This Research Bulletin has been published in International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 36 (2), (2012), 381-399, under the title 'Ain't About Politics? The Wicked Power-Geometry of Sydney's Greening Governance'.
Please refer to the published version when quoting the paper.
Sydney's newest urban strategy, the Sustainable Sydney 2030 Vision, sets out to create a ‘green, global and connected' metropolis that wants to be capable of challenging urban giants like New York and London. Green is the centerpiece of this master plan, which seeks to situate sustainability at the core of Sydney's competitive and innovative edge.
Yet the Australian metropolis is not unique in this approach. As environmental issues crept at the forefront of the contemporary international agenda and as urban livability rankings sprawled in the media, many globalizing cities across the globe have put much emphasis, resources and advocacy in the business of sustainability. This is not only a process of urban branding, but the representation of a complex two-fold dynamic by which metropolises seek to assert their role on a global scale. On one hand, cities compete to become ‘obligatory passage points' (Callon 1986; Allen 2008) of worldwide networks, as well as to catalyze the locational flexibility of today's global elites. On the other, cities cooperate with each other – as well as with states and other political actors – in order to find common solutions to transnational issues beyond the reach of their governments. The two processes are not exclusive, but rather intertwined in the ‘open intensity' – to borrow Doreen Massey's (1999, 161) expression – that the city is in social terms. Localities, and global cities in particular, are thus strategic social spaces of the global human geography where agglomeration and centralization coexist with connectivity and spatial dispersion (Sassen 2001, 3). In this dynamic synthesis, as Peter Taylor (2009a, 2550) pointed out, lies the recipe to generate successful and vibrant cities.
It is my argument here that Sydney has indeed succeeded in improving its status as a world city, and that this success is the result of an increasingly entrepreneurial approach to urban governance. However, due to the lack of a clear metropolitan-wide authority and the multiscalar nature of urban governance, the city is raising serious questions: the excessive focus on entrepreneurship (best represented by city imageneering) has put too much emphasis on competition at the expenses of the possibilities for cooperation, both with other cities and with different levels of governance. Consequently, the city has turned too much towards tackling sustainability within its urban dimension as a source of global competitiveness, while social polarization questions are steadily advancing to the forefront, and the city faces wicked challenges that cannot be solved without intercity teamwork. There is a need, I conclude, to seek sustainable alternatives to the present rise of an intra-urban hierarchy dominated by the City of Sydney, which has followed the progressive entrepreneurialism and polarization of the Harbour City. The paper is thus divided in four sections, outlining the lifestyle imageneering that underpins Sydney's global growth, the move to a green theme in urban planning, the multiscalar governance process that defines Sydney politics, and the increasingly central urban entrepreneurialism of the city's governance. The essay concludes with some considerations on this trend vis-à-vis the emergence of non-traditional challenges that the Harbour City is facing in the 21st century.
Global: Sydney's imagineering and the lifestyle narrative
Despite Saskia Sassen (1994, 85) described it as Australia's only global city as early as 1994, Sydney has traditionally occupied a rather marginal position in the world city literature. Honored only by sporadic mentions alongside far more famed urban centers such as New York and London, relegated by a lack of internationally available publications (Olds 2000), the Harbour City was considered a ‘secondary city' (Friedmann 1986) for much of the 1990s: Peter Hall initially sidelined it as “sub-global” (1995, 22), while the Globalization and World Cities (GaWC) analysis group at Loughborough University catalogued it as an ‘outer' second-level (beta) world city in its first urban ranking (Beaverstock et al. 1999). However, Sydney has since then rapidly moved to a center stage in both popular and academic discourses. It has firmly surpassed Melbourne, its long-standing national rival, to become Australia's core settlement (Searle 1996; Connell 2000; Elias 2003). It has become the country's key mobility hub and primary link with the world economy (Ley and Murphy 2001; Hugo 2008) and reached global recognition by hosting the 2000 Summer Olympics.
At present, the city is an increasingly stable presence in the plethora of urban ranking that has sprawled amongst academic and journalistic publications. In GaWC's revised roster, Sydney now occupies an ‘alpha+' position that is second only to the ever-dominant NYLON (New York and London) duo, and its rapid elevation to this status – along with Beijing and Shanghai – is considered to be the key finding of this 2008 survey (Taylor, 2009b). Similarly, the city has been ranked 16th in Foreign Policy's 2008 Global Cities Index and 14th in the 2007 Mastercard Worldwide Centers of Commerce Index, while also scoring highly in quality of life and sustainability surveys such as the Economist's 2008 Most Livable Cities and Monocle magazine's livability list. Even in the current financial crisis scenario Sydney has proven capable of faring positive performances thanks to its overarching stability in the performance of its key financial institutions, becoming a ‘big winner' vis-à-vis its urban competitors despite the worldwide recession, and representing one of the best cases of ‘East to West' shift in the world of international financial centers (Derudder et al. 2009)1.
However, as Scott Baum (1997) pointed out, Sydney's global fortunes – and the problems that come with them – cannot be explained by global processes alone. The city's ascent in the world urban hierarchy is not merely a consequence of worldwide realignment, nor simply a legacy of the 2000 Olympics. Rather, Sydney's increasingly central positioning on global financial, information and mobility ‘highways' is the result of a complex mix of flows and networks that have not just been shifting eastwards, but also the product of conscious design by the various actors involved in the city's governance. In an analogous move to several growing Asian world cities such as Hong Kong and Shanghai, the Harbour City has been built to compete on a global scale against other strategic sites of globalization, with the state (China and SAR Government for the former, NSW in the latter case) taking the lead role in both political and physical construction of Sydney as a ‘global city' (Newman and Thornley 2005; McGuirk 2007).
