This Research Bulletin has been published in Built and Natural Environment Research Papers, 4 (2), (2011), 153-168 under the title 'Spatial Planning in the Age of Globalization'.
Please refer to the published version when quoting the paper.
I write this essay as an outsider: I am not a planner, either urban or regional. However, I am an urban researcher interested in cities, especially cities in globalization. How does this qualify me to intervene in planning debates? It seems to me that cities are central to physical planning whether it is called ‘town and country planning’ (initial UK), ‘city planning’ (generally USA), or ‘spatial planning’ (more recent EU). Cities are at the centre of all civilizations, and in our world especially so, as urban populations now constitute a majority of humanity. The foreseeable future is going to be increasingly urban and therefore planning should focus increasingly on cities.
My claim to expertise on cities derives fundamentally from the oeuvre of Jane Jacobs. Of course, she is very familiar in planning circles for her undermining of modernist planning in her classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities (Jacobs 1960) where she championed people and neighbourhoods against cars and bulldozers. But I focus on her later work on economics (Jacobs 1969, 1984, 2000) that continues her concern for cities and locates them at the centre of economic development. She treats cities as the basic entities through which economies expand; they are special settlements and their differentia specifica is inherent complexity. This harks back to the famous last chapter of Death and Life on ‘The kind of problem a city is’ (Jacobs 1960, 442) for which she has been identified as one of the key pioneers in bringing complexity theory into social analysis (Allen 1997, 2005). And it is consideration of city complexity that is this outsider’s putative intervention into the practice of urban and regional economic planning.
A double dose of complexity: how do we make sense of contemporary ‘hyper-complexity’?
Of course, I am by no means the first to indicate that the complexity of cities fits uneasily with conventional ideas on urban planning. For instance, one of Jacobs’ followers in urban economics has recently written the following critique.
My position mirrors this argument except that I do not particularly target architects. And this generic city complexity has been recently compounded and enhanced by contemporary globalization with its myriad of transnational relations that nobody can ignore, including planners from whatever ilk.
How Planners are Responding to Complexity and Globalization
Of course, writers on planning issues have responded to this situation. A leading scholar on ‘planning theory’, Patsy Healey, sums up the situation admirably:
This is what I mean by a double dose of complexity confronting planners today: not only are cities generically complex but also they are now enmeshed within increasing complex globalization processes. Thus she concludes
So where do we go from here?
Newman and Thornley (2005) in their text Planning World Cities have attempted to answer this question. However they approach the situation inductively by describing how planners in major cities across the world are responding to globalization and its supposed enhancement of city competition. The upshot is less than four pages devoted to ‘Creative planning in a complex world’ (pp. 273-77) only at the very end on the book. Here the complexity of economic globalization is recognised and planning is seen to cope with it quite well:
Thus they are able to conclude their book with a statement that appears to contradict Healey above:
But actually Healey (2007) turns out to offer arguments not so dissimilar to Newman and Thornley: after her insightful introduction, she adopts a similar inductive approach focusing on case studies of planning processes in economically successful cities such as Cambridge city-region. The message is that planning has to change to accommodate globalization but its practice is adaptable and amenable to the task.
I think this response to the double dose of complexity is far too optimistic. Nigel Thrift (1999) has famously referred to contemporary globalization as a blizzard, myriad upon myriad of flows encompassing information, commodities and people. It is the sheer magnitude of this ‘global spaces of flows’ that is so daunting; it reflects a degree of social complexity that is hard to contemplate let alone understand. One role of the Globalization and World Cities (GaWC) Research Network has been to try and make sense of this through measuring inter-city business relations. In Figure 1 inter-city linkages for 175 firms across the leading 50 world cities are depicted precisely to show this complexity: an immensely complicated picture results for even such a very small part of all globalization flows. Respecting this complexity, my starting point encompasses two initial related positions.
