hardworking neighbors benefit from the construction boom and the other sweeping changes that are occurring in their town?

These questions, and many more, motivate our Global Cities collective. Since the 1980s, a first generation of scholars have highlighted the dynamics of "top" global cities such as New York, Tokyo, and London, and have located other cities somewhere down the ladder of achievement and success, creating a strong sense of what cities lack in becoming globally competitive rather than what cities have in terms of attributes for creating a just and healthy city. This approach tends to be focused on what we call "global North" cities; it also tends to privilege the excitement of our big cities and the norms of highly capitalized social relations, and to treat the dynamics occurring in the rest of the world as less germane. Moreover, this scholarship comes from select world cities and their academic institutions. By contrast, our collective is interested in generating knowledge through intellectual collaboration with urban scholars, policy analysts, and social activists from cities and universities in the global South (Latin America, Africa, Asia), studying cities ethnographically (studying from within city communities), as well as studying the flows and practices that occur across these cities. We hope that this network will be truly global, reflecting the diversity of cities around the world, with the Twin Cities and the University of Minnesota somewhere in the mix.

Developing the Scholarship

We have planned workshops, informal gatherings, and special events over the next two years to help us develop collaborative research projects at the University of Minnesota. We hope to produce a second generation of scholarship that works closely with research institutions in cities around the world; develops an understanding of urban dynamics that takes local, global, and cross-urban dynamics seriously; and contributes to policy discussions by bringing in analytic frameworks and voices from people other than a limited group of elite urban planners and policy makers. We start from the assumption that cities are much more complex than existing scholarship suggests, and that overcoming urban inequities requires more than cookie-cutter global-city models.

Our first workshop, in May 2008 at the University of Minnesota, brought U of M faculty members and students together with scholars from Istanbul, Bangalore, Taipei, Hyderabad, and Cape Town, and with scholars working on Jakarta, Mumbai, New Delhi, and Dubai. From this workshop, three research topics emerged. One key urban feature of many cities in transition is the large-scale, high-rise, flagship "mega-city" project: world's largest skyscraper; massive new international airport with industrial, hospitality, and commercial areas; upscale gated housing complexes--and even private townships--with names like El Dorado and Venice. One of our participants, from National Taiwan University, studies large transformative projects, cross-border financial investments, and corporatization of cities across East Asia. She and her colleagues have sparked our interest in the ways that building exclusive high-value districts has displaced people who work and live in the urban core. Are there more equitable ways to build up business and tourist districts, or is this approach fundamentally flawed?

A second theme emerged from our workshop: the study of global policy transfer across cities North and South. Colleagues from the universities of British Columbia and Illinois-Chicago traced a welfare reform policy as it traveled from Mexico City to New York City and now across the global South, with the help of the World Bank and others. Even though they found a lot of myth-making around ideas of social welfare reform in the global city, half-baked "success stories" have nonetheless taken on a life of their own, with potential devastating effects when they are implemented. They encouraged us to ask: How can social-welfare policy not just offset the worst effects of global-city making but actually help us to reconsider citymaking as a more just and sustainable set of practices?

A third theme is the spaces and flows that occur in the shadows of these mega-city schemes and policies. The construction of mega-projects, high-tech parks, and luxury shopping/housing complexes creates a wide range of "shadow spaces," informal settlements, and "dead zones" in which many people live and work. Most new global policies and local investment strategies ignore these vibrant communities and their contributions. Researchers of these questions helped us ask: How to integrate their needs into a metropolitan framework of governance that treats the urban majority justly? Significantly, many of the workers and traders in these shadow spaces are considered noncitizens, outsiders, or "the blight" against which cities must fight; they often live in slums waiting to be cleared and commercialized for a more middle-class consumer. Hence, these spaces of "urban trouble," often comprising more than half of the cityscape (as in Mumbai and Rio), raise fundamental questions about how we plan our world cities so they do not exist just for those who can afford global-city prices, aesthetics, and values.

Moving Forward

Global-city projects, global policy transfers, and shadow--or subaltern--spaces and societies are just three preliminary themes shaping our ongoing work. We have two objectives in the near future: to organize a series of international workshops to develop and refine these conversations about research and methods, and to begin to fund collaborative research. For example, in Bangalore it is common to hear about the success of the Singapore model, and in Dalian, China, many speak of the success of Bangalore; wouldn't it be useful to bring together researchers from these cities to share notes and conduct research together, that is, to scrutinize the actual practices rather than just the "model"? It would also be useful to study flows through cities: construction capital flows from Dubai to Istanbul as construction laborers flow back into Dubai, and political influence flows along similar lines. Can we trace new forms of globalization that do not merely repeat the standard argument that "all things global" start in New York, London, and Tokyo?

Working with scholars from Bangalore, Jakarta, Taipei, Singapore, and Cape Town, we learn that the models are not so easily transferable, and that they do not unfold in the original site as the model suggests. On the contrary, in Bangalore, thousands of citizens are being pushed out of their homes and off their farms in order for the central business districts and international airports to be built. The construction workers down my street will lose their homes as soon as the condominium complex is completed; ironically, by adding so much value to our neighborhood, these workers have made their own village land too valuable for them to stay. Developers have already decided to boot them for a pittance and build a second housing complex. This gold rush over real estate has made Bangalore too expensive for most of its longtime denizens; it provides us with questions, and answers, about planning our cities.

How can urban governments generate a governance structure so that both info tech engineers and construction workers can enjoy the fruits of a city's growth? Conversely, if growth is dependent upon mass displacement of the existing population, how can city planning--and accumulation strategies--start from the perspectives of the majority? How can their diverse needs form the basis for the next city development plan? Tensions and dilemmas developing on my Bangalore street are also unfolding around the world; this mad dash to rebuild and globalize the urban landscape is having monumental effects. We hope that our global network will be well positioned to offer constructive interventions based on our collective understanding of trends occurring inside and across these global cities-in-the-making.

The Making of Global Cities: who they are, what they'll do
The Making of Global Cities is the topic and the name of a new research collaborative comprised of scholars from Minnesota and across the globe. In May 2008 this group met at the Institute for Global Studies to discuss common research interests and to explore and plan future collaborations. Participants included scholars from Chicago, Istanbul, London, Minneapolis, Singapore, Taiwan, Toronto, and Vancouver. _ e global cities discussed as potential subjects of future collaborative studies included Bangalore and Hyderabad in India, the Taiwanese capital Taipei, Shanghai, Mexico City, and New York. Conversations on methodologies and disciplinary translations are continuing this year in several meetings hosted in Minneapolis. More concrete collaborations will be finalized at a spring 2009 meeting in Hong Kong. Co-conveners from the University of Minnesota are professors Michael Goldman (IGS and sociology), Helga Leitner (IGS and geography), and Eric Sheppard (geography).

Photo captions:
Software professionals bike or walk to work at the gated Infosys campus, which has plenty of open space, cafes, and golfing greens.

This village, soon to be demolished, has been home to construction workers building an upscale housing complex nearby.

A boy walks along a storm drain in a slum near the wealthy neighborhood of Koramangala. While clean water gets pumped to the international airport, most of the city lives with fetid open sewers and waterborne illnesses.

A young tightrope walker entertains onlookers while they shop. Such vibrant street culture is becoming less common as Bangalore transforms into a branded "world city."

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This page contains a single entry by cla published on January 21, 2009 4:09 PM.

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