Since the boom in urban growth of mid-1970s (Daly 1987), and even more markedly from the mid-1990s with the growing importance of its CBD as financial hub based around the Reserve Bank and the Australian Stock Exchange, Sydney has been developed around a two-fold strategy that has underpinned the policies of various different state governments. As Peter Murphy and Sophie Watson (1997) underlined, the Harbour City has centered its global imagineering strategy on the themes of tourism and business, linked by the branding of a Sydneysider lifestyle that is rooted in the cosmopolitan, modern and relatively inexpensive features of its urban life. In this view, Sydney's characteristics are supposed to appeal to both the transient visitor in search of the Australian experience, or the corporate (middle-to-high) class looking for a livable but styled settlement. Tourist branding required the development and marketing of icons such as the Opera House and Bondi Beach, the improvement of mobility infrastructures to house greater numbers of transient users as well as an emphasis on special happenings like Mardi Gras, New Year's celebrations on the Harbour and mega-events like the Olympics (Spearritt 2006). Along with these, Sydney has proved capable of sustaining the parallel growth of a business-pitched re-organization that has been pinpointed on similar, if not often analogous, developments: efficient mobility hubs to house global flows not just of people but also of capitals, information and goods, feature corporate spaces such as Aurora Place and 126 Phillip Street, and cultural institutions are in fact compatible and often contingent on much of the same complexes that form the visitor-oriented urban substrate. Positioning a metropolis as ‘post-industrial service city' (Hamnett 2001) allows for manufacturing cores to be moved away – or indeed eliminated – from tourist and business paths, thus allowing for more flexibility in the re-branding and re-developing of city spaces Further, these configurations can coexist in the same Sydneysider lifestyle imagineering, selling the Sydney ‘experience' and ‘commodifiying' the urban into a product to be consumed in either a short or a long term (Zukin 1997). Likewise they have both equally found fertile ground in the liberalization and demand-oriented approach that, as we will see below, the city has undergone throughout the last decade.
As the lifestyle approach was, arguably, bearing some fruits, the Harbour City slowly integrated a third theme to its urban imagineering: sustainability. Although some movements towards more integration between planning and environmentalism were already present since the 1970s and in alternate phases in the mid-1980s (Christoff and Low 2000, 246-9), the increasing centrality of green solutions in Sydney has taken off more extensively only through the 1990s, inaugurated by the Australian Labor Government's ‘Building Better Cities' plan in 1991, which prompted some ad hoc arrangements to growing sustainability questions such as the inner docks renovation in Ultimo (Hundloe and McDonald 1997). To be certain, however, this move towards a more ecological approach to city re-development is not unique of Sydney or Australia. Embodied by the 1992 Rio Summit (the ‘Earth Summit') and its major outcomes, the so-called ‘Agenda 21' and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the global environmentalist movement and the progressive global governance efforts to implement sustainable-oriented policies echoed across the whole globe with increasing influence (McCormick 1995; Elliott 2004). Indeed, cities themselves took up advocacy and governance roles promoting cross-national initiatives through international initiatives such as the United Cities and Local Governments organization or the Cities Alliance and, later on, the Climate Leadership Group. Yet, before moving into Sydney's role in this set of processes, we need to explore how the Harbour City has integrated this ‘green' ethos into its two-fold lifestyle imageneering.
Green: re-styling a sustainable Sydney
‘Green' is nowadays a key element in the construction of Sydney's global image. It is, even before becoming actual urban planning, a lifestyle re-branding and a re-problematization of the city's identity in the global ‘imaginative geography' (Gregory 1994). What this means in practice is that the city has to act accordingly both through the definition of a new urban narrative and through the reconfiguration of its features to suit the changing discourse. If this might equal a paradigm shift for some metropolises, especially in the East (Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul to name a few), greening Sydney is instead relatively easy: the city's identity is already substantiated by an environmentally-prone image of the ‘Harbour City' that is solidly rooted in its lifestyle branding, be it visitor- or business-oriented. Ever since the 1988 twin development of Darling Harbour and the First Fleet anchorage that now houses Circular Quay and the Opera House, Sydney's dramatic growth in tourism and corporate activities has been tied tightly to the ‘cafè harbour society' (Bargwanna 2006, 364) stereotype of a green and livable city open to all kinds of ‘guests' (Sassen 1999) from the backpacker to the financial elite. This should, however, not downplay that there are some separate areas of urban and architectural development that do not overlap between these two categories. Business-oriented planning, for instance, requires interior space configurations and preferential pathways that have (and in most cases are meant to have) little connection to public areas. Nonetheless, Sydney remains one of the most striking cases of intertwining between the two. This intersection has in fact fuelled a demand for more green spaces such as Hyde Park and natural attractions, and greater connectivity with the various areas of Sydney Harbour National Park such as Watsons Bay in the far East end of the city. Arguably, the green theme as progressively acted as a linkage between the vacationer façade of the city, and its corporate core, enhancing the attractiveness of that ‘leisure dimension' that ‘differentiates Sydney from other [world] cities in the Asia Pacific region' (Dean 2005, 52). In turn, the escalating prominence of green solutions to city planning and architecture has slowly modified the patterns of consumption of the city's major urban spaces, remodeling large central areas such as the CBD, Bondi or Manly, to fit the new dominant lifestyle.
