This Research Bulletin has been published in Third World Planning Review, 21 (3), (1999), iii-x.
The modern study of large cities is usually traced back to Adna F Weber's (1899) statistical analysis The Growth of Cities in the Nineteenth Century which showed massive increases in urbanisation to be linked to industrialisation. In the second half of the twentieth century this simple relation broke down: many of the largest and fastest growing cities have been in the less-industrialised third world countries. Manuel Castells (1977) in The Urban Question was one of the many researchers to discuss the new phenomenon of rapid 'non-industrial urban growth'. His main purpose was to criticise as ethnocentric, the notion that many third world countries were 'over-urbanised', a concept derived from comparing third world countries' level of urbanisation to that of first world countries at the same degree of industrialisation. In the radical fashion of the times he defined a 'dependent urbanisation', a new social process at a very different world conjuncture to that when Weber first analysed urban growth. In short, the third world was experiencing a distinctive urbanisation from that experienced by the first world. In this note I ask the question whether this is still indeed the case under conditions of contemporary globalization.
My question has been stimulated by the recent tendency to conflate the concepts of world/global city with mega-city. These two conceptions of contemporary large cities have very different provenances, economic-functional and demographic-statistical respectively. This is reflected in the fact that whereas the former has strong social science credentials (Friedmann, 1986; Sassen, 1991), mega-cities have been promoted by the policy concerns of UN institutions in publications (where mega-cities are 'officially' defined as cities with population above eight million), conferences and research projects. However, the biggest research project, 'The 'United Nations Institute of Advanced Studies Programme on Mega-cities and Urban Development', has found it difficult to ignore the world/global city approach - their first edited volume has 'mega-city growth' in its title (Fuchs et al., 1994) but the latest volume refers more vaguely to 'the world of large cities' (whence my title) where concern for functional world city dynamics far outweighs the demographic problematics (Lo and Yeung, 1998). The editors are well aware that world/global cities and mega-cities represent two different classes of city (p. 9) but make no attempt to say how they might be related. This is in complete contrast to Castells (1996) in The Rise of Network Society in which mega-cities are deemed to have world/global city characteristics - this note is targeted at his conflation.
I focus solely on chapter 6, "The space of flows", arguably the most important chapter of the book, which deals with the 'complexity of the interaction between technology, society, and space' (Castells, 1996, 377). Basically this chapter presents the new spatial logic of the informational age which Castells famously terms the space of flows. This new space is, according to Castells, 'the material organisation of time-sharing practices that work through flows' (p. 412). It has three layers: the electronic impulses in networks, the places which constitute the nodes and hubs of networks, and the spatial organisation of cosmopolitan elites in terms of work, play and movement. Here we focus upon the middle layer. Castells briefly mentions several networks with 'their privileged nodes' such as in medical research, new industrial spaces and narcotics but he identifies global cities as 'the most direct illustration' of hubs and nodes (p. 415). This relates back to the first section of the chapter (p. 378) which presents the argument that global cities are centres of advanced services creating new knowledges within a network of information flows. This is deemed 'critical for the distribution of wealth and power in the world' (p. 386). Castells' treatment of these 'command and control centres' (p. 378) is quite conventional, for instance, he identifies Sassen's (1991) triad (London, New York, Tokyo) as top of a global urban hierarchy (p. 379). Thus his prime contribution to the world/global cities literature in this chapter is to position the world city network into a richer and more comprehensive theoretical context: it is one important network within one particular layer of the space of flows, the new spatial logic of the informational age.
It is noteworthy that within this elaboration of a theory of space (pp. 410-8) Castells refers only to global cities, megacities are conspicuous by their absence from this core section of the chapter. However, in the preceding discussion of what Castells calls 'the empirical landscape' (p. 410) he describes the rise of megacities. Megacities occur in Castells' argument as one of the 'new urban forms' of the informational age (p. 398), indeed 'the most important transformation of urban forms worldwide' (p. 403). Here Castells departs from other treatments of megacities by arguing that 'size is not their defining quality' (p. 403, emphasis added). Rather, '(m)egacities are the nodal points, and the power centres of the new spatial form/process of the information age: the space of flows' (p. 410). This, of course, makes them sound very much like the global cities in the nodes and hubs layer previously discussed. There is some conflation of ideas here, I will attempt to separate first in theory and then empirically.