Urban and Regional Planning in Conditions of Complex Globalization
Whatever field of work we are operating in, dealing with a social blizzard is challenging. But it is especially so for urban and regional planners with their responsibility for ordering bounded places. This traditional concern for place appears at odds with complex globalization. Whereas new ‘network economic players’ such as in the media, finance, logistics and information industries are making spaces of flows in their routine work practices, in the public sector work remains largely wedded to acting within fixed boundaries.
The fact that the local and the global are intimately related has led to coining the term ‘glocalization’ but it is by no means clear how this concept can be harnessed by place-based policymakers. To be sure it recognises that we should not think of globalization as being ‘out there’ beyond the boundary, but there still remains an ‘inside’ and an ‘outside’ in terms of where responsibility, power and concern is directed. Such a topological frame is the very obverse of complex globalization; blizzards are no respecters of boundaries!
The key point goes beyond the spatiality of complexity: the complexity itself is a product of private actors and this must be fully appreciated in urban and regional policymaking.
Finding the Relevant Meaningful Level of Simplification
But we cannot just throw our arms in the air and bewail the complexity. All contemporary citizens’ lives are constructed through spaces of flows and it is a betrayal of our innate humanity to give up and accept our lot. If the fates of the places where we live are in the many hidden hands of globalization it will be because we have not challenged such a situation.
In order to be subjects in globalization rather than objects of globalization we must respect the complexity confronting us while simultaneously searching out our manoeuvrability within it. This means building a framework of simplification that maintains the critical character of complex globalization but which can be a feasible basis for action. The key question is what degree of simplification can be relevant to place-based policymaking while remaining meaningful in terms of the global spaces of flows? The trick is to focus on process – which brings cities to centre stage – and then translate back to places as dynamic outcomes of process.
The key point is that before the specifics of an urban or regional policy is considered, there has to be generic understanding of what is going on.
Generics: how do cities work?
Both Jane Jacobs (1969) and Manual Castells (1996), at different times and with differing theoretical perspectives, insist that cities are best understood as process. This is not to demean traditional understanding as places, but it does assert that to comprehend how cities work, they have to be understood first as process. Personally, I have found this insight the major stimulus to my work in urban studies.
‘Cities as process’ means focussing on an ordered pattern of mechanisms that encapsulate the main features of what it is to be a city. From among the myriad city mechanisms I follow Jacobs and privilege the expansion of economic life that occurs in and through cities. Figure 2 illustrates my interpretation of Jacobs as a relevant and meaningful simplification of complexity as represented by cities. This is a generic treatment of ‘city-ness’ that will ultimately serve to make sense of the specificity that is contemporary cities in globalization.
Figure 2: Processes of city-ness
Cities as Concentrations of Work: Both Old and New
In this interpretation cities are considered to be first and foremost concentrations of work – the initial question to be asked of any city is what work is done here? Other important elements like architecture or culture are deemed to derive from this materialist stance.
According to Jacobs (1969) city work divides into two types. ‘Old work’ is continuing production of work that has been carried on for some time. “New work’ is production taken in new directions. These definitions are all very obvious but the implications of the division are vital. A city economy grows through additional work; if this is more old work the city’s division of labour stays the same; if there is new work the city’s division of labour becomes more complex. It is this increasing complexity that marks out a city: Jacobs defines a city as a process where new work increases economic complexity (which she calls the expansion of economic life to distinguish it from simple economic growth). It is this process that Figure 2 attempts to capture as different formations within the process that is ‘city-ness’.
City Clusters Formation
The formation of city clusters of work is the centralizing mechanism in the process we call city-ness (Figure 1). There has been a large literature developed on this mechanism in which two different emphases can be found. The question is whether the importance of clusters is due to like-firms being located together or whether it is the propinquity of many firms from different economic sectors that sparks economic expansion. Edward Glaeser and his colleagues (1992) have shown the latter to be the case, which it is why we call the process city-ness.