In this view, local government authorities in Sydney have taken up a vast array of green initiatives aimed at improving its livability and aligning to global standards such as Agenda 21. For instance, the CitySwitch initiative, a national programme aimed at reducing greenhouse gases emissions by improving energy efficiency of office spaces, has been endorsed and promoted by Parramatta, North Sydney and City of Sydney Councils with the patronage of NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (DECCW) and in coordination with other state capitals such as Brisbane and Canberra. Climate advocacy and awareness events like Living Green or the Earth Hour are also presently widespread throughout the calendar, with more targeted campaigns usually led by the City of Sydney Council promoting green practices such as cycling or car sharing.
Public-private partnerships on sustainability themes between LGAs and companies are also a rising phenomenon. Sydney's local governments have, for instance, teamed up with the Australian branch of Global Renewables to develop a process of mechanical biological treatment of solid waste called UR-3R2. This scheme, based on the Easter Creek facility built 35 kilometers west of the city, is in charge of managing about 11% of the municipal waste and seeks to recover the maximum possible amount of recyclables, compost and electrical energy from the processing of solids through biological and mechanical means, rather than relying on incineration. Despite the heavy reliance on the efficiency of collection mechanisms, UR-3R has thus far attained interesting results and minimal environmental and social impacts that might be mirrored in other Asia-Pacific Countries.
NSW Planning has also acted as facilitator to many of these initiatives and has, since June 2009, developed a system (the so-called Gateway Process) that is targeted at fast-tracking environmental projects in the state's ministerial assessment and decision stages. However, the most relevant contribution by New South Wales is perhaps the metropolitan planning strategy known as City of Cities, released in December 2005 by the then-Minister for Planning Frank Sartor. With a substantial focus on development sustainability, this state-led scheme has envisaged differential development based on a classification of Sydney's LGAs in set of ‘strategic centres' with different functions. Namely, the LGAs have been ranked as ‘global Sydney, regional cities, major centres and specialized centres' (NSW Planning 2005). Importantly, this view has outlined what parts of the overall conurbation ‘have national and international significance' (North Sydney and the City of Sydney) and which are instead major logistic hubs (such as the Airport, Olympic Park-Rhodes or Randwick Education and Health precinct), diversifying these from ‘regional' service centers (such as Liverpool and Parramatta) and other sub-local communities (such as Campbelltown). Likewise, the strategy has also indicated what areas have the potential, but are not presently developed, to acquire ‘major centre' status (as for Cambramatta and Leppington).
The City of Sydney Council, however, is perhaps the most active green agent of the last few years. This growing concern with environmental responses to climate change and urban livability is probably best epitomized by the aforementioned Sustainable Sydney 2030 – a vision for a ‘green, global and connected' metropolitan center originated in a series of public consultations and cooperation with various key local planners (such as Lend Lease property management corporation) as well as architects Jan Gehl and Ken Maher culminated in a policy document issued in 20083. This project, which set out to revolution and revitalize the metropolis' core with environmentally-oriented developments and emphasis on sub-local community improvement setting the City of Sydney's ‘City of Villages' diversification policy in much similar course to the NSW's ‘City of Cities initiative, but at a different scale. As the docment points out (City Council of Sydney 2008, 6-7) Sydney's inner city is thus supposed to become ‘internationally recognized for its environmental performance' (thus ‘green'), ‘Australia's most significant global city' (thus ‘green') and networked within and without its boundaries (thus ‘connected').
But where does all of this green come from? The rise of ecological solutions as mantra of city planning is the result of two intertwined processes. On the one hand, a move towards sustainability is the result of the growth in material pressures such as climate change and traffic, on those who govern the city. On the other, environmental policies are the consequences of societal pulls and a need to conform to global trend, and to speak the language of the global community. The social logic of this two-fold dynamic is much of the same that can be found in the act of dressing up: while the major factors prompting individuals to put on clothes are certainly physical (weather in primis), people do not just wear anything; rather, the garments choices we make are also impacted by pressures that our, as well as other, groups inspire, by material resources that are socially prevented to us, and by our need to be recognized within determinate social circles. Were we to live like Robinson Crusoes stranded away from society in the middle of nowhere, our clothing patters would most likely be almost solely affected by environmental concerns. Yet, we are parts of communities, subjects to societal flows and exclusions, and visitors to alien contexts. All factors contribute to the decision on our daily appearance. In a similar way, cities go green to respond to pollution, to satisfy their users' livability demands, and to announce (or reiterate) their presence in world affairs at the same time.
Sustainability initiatives are thus also a crucial part of contemporary cities' acts of establishment on the global landscape. Urban settlements, in fact, are not just places where human relations unfold, but also spatially delimited communities with the capacity to entertain political relations within and without their conurbation's boundaries. Cities are in this sense polities with varying degrees of political participation to the governance process that underpins their agency. At times, as in the case of Paris or Milan, a strong municipality holds much of the control over the city's internal and external affairs, while at times (and Sydney is a case in point) the authority structure is more decentralized, with various actors intersecting at several different scales. Similarly, cities might be strongly embedded in a hierarchical system of government (as in Shanghai or Moscow), or more flexibly capable of taking decisions and carrying out policies on their own (as with New York and London)4. The city, to put it simply, is not just a place that is but also an agent that does. Nevertheless, understanding the city as a participant in world affairs requires a comprehension of the governmental rationality of social relations on both local and global scales that goes far beyond the classical state-centric notion of political relations. The social space of politics of the 21st century is, in fact, much more complex than many theorists often assume: it entails a multi-polar and multi-scalar participation of countless entities in a set of processes that cut across the mosaic of nation-states (Rose and Miller 1992). Only if we problematize world affairs through relational lenses we will be able to ‘hold the city in tension' with the multiplicity of social forces that transverse it (Massey 1999).
