The Urbane Ecologist

Roy, A. and Ong, A. (2011) Worlding cities: Asian experiments and the art of being global.

Preface and Acknowledgements

  • “worlding” the city — milieu of intervention, source of ambitious visions, speculative experiments that have different possibilities of success and failure
  • such experiments cannot be conceptually reduced to instantiations of universal logics of capitalism of postcolonialism; must be understood as worlding practices, those that pursue world recognition int he midst of inter-city rivalry and globalized contingency; must therefore focus on urban as milieu that is in constant formation, one shaped by multitudinous ongoing activities that by wedding dream and technique, form the art of being global
  • “Inherently unstable, inevitably subject to intense contestation, and always incomplete, worlding is the art of being global.”
  • insist upon shift away from concepts of world cities and world systems to that of worlding practices


Introduction: Worlding Cities, or the Art of Being Global (Aihwa Ong)

  • “Cities rise and fall, but the vagaries of urban fate cannot be reduced to the workings of universal laws established by capitalism or colonial history. Caught in the vectors of particular histories, national aspirations, and flows of cultures, cities have always been the principal sites for launching world-conjuring projects.”
  • rise of Eastern cities as New York, London, Tokyo recovering from Great Recession
  • “Aspiring cities in the so-called global South challenge disciplinary controls that map cities according to a global division of global capitalist and post-colonial regions.”
  • In social science, two major approaches dominant in defining parameters for investigating cities: (1) political economy of globalization; (2) postcolonial focus on subaltern agency
    • both Marxist — overdetermined by privileging of capitalism as the only mechanism and class struggle as the only resolution to urban problems
    • (1) constructs city a site of capital accumulation and battleground for remaking citizenship and civil society
      • Saskia Sassen’s concept of “global cities” (2001, [1991]) – embodied in NYC, London, Tokyo
      • refined by Graham and Marvin (2001) in “splintering urbanism”
      • assumption of single system of capitalist globalization
      • Davis characterises mega-cities in global South as “planets of slums” (2006)
    • (2) views cities outside Euro-America as settings animated solely by subaltern resistances to different modes of domination
      • in urban studies, logic of postcolonial globalization divided into two orientations: (1) emphasizes urban features and norms that register colonial experiences that have since transcended the colonial; (2) focuses on giving primacy to the agency of subaltern groups that have been subjugated by a variety of colonial, neocolonial, cpaitalist forces
      • how contemporary urban situations have been shaped by colonial legacies of injustice as by contemporary problems of urban underdevelopment
  • by positing singular causality (global capitalism) or special category of actors (postcolonial agents), such universal principles tend to view significantly different sites as instantiations of either singular economic system or the same political form of globalization; by studying situated phenomena through a lens that understands them as singular moments in a unified and integrated global process, analysis lose sight of complex urban situations as particular engagements with the global — should account for this complexity rather than be reductionist
  • such conceptual blind spots often overlook unexpected effects of historical shifts, events, crises
  • in this book city viewed “not as an exclusive site of capitalism or postcolonial activism, but as a milieu that is in constant formation, drawing on disparate connections, and subject to the play of national and global forces”
  • shared elements of papers in this book
    • emphasis on city as a field of intervention for solving an array of problems with modern life and national interests
    • metropolis tends to be viewed not as a fixed locality but as a particular nexus of situated and transnational ideas, institutions, actors, and practices that may be variously drawn together for solving particular problems
    • city ambitions reimagined in relation to shifting “forms and norms” (Rabinow 1991) of being global
  • “World-aspiring projects are experiments in that they put forth questions, initiatives, and procedures in the midst of uncertainty, without guarantees about successful outcomes (Jacob 1998).”
  • “Many have viewed ‘the neoliberal’ as a set of market conditions that scale back the state, but in a more careful formulation, Neil Brenner and Nik Theodore (2002) have argued that there is great variability in the geographies of ‘actually existing neoliberalism.’ but the neoliberal as a logic of optimization (Rose 1999) refers not to a space or a form of state, but a set of maximizing rationalities that articulares particular assemblages of governing. The neoliberal as a mobile technology can be taken up by a government or any other institution to recast problems as non-ideological and non-political issues that need technical solutions to maximize intended outcomes (Ong 2006). As a logic of entrepreneurialism, neoliberal reason has even infiltrated domains that have been and are ideologically cast, by observers and by practitioners, as resolutely anti-market, such as NGOs, workers’ organizations, and aesthetic/cultural production. If we recognize urban movements as ongoing experiments to expand social power, we should not be surprised at the apparently paradoxical interdependence of calculative practices of political entrepreneurialism and the progressive language of ‘anti-neoliberalism.’ The proliferation of neoliberal techniques thus contributes to the blossoming of an urban terrain of unanticipated borrowings, appropriations, and alliances that cut across class, ideological, and national lines even as it depends on the continual meta-practical discursive resedimentation of these boundaries. Even what appear to be exposed ideological positions are constituted in relation to each other; they are mutually imbricated and also linked through a set of semi-shared norms.”
  • Foucault – consider city as milieu, of a “field of intervention” in which individs, populations, groups are put into conjunction of eleemnts and events that circulate beyond the site itself (foucault 2007)
  • In developing countries, major player in configuring urban environment is the state; seeks to rethink and remake contemporary world rather than being passively “globalized” by it
  • “Worlding projects remap relationships of power at different scales and localities, but hey seem to form a critical mass in urban centers, making cities both critical sites in which to inquire into worlding projects…”Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (1987) — in world of flows, social formations emerge from “rhizomatic” connections that cross-cut vertical integrated hierarchies; worlding exercises are lateralizing microprocesses that remap power by opening up new channels or reconfiguring new social universes
  • Three styles of being global (not exclusive to Asia but seem to be distinctive practices associated with urban development in the region
    • modeling
      • in recent decades, renovation of cities in non-Western world has given rise to circulation or urban models that have become “desirable” and “achievable”
      • urban modeling — global technology that is disembedded from its hometown and adopted in other cities
    • inter-referencing
      • learning from other cities
      • “Shenzhen is Hong Kongized, Guangzhou is Shenzhenized, and the whole country is Guangdongized” (Cartier 2001)
      • referes to practices of citation, allusion, aspiration, comparison, competition
    • association
  • “This art of being global ignores conventional borders of class, race, city, and country. There are promiscuous borrowings, shameless juxtapositions, and strategic enrollments of disparate ideas, actors, and practices from many sources circulating in the developing world, and beyond.