Cities are knowledge-rich milieu with associated divisions of talented labour that provide the raw materials for creating new work via innovation and imitation. This is where cities get their reputation as the dynamos of economic development able to lead their regions into relative prosperity. This key aspect of city-ness is described by Fujita and Thisse (2002).
City Network Formation
But no city is an island, in the past or today. The dynamism of cities depends also on their relations with other cities producing flows of knowledge, commodities and people that give cities their cosmopolitan nature. Thus the formation of city networks is the expansive mechanism in city-ness (Figure 2).
The knowledge-rich milieu that are cities is equally the product of a city’s connectivity, within city networks, as its economic clusters: all dynamic cities are cosmopolitan. Therefore in this argument the external relations of cities are weighted equally with their internal relations. This is a position originally emphasized in GaWC research, which we now consider to be generic (Taylor et al 2010b). The corollary of this is that cities are inherently cooperative – the mutuality of networks – with city competition being a contingent relation (depending on time and place). This key aspect of city-ness is described by Taylor (2004) and illustrated in Taylor et al (2010a).
This mutuality extends to a city’s immediate region where a city-regional economy is created. Jacobs (1984) uses this scale to introduce the power of cities to mould their surroundings to their needs. She identifies five ‘great forces’ that derive from dynamic city economies: (i) enlarged city markets (size and variety); (ii) more and varied jobs (new work); (iii) increased transplants of city work (old work); (iv) new uses of technology; and (v) growth of city capital.
In the city-region the five forces act together to create balanced growth: markets stimulate new food production; technology, while creating new divisions of labour at the centre, leads to out-sourcing (old work) in the region as transplanted work; and all of this provides opportunities for city capital. The key point is that the forces reinforce one another in a positive manner to develop a viable regional economy integrated with the core city economy (Figure 1). This increasingly important aspect of city-ness as mega-city regions is described in Hall and Pain (2006).
World-Supply Regional Formation
Beyond city-regional economies, the five great forces act singly and therefore negatively to generate a city’s world-supply regions (Jacobs 1984). Because the economic forces do not reinforce each other, they create simple regional economies at the mercy of distant and complex city economic process. This is what Gunder Frank (1969) famously called the ‘development of underdevelopment’, a metropole-satellite system that has created a core-periphery structured world-economy.
Jacobs (1984) extends Frank’s model to five distinctive mechanisms producing world-supply regions for (i) primary goods (agricultural and raw materials) on market demand; (ii) secondary and tertiary goods (manufacturing, routine information) via transplants (including outsourcing); (iii) providing labour via the ‘pull’ of city jobs (labour sheds); (iv) providing labour via push factors consequent on technology (population clearances); and (v) generating large-scale projects as ways of absorbing surplus capital (e.g. building dams). In all cases vulnerable, dependent regions are created with simple economies that Jacobs calls ‘economic grotesques’ (Figure 2). This directly feeds into world-systems critiques of development theory and practice as developed by Wallerstein (1991) and illustrated in Taylor (2006).
Specialist Supply Formation
Jacobs (1969, 1984) does not just identify simple economies in the exploited supply regions of the world, she notes their occurrence nearer to home. These are places that specialize in one or a few products that make them economically vulnerable relative to more complex cities. As such they fail to grow and are especially prone to catastrophic decline. She gives several examples of such ‘deindustrialization’ but contemporary Detroit would seem be the greatest example of all time. But there are also urban places that are highly specialised but rather more resilient for functional and institutional reasons. Unlike world supple regions they have a mutual relation with complex cities whilst still being dependent on them for their economic wellbeing. Five examples are included in Figure 1.
The obvious example is urban places that specialize in logistics: hubs for the spaces of flows that are essential to all cities. Seaports and railway towns are the common examples of settlements that have not to grown their economies beyond warehousing and infrastructure maintenance to become complex cities. In contemporary globalization many such places are being integrated into mega-city regions.
University towns are a second category: their perennial ‘town-gown conflicts’ reflect the domination of the higher education institution at the expense of all other work. They supply knowledge to more complex cities in the form by training professional and scientific labour.