However, there are important concerns that arise from this assumption: admitting political agency for the city also introduces social and political questions on the capacity of such governance sphere to deliver effective outcomes, be representative of, and beneficial to, its constituency, as well as allow for accountability. As Doreen Massey put it in the case of London: ‘it becomes necessary to ask, when speaking of global cities, whose city is at issue here?' (2007, 215).
In our case in particular, as Donald McNeill, Robyn Dowling and Bob Fagan highlighted: ‘what characterizes Sydney politics is an inability for one politician to speak for, or to, an identifiable citizenry' (2005, 942). If the question of urban citizenship is a prime issue when tackling the globalization of the Harbour City, the reverse is also crucial: who can speak for Sydney? If it is certainly vital to understand whether the city allows for the participation of all its inhabitants, or not, it is also essential to ask ourselves, recalling Robert Dahl's (2005) famous query, ‘who governs?'
Connected: the power-geometry of a greening Sydney
The question of authority is far more complex than what might seem to the outsider's eye, as the identity that Sydney is in the popular imagination often hinders a full appreciation of the extreme intricacy of the cross-related political processes that underpin it. The 12,000-odd square kilometers of Sydney's area lack a metropolitan-wide system of government that features in many other global or world cities. In London, for instance, the GLA (Greater London Authority) administers the city's strategic policy by coordinating – and sharing control functions with – 32 localized boroughs, as well as by providing representative functions with a clearly identifiable figure such as the Mayor of London, who in turn is readily identifiable as the voice of the City. No analogous body exists in the case of Sydney, where the overall conurbation is split in 39 local government authorities with a relatively weak legal position (Christoff and Low 2000, 257; Painter 1997, 148). Much of the administrative and policy functions are constitutionally devolved to the state level, with federal entities playing only minor parts. In this sense, Sydney has historically lacked of a key local coordinating authority.
Many authors have underlined how, in this ‘institutional void' (Hajer 2003), the government of New South Wales has acted as animateur in order to produce metropolitan strategies and orientations (McGuirk 2007; Birmingham 1999; Searle and Bounds 1999; Searle 1996). Chiefly through Planning NSW and the Department of State and Regional Development (DSRD), the state government has shaped Sydney to become a strategic site in the world urban hierarchy through an increasingly neoliberal agenda oriented towards regulatory flexibility and attempts to attract international elites (Allison and Keane 1998). Further, planning and urban management in New South Wales' prime conurbation have become some of the key features of state policy, reflecting in some of Sydney's major metropolitan developments such as or the financial and technical support to the Easter Creek Raceway in 1989, or the 1995 backing for the construction of the Fox Studios. In some instances, NSW has even taken the lead against the city's overall objection, as in the case of the planning for the Sydney Casino in Pyrmont, where the City Council of Sydney (1994) first, and the local community afterwards (Hillier and Searle 1995) voiced their complaints to the government and the Minister for Planning, which was eventually forced to deny wide public participation and centralize the whole process to fast track the constructions (Searle and Bounds 1999).
However, the substantial presence of the NSW government in Sydney's decision-making structure should not obscure a much more complex political picture underlining Australia's global city. As Pauline McGuirk noted in various studies (see for example 2004 and 2005), the formation of Sydney as strategic site of globalization needs to be understood as a ‘multiscalar process' that results in the political construction of the city as a ‘space of governance' (2007, 179-80). In this view, the urban development of Sydney is inextricably intertwined with two political ensembles, the state and the urban, both characterized by diffused authority and multipolar configurations where several actors interact to formulate policy outcomes. In this Foucauldian ‘governmentality' (Foucault 1991) picture the state and the city are not just two hierarchically-ordered institutions. Rather, they are ‘spheres of authority' (Rosenau 2003, 293-314) where many agents exercise their influence: ‘local' interests and lobbies engage the state and federal levels to promote specific approaches, while state, federal and international agencies engage the urban to implement – and seek approval for – policies and plans. Likewise, these two spheres are not the only levels of decision-making and control: political bargaining and power-relations unfold within these, as in the case of cross-sectoral relations or local civil society initiatives. To this extent, both state and urban governance can be depicted as ‘processes constituted at multiple scales' (McGuirk 2004, 1020), with many different agents piercing through the various layers, interacting asymmetrically with other spheres and often bypassing the assumed pecking order of the Westphalian state. New South Wales and local governments are thus embedded in a fluid milieu where authority is diffuse and where pecking orders – beyond constitutional prerogatives – are often dictated by the circumstances and the issue addressed.
