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Global Cities: the New Urban Reality (November 2015): New Perspectives on Space, Territory, and Global Cities

By Jane Marcus-Delgado

New Perspectives on Space, Territory, and Global Cities

Since Lefebvre’s claim, in The Urban Revolution, that postindustrial society had become “completely urbanized,” researchers have grappled with questions of spatiality and the physical, social, and economic dimensions of global cities.  This concluding section of the essay focuses on three aspects of this question: global city regions, the devolution of the state vis-à-vis cities, and sociospatial restructuring.

The seminal work on city regions emerged from a 1999 conference at UCLA organized by A. J. Scott.  Scott’s edited volume Global City-Regions: Trends, Theory, Policy articulates the relationships among cities, regions, nations, and industrialization.  Also valuable is The Making of Global City Regions, edited by Klaus Segbers with Simon Raiser and Krister Volkmann, which looks at Johannesburg, Mumbai/Bombay, São Paulo, and Shanghai.  Segbers writes in his introduction to that volume that as cities have grown and become more globalized, they have come to be seen as sprawling transnational actors that serve as “gateways to the global economy for their country and/or the surrounding region.”  They compete against each other for foreign investment and resources, often supplanting the state as a primary source of economic opportunities.

City regions vary greatly in patterns of growth and scope, but most share common problems of governance, infrastructure, transportation, and security concerns.  Important works on this topic include The Polycentric Metropolis: Learning from Mega-City Regions in Europe, written by Peter Hall and Kathryn Pain (with contributions from others).  It studies eight such regions in northern Europe, focusing on the challenges that their polycentrism poses for planners, investors, and policy makers.  Governance and Planning of Mega-City Regions: An International Comparative Perspective, edited by Jiang Xu and Anthony G. O. Yeh, offers an excellent selection of comparative case studies on the role of city regions in the liberal global economy.  Also noteworthy for its discussion of less developed areas is The Making of Global City Regions (mentioned immediately above), which covers four rapidly growing city regions struggling to compete as world-class cities on the global stage.  In My Los Angeles: From Urban Restructuring to Regional Urbanization, geographer Edward Soja argues that the urbanization process has taken a significant shift, moving away from the traditional metropolis to regional urbanization.  He examines the urbanization of suburbia and regional industrialization in his volume on the “exopolis” of Los Angeles.  In addition, the recently released Megaregions: Globalization’s New Urban Form?, edited by John Harrison and Michael Hoyler, promises to complement scholarship in this area.

Do globalization and the rise of global cities and city regions necessarily imply a decline in national state power, the devolution of the state vis-à-vis cities?  In The Retreat of the State: The Diffusion of Power in the World Economy, Susan Strange argues that the state is devolving, and she is not alone in believing this.  But a convincing body of scholarship asserts that new city and state interactions have resulted in a rescaling of statehood, not in its decline.  An essential study of this phenomenon is Harvard urban theorist Neil Brenner’s New State Spaces: Urban Governance and the Rescaling of Statehood, which calls for traditional, territorially bound definitions of state space to be replaced according to a new vision of rescaled and restructured national power.  Brenner contends that cities are the driving forces in the reshaping of nation-states, and he investigates “the major role of urban regions as key sites of contemporary state institutional and spatial restructuring.”  Another thoughtful resource is State/Space: A Reader, edited by Neil Brenner, Bob Jessop, and Martin Jones.  This interdisciplinary work raises critical issues about the role of cities in reshaping political, economic, and social landscapes—issues that will certainly impact urban studies scholarship for the foreseeable future.  Two other important urban studies scholars are Peter Marcuse and Ronald van Kempen, whose edited volume Globalizing Cities: A New Spatial Order? merits inclusion in the discussion of the evolving roles of cities in a globalized context.


As the world’s population grows increasingly larger and more urban, research on cities will continue to gain primacy across the disciplines.  Challenges of governance, economic growth and sustainability, social justice, and cultural complexity will demand further understanding on the part of all stakeholders—from scholars to policy makers and politicians.  New directions of inquiry into the rapidly changing global landscape will be invaluable tools in shaping the future, and the opportunities for further exploration are limitless.

Works Cited