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.

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