Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 2006

Global Urbanism: Cities and Global Processes

Lecturer: Associate Professor Kris Olds,
Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin - Madison, USA
Main discipline: Human Geography, Sociology

Dates: 24 - 28 July 2006
Course Credits: 10 pts (ECTS)
Limitation: 30 participants

Global processes of change are writ large in cities. Cities are increasingly delineated as the sites that material and non-material flows are directed towards, especially in a neo-liberal era that has seen the waning of equitable regional development policies and programs. But cities also function as the cauldron for new forms of economy and society: they act as the 'command points' in the organization of the world economy, as the local sites where diverse social and cultural geographies collide and mix, and as the highly charged symbolic spaces associated with the making of new citizen-subjects.

This course is designed to interrogate various aspects of the relationship between globalization and urban change, as analyzed by academics, urban planners, and other assorted urbanists. Particular attention will be devoted to developing a critical understanding of:

These diverse issues will be addressed via lectures, films, and analyses of books, articles, chapters, and policy reports. Particular effort will be made to highlight the role of global elites in the transformation of cities, the role of the state in the development process (especially from a comparative perspective), and the cultural and political economy of research and publishing that shapes our understandings of global urbanism.

The geographical emphasis in this course is on cities in the ‘Pacific Rim’, as well as the interdependent skein of global cities.

Essential Books to Purchase and Read:




Lecture 1: Global Urbanization
According to various sources this is the beginning of the era of Homo Urbanis, with just over half of the world’s population now living in cities. But mere statistics do not convey the increasingly hegemonic role of cities, and of city-dwellers, in shaping developmental dynamics across global space. As the United Centre for Human Settlements (2001: 6) puts it:

When measured in knowledge, attitude, aspiration, commercial sense, technology, travel and access to information, even the most rural societies on earth are, to one extent or another, woven into a global network of cities.

This lecture lays some basic foundational material regarding global urbanization, such that we are all mutually aware of the nature and significance of cities, and the relationship between cities, globalization, and the development process (broadly defined).


Lectures 2 & 3: Of Citadels and Slums
While the urbanization process has enhanced the scale and significance of the urban, a variety of writers have sought to elevate our understanding of the significance of two related spatial formations: global cities, spaces associated with the ‘command and control’ of the world economy; and slums, especially the ‘planet of slums’ (Davis, 2006) that is concentrated in the Global South.

This lecture outlines how urbanists have grappled with the question of globalization and urban change. Particular attention is devoted to examining how the deepening and amplification of variegated socio-economic networks (that we now deem ‘globalization’) are concurrently fueling the concentration of resources and activities in global city-regions, and the linked delineation of policies and strategies that demarcate city-regions as the ‘engines’ or ‘motors’ of the global economy. This situation is contrasted with a discussion the forces driving the growth of mega-slums, a relatively more significant spatial formation (in demographic terms) that is only now receiving more systematic analytical attention.




Lectures 4 & 5: Of Representations, Institutions, and Careers: A Cultural and Political Economy of Global Urbanisms
This lecture consists of an exploration of the epistemic community associated with globally-oriented urban studies. The lecture focuses on the nature of the key writers writing about globalization and urban change, their dominant theoretical perspectives, and their own socio-cultural and institutional geographies. Effort is made to situate them in a broader discussion about the production of knowledge in academia, and about the political economy of publishing and research funding.




Lecture 6: Globalization and Urban Change in the ‘Asia-Pacific’
This lecture, the first in Part II of the course, lays the context for Lectures 7-10. First, I critically analyze the emergence of regional constructs such as the Asia-Pacific and the Pacific Rim that are being used, for good and for bad, to frame understandings of urban development in this vast and heterogeneous region. Second, I examine how urbanists and associated analysts have conceptualized the underlying forces driving the urbanization process in the Asia-Pacific region. Third, I discuss the evolution of key urban concepts (e.g., desakota), and urban spatial formations (e.g., mega-projects, spectacular skyscrapers) that are closely associated with cities in the Asia Pacific. Finally, I link back to Lectures 4 & 5 to discuss the production of knowledge about urbanism in the Asia-Pacific.



Lecture 7: Liquid Assets: Producing the Pacific Rim Consumptionscape in Vancouver, Canada
This lecture consists of a detailed case study of flows of capital and property development expertise which are predominantly shaped by Hong Kong-based Chinese property tycoons; tycoons responsible for initiating the development of one of North America's largest private urban redevelopment projects. These flows are intertwined with flows of migrants, images and other capital flows from Hong Kong, as well as with capital flows from a variety of Canadian sources. The built form reflects an evolving articulation process whereby flows guided by the developer are molded by the regulatory arm of the local state in a process involving both conflict and complementarity.



Lecture 8: Liquid Images: Producing the Global Financescape in Shanghai, China
This lecture consists of a detailed case study of flows of urban development concepts (and associated images) that were formulated by predominantly European architectural professionals. These flows were directed to Shanghai in the 1990s in the aim of initiating the planning for one of the world's largest new international financial centres (Lujiazui Central Finance District). The concepts and images produced via the consultative process were also directed into the discursive field associated with the architectural profession and discipline, furthering a variety of autonomous professional goals from 1992 to the present.



Lectures 9 & 10: Global Assemblage: Singapore, Western Universities, and the Construction of a ‘Global Knowledge Hub’
This lecture focuses on the emerging relationship between urban change and relatively deep forms of the globalization of higher education (e.g., foreign campuses). More specifically, I examine the factors that underlie the emergence of Singapore as a ‘global education hub’. Particular attention will be devoted to understanding: (1) Constructing a Global Education Hub (the objectives and strategies of the Singaporean state in opening up its territory to new forms of foreign educational knowledge, institutional structures, practices, and technologies); and (2) Globalizing Universities (the objectives and strategies of elite Western universities as they seek to establish and/or deepen their presences in Pacific Asia in general, and Singapore in particular).



The Lecturer
Kristopher Olds is Associate Professor at Department of Geography, The University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA. He joined the faculty in the Department of Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in July 2001. Prior to this he taught at the Department of Geography, National University of Singapore (1997-2001) and at the School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol (1996-1997). He was also a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Geography, University of British Columbia (1995-1996). Apart from academia, he has also worked as an urban planner for the City of Vancouver, a researcher at the UBC Centre for Human Settlements, and with an architectural firm in Vancouver.

His PhD (1996) in Human Geography is from the University of Bristol in England. He was based at the School of Geographical Sciences there from 1992-1995. He also has two degrees from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver (his 'hometown'), a MA (1988) in Community and Regional Planning, and a BA (1985) in Human Geography.

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