Singapore as Model: Planning Innovations, Knowledge Experts (Chua Beng Huat)


Urban Modeling and Contemporary Technologies of City-Building in China: The Production of Regimes in Green Urbanism (Lisa Hoffman)

  • example of Dalian and garden city project — analyzes urban modeling as a governmental practice that shapes, disciplines, and produces particular kinds of spaces and subjects
  • modeling is a mode of governing the urban in contemporary China
  • urban modeling requires that a model exists (that a place presents itself as a model) and other places turn to this site as an example to follow
  • models are a big thing in China
  • “As a mode of governing the city, modeling practices are not only about technical expertise and industrial policy transfer, for they also include a concern with people’s behavior and self-government.”


Planning Privatopolis: Representation and Contestation in the Development of Urban Integrated Mega-Projects (Gavin Shatkin)

  • urban integrated mega-projects (UIMs) — city or urban district-scale integrated development projects built on for-profit basis, often by a single developer; these projects represent a vision for the transformation of the urban experience through the wholesale commodification of the urban fabric
  • in Asia, represented by governments and developers as means of mobilizing corporate entrepreneurship and tech to create urban spaces that attract investment, create efficiencies, and enable residents to realize potential as actors in global economy
  • proliferation of UIMs is indicative of trend toward privatization of urban and regional planning
  • “The market orientation of privately built UIMs allows their governmental and corporate boosters to transcend debates about the propriety of the modernist models by presenting them as simply a response to market demand, as a new kind of space built for a new type of consumer, a global citizen.”
  • “The UIM development is subject to contestation and debate is reflected in the political strategies that state actors have employed to push these projects forward. These efforts have often focused on creating institutional and legal mechanisms to enable the consolidation of large parcels of land in the face of considerable obstacles.”
  • This paper uses examples from different projects and ask questions such as “why has this project moved forward while others have stalled?”


