12/02/2011

Op-Ed: The decrease of nation-state, the rising of strategic urban centers


After having looked at the 16 Global Cities to Watch commented by Saskia Sassen and Edward Glaeser recently published in Foreign Policy Magazine, a remark raises: the increasingly important role of city — better urban centers — in lieu of nation-state in the 21st Century: urban centers as 21st century models while nation-state as 20th century model. 
Washington/New York/ Chicago © Foreign Policy Magazine

According to Edward Glaeser and Saskia Sassen, networks of cities such as New York/Chicago/Washington, or Beijing/Hong Kong will have a much more impact in terms of geopolitics, economics as well as social, health and well-being. Both Glaeser and Sassen explain this fact due to the decrease of confidence on nation-state. Therefore, as cities are growing fast, they tend to weigh more at many levels. And they are right. This is the case of Chicago, in the United States, Berlin/Frankfurt in Germany, and Beijing/Hong Kong/Shenzhen — but in my view, we need to include Shanghai in this city network — in China.
Berlin/Frankfurt © Foreign Policy Magazine

On the contrary, centralized cities will decrease in terms of influence, partly because of economic, social, and spatial fatigue. These centralized cities concentrate all the important tasks from politics to finance and job markets. This is the case of Paris and Tokyo, both not mentioned in the article.
Tokyo, first of all, is threatened by a massive earthquake. Despite its capacity to (partly) withstanding it, even as Tokyo is well-known to be a resilient city, Tokyo is expecting facing damages — without having the certainty to be capable of evaluating the impact of this expected but uncalculable hazard. Moreover, it is uncertain that Japan could be withstanding economically this issue. Subsequently, that unsurprisingly reinforces pressures on the city. In this context it is important for Tokyo to maintain not only its influence in terms of economics but also its high quality of life. Hence the necessity for Tokyo to reassess its strategy at many levels since living with such uncertainties, such as the fear of natural yet uncalculable risk, could aggravate Japan's economical issues and downgrade its high quality of life. 
Beijing/Hong Kong © Foreign Policy Magazine

As the LSE Cities/Urban Age recently pointed out, due to an increasingly vulnerability of Tokyo highlighted by the 3.11 events, "Tokyoites lost confidence in a city that traditionally has a very high quality of life". Hence the desire of Tokyo to building a backup city near the city. Yet this backup city has a cost that neither Tokyo nor Japan can't afford. Rather, it would be much logic to do with existing cities such as Nagoya, Osaka or Fukuoka. This is probably the hidden dream of new Osaka Mayor Mr Toru Hashimoto who recently called for abandoning nuclear energy, putting Osaka in the spotlight.
Yet Tokyo still has a room for manœuvre: given the formation of models of city networks tackling challenging issues — urban, financial, jobs market, spatial, geopolotical, natural, social, health crisis — overseas (Beijing/Shenzhen/Hong Kong, New York/Chicago/Washington, to quote a few), it will not be surprising to see, in the nearing future, Tokyo/Nagoya/Osaka/Fukuoka interacting in order to tackle challenging issues. This, indeed, appears to be, let's say it, the unique solution.

Secondly Paris. The Grand Paris seems to vampirize the other cities according to many French cities' mayors. Like Tokyo, and many cities whose influence is declining, Paris is struggling to preserve its international influence. Yet, if the Grand Paris could solve a large number of urban issues — transports, housing demands, job markets, environment, etc. —, it is obvious that it should reassess its strategy with a realistic decentralization that will provide more autonomy to other French cities such as Lyon, Marseille. Lille, for instance, is getting a more critical role economically speaking. However economics is not enough if Lille wants to have a globally stronger impact. It needs to integrate other components than social, sustainability and economics, such as geopolitics, healthcare and well-being. This is probably what Lille envisions: becoming a geopolitical city, a city that also integrates health and well-being-oriented urban policies basing its ambition on cities such as Chicago, or nearest Lille, Frankfurt. If so, the creation of city networks in France will help not only Lilles but also all French big cities to be more geopolically critical as well as it will help Paris to recover its international influence.

In conclusion, the urban, social, economic, and geopolitical future, to quote Glaeser and Sassen, will be determined by "strategic urban centers, working as networks rather than conventional hierarchies".


* Concerning this case, Japanese cities are facing with (un)expected issues from demographic growth and change to, with evidence, a 3-decade of Recession, including, now, natural and climate change risks. Japan's society is changing, shifting into an aging society which requires new models of cities more flexible, adaptive to elderly people's specific needs. This allows, more accurately, a much higher quality of life and more accurate risk management policies, incleading healthcare and well-being. The recent 3.11 events demonstrated limits in terms of quality of life as, to quote a few of these spatial, social, and economical constraints, the mobility of elderly people and families with small children was significantly reduced, as LSE Cities/Urban Age pointed out. Many observers — from architects to urban sociologists — agree, Japan needs a clearer and realistic urban planning that will include all these factors yet thought separatedly — each case having its own particularity — to maintain this quality of life that characterizes Japan's urban and rural spaces.

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