[Reader-list] 'World Class City' concept & repercussions for urban planning in Asia-Pacific

Anil Bhattarai anilbhattarai at gmail.com
Thu Sep 17 22:36:50 IST 2009

I am a newbie to this discussion group and therefore I don't have much
reference to past discussions. However, Prem's discussion about how
'we' have adopted the world-class city is very insightful. I think, as
you have outlined, the reference to the imposition thesis as if it was
the World Bank and the IMF with their grand-designs which shoved
specific models on 'us' does not allow us to think creatively about
what needs to be done, in addition to the fact it was not also an
empirically full picture. There is a growing desire to participate in
that dream--the dream of a particular notion of world-city among the
majority of the ruling elites.

It is here, I see the need of creating a urban politics that
galvanizes 'others' in a project that presents different visions of
the city. The problem in India and many other places, the politics is
dominated by a narrow elites, and the majority of the residents, and
mostly poor among them, do not have spaces in which they can
politically articulate different visions.

I see this part mostly missing in this post-colonial dream analysis.
It's not the general 'we' who aspired for particular dreams, but there
are class dimensions, there are caste dimensions, and there are
gendered dimensions to it. Ultimately, it's the failure of the
politics of the left to provide creative alternatives to the dominant
practices of city-building.

Sooner or later, it is by compulsion and not by choice, that even the
middle class will have to come to realize that this particular brand
of world-class city--with flyovers, megamalls, is going to be too
costly for human lives.

But again, the challenge is not only to 'see' how things have emerged,
but also to begin the process of constructing diverse visions/ or
consolidating them through political process.


On Thu, Sep 17, 2009 at 4:53 AM, Prem Chandavarkar <prem.cnt at gmail.com> wrote:
> I am not sure about an analysis which sees the whole problem as pushed on us
> from above by global financial institutions.  As Foucault has pointed out,
> power is difficult to enforce until it is also constructed as something
> desirable to those on whom power is to be enforced.  So one has to look
> within the Asian region and see why the idea of the "world class city" is
> seen as desirable by Asians.
> In India, I believe it is linked to two factors:
> Firstly, as a post-colonial country we suffered a sense of historical
> discontinuity.  Given over two centuries of history that one could not
> consider authentically one's own, the connection between past present and
> future suffered a disruption.  This created a development discourse for the
> first five decades after independence where the nation's sense of history
> was perceived as being in a state of suspension between a memory of a
> glorious yet distant past and an anticipated technological modernity.
> Secondly, when it came to any sense of culture, the city suffered from a
> lack of perceived authenticity.  Any discussion of "authentic" Indian
> culture was always rooted in the village.  Unlike the west where the city
> was seen as the site of the avant garde and therefore the cutting edge of
> cultural production, in India culture was perceived as being largely rural,
> and the city was seen more as a technical efficiency to be viewed purely
> through a rational lens.
> But after 1991, with the successes of industries such as software in
> particular (and other industries followed based on the global credibility
> for India that the software industry created), suddenly India was perceived
> as being anchored in global production in a very central way.  Modernity no
> longer had to be anticipated - it had arrived.  The software industry is
> essentially an urban (that too largely metropolitan) industry, and therefore
> the city was seen as leading India's march into modernity.
> This has created a perception that "globalisation equals modernity", and has
> created a desire for the global city in India, where the global city is seen
> as clean, ordered, efficient and visually iconic.  Some indicators of this
> desire are:
> a)       One often hears a public rhetoric that constructs an imagery of the
> global city as being clean and efficient: examples like Singapore and
> Shanghai are often raised as paradigms that the Indian city must aspire
> towards.
> b)      There is a growing wave of middle class activism driven by
> resident's associations that is pushing towards better master planning and
> the better enforcement of master plans.
> c)       Judicial judgments are leaning towards this notion of the efficient
> and ordered city.  To take as an example three recent Supreme Court
> judgments on Delhi:
> ·         The requirement that all public transport vehicles must shift to
> CNG as a fuel.
> ·         The sealing of shops and other business establishments in
> residential areas (even though the master plan provisions of commercial
> space are grossly inadequate for a city of the size of Delhi).
> ·         The decision that the three decades old Nangla Machi basti on the
> banks of the Yamuna must be demolished because it is not recognised on the
> master plan, and the master plan authorities have declared the site as the
> location of the games village for the proposed Commonwealth Games.
> d)      Cities are now concerned about branding themselves.  City
> authorities evince greater interest in brandable projects such as stadiums
> and convention centres, as opposed to non-brandable projects such as social
> housing.
> The existence of organisations like World Bank and IMF has definitely played
> a role in this process, but one has to realise that we have sought them out,
> and it is not a one-directional process of something being shoved down our
> throats.  Except it is a very narrow (but powerful) segment that is seeking
> out this model.  Unfortunately it is this segment that dominates the
> attention of the media, and as a result the dislocations to large segments
> of our population go unrecognised.
> Am copying this to the urban study group as there have been discussions on
> that list expressing concern over the concept of the 'world class city'.
> Regards,
> Prem
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Anil Bhattarai
Programme in Planning
University of Torontoh

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