The World is Globalized, and We Need to Leverage the Possibilities!

Globalization has taken over the world a while ago and whether or not we like it is here to stay. Rather than arguing about if we like it or not everyone should concentrate on how to use this connectivity and ease of sharing information, space and goods for the better of the world. This, of course, sounds as utopian as most of planning theory is, nonetheless, we should try our interconnected international best to use lessons learned on making cities better.

While Ward states that the first theoretical work on planning authored by Ildefons Cerda

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A typical Roman city layout – Barcino

came out in 1867, it would be incorrect to assume that there was no planning happening before that. Maybe there was not as much theorizing about it previously, as mostly, the particular way of organizing human settlements spread with the dominating power – be the Romans, the Incas, or the European colonizers. Yiftachel highlights how in the current literature and practice, the dominating work is always from the Anglo-American / North-Western part of the world, demonstrating that we live in the times of the dominating power being in this part of the world.  This might not be just, or ethical or all inclusive, however, history shows that this is how human society functions.

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Outskirts of Machu Picchu – this depicts a particular way Incas build their towns throughout the empire.

One wants to believe that the humanity is more civilized and knowledgeable in the modern day to recognize the existing hegemony, but then attempt to balance the power and resources in a way to be beneficial to all of us in this highly interconnected world. In fact, in the recent years many studies are being conducted to investigate and prove that creating more equal cities actually makes them more economically stable and environmentally viable. Case studies from around the world show that transformation change in cities creates a lasting legacy for future sustainable development. These changes can be very different from city to city taking into consideration local differences and particularities. For example, in Medellin, Colombia progressive leadership used sustainable transit as a tool to connect the city and promote the economy. Now, people from the poor areas, can reach the epicenter of employment quickly and cheaply, and that made all the difference in stimulating growth of the city, improving social cohesion, and promoting sustainable mobility. This solution may not necessarily be applicable to every city, but it may be applicable to some, and decision makers should be made aware of the good practices and be able to use someone else’s know-how in their city to set the development on the right track.

The World Resources Institute, does just that, besides conducting academic studies, the organization connects mayors, academia and international organizations to share their knowledge and facilitate the transition of research to implementation on the ground.

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Gondolas connecting the highland neighborhoods with the center in Medellin, Colombia.

For example, in Brazil, there are many problems with public space infrastructure, and in particular sidewalks. The WRI Brazil team conducted local studies on needs and specifics of Brazil and besides publishing an academic paper on it, actually created a manual for mayors on how to build, finance and plan safe and functional sidewalks in Brazil’s local context.

It is hard to avoid the notion that the western practices and aesthetics are still being pushed around the world. This may be true, however, it is less imposed than during any previous times of our civilization and at least local specifics and diversity are considered to some degree. Yes, North-West leads these days, but at least the stage is open for the rest of the world to contribute, and the Chinese, for instance, are taking a stab at it with rapidly increasing volumes of academic work on their places and practices. It is true that modern cities are not balanced and are not very inclusive, however they are much more inclusive than in the days of the Romans or the Incas, and Ildefons Cerda with his example for Barcelona might have been the one who started the trend of “cities for all”, at least spatially on paper.

Planning in a Globalized World

Globalization has become the major debate in many fields during the last ten years. The process of global transformation is generally seen to operate in a multi-layered way covering culture, economics, politics, and the environment. How planning practices and policies will respond to an increasingly globalized world? This week’s readings provide us with some clues.

By examining how planning ideas migrate across international borders, Stephen Ward introduces two distinct types of diffusion — “borrowing” and “imposition”. “Borrowing” is the diffusion process that in which the importing country plays a more important role in transforming planning ideas. “Imposition” is the process that in which the exporting country serve as the major determine the force to provide planning ideas to other countries. Ward indicates that the nature of the diffusion is largely shaped by the power relationship between importing and exporting countries. In “Re-engaging Planning Theory? Towards ‘South-Eastern’ Perspectives,” Oren Yiftachel examines the urban renewal efforts in Tallinn, Estonia during the 1990s and its reaction to the Soviet occupation by marginalizing Estonia’s Russian population. He expresses his disappointment in the Anglo-American planning theory’s failure to include non-western or non-northern societies in the conversation. He also calls for a more complex understanding of the urban development process and its different players beyond the formal professional planning circles.