The NSW government itself has been a strong supporter of this participatory process, promoting coalition-building across local actors and rallying consensus for its initiatives, as in the case of the establishment of the Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games in 1993, or with the 1996 South Sydney Development Corporation set up to coordinate inner city industrial transitions. As McGuirk pointed out, New South Wales has been a crucial driver in ‘producing the capacity to govern in global Sydney' by deploying ‘two key sets of regulatory powers that fundamentally influence Sydney's governance: strategic land use planning and economic development planning' (2003, 206). State dominance in Sydney politics has thus been achieved by NSW agencies by defining the overall ground and financial trend for the global city's expansion. Yet, as McGuirk herself noticed, limiting Sydney to New South Wales initiatives is losing sight of a much more complex picture, which is ‘enriched by attending to its scalar context and its location within dynamic scalar politics' (Ibid, 219). Moreover, NSW might not be the most successful agent in the governance coalitions that drive Sydney politics. Similarly to what pointed out in the case of green developments illustrated above, the state government has encountered several problems in building a global Sydney in various other sectors. Glen Searle and Michael Bounds, for instance, highlighted quite substantially how NSW's ‘successes in predicting the popularity of events and entertainments has been little better than its record at industry policy: empty stadia and loss-making casinos have replaced silent factories and docks' (1999, 172). Despite the accomplishments of the 2000 Olympics, the overall record of Sydney's entertainment industry remains rather low. Where Sydney's entrepreneurship has paid off, on the contrary, is in the aforementioned twin tourism-business branding, with many events being amalgamated into the package of Sydneysider experiences to be consumed by city guests – as profitably demonstrated by the Mardi Gras celebrations (Markwell 2002). Overall, it can be argued that Sydney has followed the path of many other cities (MacLeod and Goodwin 1999) in shifting from a government to a governance approach to urban politics, with the increasing prominence of a multipolar, rather than hierarchical, process.
The list of participants to city governance is indeed extremely dependent on the case observed. Yet, a few usual suspects can be identified in many of the initiatives, beyond the traditional presence of NSW agencies and federal commissions. Private lobbying coalitions, for instance, are playing an increasingly relevant role in the Harbour City. Amongst many, one of the key actors of this kind is the so-called ‘Committee for Sydney' – a group of business leaders established in 1997. The Committee seeks to tackle issues that concern the ‘whole of Sydney' and in particular lobby on all levels of government in order to promote the city's prosperity. Members of the group range widely across the urban corporate and culture spectrum, with representatives from, for instance, Macquarie Capital Group, Sydney Airport Corporation, Minter Ellison, Coca-cola, the National Rugby League or the Museum of Contemporary Art. As attested by the Sydney 2020 strategy paper released in 1998, the Committee developed a pro-active role in Sydney's global positioning, because its founding members perceived that the public sector alone was no longer capable of tackling this challenge alone5.
Similarly, and perhaps more importantly, the City of Sydney local government has progressively carved a central stage in metropolitan politics, defining the pace and orientation of much of the pool of initiatives developing in the city in the present scenario. Formally an equal among 38 LGAs present in the vast metropolitan region constituting Sydney, and representing only 26.15 square kilometers stretching from Rosebery to the Rocks, this local government authority has become the catalyst of the city's globalization. Under the last two Lord Mayors, Labor Frank Sartor between 1991 and 2003 and independent Clover Moore since 2004, the City of Sydney has acquired a core spot in Sydney politics, especially thanks to the relevance of the CBD in the process of ascent of the city in global urban hierarchies. This central place has certainly not been hindered by the New South Wales government, which has made of the City of Sydney the focal point of much of its ‘Sydney-centric strategy' (O'Neill and McGuirk 2005), to the extent that today the LGA, and in particular its CBD, is now considered – as one Planning NSW official put it – ‘the driving force' of both New South Wales and Australia (in McGuirk 2004, 1028). The City Council did not dismiss such imputation and took over core regulatory and service provision functions that presently sustain a conurbation far greater than its constitutional boundaries. As the Council described it in the last Annual Report: ‘the City of Sydney has an important role as caretaker of Australia's global city.'6
However, it is important to point out that the ascent of the City of Sydney as key player in urban politics has been coupled with increasing social contradictions and a growing strategic dependence of other actors (NSW Planning as well as privates) on the CBD's authority. Rather than moving towards a polycentric-type conurbation (Hall and Pain 2008), which is often hinted at in the policy documents issued by local and state authorities, Sydney has progressively embarked on a path towards internal ‘hierarchical differentiation' (Pumain 2006) with both City of Sydney and North Sydney playing major roles in attracting global flows, mobility infrastructure secondary centers organizing the conurbation's physical connectedness to worldwide networks, and outer suburbs (especially in the West) becoming marginal communities. This is, I would argue, not just the result of a indirect re-organizing prompted by the rise to global city status, but also a conscious project undertaken – at times with different goals – by state government and central LGAs. Of course, this has, and certainly continues to, raise a more than a few eyebrows. As journalist Debra Jopson wrote reporting a National Economics survey in 2002: ‘Sydney has been described as Australia's only globalized city, but less than 2% of the 12,138 square kilometers in the greater metropolitan area really deserve the title.'7
Green, global and connected: the rise of entrepreneurial Sydney
In its multipolar governance power-geometry, Sydney is reminiscent of the case of London during the Thatcher years. When, in 1985, the Conservative executive led by the Iron Lady abolished the Greater London Council (GLC) that had been the top-tier in charge of administering most of the city's conurbation since 1965, London found itself without a clear leadership. The body that substituted the GLC, the London County Council, had a far smaller jurisdiction and far more limited competences and left a vast institutional void between the several city boroughs and the state. In this vacuum, the Corporation of London – covering the ‘Square Mile' (as it is usually know for its approximate area) of the central CBD – developed some promotion functions similar to those of the City of Sydney, focusing on financial centers and cultural institutions, as well as on mobility infrastructures directly connected to these. At the same time, business leaders and, in particular, academics were prompted to participate in a series of ad hoc governance processes that sought to fill the gaps left by the disappearance of the GLC (Porter 1998, 364-84). For fourteen years the City remained in this distributed authority situation, until the Labour Party regained power and promoted a London-wide referendum in 2000, which saw the re-establishment of a Greater London Authority (GLA) with an elected Lord Mayor and vast powers on the whole conurbation. Just like in present-day Sydney, the period between the GLC and the GLA was characterized by a strong presence of the state in the development of the city, with an increasingly independent and entrepreneurial core (not surprisingly coinciding with the CBD) playing a key role in the globalization of the city. Likewise, in both cases, private, cultural and academic voices participated in a set of variably informal discussions and decision-making groups. Many of these issue-based partnerships were also prompted by mounting livability concerns, lack of public and institutional direction and need for a democratic process to tackle these problems effectively (Thornley 1992). Often led by Labour party affiliates or sympathizers, countless local and foreign interests played out in a coalition-building process very similar to that described above8.