The first point to make is that Castells' shows his new theory of space to be adequately described using global cities and not megacities. The latter do not seem to be required, the conflation detracts from the clarity of the overall presentation. But Castells views global cities in a quite narrow manner: '(t)he global city is not a place, but a process' (p. 386). In other words, cities accumulate and retain wealth and power because of what flows through them. Embedding cities in a space of flows crucially directs our attention beyond simple concern for what cities contain (the case study approach) to their connections with other cities (the relational approach) which has been relatively neglected (Beaverstock et al., 2000). But by denying the global city the status of a place, Castells is abstracting it from its real geography. The 'grounding' the flows is only possible because global cities are also places. Sassen's (1994, 18) 'strategic places' and Storper's (1997, 222) 'privileged sites' are just two conceptualisations from among the many theorists who have viewed world or global cities as localised knowledge complexes based upon their particular mix of innovation potential. Contra Castells: world or global cities are places. But in a theory where they are not, alternative urban places have to be invented: enter megacities, Castells-style.
Megacity is a classic example of a chaotic conception. Such concepts bring together phenomena which have superficial empirical similarities but are in fact the product of quite different social processes. Castells' ambitions for megacities cannot hide the fact that their identification is always based upon a simple and relatively easily available measure, total population. This results in a theorising which leads to equating, for example, New York with Karachi and Tokyo with Dacca. This is problematic to say the least. These cities have grown through very different histories of migration and currently experience quite distinctive patterns and intensities of urban growth. A reasoned argument can be made that the latter two cities of each pair above are experiencing similar urban growth processes relating to regional rural peasant exoduses. This would contribute to justifying 'third world megacity' as a possible coherent urban concept, certainly one less 'chaotic' than the original unqualified concept. Notice that to find this more coherent conception we have had to move from form to process: third world megacities as the largest receivers of rural surplus populations. But for Castells, the original megacity form takes on a whole raft of processes: the economic power of global cities is conflated with further powers such as media control, 'real' political power, and symbolic creation and diffusion (p. 403). By adding these properties to the initial demography, which in Castells' terms becomes the 'depositories' of large numbers of poor people fighting for their survival outside the informational world (p. 404), Castells' megacities are the critical places where the space of flows is physically proximate to the disconnected masses. Described thus, these are fascinating locales, arenas where the future of humanity might well be decided (p. 410), but this enhanced concept of megacity is even more chaotic than the original. Why should cities housing masses of disconnected poor people attract the wealth and power of connected rich people? What are the processes which link these two groups? It is easy to see why the former might be dysfunctional for the latter, Castells suggests just this for Mexico City (p. 380), but what are the forces which will bring these two groups together? We do not get answers from Castells; instead the megacity section is isolated in his discussion, itself disconnected, not only from the description of the space of flows as mentioned earlier, but also from all other sections of the chapter.
Why this intrusion of the megacity concept into an argument that does not need it and which it devalues? The only answer I can come up with is that it is a political intervention. For Castells, megacities represent the future. Whereas his discussion of global cities is about the contemporary situation, megacities are labelled 'third millennium urbanisation' (p. 403) because 'the future of humankind ... is being played out in the evolution and management of these areas' (p. 410). We can explore this by comparing which cities Castells identifies as global and which as mega. Although he makes no systematic attempt to define membership of each category, in discussing both of them he illustrates his argument with quite lengthy lists of cities, 21 in the case of global cities (p. 379) and 23 in the case of megacities (p. 403). In both cases he begins with the most important examples and then adds lesser cases: cities are listed in 'order of appearance' for both categories in Table 1. Before I begin discussing and analysing these lists, there is an important caveat which needs to be stated. Although both lists total over 20 cities, Castells considers neither to be complete: the global city list ends with 'Budapest, among others' (p. 379), the megacity list with 'Tianjin, and possibly others' (p. 403). This is, perhaps, inevitable given the informal nature of the identifications, nevertheless the results of comparing the two lists are quite clear-cut thus suggesting that possible city omissions are not a problem for our conclusions.