Here comes the question: can we borrow the planning practices from different regions of the world? In “Planning for Sustainability in European Cities: A Review of Practice in Leading Cities,” Timothy Beatley points out that borrowing can be a positive learning process. From his perspective, it is possible to apply European sustainable urban development experiences to various settings ranging from rural to urban and compact. The regionally unique culture values and differences do not hinder the lessons to be profound. On the topic of livable and sustainable cities, Peter Evans conducts a broad case study in American, Asian and European cities. He notices that political action at the community level still remains very effective to achieve community livability in the global era. Moreover, livable spaces that generate neighborhood healthily and a sustainable lifestyle are especially important to make poor communities effective agents of livability. Yan Zhang and Ke Fang make a comparison between “apples” and “oranges” — the two seemingly opposite urban redevelopment experiences in the United States and China. There is no denying fact that there are many distinctions in the urban transformation in the United States, such as economic activities, government roles, and democratic status. Surprisingly and unsurprisingly, the two experiences of the urban renewal in the United States are relevant to some extent, including the devastation of traditional forms by mass-produced modernity, the increasing proportion of economic development, and the lack of sufficient compensation for the relocation.

“In the next decade or so, the battle for the urban heritage and indigenous habitats of many countries in Asia and the Pacific will be either significantly won or lost. The survival of civilizational records, diverse urban cultures and traditional building skills also hang in the balance. We need a strong movement to save our heritage habitats.”

— Khoo Salma Nasution, The Asia Pacific Network for Urban Preservation, 1997

That speaks for Beijing. Suffering different waves of urban development, there will not be much left of the “ancient capital” but for a handful of grand architectural monuments. Its historic characteristics are rapidly being replaced with no character. Should we proudly call it “international style” and deceive ourselves? The main problems encountered in the Beijing urban redevelopment patterns are: street inappropriately widened to an old city center; large renewal parcels and the equally large scale of demolition broke continuity and prevented a more gradual and demand-oriented renewal; massive relocation of original residents segregated the urban living. The desire for rapid economic development drove China to step on a path of “mass-produced modernity.”

Rather than the centers of economic exchange and political power, can we see cities in a different way? In “The Urban Future,” Joel Kotkin indicates that cities were spiritual or sacred places, “a great city relies on those things that engender for its citizens a peculiar and strong attachment, sentiments that separate one specific place from others.” Economic and social change impact on civil society and political expression. Nowadays cities are increasingly dependent on their interaction with the global economy but also they must have a solid relationship with their local community and its inherent interests to survive and thrive. In the global era, the challenges of planning come both from the desire to integrate city economies with global forces and from the need to integrate fragmented interests within the city. To extend this point, I think in addition to globalization, we should also introduce the concept of localization in the topic on creating livable and sustainable cities.

Unpacking sustainability

I have been muling over Campbell’s triangle of conflicting goals for planning. I find it appealing for its incisiveness, but my research for the final project leads me to argue that it is not as comprehensive and nuanced as it needs to be in order to be useful, especially in terms of environmental goals. In the four years since Campbell’s article was originally published, a surprising amount has changed in our modern context. Cities continue to grow and anthropogenic impact on the environment continues to cause climate change and loss of biodiversity. Urban planning must focus on not merely persistence, but resiliency in the face of events that could overwhelm a city’s support system. I propose that sustainability is not merely an ideal, but the baseline of environmental planning goals and the new ideal is resilient development. Our group will be exploring the concept of resiliency further in our presentation. For now, I wanted to unpack what is meant by environmental planning goals in light of a concept from this week’s readings: livability.

Peter Evans contextualizes sustainability and livability as goals in the political mobilization of communities. He cites how the two come in conflict for poorer communities which often have to use their limited social capital to prioritize issues of immediate livability. The irony is that mobilization of the middle-class often coalesces around pro-sustainability issues so poorer communities could gain support for their communities needs if they align them with larger goals of sustainability.

