Excerpt from article published in Perspecta 47: Money. Download article below.
It seemed, at least for a while, that cities (world cities, developing cities, instant cities, ghost cities, hub cities) were in an unfettered race to gain, or maintain, “world-class” status. For better or worse, no institution or group has yet to define what “world-class” means. However vague the term and its associated rating indices remain, pursuit of a definition has generated billions of dollars of development and countless unrealized skyline proposals. Architects continue to draw images for projects that are supposed to attract global capital or, in PR language, to put a city “on the map.” In every case of chasing world-class status, it is hoped that after so much new development, lifestyle experiences, and tourist attractions a tipping point will be reached; that some sort of global approbation will kick in and allow a city to rest on its laurels. But that moment is never reached.
As early as the mid-1980s, David Harvey grasped the role cities had defined for themselves for the coming decades:
Urban regions compete for employment, investment, new technologies, and the like by offering unique packages of physical and social infrastructures, qualities and quantities of labor power, input costs, life-styles, tax systems, environmental qualities and the like.
Whereas cities might have also been once locales of production, Harvey describes the subsequent phase of cities wherein a survival scenario reduces the city to a repository for drifting global capital. Built or proposed skylines along with promised corporate services encapsulated a city’s means toward legitimacy through the attraction and absorption of that capital. Beyond just the physical forms of skyscrapers, office parks, and convention centers, Harvey also pointed to soft strategies that characterized any city’s pursuit of longevity. Even the most seemingly stable and permanent of cities, like New York and London, search for success by means of now too often recycled tactics. They line up with brochures of perks and freebies to attract the latest transnational looking for a bargain-price headquarters. Therefore one should contest Harvey’s use of the word “unique” as the competition has resulted in not many more ideas than increasing levels of tax breaks, zoning bonuses, and disingenuous panderings to the “creative class.”
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