Both London and Sydney are today crucial places in world affairs, representing the strategic sites of those globalizing processes that are redefining humanity. However, just like any other city, these localities are also an ‘inherently fragile social achievement' that ‘must be maintained carefully against various kinds of odds' (Appadurai 1990, 179). In fact, as Roderick McKenzie noted as early as 1927, the centres of gravity of global affairs are ‘in constant process of change and realignment' (1927, 42) as metropolises move in their position in the social geography of human relations. Cities alternate between golden ages of worldwide significance and dark ages of anonymity (Hall 1998). In order to enhance and maintain their positions, they need to engage other actors on the global scenario, while also constantly adjusting their urban structures. This modus operandi is what David Harvey (1989) has termed ‘urban entrepreneurialism' – that two-fold governance approach by which cities contemporaneously manage their urban structure and engage with wider geographical spheres. Entrepreneurialism, in this sense, is composed by three elements: innovation, external engagement and competitiveness – which carefully balanced can offer a decisive comparative advantage to political (as well as economic and social) institutions in the age of globalization.
Ever since the 1990s, Sydney has followed this novel governance path, shifting at a rapid pace from the management-style approaches of the 1970s and 1980s, to a more and more opportunistic, business-oriented and outgoing edge (Lennon 2000, 149-50). Crucially, this entrepreneurial approach is not just the result of global pressures, but a ‘ real and reflexive' shift representative of ‘a purposeful aim' and substantiated by an urban narrative (the lifestyle imageneering described thus far) that attests its rationality (Jessop and Sum 2000, 2287). In the context of this move, Sydney has progressively been the target of pro-entrepreneurial activities both from without (NSW and the federal government) as well as from within. Sydney has in fact been the object of aggressive liberalization, with a conscious agenda by the parties involved in order to promote, mostly through neoliberal policies, global competitiveness (see for instance McGuirk 2003 and 2004; Stillwell and Troy 2000). Sydney has progressively been described as a ‘golden egg' – as the Committee for Sydney put it in 2001 – capable of bringing benefits to all Sydneysiders and Australians9. However, as Doreen Massey's study of another famous golden treasure – London as a ‘golden goose' – has pointed out, there are important differences between the rhetoric of these localities as ‘global cities' and the actual benefit flows that generate and circulate through them (2007, 97-113). Underlying interests and economic relations underpin their power-geometries, and inequality develops both across the conurbation, and between the city and other adjacent urban centres. Not everyone benefits from the goose, and the polarization impacts of globalization (Sassen 1991; Searle 2002; Baum 2008) are a growing concern for scholars and planners alike.
Yet, even before any social justice considerations, there are also serious physical downsides to being entrepreneurial without a clear lead to guide the city's orientation. While metropolises like Singapore, Hong Kong and London have a well-identified catalyst to the multiscalar governance process that underpins their entrepreneurship, Sydney – much alike Shanghai – is still too dependent on ad hoc strategies, which are mostly the result of state policies. Entrepreneurship, contrary to management, pushes towards liberalization and demand-oriented branding, while the forces of globalization (and those of neoliberal globalization in particular) pull the city in manifold directions as inspired by the ever-changing set of global networks and global realignments. The Harbour City also lacks the strong institutional texture that has allowed rising East Asian cities to avoid ‘letting themselves be led like lambs to the slaughter of international competition' (Martin and Schumann 1997, 143). This has reflected on Sydney's planning rather substantially, resulting in what Penelope Dean has aptly termed ‘deadline urbanism' (2000) which is demand-driven, surgical and oriented towards remedial solutions to adapt existing spaces to changing markets, rather than planning for the long term. Sydney has become ‘the accidental city' where liberalization, laissez-faire policies and global economic aspirations have driven the design and configuration of the city (Punter 2005). Lacking a catalyst capable or setting the pace and direction of urban restructuring, Sydney risks to emulate the dangerous entrepreneurial edge that characterizes several newcomers to the highest echelons of the world city hierarchy. Dubai, for instance, is a case in point of such degeneration. The Emirate has in fact recently shown a worrying trend: as the city seeks to market its unique melting pot of cultures and nationalities as a means for global expansion, its planning strategy has turned into ‘demand-oriented planning' and ‘instant urbanism' (Bagaeen, 2007: 175) that aims at creating comfort zones for all of its wealthy expatriate and short-term visitors. Emirati developers have thus embarked in a multitude of projects that have fragmented the city into several coming-soon themed areas built to satisfy the variegated and shifting needs of the global audience: Downtown Dubai with the largest mall and the tallest building in the world, Internet City with its high-tech business centers, Healthcare City organized in association with the Harvard Medical School, the archipelago of privately-owned islets built to represent an atlas, the Lost City inspired by ancient civilizations, these and countless others are supposed to constitute the future urban fabric of a city whose identity is in constant flux. Dubai is increasingly built for the ‘visitor class' (Eisinger, 2000) rather than its – mostly invisible – inhabitants, and it risks to become the Las Vegas of the Middle East, rather than the next global city. Sydney, in this view, needs to find a center of gravity for its urban processes, or otherwise it risks remaining at the mercy of the shifting demands of both its tourist users and the much more evasive global capitalist class (Sklair 2005; Atkinson and Bridge 2005; Sassen 2007, 173-8). With the rise of the City of Sydney as core entrepreneurial actor in the multilayered governance of the metropolis, and with the publication of both the City of Cities and the Sydney 2030 strategies, it seems like the political process underpinning the ascent to global city status has elected the inner city as catalyst for action. The City of Sydney has, in some sense, been consciously talked into authority by the state government and by its own growing entrepreneurial edge. Yet, the formal, legal as well as much of the consuetudinary practices are far from setting this rather limited LGA to the helm of the whole conurbation. Without a clear pecking order, or at least a widely-acknowledged spokesperson for the entire Sydneysider community, these sustainability strategies remain unaccountable to most of the inhabitants of the Harbour City, thus allowing little or no accountability mechanism, and no overall guarantor of a universal right to the city.
