The Asian City: Processes of Development, Characteristics and Planning

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The Asian City: Processes of Development, Characteristics and Planning

In this paper the stamp in Figure 1 is read as a symbol of a developmental city-state in a globalising era. It signifies to us at least the nation-state - hence the simple presence of a postal stamp to be read. This stamp also signifies the spatially limited scale of the city. In other words Singapore is just a city - a tiny sq. Yet, while control is deemed an irrelevant objective, the developmental city-state of Singapore never misses an opportunity to convey how the small city must cope with and exploit ride global and regional systemic change in an aggressive and strategic fashion Ho and So, ; Yeung, ; Economic Review Committee, How can a city no larger than Surabaya in Indonesia, Ankara in Turkey, Cologne in Germany, Monterrey in Mexico, Montreal in Canada, or Boston in the United States ensure that economic and social development proceeds when there are no natural resources within the boundaries of the city, and no sources of intergovernmental transfer payments or multilateral aid?

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It does so by using the powers and capacities of the nation-state in material and discursive senses to transform society and space within the city, all in the aim of embedding Singapore within the evolving lattice of network relations that propel the world economy. I turned eight in the harbour of Singapore. We did not go ashore, but I remember the smell - sweetness and rot, both overwhelming. Last year I went again. The smell was gone. In fact Singapore was gone, scraped, rebuilt.

There was a completely new town there. Almost all of Singapore is less than 30 years old; the city represents the ideological production of the past three decades in its pure form, uncontaminated by surviving contextual remnants. It is managed by a regime that has excluded accident and randomness: even its nature is entirely remade. It is pure intention: if there is chaos, it is authored chaos; if it is ugly, it is designed ugliness; if it is absurd, it is willed absurdity. Singapore represents a unique ecology of the contemporary. Once global flows are grounded in the city, mechanisms are developed via the powers of the nation-state to reshape the nature of the networks Singapore is embedded within; to shift from being a simple repository for layers of foreign investment as guided by networks of transnational corporations , to simultaneously becoming an active exporter of development capital to potentially profitable sites around the region and the globe hence the image of the globe in the stamp.

The policy goal is to establish interactive economic relations with a broader range of economies so that Singapore can extract streams of profit from an extraterritorial terrain Yeung, ; ; Economic Review Committee, As noted above, this terrain is the globe pictured in the stamp; a terrain that evolves and changes over time. The hands represent social intention to establish this terrain, and the dominant role of the state in guiding the relational transformational process.

Finally, the cables, satellites and wires represent the technologies that Singaporeans will have to increasingly rely upon to establish, maintain and reshape this terrain. The fact that city-states are globalising both inwards and outwards is not new, as will be detailed further in this paper.

What is surprising, however, is that much of the literature on global cities has paid little attention to 'the ways in which actors and institutions as active agents in cities make the world-city-ness of cities' Robinson, ; our emphasis. In other words how do some world or global cities come into being. Similarly, little attention has been focused on the complex interrelationships between global city formation and the developmental state though see Hill and Kim, , and Saito, , nor recognised the unique characteristics of the developmental city-state.

In such an intellectual context, we argue for the need to further extend our existing global city research agenda such that it further recognizes the enormous varieties of global cities. There is also a need to support more research that investigates, in historically- and geographically-specific ways, the processes through which these 'other' global cities are formed, transformed, and extended beyond their immediate urban territoriality.

In short, we need stronger consideration of the differential pathways associated with global city formation processes.

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This paper is conceptual for the most part. The main aim of the paper is to complement in a modest way attempts by Saskia Sassen, John Friedmann and others at better understanding the implications of globalization and transnationalism for cities, but in a way that emphasizes the differential paths that cities follow as they globalize or are globalized.


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We do this by moving out of the empirical terrain of North America and Europe to Pacific Asia, to develop an exploration of the interrelationships between global city formation processes, the developmental state, and the unique characteristics of the contemporary city-state. That said, while this paper is conceptual in orientation, it is explicitly devised in a manner that reflects empirically derived knowledge about how Singapore 'works' - in terms of its regionalisation programmes, industrial development, urban planning, public housing programmes, transport policy, and higher education policy.

We begin with an overview of two decades of global city research. We then develop a theoretical perspective on the 'global reach' of developmental city-states. For cities to engender global reach in the formation of extraterritorial terrain of network relations they must have institutional will political and non-political and political legitimacy to initiate and sustain it through material and discursive practices. Discourses on the 'global city' and the 'world city' continue to be developed and circulated by academics in a variety of disciplines.

Amidst the avalanche of writing on the topic, we now have access to a number of detailed research monographs e.


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  • We also have access to a plethora of individual articles and chapters that utilise the concept when examining issues such as: regional development and change e. Tracing the lineage of such thinking also leads, in many cases, to the influential interdisciplinary writing of people like Fernand Braudel and Immanuel Wallerstein. All of the literature noted above can be categorised into three main overlapping fields of knowledge:. The first field of knowledge that is by far the largest in a relative sense, reflecting amongst other things positivist influences within disciplines such as geography and sociology.