One approach to sustainability that I think could help resolve the essential conflict between politics of sustainability and livability is the concept of bicultural diversity. Biocultural diversity conceptualizes nature as a construction of human interaction with the environment. This perspective is meant to help sensitize planners and governing bodies to the ways in which communities value and use their land.

Typically sustainability is thought of in terms of ecological services and the monetary value of sustainable design. With an understanding of how people shape the places where they live, work, and recreate, sustainability gains nuance. Evans sites the story of poor communities that inhabited an ecologically sensitive area in Sao Paulo as an example of the conflict between livability and sustainability. A biocultural diversity perspective would address the vulnerability of the natural resources while seeking to understand and work with the relationship of the existing communities to the land. Biocultural diversity could provide the foundation for imaginative solutions to conflicting needs and values. Without such creativity and openness, sustainability is in danger of developing the connotation of being a middle and upper class privilege, when in fact the principles of justices extend to environmental concerns as well.

This is gonna get messy

Power relationships determine how communities are shaped and can vary significantly depending on various contexts. The readings this week were undoubtedly arguing for the contextual consideration of plans prior to implementation. By observing the varying relationships between local communities and how they can either be supported or opposed by industry, governments, and interest groups, I got the message that we as planners should be careful to apply theory where practice may be needed. How perfect for this class!

In Evans’ comparative assessment of communities, the complexities of city planning appeared vast as we looked to the broader world stage. From Vietnam to Mexico City, this piece demonstrated how the effectiveness of change was subject to so many different relationships (or lack there of) with the local community. However, the one consistent trend was the supremacy of the community. Evans found that livability and sustainability initiatives often hinged on the way in which local community members were able to frame the issue. I say “were able to frame the issue” because above all, Evans identified accurately that the multitude of stakeholders directly influencing the framing of the issue extended much farther than just the community actors.

For example, the way communities fight to keep companies in their town despite pollution or living wage concerns is due often to media spun by associations such as Chambers of Commerce who can paint industry at odds with environmental conservation. Why is cleaning up the river the thing that causes jobs to run? Why not help clean up the river and make your business practice more sustainable and safe for the community that serves you?

It doesn’t have to be this way. Evans astutely points out that communities can leverage political capital in favor of sustainability or livability. Mounting political pressure takes numbers and the more effectively local communities can utilize the airwaves, the more effective their message.

Take for example the civil rights movements in the United States. How was a minority group of protestors able to convince an historically racist country that racism was oppressing a class of people? They painted their message across TV screens and radio waves. Reporters couldn’t help but cover the stories of extreme hatred that was not just taking place in the southern United States, but across the country. Efforts by groups such as Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee or the black churches across the south were seminole in making their cause not only heard, but palateable to a primarily white country. Had it not been for the sympathy of the Democratic Party (that had traditionally been the southern, pro Jim-Crow party) led by Lyndon Johnson, the civil rights act would have never been enacted, the local resistance would have been wasted.

Applied to urban planning, local resistance is effective, in so far as the cause is one hospitable to groups who could be in opposition. We see this played out in a lot of our DC communities that are experiencing gentrification.

Take for instance the Shaw/U-Street gentrification story: (10 second version) Historically black community, considered dangerous in the 70’s and 80’s, begins to attract residents in the early 2000’s. The black community was faced with several problems: one, the demographic moving into the community was wealthy, and young, attracting ammenities (i.e. Dog parks, bike lanes, etc) that were taking the public space of which they had previously been the sole proprietor.

As many of the proposed changes to the community were blocked, newcomers sought positions in the seat of power. Local community boards became filled with young, white and gay/lesbian representation and votes became contentious. The goal of each group became; how can we impede what they want to do and preserve our way of life?

In the end, we all know how the story goes. The poor locals loose and the wealthy win. But it didn’t have to be this way… I think if we can be more respectful of opposition in the pursuit of our goals, we can find a way to create bike lanes while preserving street parking for church services. I believe we can keep jobs and a clean river at the same time. However, we should be keen to recognize that this type of reconciliation will not come easily. It will require compromise and leveraging. Maybe urban planning isn’t as clean as I thought it would be, but its realizations like these that help us plan more effectively.