Officially in Europe all places with cathedrals are ‘cities’ and some of these can be very small. They supply spiritual services to more complex cities. Their lack of growth (another ‘town-gown conflict’) is similar to the university situation.
There are also towns that specialise in politics: capital cities that are small compared to the other cities they rule. This is common in US states where ten state capitals have less than 100,000 population but it is also found in sovereign state capitals as compromises between competing cities to supply ‘neutral’ political services.
Finally I include centres for leisure/entertainment activities from eighteenth century spas to nineteenth century seaside resorts to today’s heritage places and gambling centres. Susceptible to changing fashions, nevertheless these ‘one-trick towns’ do flourish over generations through supple of social fun.
Of course, there are many examples of cities breaking out of these specializations but many mutual specialist urban places remain. They have specific planning needs separate from complex cities and I do not consider them further here.
My contention is that Figure 2 represents a minimum of city understanding; a level of simplification that respects the complexity while providing a basis for urban and regional policy making.
Specifics: cities in globalization
In this section I apply these generic insights on how cities work to the specific case of cities in globalization. The process that is contemporary cities will adhere to the previous relations in particular ways. Thus I interpret the large literature that has accumulated on world and global cities in Jacobs’ terms.
Given the new scale of operation, the one thing we might confidently expect would be an accentuation of the importance of the external relations of cities. The network mechanism has been a focus of GaWC work (Taylor 2004), and is illustrated below, but it is important to appreciate that this still operates within the overall Jacobs model of dynamic cities. It remains one of four key elements of cities as process and will be treated as such in what follows.
Globalization as Network Society: Spaces of Flows
Since Castells (1996) adheres to Jacobs’ notion of cities as process it with his work on globalization that we begin. He provides the basic spatial framework for understanding contemporary globalization through his designation of network society superseding industrial society. In this new informational world the production of space has been revolutionalized. Whereas industrial society was created through spaces of places, notably the international mosaic that is the world political map, network society is constituted as spaces of flows, as exemplified by global financial markets.
The contemporary dominance of spaces of flows is the result of the combining of the computer and communication industries in the 1970s. This provided the means for replacing the need for contiguity in social relations through simultaneous communication at a distance. This did not herald the end of the importance of face-to-face meetings but it did enable new expansive levels of control in the economic organization of production. In this way international spaces of places were challenged by transnational spaces of flows.
City Cluster Formation
This dispersion of production required a centralization of organization (Sassen 1994) which Friedmann (1986) termed command and control centres. This was a new knowledge industry that organized the new global division of labour. This new world city power is indicated in Table 1 in terms of ranking the top 20 global business centres in 2008.
Table 1: City Place Power: the Top 20 Cities, 2008. Source: Taylor et al (2010b).
One key feature that Sassen (1991) particularly emphasized was the importance of advanced producer services in contemporary globalization. The command and control in what she termed new ‘global cities' relied upon financial, professional and creative services to augment their headquarter functions. Services such as inter-jurisdictional law projects and global advertising concept projects helped globalizing firms negotiate globalization. Cities became both markets for these customised services as well as their production centres. This was a classic case of new work creating economic expansion through dynamic cities.
City Network Formation
The advanced producer service firms not only expanded in their home cities in the 1980s and 1990s, they also expanded externally through the development of large office networks to service their worldwide clients. In this way their routine work practices create a world city network: it is the service firms who are the network makers interlocking cities through their work (Taylor 2001, 2004).
The measurement of the world city network has been a key contribution of GaWC to understanding network society. It has helped put mutuality between cities back on the research agenda in a literature dominated by city competition. But these service firms are not the only world city makers: for instance, the media industry has also created much new work through globalization. In Table 2 media firms are combined with advanced producer service firms to create a ranking of the network power of citiesin 2008.
Table 2: City Network Power: the top 20 Cities, 2008. Source: Taylor et al (2010b).