Ecological Urbanization: Calculating Value in an Age of Global Climate Change (Shannon May)

  • “…a universal knowledge of the good life are constituted — often with the handmaiden of science — and how easy, how logical, it can seem to take one’s own life as an unalterable good, and others’ lives as desperately in need of improvement — to be more like one’s own. With science telling us that life as we know it may be threatened by global climate change, the twenty-first century will witness unprecedented changes in governance and subjectivity as persons become enmeshed in networks of power far beyond the scope of local, regional, or national geography.”
  • “‘The business of leaders and commoners is different.’ [said Zhao]… “Personal and collective memory had cultivated an understanding of the world as comprised of those who have plans for their own lives, and those who have plans for others’ lives.”
  • “…the science fo global warming is giving rise to a new calculus of value, one that is based on energy consumption and pits the urbanization of the rural, less consumptive world,…against the survival of life as now experienced in the already urbanized, consumption-based world.”
  • “No longer builders of their own homes, they are to purchase them. No longer providers of their own heat and water, they are to purchase them. No longer having the land for growing their own food, they are to purchase it. No longer having the space needed for agribusiness, they are left to find wage work — in a place that has little.”




Retuning a Provincialized Middle Class in Asia’s Urban Postmodern: The Case of Hong Kong (Helen F. Siu)

  • “The twenty-first century,…will be a century of Asian urbanization. There is intense inter-referencing among Asia’s urban nodes — economic linkages, cultural borrowings, competitions, and collaborations.”


Cracks in the FaÇade: Landscapes of Hope and Desire in Dubai (Chad Haines)

  • “Unlike corporations competing for markets and profits, global cities are interdependent, each affirming the status of others as truly global; global branding of cities is inherently inter-referencing.”
  • global cities not marketed to laborers, but for neoliberal global cities like Dubai, much of success is their ability to attract all levels of workers, from construction laborers to middle-class professions to service workers to cater to their needs; it is the availability of an extensive service economy catering to the interests of the emergent upper- and middle-class aspirants that helps allure them in the first place; “The images constructed of Dubai feed upon such aspirations and hopes, creating the cities as places where dreams come true.”
  • “Branding is an attempt to limit and control access to speak with authority about a commodity.”
  • great efforts made for Dubai to not become an Islamic place
  • illegal for employers to keep passport, but widely practiced — become indentured servant when  you get there
  • when quitting or if fired from a job, one becomes a non-person
  • not all migrants are equally welcome
  • salary package based on salary structures of one’s home country (including issue of benefits)
  • no resident can sponsor family members to live with them unless they earn more than a particular amount
  • “bachelors”
  • over 60% of the population is male


Asia in the Mix: Urban Form and Global Mobilities — Hong Kong, Vancouver, Dubai (Glen Lowry and Eugene McCann)

  • analyses Welcome to the Land of Light (artwork) by Tsang
  • Hong Kong ideas put in Vancouver; Vancouver ideas duplicated in Dubai
  • “Our argument is that the proliferation of this built environment must be understood not only in terms of the production of concrete landscapes, but also in terms of the obliteration or elision of the historical, cultural, economic, political, and transnational connections through which it is produced.”
  • “Despite the influx of global capital, despite the promise of multicultural development and a shiny new urbanism, mega-developments in Vancouver and Dubai stage disparate social interactions that rework and reterritorialize Pratt’s (1992) conception of a colonial “contact zone”.” [Reference to Pratt, M.L. (1992) Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. London: Routledge; updated 2008 version available in Science lib GEOGRAPHY A 6 PRA]


Hyperbuilding: Spectacle, Speculation, and the Hyperspace of Sovereignty (Aihwa Ong)

  • two kinds of hyperbuilding logic at work in Asian cities
    • building frenzy helps leverage gains beyond market sector — by inflating real-estate values, raising hopes and expectations about urban futures and nation’s growth; hyperbuilding becomes part of anticipation fo future that is asserted as guarantee
    • hyperbuilding inter-references spectacular structures in rival cities; fuels spiral of increasing speculation in urban forms
  • investigating China CCTV HQ


New Solidarities


Speculating on the Next World City (Michael Goldman)

