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 other 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 of 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).