Urban Structure in Modern Society

How Should a Modern, Globalized Society Adapt Its Urban Structure? A Comparison of Four Texts

Globalization, much like the Industrial Revolution that propelled Europe and North America to the forefront of the global economic stage, has forced the redevelopment and organization of urban hubs. Some, like Moulaert and Waley, support government-led initiatives addressing the problem of the economic disparities among social classes caused by the redefinition of labor markets. Others, including Logan and Swanstrom, argue against centrally-planned economies and markets, positing that cities should not work outside the boundaries of their national context. Scholars like Haila, on the other hand, present a married political ideology combining the two, arguing that while differences in cities may exist, real estate and private investment is the common link binding all “global cities.”

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With globalization overtaking the norms of familiar market economies, contemporary urban hubs face “persistent high levels of unemployment, shortage of job opportunities, homelessness, deteriorating housing and living conditions, widening income gaps, [and] social violence”; these problems have become “an integral part of the new urban context, regardless of prevailing dynamics of economic growth or decline”[1]. Consequently, Moulaert and his contemporaries suggest government-mandated interventions are necessary, including the coerced transformation of labor markets. According to Moulaert, “the transformation of employment is, doubtless, the key axis of urban socio-economic restructuring and the primary factor shaping increasing inequality and social fragmentation in cities”[2]. Logan and Swanstrom concur, but question the extent to which the government ought to be able to intervene in the restructuring of society. They question “what form these interventions should take,” as reform in the East “is a synonym for raising prices, reducing some types of consumption, and accepting structural unemployment”; the Communist-type failure of urban restructuring (and central planning) is therefore representative of a “political and economic event,” avoidable through the careful, monitored endorsement of free market economies[3]. Waley, like Moulaert and his contemporaries, supports a degree of government intervention in urban restructuring and cites the Japanese post-war example. Waley suggests Japan’s success in urban restructuring can be attributed to “reorganizing urban space in pursuit of economic growth,” which entailed national “relaxation of zoning, disposal of public land, and measures advantageous to private landowners” vis-a-vis the strategies outlined by Haila which will be examined later[4]. The government, Waley argues, is the greatest facilitator of economic growth through its power to enact policies; contrary to the Communist model, however, Waley’s proposition is one of incentive to the private sector.

Logan and Swanstrom directly oppose governmental intervention supported by Moulaert and (to a degree) Waley, specifying that policy cures and the measure of urban restructuring in an ailing economy are better prescribed at the national level; the two stress that “cities cannot be abstracted from their national context”[5]. Logan and Swanstrom’s position endorse Waley’s admonitions to “avoid the dangers of a simplistic cultural-determinist response” to the necessity of urban restructuring[6]. On the other hand, Moulaert concedes the fallibility of his model, surmising that government intervention can be detrimental to a point as federal programs are a de facto means of increasing “the concentration of deprivation in particular urban areas and neighborhoods,” reproducing “the formation of “excluded communities, reproduced by the very initiatives that purportedly aim at eradicating them”[7]. Haila echoes the power of public perception, claiming that the aforementioned factor drives the model of private real estate-powered economies. Pointing out the paradigm shift of Japanese investment in Los Angeles from the 1980s to the 1990s, Haila notes that urban development can be catalyzed or snuffed by a change in public perception; after all, “in the 1980s, Los Angeles was a city favored by Japanese investors,” but the 1992 race riots “changed this situation, as a property market where an asset can be demolished in one night is not a good market”[8]. While Haila does not prescribe uniformity in the application of economic and urban restructuring, she endorses the facet that all cities which aim to restructure themselves into “global cities” have real estate in common, echoing Waley’s sentiments regarding Japanese investment in Los Angeles. Private land ownership lends to the environment necessary for economic rehabilitation per globalization. Cities therein affect cities; the price falls and gains from one city inevitably affect another[9].

While Logan and Swanstrom support the contention that restructuring carries significant social and political institutions in its wake[10], their views are most applicable to the current global economy due to their calls for uniformity and consistence on a national level. Tied to Haila’s theory of inter-dependent cities, Logan and Swanstrom’s model prevents the cannibalization of intra-national markets. Moreover, Logan and Swanstrom advocate a laissez-faire attitude within the confines of a national agenda, therein tempering the so-called “free market.” Moulaert’s supposition that global restructuring entails urban development projects, his advocacy for government intervention, finds fault along the lines of market restriction. The workings of bureaucracy prevent the intervention of the individuals Haila perceives as vital to the growth of an economy through land ownership. Though they can be tempered by applicant law and a statute, truncating the involvement of the private sector limits growth and future adaptations to a globalizing world economy where punctuality can mean the difference between prosperity and recession. Waley may concede restructured Tokyo’s disparity between the living conditions of the poor and the profit expansions of business corporations, but in his assertions he glosses over the state’s possible use of higher tax revenues to revive the lower classes, thus leaving the question of self-propagating poverty and economic stagnation unanswered[11]. Perhaps most important to note is the necessity of policy fluidity in the degree of laissez-faire economics and governmental intervention. While all four works prescribed a degree of flexibility, none presented the simple fact that globalization, as a new world market and concept, cannot be approached using a template or a macroeconomic stencil of some sort. Adaptation in the urban sector, like all forms of adaptation, cannot be expected to work within the stricture of obstinate thought.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Haila, A. (1997) “The Neglected Builder of Global Cities.” In: Cities in Transformation Transformation in Cities: Social and Symbolic Change of Urban Space, pp. 51 64. London: Ashgate P.

Logan, John R and Todd Swanstrom. (1990) “Urban Restructuring: A Critical View.” In: Beyond the City Limits: Urban Policy and Economic restructuring in Comparative Perspective, pp. 3-24. New York: Temple U P.

Moulaert, Frank et al. (2003) “Urban Restructuring, Social-Political Polarization and New Urban Policies.” In: The Globalized City: Economic Restructuring and Social Polarization in European Cities, pp. 29-45. Oxford: Oxford U P.

Waley, P. (2000) “Tokyo: Patterns of Familiarity and Partitions of Difference.” In: Globalizing Cities: A New Spatial Order?, pp. 127-157. New York: Blackwell Publishers.

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