Moreover, the move to entrepreneurialism has meant an increasingly central focus on competitiveness. Since the 1990s, the governance process underpinning Sydney politics has been inspired by a ‘global imperative of looking, acting and being governed as a competitive city' (McGuirk 2004, 1019). The growing salience of global networks, the increasing importance of the advanced producer services industry and the key role of business elites in shaping the form and orientation of the city have all been essential factors in pushing towards the antagonistic element of entrepreneurialism, thus subjugating its other two features (innovation and the outgoing edge) to competitiveness. Moreover, this shift has been fed by the heightened popular and academic interest in city rankings – with a sprawl in urban measurements and up-to-date monitoring of urban performances that have provided even more justification for an emphasis on intercity rivalry (McNeill et al. 2005, 937). Symptomatically, for instance, the City of Cities strategy makes direct reference to the idea of a ‘global Sydney maintaining a competitive edge' even reporting the Globalization and World Cities Network 2004 urban ranking and signaling ways to improve the Harbour City's positioning (NSW Planning 2005, 26-7). In an analogous way, the Sydney 2030 strategy is a similar attempt to, in the words of the Lord Mayor Clover Moore: ‘position Sydney as one of the leading green cities in the race to address global warming and to become a city with strong green credentials to attract future business and investment.'10
However, as recently pointed out by Peter Taylor (2009a), one of the most authoritative voices on urban networks and the director of GaWC's network cited in the 2005 NSW strategy, reducing intercity relations to hierarchical alignments is an unfortunately common and misleading mistakes that urban scholars and the public alike incur in. In the academy, this is mainly the result and legacy of the influence of Walter Christaller's ‘central place theory' (1966) and its description of the pecking order of servicing agglomerations from rural to urban centers, as well as of the prevalent economic focus of the world city literature. Reigned by a widespread concern for economic indicators, the discipline has been affected by a ‘categorising imperative' (Robinson 2002) that has been fuelled by both the increasing popular attention and the ever-present policy-making beat on intercity competition. Yet, as Pierre Bourdieu once rightly observed: ‘Economicism leads one to reduce the social field, a multi-dimensional space, solely to the economic field' (1985, 723)11.
Some authors – Taylor included – have thus far attempted to move beyond this simplistic account of urban relations as an antagonistic and finance-based race. Michael Peter Smith, for instance, put forward the idea of ‘transnational urbanism' underlining how the ‘global city' is mainly a social construct wrongly reified in popular representations. Listing pecking orders for the sake of singling out winners and losers of a global urban competition provides, in his view, little advancement on the increasingly pressing issues prompted by the contemporary urban condition, while continuously reiterating the economicism that biases this paradigm. ‘The quest for a fixed urban hierarchy – he writes – should be abandoned […] because of the multiple and often contradictory composition of the [global] flows' and because of the erroneous ‘unavoidability of social polarization' that the global city thesis inspires (Smith, 2001 pp.54-58). Urban studies, suggests Smith, should be reformed by stepping beyond economic-centric explanations and offering a real response to the challenges of the 21st century. Yet, this is not just a question of scholarly evolution. As Mike Davis has fittingly pointed out in his Dead Cities, even if the academy has progressively accepted postmodern and critical approaches, when it comes to cities it is still ‘vulgar economic determinism [that] currently holds the seat of power' (2002: 415). In this sense, Sydney planners and policymakers are the ones that should first and foremost understand the complexity of global city formation and the risky business of entrepreneurship.
Where to? Scars and wicked problems on the Harbour
Sydney is indeed a globalizing city. As illustrated above, this contemporary process is associated with a growing practice of governance, rather than government, at and across the urban scale – a political space that has been purposefully created to construct Australia's urban champion. Equally conscious is the move that is shifting such governance approach from inward managerialism to a more globally-participatory entrepreneurialism. This latter, in the case of Sydney at least, is based on a two-fold imagineering that has progressively been complemented by a green theme. This also suggests, perhaps more generally than just in the Australian case, that there is a strong correlation between entrepreneurialism and rise on global city status, a phenomenon that could possibly be explained by a city's capacity to situate itself as a strategic site of global networks and a city's propensity to speak the language of the dominant culture. As pointed out above, the City of Sydney Council has been instrumental and particularly entrepreneurial in this achievement.