Community. Experiences. Power.

A few words that resonated with me during the reading’s this week were community, experiences, and power.  These three words affect our lives in more ways than we realize in terms of planning and the urban environment.  To begin, who does the urban environment serve?  As Kotkin notes in “The Urban Future”, cities are more than just places where individuals work and economic growth is centralized.  A large percentage of the urban population depends on the city for resources, security, and simply a place to call home.  It seems that this has changed over the years since commerce, trade, and politics became a dominant force in urban areas.

In addition, the size of a city is not always a positive factor.  How can a city adequately provide for its residents if there is not a sustainable plan in place to protect its resources?  What are the effects of over-population, commerce, and the loss of affordable housing?  A few of the results can be pollution, crime, and congestion.  These potential results decrease the quality of life for residents and cause oppression.  Communities that are poor and lack resources have a more difficult time advocating for more sustainable and livable communities.

As Peter Evans describes in “Political Strategies for More Livable Cities”, sustainability and problems related to the environment are typically mobilized when the issues are located in communities of middle and upper class because there is access (and interest) to political groups.  Unfortunately, poor areas are not adequately represented by major political parties.  Another interesting point that Evans makes is that dominant parties are typically part of the problem, not the solution (pg. 505). In order to create a sustainable and livable community, the community needs to be mobilized to fight for their resources and rights.  Evans details various scenarios where opposition parties spark the interest of communities (pg. 506-507).  A sustainable environment is a key component to ensure the livelihood of these vulnerable neighborhoods.  In my experience as a planner, I have been involved in situations where certain groups of the population express their concerns about not feeling as though their interests have been represented or protected through various development proposals.  It just shows how powerful politics can be in our society….

 “The external connections that intermediaries provide play an essential role in enabling communities to become effective agents of livability” (Peter Evans, page 507).

Another example of how power affects an area relates to the diffusion of planning principles and theories.  I thought it was interesting to read about the different scenarios Steven Ward described in “Re-examining the International Diffusion of Planning” — I haven’t spent much time thinking about how planning theories have been diffused and shaped across the world.  What are the differences in the “information age” as opposed to during the initial exploration and colonization of countries around the world?  As Ward points out, diffusion is not always voluntary.  It depends on the individual country, or state.  Currently, planning theories/practices can be diffused quickly and shaped into unique experiences and scenarios.  The balance of power and control is important when the receiving country is having the planning ideas imposed on them.

“For cities to become more livable, groups and individuals inside and outside of the state must become more conscious of the necessity of looking for complementarities, forging alliances, and bridging differences that separate the multiple agendas that are part of livability.” (Peter Evans, page 516)

That particular quote truly made me think about how planning should work in our society.  Even though it is difficult, I think it is common sense for local government, members of the community, and the private sector to work together to ensure all interests are represented and an appropriate balance is maintained to promote sustainability and livability of our communities.

Planning in a Globalized World

The world has changed, is changing, and will continue to change. This week’s readings attempt to answer the question of how planning will respond to the era of globalization. Ward describes six unique ways planning crosses international borders. “Borrowing” allows the importing country to shape planning ideals to its own needs while “imposition” means the exporting countries dictate planning ideas, as happened throughout colonialism. Zheng and Feng compare and contrast the two experiences of China and the U.S. and outline numerous commonalities including the destruction of old, unique neighborhoods in favor of mass-produced modern landscapes. In both countries, urban growth took full of advantage of land-use policies and a favorable political climate.

For Evans, even in an increasingly globalized world, political action at the community level remains the most effective tool to create livable communities. Communities with strong social capital, a “shared longevity of residence and common cultural ties,” are most effective. This assertion leads me to a fundamental question. As globalization expands and communities, cities, and countries become more diverse, will this undermine the power of communities to act cohesively?

