City as catalyst: The city as both a mean and an end

The first plenary session of GDN’s 13th Annual Conference took a closer look at the nexus between urbanization and development, to more clearly understand the interplay between the two. Saskia Sassen, Professor of Sociology at Columbia University, who authored Cities: New Frontier Zones in Development Processes was the keynote speaker.

The city: Delving deeper into its intricacies

The role of the city as catalyst in the developmental process was cited; where cities are seen as places of many good things and many bad things. They overwhelmingly get a bad rap, however, where the real challenge today becomes how to change these negative articulations into positive ones; for a more sustainable, equitable development process.

The role of finance as an engine that provides security, and stability, was brought up, in addition to its role in ultimately leading to growth. The city, in this scenario, becomes the space for the making of the social, political and economic; a lens to understand larger processes, according to Sassen.

Urban politics and why they are different

It is hard to separate finance and economics from urban politics. The complexity offered by the city, provides an opportunity to better understand development, and devise new approaches to it, as it obviates inequality, in ways not tenable before.

Politics also take on a different turn in an urban setting, where violence, in some cases, becomes the sole form of expression. A “good” city model would be one that includes the excluded. Mainly because cities give individuals the opportunity to affirm their presence and make it known – what Sassen calls “the making of a multitude.”

The making of global cities and mega-regions

Major shifts in scales, spaces, and content of economic activity has redefined spatial formats as we know them. Intercity geographies have also taken on a new form, where development policies are now inclined to the pay the most attention to the silicon valleys and global cities.

The world is now defined by an enormous variety of circuits, regional and global, connecting cities where the definition of a global economy starts to lose some of its meaning.

Sassen concludes with a few final thoughts where she argues that the perfect global city does not exist. And that complex, multi-scalar capacities of cities provide a massive potential for articulations. The challenge becomes how to render them into positive articulations and to re-localize parts of the global economy to address inequality.

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About Maya Madkour
I am a Sociologist, eternal optimist, and spreader of joy. I was born in London, raised in Cairo, and call Dallas my home away from home; where I have been travelling for the past fourteen years. This blog is a place where we can share insights, learn, grow and master the art of life together.

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