Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Global Cities, Capitalism, and What to Do With It All

As the readings showed this week, determining what constitutes a “global city” can be a delicate matter, and ranking them is even more dicey, but one thing is certain: we have them and they affect everything. The authors seem to be able to agree that no matter the rank or varying elements of analysis of the ranks themselves, global cities are “highly concentrated command points in the organization of the world economy,” (Sassen) places where the purpose of the city and its resident is “greasing the wheels of production, finance or commerce through face-to-face contact” (Knox, e.a.). These elements of production, finance and commerce are supra-first world concerns, well above and beyond the reach of most citizens, elements entirely out of their control.
While Renn wants us to analyze Sassen’s analysis itself, Luke wants us to analyze the geopolitical impact and the stress points of a global capitalist economy in context of the whole population of the planet, human and nonhuman. Conversely to the idea of controlling global capitalism elements, most of the world’s population is buffeted about by them, existing outside the realms of production, finance or commerce in any way except as they are used by the global machines to maximize outputs while minimizing responsibility. The global city exists in a different sphere altogether, with their “logistical grids . . . knit into other networks for the production, consumption, and accumulation of commodities” (Luke, e.a.). Luke finds that this network creates its own  problems, an ecological footprint created by the globalization network, the “twin dynamics of globalization and denationalization” to the point that “urbanization on this scale is creating a set of contested regions where command and insubordination, control and resistance, communication and confusion, intelligence and incomprehension must all be rejiggered daily as transnational commerce dumps an ever-accelerating turnover of goods and services into the global economy.”
This churning capitalism at unprecedented scale and outside the bounds of any national control creates an ecology in its own right, and one that is gnawing up resources -- natural and human -- unchecked, threatening not only its own sustainability, but all life on the planet. For Luke, the unique feature of commerce today is the globalized nature of it all, quoting Beck’s statement that “everyday industrial metabolisms of urban life in global cities are denaturing the prehistoric equilibria of the Earth’s ecologies.” This can’t continue, Luke concludes, and it is up to us to take action. “[T]he twenty-first century must be the time in which these contradictions are overcome, and it is recognized how fully different collectives of human and nonhuman beings must now coevolve within global markets, common climate changes, or world trade, while coexisting in many different built environments that are a public ecology” (Luke, 27, e.a.).

These exceptions are just what Roy wants to talk about, how planning for exception can increase social justice, reversing a trend that diminished the opportunities of the least-enfranchised in and near the large and growing command centers of the world. Roy sees formalization efforts as in effect legitimizing the exclusion of the least among the world’s urban and nearly-urban populations, especially as global cities reach beyond their borders over and over again. She finds that supranational concerns can be leveraged by activists to decrease national inequalities of policy and practice. Her presentation of supranational accountability shows a vision of a federation of standards, a purse-strings diplomacy of activism. The pressures of funds and resources, including human labor, are already felt by the machines of production, finance and commerce, allowing activists to push these tensions to effect change in member nations. As long as labor and resources remain cheap and plentiful, the outputs of capitalism will proceed unchecked. These reliances and dependencies of the global capitalism-driven market create a new “arena for transformation” where labor and resources are limited or withheld through deliberate efforts to effect change in nation behavior, a supranational foreign policy for the twenty-first century, not so far removed from the foreign relations policy tactic of sanctions in the latter twentieth century.