Globalization & Cities

Class: Globalization & Cities
Credit: Grad Elective/HT/UR
Instructor: Javier Arbona
Semester: Spring 2010

And there will be also about a billion people, new billion urbanized folk around the world that were not urbanized before. For the first time in the history of the world, more than 50 percent of the people living on our planet now live in urban areas. So those two factors, urbanization, rapid urbanization, and rapid entry into the middle class are going to cause, again, a higher plateau of food and commodity pricing with scarcity. – Muhtar Kent (Chairman and CEO of the Coca-Cola Co.) Excerpt from a conversation on the Charlie Rose Show, Tuesday, June 9, 2009.

The modern age is the urbanization of the countryside, not ruralization of the city as in antiquity. – Karl Marx, The Grundrisse

The Coca-Cola CEO, like Karl Marx, understands the deep ways in which urbanization, capital accumulation, and globalization co-make one another. However, in the field of architecture and related disciplines (planning, landscape, public art, &tc.) there often is a dearth of critical reasoning on cities, especially recent new forms of urban growth and adaptation. These disciplines often tend to reify an abstract whole -’the city’ and its parts – as a magic bullet to the problems of social unrest, environmental depredation, and human well-being. At the same time, perhaps today like never before, the possibility of a unifying concept of “city” is hardest due to the diverse migration pathways to and from cities, and the various ways in which cities are growing (or some times shrinking).

This will be a rigorous seminar, intensive on readings and discussions, intended to position practitioners towards urban realms (which are not always synonymous with a “city”), as well as towards urban theory, and to offer an introduction for further inquiry into the historically diverse and often contradictory forces that make and shape cities. Through focused readings, current news, and cultural products we shall deal with contemporary space-shaping processes such as neoliberalization, informality, citizenship, state formation, memorialization, gentrification, spatial activism, and more, especially attuned to the ways in which architecture and other disciplines can reproduce, accidentally or not, latent ideologies of what Louis Wirth called “urbanism as a way of life” (1938). One important objective is to help students question how and where they could intervene as academics, practitioners or activists to positively affect and serve the lives of city-dwellers. A final paper will make inroads in this respect.

The course will be structured in this schematic way: the first weeks in the course (details to follow in the calendar section below) will serve as an introduction that frames what cities might be, followed by a short introduction to some of the notions of what globalization is or does. After these starting points, we will move through selected topics around which the scholarship on globalization and cities has coalesced. These are not prescriptive; only entry points for students to begin to form their own research agenda. All throughout, the unifying element for us is ‘space’, and students are warned that we take a hard look at space from a social/geographical perspective (not exactly a geometric or bounded condition). Meanwhile, we will examine form (as it is frozen into commodities, buildings, art or landscapes) as a part of a process or a flow, but not as an end in itself, and this should serve as another warning to any whom are looking to shore up their knowledge of formal precedents. Some basic questions: Who makes space, and what is it for? What are the spatial needs of globalization, and how do these become enacted? What specific rights do urban spaces guarantee? Who is or isn’t a normalized citizen of a city (as opposed to being a naturalized citizen of a nation-state)? How does a city guarantee, protect or produce an abstract whole like ‘nature’, which is in such dire predicaments nowadays?