The basic geography of the two lists is as expected given Castells descriptions of their spheres of operation: global cities are 'pervasive', located 'throughout the geography of the planet' (p. 379), and megacities are 'worldwide', located 'in a variety of social and geographical contexts' (p. 403). However, the overlap between the city lists is surprisingly low: there are only ten cities which are both global and mega (Table 2). This leaves 11 world cities without mega-status and 13 megacities without global-status (Table 2) and it is these two groups which have the distinctive geographies. Castells did place a limit to the pervasiveness of global cities which he did not apply to megacities: they were not to be found in 'the "black holes" of marginality' (p. 379). Hence the distinctive geographies in Table 2: all megacities which are not global cities are from the third world, and six European and two USA cities feature as world cities but not mega-cities. (The other three are Chinese diaspora 'island' cities: Hong Kong, Singapore and Taipei with constrained demographic growth potentials.) Of course, what this means is that, whereas the traditional core of the world-economy dominates in terms of contemporary global cities, it is traditionally non-core zones which dominate the future in terms of megacities. This implies a geographical revolution in the distribution of centres of wealth and power in the new millennium.
Castells never spells out such a spatial turnabout but there are several hints. In introducing megacities, for instance, Castells tries to shame us out of our geographical complaisancy in thinking, say, that Frankfurt and Zurich will remain more important in terms of wealth and power than Calcutta and Lagos for the foreseeable future, by implying an ethnocentric bias in our urban imaginations: megacities, we are told, 'have names, most of them alien to the still dominant European/North American cultural matrix' (p. 403). But the only time the new geography does appears explicitly is when he considers briefly 'the urban roller coaster' of the early 1990s: he contrasts the 'business-led explosive urban growth ... in cities such as Bangkok, Taipei, Shanghai, Mexico D.F., or Bogota' with the 'slump that triggered a sharp downturn in real estate prices and halted new construction' citing Madrid, New York, London and Paris as examples (p. 384). This is used to make the point of 'the vulnerability of any locale, including major cities, to changing global flows' (p. 384). Obviously this is true but the really interesting question relates to the nature of the degree of change envisaged. The latter four cities have quickly recovered their economic health since the mid-1990s while the other cities have latterly floundered: to continue with Castells' metaphor, this reminds us that roller coasters are designed to return to where they start - critical change occurs only when the roller coaster comes off the rails.
Castells argues at one point that the particular urban hierarchy exhibited by global cities is not significant for his spatial analysis because it is 'tributary to the variable geometry of money and information flows' (p. 385-6). This is because the logic of the space of flows is not dependent upon any specific geography of nodes and hubs. This argument is similar to Neil Smith's (1984) influential structural arguments concerning regional economic differences: uneven development is necessary, specific patterns of core and periphery are historically contingent. But the importance of history cannot be so easily dismissed; such abstractions may help to make certain processes theoretically transparent but there is a price to pay. If indeed space cannot be separated from the society which produces it, then history is intimately implicated in all structures. This has been recently highlighted by Dodgshon (1998) where the importance of geographical inertia in social change is rehabilitated. The new space of flows is not being created in a social vacuum: the leading cities of the recent past continue today as the dominant nodes of the world city network of the emerging spatial matrix. The urban hierarchy is not, and never has been, static, of course - witness the rise of Pacific Asian cities - but in an increasingly polarising world, there are no credible processes for turning poor third world megacities into future centres of wealth and power. Strongly influenced by the east Asian urban experience, Castells' extrapolation to all third world megacities (with the few first world megacities (sic) giving these political hopes some credence) is too far-fetched to be seriously contemplated. Hence, we are very lucky that this flawed megacity excursion is not integrated into the space of flows argument so that we can lay it to one side and proceed with Castells wonderful new spatial architecture incorporating global cities and numerous other links, connections and spatial relations.
One final point on megacities, this critique should not be read as an attack on the research which is grappling with the very real policy dilemmas of large population concentrations in the third world. My understanding is that research using the megacity concept has in fact been overwhelmingly concerned with third world cities. As such researchers have side-stepped the chaotic character of the concept and in practice have been using the much more coherent notion described above as third world megacity. This has led to a new practical research agenda for cities with megacity properties and global city ambitions. This is where questions concerning the relations between the two processes are being asked; see, for instance, the recent case studies of Rio de Janeiro (Tolosa, 1998) and Johannesburg (Beavon, 1998) which intelligently discuss these practical issues. Quite simply, there is no need to pretend that London and New York are suffering from these same ills, in these two locations the global city process in Castells' space of flows does not intersect with the third world rural exodus process as a dominant force in urban growth. This does not mean, of course, that these latter cities do not have urban problems, just that they are distinctively different in origin and type.
