The Discourse Of Contemporary Urbanization

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The idea of development has been changed over the years while it’s discourse help to shape the discourse of contemporary urbanization (Miraftab & Kudva, 2015). Two questions as the main focus of development and urbanization have been asked: “whose development?” and “whose cities?” (Miraftab & Kudva, 2015). Two types of development have been captured: the big D development relying on large scale development projects; the small D development focuses on the humane development and relying on grassroots (Miraftab & Kudva, 2015).

Miraftab and Kudva (2015) select two articles with different focus: Michael Goldman (2014) shows the influence of development ideas on the city construction and formulation of urban policies in the global south through development discourses and its relation to urban policy interventions; Jennifer Robinson (2014) argues that if we consider all cities as ordinary cities, it can help cities to achieve their own potential, and it is important for the poorest cities, as well as the global cities or wealthiest cities.

In this essay, I argue that Robinson does not provide enough effective pieces to prove how world-cities approach limit the urban imaginaries and its future development potential, and the actual effectiveness of ordinary city approach; Goldman offers a well-formulated literature review to emphasize that the creation of global cities is the actual trend in urban planning today, and how ideas of development and urbanization influence urban revolution. The role of the World Bank has been specifically highlighted in Goldman’s piece.

Robinson is challenging the dominant view of “global cities” or “world cities” approach, as people usually consider world cities more as they are playing a more important role in the global economy, but then possibly ignore the marginalized and poor people in poorer cities with limited imaginaries. She pointed out that the would cities approach is driven by the interests in hierarchies, and some cities may be established as exemplars while others as simulators (Robinson, 2014).

If some “non-global” cities wish to get a global action, they should climb up the hierarchy. Robinson’s piece actually focuses more on the weak side for world cities approach rather than effectively present the ordinary city approach. She mentioned the idea from Friedmann (1995) that cities have been categorized, and world cities are at the top of the influence tree. With this idea, the specific city has been labelled and being put into the hierarchy, but the diverse experiences of the city have been mostly ignored (Miraftab & Kudva, 2015).

While continue stating that this approach will present a strong impression to policy-makers, she does not provide any evidence to prove its influence on policy making. Robinson should provide more data to prove her piece. She stated that there are criticisms for the claims that in terms of salary level, social conditions and economic activities, world cities are obviously different from other major centres, but there aren’t any specific global city data example to show the effectiveness of this argument.

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The Zambia case from her piece does not help with her idea, as Zambia is more likely to be considered as a “unique” country based on her word, a poorest but most urbanized country in Africa. It does not show if we consider Zambia as an ordinary city, the possible changes could be made; she states that Lusaka is not a player in major economic process, but still mentioning the exportation of goods and continuous privatization of state assets when the World Bank or other aid agencies are in the city and take special consideration of the place. Zambia example may actually make people confused about author’s argument–in the section, she continues saying that “poor cities and countries are irrelevant to the global economy” (Robinson, 2014, p.70).

The example does not provide relevant or clear connections to the importance of the ordinary city approach. Goldman’s piece is formulated well with various examples and a number of debates through the literature. Starting from the post-World War II, the “basic needs” have been considered as a primary national goal (Goldman, 2014). But development is a rather complex issue. Lagos, as a global South city mentioned by Goldman (2014), can be considered as an “exemplar” for the developmental and political shift around the 1970s to 1980s, to prove the idea that development is only to provide benefits to elite people in some extent: the failure for the installation of water system in the city is because of the unequal forms of urbanization; the actual majority, non-elite people, their basic infrastructure needs cannot be covered.

The World Bank has been considered as an important element during the urbanization process. Its existence and their loan rule support the argument that urbanization is only beneficial for a few numbers of people: in a common form of a loan such as a road construction, it can only benefit people with cars (Goldman, 2014). This can also exclude non-elite people from the access to a public good. The loan is very expensive as well. Goldman (2014) also mentioned the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) launched by World Bank actually bought disastrous effect for the non-elite people, and especially the poorest.

As the SAPs requires the country to charge “user fees” for public services, fewer children would be able to attend school, health services are becoming more expensive, and the country itself will spend more on debt interests payment. The World Bank example effectively support the idea of how development ideas can influence the urban policies and city building, and how the non-elite population may be excluded from the development process.

But there’s an interesting point of the World Bank: Goldman stated that World Bank is dominated by people with “Wall Street sense”, and questioning that “On what grounds could it justify lending money to cities? (Goldman, 2014, p.58)” This question has actually being left to readers without any further explanations and gives the readers a sense that Wall Street people should be “blamed” for the unsuccessful World Bank policy. The author may need to further explain this unclear point. The role of World Bank has been highlighted in Goldman’s piece to support the argument, not just Lagos or other African cities have been affected, the similar situation also happened in most of the Latin America cities according to Goldman.

In the end, Goldman mentioned that no more cities such as Tunis and Tripoli should be considered as “provincial outposts far from the modern”, and they are lack of connections with the happenings of the world; every city, including global South cities, have great contributions to our modern world (Goldman, 2014, p.63). It matched with the subtitle “cities of infinite possibility?”, but also can be linked to Robinson’s argument: it is important to consider all cities as ordinary, in order to help cities to achieve its own potential. The urban development is a complex issue. Goldman’s piece provides a well-supported literature review to show the influence of development ideas to the city building. Robinson’s ordinary city approach may require further research to prove its effectiveness.

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