One prominent feature of the world city literature has been a return of interest in city regions (Scott 2000). In particular, multi-nodal mega-city regions have become a well-researched topic; the Pearl River Delta urban region, including both Hong Kong and Guangzhou, has become the archetype of such mega-city regions (Castells 1996).
Table 3: North West Europe: Polycentricity for Different Geographical Scales by Mega City-Region. Source: Hall and Pain (2006).
(Note: figures measure polycentricity at four different scales; the last column measures the decline in polycentricity with increased scale showing the distinctiveness of the Paris and London regions)
Table 4: Relative changes in service connectivity, 2002-2009: German metropolitan city hinterlands. Source: Growe and Taylor (2010).
GaWC contributed to this research initially via Peter Hall's POLYNET project that compared eight major city regions in North West Europe (Hall and Pain 2006). Using methodologies developed for city network measurement, this research identified two types of multi-nodal, mega-city region: (i) connected dynamic nodes within an otherwise non-expansionary region and (ii) diffusion of city dynamism out from the main centre across the region. The latter pertains to a Jacobs' mechanism of positive city effects and was found to be strong in the London and Paris city-regions (Table 3). This tendency for the mechanism to be associated with the more important cities has been confirmed by new studies of Germany and UK cities. In the former, Jacobs' mechanisms were found in Munich, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt,Munich and Stuttgart (Growe and Taylor 2010) but not in the other 17 German city regions (Table 4). In the UK, contrasting the London city-region with Manchester city-region (Taylor et al 2009), the differences are stark (Table 5).
Table 5: Comparing London and Manchester City-regions. Source: Taylor et al (2009).
(Note: UK conn refers to UK-scale network connectivities based upon advanced producer firms. All places with connectivities above 0.05 are included. In the Manchester region the following places are thus excluded: Blackburn, Bradford, Bolton, Huddersfield, Wigan and York)
All five forces emanating from dynamic cities are found in contemporary globalization: (i) primary supply regions still suffer the ‘curse of resources' throughout inter-tropical Africa and in tropical rain forests of Latin America and Asia; (ii) secondary and tertiary supply regions are to be found in Latin America and Asia as sweatshops and as outsourced services; (iii) the pull of dynamic cities creates immigration politics in the ‘global north' centred on labour and housing; (iv) the de-peasantization of the rural world continues apace feeding massive ‘mega-cities' in the ‘global south'; and (v) non-urban large projects continue to be seen as development tools while feeding city capital.
The obvious question arises as to how to break free from this pernicious set of mechanisms. Amin (1990) has famously promoted ‘delinking' but this has the potential of cutting off these regions from the possibility of city-based economic expansion. Jacobs (1984) argues that ‘backward cities need one another' implying breaking the pernicious links and replacing them with new city mutualities. It would seem that this is only possible for cities within a single large state: contemporary China is the archetypal example.
Implications for urban and regional planning
Finally we come to the nub of my argument, the goal towards which all the previous material has been leading. If we accept the inherent complexity of contemporary globalization and agree that a Jacobs' style simplification is relevant and meaningful then what does this mean for urban and regional planning?
The first point to make is that the key agents of change in this argument are private sector firms; they are the makers of city-ness as both positive and negative effects in terms of economic change. In the discussion above the state only appears as a means for overcoming the pernicious effects of cities. Thus it would seem that traditional place-based planning has little future in complex globalization. Planning, according to Newman and Thornley (2005) needs to be much more ‘creative' than hitherto fore. I do not enter debates about what this might entail rather I will conclude with two basic arguments that follow on from the specific simplification I have championed.
Enabling Through Complexity: Infrastructure and Logistics
Complexity is all about unexpected consequences that stymie simple planning. There was a time when ‘urban systems’ thinking was thought to be sufficient through its feedback loops but this was always a very limited and constrained way to model the external relations of cities. However, there was one set of results that did seem to be predictable: every time a traffic problem was ‘solved’ by building a new road, the latter soon got clogged up just like the old road it was planned to relieve. A common reaction to this predicament was to argue against new roads since they did not solve the problem. A second, more subtle, interpretation is that what such findings reveal are a pent up demand for new infrastructure that is impeding economic expansion.