The answer I have arrived at to the question posed at the beginning of this discussion is, therefore, yes the third world does still experience an urbanisation distinctively different from that of the first world under conditions of contemporary globalization. There may be some irony in my use of Castells in this argument, but it is not, of course, an endorsement of early Castells over current Castells for understanding today's urban predicaments. Castells' space of flows does change how we view core-periphery in the capitalist world-economy. Although commonly viewed as world regions or zones, Wallerstein (1979) has always insisted core and periphery represent contrasting bundles of processes which change over time. It is the uneven and often opposing geographies of these two bundles which create their expression as zones or regions, and where the processes are mixed the zones are deemed to be semi-periphery. In terms of our discussion here, the global city process is a core-forming mechanism and the third world megacity process is a periphery-forming mechanism. Where these come together they help create semi-periphery zones, as found in Friedmann's (1986) initial world city hierarchy. Given the segregation of these processes at the local scale, however, global city formation in third world cities can be viewed, alternatively, as defining new core places, implying a network rather than zonal conception of the core concept (Jones, 1998). This recognises the real increase in power and wealth in selected third world cities which is confused by Castells when he links this to megacities. From a world city perspective, the space of flows has not despatched uneven development to history but it is in the process of creating an distinctively new uneven globalization. By way of preliminary illustration, in Table 3 I have distributed 55 world cities and 67 other cities showing evidence of world city formation (Beaverstock, et al., 1999) across traditional core/non-core regional distinctions to show how far the global city process has penetrated the non-core world, especially in Pacific Asia. I leave this for readers to ponder further.
Beaverstock, J V, Smith, R G and Taylor, P J (1999) 'A roster of world cities', Cities 16, ***-***
Beaverstock, J V, Smith, R G and Taylor, P J (2000) 'World city network: a new metageography?' Annals, Association of American Geographers (special millennium issue), ***-***
Beavon, K (1998) '"Johannesburg": coming to grips with globalization from an abnormal base', in F-C Lo and Y-M Yeung (eds) Globalization and the World of Large Cities, pp. 352-90. Tokyo: United Nations University Press
Castells, M (1977) The Urban Question. London: Arnold
Castells, M (1996) The Rise of the Network Society. Oxford: Blackwell
Dodgshon, R A (1998) Society in Space and Time. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press
Friedmann, J (1986) 'The world city hypothesis', Development and Change 17, 69-83
Fuchs, J I, Brennan, E, Chamie, J, Lo, F-C and Uitto, J I (eds) Mega-city Growth and the Future. Tokyo: United Nations University Press
Jones, A (1998) 'Re-theorising the core: a "globalized" business elite in Santiago, Chile', Political Geography 17, 295-318
Lo, F-C and Yeung, Y-M (eds) Globalization and the World of Large Cities. Tokyo: United Nations University Press
Sassen, S (1991) The Global City. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press
Sassen S (1994) Cities in a World Economy. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press
Smith, N (1984) Uneven Development. Oxford: Blackwell
Storper, M (1997) The Regional World. New York: Guilford
Tolosa, H C (1998) 'Rio de Janeiro as a world city', in F-C Lo and Y-M Yeung (eds) Globalization and the World of Large Cities, pp. 203-27. Tokyo: United Nations University Press
Wallerstein, I (1979) The Capitalist World-Economy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press
Weber, A F (1899) The Growth of Cities in the Nineteenth Century. New York: Macmillan
Table 1: Global cities and megacities in Castell's space of flows
Table 2: Global cities, megacities and "global megacities"
Table 3: World city formation in the core and beyond
a - as defined in Beaverstock et al. (1999) on the basis of advanced producer service office locations where 55 cities are identified as world cities at three different levels and a further 67 show some evidence of world city formation.
b - NATO (except Turkey) + EU + Switzerland + Japan + Australia and New Zealand
c - not including Japan
Edited and posted on the web on 5th October 1999