For the purposes of this blog, however, I want to focus on the Beatley’s analysis of sustainable practices in European cities. As a contractor for the USDOT, we are working every day to make sustainable mobility a reality here in the U.S., using many of the concepts Beatley outlines that began in Europe. There is a transportation revolution underway because of shifting demographics, emerging technologies, and innovative mobility services and business models. Mobility as a Service (MaaS) initiatives such as Kutsuplus, public-private partnerships with cities and microtransit provider Bridj and bridjother Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft form what my co-workers and I call the “wild wild west of transportation.”

For the transportation industry at least, one of my main takeaways from my short time working for the federal government is that the feds are simply not equipped to keep up with the rapidly innovating private sector. The role of USDOT should be to set common standards and regulatory environments where private companies and cities are at the epicenter of innovation.

Thus, in a globalized era, cities are now the most important players in innovating and addressing the global problems we face. It is cities that must step up to the plate and tackle transportation, economic, environmental and other challenges. The power to influence, I believe is shifting away from national government towards cities. In this era ofcity-night-01 political gridlock and one-size-fit-all attitude of the federal government, cities will naturally fill the leadership vacuum. Unlike the federal government, cities operate on a more localized cross-sector approach, breaking down silos in city operations. Cities are collaborative as they work directly on the ground with citizens. Most importantly, cities can act as test beds for innovation and learn from other cities, as Beatley suggested, and can scale these solutions horizontally to each other.

Globalization is not without its drawbacks (e.g., global inequities, “world is flat” vs. “world is spiky”), but for planners and cities, the ramifications are immense. In this global era, cities will increasingly be the drivers of change and innovation and planners should welcome this opportunity.

For more: Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley, The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy (Washington, D.C.: Brooking Institution Press, 2013).

 

Planning a Globalized World

This week’s readings examine and evaluate the application of theoretical planning to the evolution and development of globalization. The readings explore various mechanisms and structuring to globalization as it relates to local planning practices and policies. The articles establishes a consensus that questions how planning practices are capable of transcending beyond borders and to how global development impacts planning for communities in the United States. Yan Zhang’s article establishes parallels in the urban renewal processes between the United States and China. His article find that revitalization practices and programs in both countries use similar approaches that establish government authorized subsidies to attract private investment in local communities. Zhang asserts that through varying political and socioeconomic settings the influence of a global society institutes a system that enables community development to become a “political alliance” between government and private entities, ultimately expanding the conflict that persist in planning for the public interest. The article seeks to improve the functionality of planners as this modern practice of development continues to become extensive.   This article further expound on the importance of collaborative and community planning in renewal strategies, exclaiming that planners should continue to integrate the visions of the members of the community in incorporating plans , lessening the effects of private interest and political influence.

Steven V. Ward explores how various mechanism of planning practices and ideas are changed and influenced through international diffusion. His article examines and evaluates the degree of influence that globalization has on local planning.   Diffusion that is voluntary achieved and borrowed has a lower impact from external institutions than those diffusion practices that are imposed. This is evident in most western societies where planning practices and policies follows a pattern of development through the independent changes of communities, and through the emergence of modern technology and its influence to specific regions. This form of diffusion has been proficient in the United States, where the evolution of planning practice has been best described by the continued growth of the country and the various patterns of development that emerged through planning of American cities and suburbs.

Globalization has defined modern day planning practices, specifically in underdeveloped countries. The sphere of western influence is dominant in the way cities across the country are developed and the way growth is managed and distributed. Globalization imposes a high dependence for external influences to most developing countries and emerging world economies, altering their political system and shifting their planning processes to resemble that of western societies. Essentially, as noted in Zhang’s article, private interest and investment guides the process of global development as investment is generally funded where the demand is high. As practiced in the United States, economic growth and community development plans are designed to attract investment by developing community amenities that attract a higher income population, instead of developing plans to foster development for the members currently living in a community. I have experienced these planning practices in the country of Belize. My wife and I were married in Belize, and the year before the wedding traveled to the country for vacation. We admired the authenticity of the country and regarded the natural amenities that separated the country from any other place in the Caribbean. Within a year, the island became more modern and growth was spurred by development of western influence.