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.

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