    In terms of broad content the first and second fields of knowledge typically analyse the role of global cities in acting as 'key basing points' for transnational corporate headquarters. In doing so global cities so it is asserted become embedded within global circuits of capital Friedmann, , both facilitating and reflecting the material and symbolic power of global capital. To quote John Friedmann and Goetz Wolff , world cities have become tightly 'interconnected with each other through decision-making and finance', and they now 'constitute a world-wide system of control over production and market expansion'.

    Beyond their long history as centres for international trade and banking, these cities now function as centres in four new ways: first, as highly concentrated command points in the organization of the world economy; second, as key locations for finance and specialized service firms, which have replaced manufacturing as the leading economic sectors; third, as sites of production of innovations, in these leading industries; and fourth, as markets for the products and innovations produced.

    These changes in the functioning of cities have had a massive impact upon both international economic activity and urban form: cities concentrate control over vast resources, while finance and specialized service industries have restructured the urban social and economic order.

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    Thus a new type of city has appeared. It is the global city.

    Given these externally driven dynamics such cities have become associated with volatile economies, dense nodes of information and reflexive social networks, social polarisation, globalised property markets, social diversity through migration in particular , cosmopolitanism, creativity, vibrancy, and considerable human suffering. Global cities are represented as the visible manifestation of the global economy; they are the products of a transitory world system that is articulated in a 'cross-border network of some cities' Sassen, ; also see Godfrey and Zhou, ; Beaverstock et al.

    Such transnational networks of capital, so it is argued, play a fundamental role in inscribing the identity of each and every global city in fundamental ways. These first two fields of knowledge have clearly generated some valuable insights. We now have a much more thorough understanding of the spatiality of the world economy; of the critical role of cities in both contributing to, and being impacted by, the forces of globalization; and of the relationship between globalization, urban change and uneven development. The global city theorem has also been an extremely useful teaching device for it illustrates, at one glance or more , the material reach and nodality of the world economic system and its cores, margins, and blind spots Keil and Olds, For example, Anthony D.

    King notes:. From King's perspective, global cities tend to written about as if they are the product of economic globalization: the outcome of an evolving world-system of structural nature, or the outcome of the operation of producer services firms, or else the outcome of externalized and hierarchical relations between transnational firms that are headquartered within a skein of cities. As Michael P. Smith 58 also notes in his book Transnational Urbanism :.

    The global cities thesis centrally depends on the assumption that global economic restructuring precedes and determines urban spatial and sociocultural restructuring, inexorably transforming localities by disconnecting them from their ties to nation-states, national legal systems, local political cultures, and everyday place-making practices.

    While such discourses are providing some important insights into the forces shaping urbanisation at a variety of scales, it could also be argued that they are relatively 'globalist' in nature M. Smith, , Robinson, a,b , and overwhelming of more grounded and culturally-oriented perspectives. There is a sense that the dominant global city discourses are producing accounts that frame cities such as New York and London as 'instants in a global space of flows' Thrift, Meanwhile, some complementary discourses are now emerging; discourses that accept the role of 'the economic' in urban transformations, while also being relatively more cognizant of the role of the state and local cultural factors in scripting these urban transformations.

    Abu-Lughod, while observant of the impact of macro-economic economic forces, and the utility of abstraction and modernist modes of analysis, also incorporates in insightful ways a relatively grounded and situated mode of analysis. In doing so she consequently highlights the 'multiplexity' of contemporary global cities Amin, ; Amin and Graham, ; Amin and Thrift, As Godfrey and Zhou note, '[T]he analytical bias inherent in world-city studies reflects and in turn perpetuates well-established Eurocentric views of the global economy under the guise of objective data'.

    They note, for example, that the reliance upon counting TNC headquarters as a criteria for global city status fails to acknowledge the smaller more networked nature of Asian firms; firms that are also active at regional and global scales via inter-firm business networks thereby underweighting Asian cities in global city rank tables; see Yeung, This said, work on global cities had to start somewhere: it is therefore the duty of other authors including us to critically engage with the global city concept, though in other geographical and temporal contexts, and from different theoretical viewpoints.

    However, the dominant focus on economic globalization in the form of market forces, private firms, and interfirm networks in the global cities of North America and Western Europe, has led to the circulation of a relatively coherent global city discourse i.

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    This is a discourse that generates resource allocation bias towards highlighting commonalities between global cities, or possible global city status in terms of function, role, linkages, structure, problems, form and process Markusen and Gwiasda, ; Amin and Graham, ; McNeill, But, as Amin and Graham note:. The problem with paradigmatic examples is that analysis inevitably tends to generalise from very specific cities, both in identifying the changing nature of urban assets and highlighting normative suggestions for policy innovation elsewhere.