However, there are two problematic issues that arise from the brief outline of the Harbour city offered here: polarization, and the question of authority in entrepreneurial governance. Firstly, as has been argued in relation to many world city cases, globalizing localities tend to suffer from high degree of social polarization (Sassen 1991). The process of re-urbanization and social re-alignment that follows a city's ascent to global strategic site leaves profound ‘scars of socio-economic change' (Baum 2008, 2) that define the locality's human geography. Some of these, importantly, can be the result of rational policies – as the City of Cities strategy shows. Urban imagineering and planning can still affect cities far more than global trends: there is today an increasingly worrying trend in Sydney that shows social polarization processes with higher- and low-income (or lower- and higher- deprivation) groups occupying increasingly differentiated areas. This ‘two-Sydneys' (Healy and Birrell 2003; Baum 2008) thesis – derived from Sassen's original 1991 hypothesis – is sustained by a bimodal distribution trend in immigration patters towards higher-end jobs for skilled migrants and low-income service occupations for others (Hugo 2008)12. Likewise, this concerning path is largely complicated by the structural changes underpinning the city's re-styling, as the Harbour City's spatial segregation goes beyond a poor-West/rich-East dichotomy and becoming a ‘quartered city' (Marcuse 1989) with a strong internal hierarchical differentiation crowning the City of Sydney at the expenses of outer suburbs.
Flowing from this disordered polarization, the second problematic issue that Sydney is nowadays faced with is that of a clear lack of metropolitan-wide authority capable of prompting an approach that goes beyond mere deadline urbanism. This is not, however, a call for a despotic internal pecking order but rather for a system capable of organizing the practice of governance evolved thus far, going beyond a tacit dominance of the City of Sydney. A clear urban organization should enhance Sydney's capacity of intersecting more effectively with those spheres of authority it already looks at beyond state and federal layers. In fact, as Ulrich Beck pointed out, contemporary globalization processes have ‘introduced a new space and framework for acting' in which politics ‘is no longer tied solely to state actors and institutions, the result being that additional players, new roles, new resources – writes Beck – appear on the scene' (2005, 3-4). It is time for Sydney to move away from an entrepreneurial approach focused almost solely on competition, and engage more directly with both its peers in city-to-city cooperation (Bontenbal and van Lindert 2009) as well as in city diplomacy (van der Pluijm and Melissen 2007) with other political entities. Hence, it is time to refocus on the other two aspects of entrepreneurship: Sydney can lead by example through its sustainability innovations, as well as liaise through external relations for common, rather than antagonistic, solutions.
Through these political practices, cities can shape the environment of international affairs, asserting the presence of the urban on a global scale and responding to many of the same challenges other political organizations (states and supranational institutions, for example) face in the 21st century. Climate change, social polarization, human rights, security and overpopulation are all ‘wicked problems' (Rittel and Weber 1973) that, in a multilayered and multiscalar context such as the one depicted above, prompt reactions of individuals at every social level. Several authors have already underlined how cities and municipal institutions have a ‘strategic governance capacity' (Healey 2004; Betsill and Bulkeley 2003; Léautier 2006) that can be crucial in solving environmental and human security problems. Strongly linked with their facilitating functions and the global influence of intercity networks, the urban ability to formulate political will, gather resources and tackle these problems has thus far been erroneously overlooked by many analysts concerned with these issues. It is perhaps time to look at the possibility of establishing a Greater Sydney Authority: a possible and more sustainable alternative to the present rise of an intra-urban hierarchy dominated by the City of Sydney. Such structure is not incompatible with governance processes – as the case of London shows – and might be capable of managing a balanced entrepreneurship far better than the present alignments, while – and most importantly I would argue – offering an accountable voice for all Sydney's citizens to see their right to the city respected.
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1. Sydney's positive performance in the global financial crisis is, just like the rapid ascent in the other rankings, is paralleled by Shanghai and Beijing – which followed a very similar upward trajectory to the Australian world city in the past decade (Taylor 2009b and Derudder et al. 2009).
2. Global Renewables is a European subsidiary of Gold and Resources Development Limited engaged in waste recycling. The ‘Urban Resource – Reduction, Recovery Recycling' (UR-3R) scheme is in place since 2004 and interests an estimate 4 million inhabitants pool with 210,000 tons of solid waste processed per annum. See www.globalrenewables.eu/ur3r-process/description (accessed 8 November 2009).
3. It should be pointed out, nonetheless, that this strategy refers to the City of Sydney Council, which covers little more than the CBD area.
4. Obviously, city-states like Singapore and Dubai, or ‘special arrangements' urbanities such as Hong Kong and Barcelona represent particular cases (see for example Olds and Yeung 2004). My intention here is to offer only a brief summary of city ‘politics' and the dynamics of urban participation to global affairs (Argument explored in more detail in Acuto 2009a and 2009b).
5. See: Committee for Sydney (1998) Sydney 2020. Sydney: Price Waterhouse Coopers, pp.21-2.
8. I thank Sir Peter Hall for pointing out this fitting parallel to me.
11. Importantly, most of the ‘founding fathers' of the world city literature – Peter Hall, John Friedmann, Saskia Sassen and Peter Taylor – have all considered economic factors only as part of their studies, and have ever since moved to broader social contexts.
12. For example, it is particularly significant that if Scott Baum was able to dismiss this bimodal distribution thesis in 1997, his latest study now shows how Sydney is ‘reflecting the polarized nature often associated with global cities' (cf. Baum 1997, 1881 with Baum 2008, 16), a trend much similar to that of Hong Kong (Forrest et al. 2004).
Note: This Research Bulletin has been published in International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 36 (2), (2012), 381-399