  • in spite of recent global financial crisis, capital is flooding India’s cities like never before; much of surge has come from US hedge and derivative funds, the chief antagonists of recent global economic collapse; by mid-2009, investors looking elsewhere for “value” and one of first stops is India
  • argument: “…networks of financiers investing billions of dollars across portfolios of urban projects have had a demonstrable influence on the way in which local urban governments are retooled for integration into the culture and practices of the global economy.”
  • contours of phenomenon of speculative urbanism can be understood by tracing four tendencies
    • new architecture of investment capital
    • new architecture of urban governance
    • intensification of inter-urban competitiveness and inter-referencing
    • new global architecture of expertise on cities, led by
      • consultants (e.g. McKinsey, PricewaterhouseCoopers)
      • UN agencies (e.g. UN Habitat, UNDP)
      • international finance institutions (e.g. World Bank, Asian Development Bank)
      • global forums (e.g. World Cities Summit, World Bank Cities Alliance, Global City Forum, Global Cities Dialogue, C40 Mayors Summit)
      • often co-sponsored by combination of above instituions and firms (e.g. Siemens, Philips, Veolia, Accenture, Limitless, Tamouh, Emaar)
  • as Ong argues in into of this book, the worlding of cities is not a phenomenon derived, or trickling down, from European experience; world-city projects throughout Asia and the Middle East exhibit new dyanmics across and within cities, even if, to some investors, such as binaries as West versus East are comforting and strategically useful (Simone 2001) [Reference to Simone, A.M. (2001) On the worlding of African cities. African Studies Review 44(22), 15-41.]
  • “Ironically, it is only since the mid-1990s, through the actual process [emphasis author’s] of making Bangalore into a world city, that Bangalore has developed “mega-city problems” rife with rapidly escalating social inequality, mass displacement and dispossession, the proliferation of slum settlements, increased community and ethnic violence and tensions, and epidemic public health crises due to severe water supply and sewage problems occurring in poor and working class neighborhoods.” (continues with road congestion, etc)
  • sequence of events unfolding recently in India
    • career trajectory of ambitious administrative civil servant has changed–resume much include training programs from international agencies
    • local government agencies asked to bid for international finance loans and grants
  • worlding through speculation and liquidation
  • Hernando de Soto — Third World poor sit upon a surfeit of untapped capital
  • speculative endeavors are being supported by and are spearheading major changes in the practices of government and in daily government-city interactions


The Blockade of the World-Class City: Dialectical Images of Indian Urbanism (Ananya Roy)

  • In Kolkata, Left Front government, led by Marxist wing of Communist Party of India, has sought to aggressively remake the city as a “world-class” urban environment; but also in Kolkata, ambitious project of making the world-class Indian city has been repeatedly blocked
  • “…following Walter Benjamin, I conceptualize the world-class city as a phantasmagoria, the dream world of postcolonial development. Yet, this phantasmagoria is also a “dialectical image,” containing within it the radical potential of disenchantment and critique. In particular, I am interested in how the blockade of the Indian world-class city conjures up what Benjamin (1935:10) titled “the law of dialectics at a standstill.” As Robinson (2004:715) has noted, the methodology of a “dialectics at a standstill” makes possible an understanding of the phantasmagoria (of urban life) as “as a site which potentially exposes the range of alternative future and past possibilities for organizing real life. [sic]”


Rule by Aesthetics: World-Class City Making in Delhi (D. Asher Ghertner)

  • what this chapter is about
    • look at how a world-class aesthetic (distinct observational grid used for making normative assessments of urban space) has been codified through law in Indian cities
      • data source: orders, judgements, petitions filed in courts, court observations, newspaper and TV reports
    • examine how slum residents being displaced from public land both oppose and take up the vision of the world-class city, advancing the dream of the privatized city while also positing own claims to global future


Conclusion: Postcolonial Urbanism: Speed, Hysteria, Mass Dreams (Ananya Roy)

  • in intro, Ong calls for new approaches in global metropolitan studies, which can trouble both political economy and postcolonial frameworks
  • Spivak — post-colonial critic
  • “Postcolonial urbanism has been most often understood as one or more of the following conditions: colonial cities and their transformation through projects of nationalism and development; and heterogeneous forms of subalternity through which colonial cities are lived, negotiated, and shaped.”
  • “…worlding is a practice of centering, of generating and harnessing global regimes of value.”
  • “…worlding is an inherently unstable practice” — often unfinished, issues with informality and illegality
  • “…worlding as a practice of centering also involves the production of regimes of truth.”
  • “In his intervention On the Postcolony, Achille Mbembe (2001: 2,11) notes that “Africa still constitutes one of the metaphors through which the West represents the origins of its own norms, develops a self-image”; Africa is that which is defined as “radically other, as all that the West is not.” [Reference to Mbembe A. (2001) On the Postcolony. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press]
  • Where does Asia begin and end?

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