    What should be a debate on variety and specificity quickly reduces to the assumption that some degree of interurban homogeneity can be assumed, either in the nature of the sectors leading urban transformation or in the processes of urban change. The exception, by a process of reduction or totalizing, becomes the norm. Thrift also highlights the implications of adopting a 'one city tells all' approach to urban studies; an approach that reflects the dominance of 'representational' theories of urban change on representational theory see Thrift, , the subtle effects of Eurocentrism in urban studies McGee, ; Robinson, , and structurally influenced 'globalist' perspectives in urban studies Hill and Kim, , Furthermore, even arguments that reinforce the specificity of local politics in world city formation are structured in a way that assumes all world cities are embedded within a much larger national context, and that they are governed by overlapping 'political units' e.

    However, the resonance of this literature for urbanists studying urban transformations in the developing world is not as effective as it could be Robinson, a. The discourses that dominate the analysis of the global city generates further dissonance when one moves from a concern with 1 characteristics and 2 processes to 2 processes and 3 governance.

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    The second and especially the third fields of knowledge are also relatively weak in terms of both volume and content. Academics have devoted the majority of their resources to abstraction and theorisation about what a global city is, how it relates to the modern world economy, what life is like within the global city, and what kind of relational networks might exist between global cities. Yet, as Douglass and Hill and Kim point out, there are many unanswered questions about issues such as how global cities have 'come into being', and what is the 'role of the state and national economy' in globalising cities.

    More specifically, since the proclamation of the 'world city hypothesis' by John Friedmann:. A question that loomed large but went almost wholly unanswered in the following body of world city research was straightforward yet complex: how does a city become a world city? Research on global cities seems to accept without question that a few cities, notably London, New York and Tokyo, are automatically first-rank global cities Sassen , while a host of others, such as Paris or Los Angeles, are included but possibly at a lower level, and still others are assigned to a vague secondary or tertiary status Hamnett ; Friedmann Douglass, ; our emphasis.

    Indeed it is this type of question that has greater purchase in public policy circles, with considerable potential for enhancing quality of life within global cities. That said, such issues cannot be understood unless one grounds the analysis in a geographically and historically specific manner Keil, ; Smith In other words the focus needs to be reoriented towards process and governance i. This point is particularly important when pursuing process and governance issues in Asia, a region associated with ethnic-based network forms of capitalism Hamilton, ; Olds and Yeung, ; Yeung, , resistance to the adoption of liberal economic and public policy prescriptions that are so evident in global cities such as New York and London , and the presence of active and relatively powerful 'developmental states' Appelbaum and Henderson, ; Evans, ; Woo-Cumings, ; Hill and Kim, ; Saito, Policy, program and project planning in numerous cities around the world is now being framed by goals to acquire, or reinforce, some form of global city status.

    In academic circles, associated concepts such as the post-Fordist city Mayer, and the entrepreneurial city have also emerged Harvey, ; Hall and Hubbard, The shift from government to governance is noted in multiple locales, as are the policy challenges of dealing with problems such as social polarisation, gentrification, transport congestion, and tensions over immigration Harvey, ; Douglass and Friedmann, ; Sassen, ; Yeoh and Chang, Global city discourses have also become associated with development thinking at supra-urban scales.

    For example, at the global scale the incorporation of global city thinking is evident in key policy documents such as the World Bank's report Urban Policy and Economic Development: An Agenda for the s ; a seminal text that highlights the World Bank's growing awareness of the significance of urbanisation and urban policy to national and international economic development activity. More recently the World Bank , , the Asian Development Bank Stubbs and Clark, , and the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements UNCHS, , have all released documents that provide evidence of the growing awareness of how cities, and especially global cities, facilitate economic development processes at both national, regional and global scales.

    As the World Bank 26; also see World Bank b notes:. With improvements in transport and communications, cities are now linked directly to international markets. This trend, coupled with increased intensity in the use of information, financial, and other services by all types of firms, means that cities face more exacting requirements as sites for high-quality services to producers and greater competition for foreign and domestic investment Harris ; Sassen Urban areas sharing large regional markets border zones and port cities, such as those surrounding the South China Sea are becoming closely networked, sometimes developing interdependencies across national boundaries that are as close as, or even closer than, those with their own hinterland.

    These changes imply that now more than ever, cities need to provide solid public services and a business-friendly environment to retain their traditional firms or to attract new ones, domestic or foreign.

    UNDERSTANDING URBANIZATION AND URBAN GROWTH IN THE DEVELOPING WORLD

    At the national scale , countries as diverse as China, Thailand, the Philippines, South Korea, Canada, and England are concentrating relatively more attention and resources on particular city-regions. Some, like China or Malaysia, are using cities to connect the nation to the global space of flows, while concurrently using such cities to propel social change including the development of more reflexive citizens in particular directions.

    Tim Bunnell a,b , for example, highlights the role of the nation state in Malaysia as it spurs on the restructuring of Kuala Lumpur through the development of projects like Kuala Lumpur Central City and the Petronas Towers so that Malaysia is a 'put on the world map' while also b connecting 'the nation to global technological and cultural-economic sectors' and c constructing a 'national conception of information society'.

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