The latter position melds with the general point that the dynamism of cities is dependent upon its infrastructural and logistic advantages (e.g. Capello 2000). This is supported by Jacobs (1984) when she argues that a historical sign for a dynamic city is always a rise in contemporary complaints about the limitations of infrastructure: economic expansion is being held back. Large-scale infrastructure requires public intervention and this lags behind private needs: as soon as a city has its explosive growth based upon existing logistics it is ready for infrastructural renewal. In a complex world it would seem that here is a key role for public policy making but how do you identify necessary intervention early enough so as to not to impede economic expansion? There are plenty of transport white elephants resulting from political lobbying to suggest that getting this right is not easy.
Since dynamic city growth cannot be predicted, future demand for new infra-structure cannot be known. Therefore this is not a situation for devising a plan to guide public investment. Rather, multiple preparedness would seem to be what is required. In other words, many options for additional infra-structural projects should be available and regularly updated so as to be ready if and when the time arrives for their implementation. The creative element comes with treating demand as a spatial variable so that low demand is considered alongside high demand in directing public policy.
The Necessity for Monitoring in Informational Society
The basic message of this essay can be summarized as follows: the first question planners should ask before they embark on their work is simply ‘what can be planned and what cannot be planned?’. It is a matter of drawing a line, albeit a very fuzzy and somewhat subjective one. But there are some entities way beyond the line that they are unequivocally ‘unplannable’. Cities, I have argued, are such a case. So how can urban policy be developed that treats cities (and their regions and networks) as a whole? I suggest city planners need to become something akin to city ecologists. (Note that this is not to hark back to early twentieth century ‘urban ecology’, rather it derives from Jacobs (2000).) Nobody suggests to environmental ecologists that they ‘plan’ ecological areas and niches but there are active policies of nurturing, enabling and even protecting. And this all depends on knowledge of the complexity of ecologies: how they work and how they are changing. This is how I see city policymaking evolving. And, as in all ecological policy, monitoring change is the minimal starting point.
In a rapidly changing complex world there is a fundamental need for intensive monitoring of city work. This needs to be on as continuous a basis as possible: the time for relying on ten-yearly national census results plus some local updating is long past. If city officials and planners are to seriously contribute to the economic wellbeing of their cities and their regions they have to begin thinking of their data needs in a completely new way. We are told we live in a knowledge world, this is certainly true of the private sector and the public sector needs to catch up. Where there is complexity, monitoring is the key action not wishful planning.
So what might city and regional monitoring look like? It focuses on work, on spaces of flows, on all changes that are occurring in a city-region economy at a given time. This will include changes in labour, new sources for commodity chains, new services for production; that is everything that is making the city what it is as a viable economic unit. In this way there can be ‘findings’ that are ‘under the radar’ of conventional urban data, minor changes with potential to be important and acted upon – perhaps facilitated by new infrastructure. We live in unprecedented times and therefore we need unprecedented knowledge of cities, based upon more information than has ever been attempted before.
Versions of this essay have been presented at The 4th International Association for China Planning (IACP) Conference (Shanghai, June 19-21, 2010) organized by the International Association for China Planning (IACP) and Tongji University, China, and at a Public Lecture in the context of the Belgium EU Presidency (October 7, 2010) jointly organized by the Flemish Department of Spatial Planning, Housing Policy and Immovable Heritage, the VRP Flemish Association for Spatial Planners/Designers, and the Club of Rome (EU Chapter). I thank the audiences for their comments.
Parts of the data and analysis are courtesy of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the Department of Geography, University of Ghent, and were made possible by a research project grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (UK) [grant number RES-000-22-3573].
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Note: This Research Bulletin has been published in Built and Natural Environment Research Papers, 4 (2), (2011), 153-168