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A demonstration of how and why cities vary in their openness and the ways in which the degree of openness can impact city life.

on Tue Aug 07, 2018 9:31 pm
A demonstration of how and why cities vary in their openness and the ways in which the degree of openness can impact city life.

A city is the focal point of wider interactional networks, full of opportunity, conflict and controversy due to the open intensities of its multitudinous daily exchanges (Massey, 1999). Heterogeneous concentrations of convoluted cultural entanglements, burgeoning daily intensities, occasionally conflicting social interactions, and multitudinous overlapping fiscal exchanges, intersect and combine within what Mumford evocatively calls the ‘geographical plexus’ of civilization. This extensive entanglement may ‘foster art’ and ‘create theatre’, via ‘conflicting and co-operating personalities’ which cohabit city space (Mumford, 1937, p.185). Within this image, one can assume the city somewhat singularly, as a metaphorical entity, a ‘bubbling Cauldron’ of reactionary ingredients thrown together in one place (Pile, 1999). However, to define a city as entirely open and dynamic would be to brush over a multitude of factors which disconnect undesirable elements in order to influence an amicable composition of city space. Furthermore, once the extent of governance is revealed, these often over generalised descriptions of city openness may demonstrate the limitations of any overtly optimistic views of city life. Indeed, political, cultural and ideological differences may prevail, which control and regulate certain population movements, civil rights and access to services, thus demonstrating that disconnection may be equally definitive of city life. Additionally, attempts to craft a modernized and economically attractive city image, through urban space re-ordering and policies which try to ameliorate any disorderly expansion, may be seen as superficially imposed, thus enabling some urban areas to become open spaces of innovation and interaction, whilst others are ostracised, disconnected or abandoned (Mooney, 1999). Therefore, by demonstrating how governance and urban planning may alter city openness, this essay will exemplify the characteristic variants of several major cities in which daily life is stringent upon the enacted policies of governance. Initially, the metropolis of New York City, with its liberal democratic background and meritocratic capitalist structure, will highlight several key concepts regarding the city’s open intensity. Similarly, Mexico’s capital will demonstrate the changes in a city’s social openness due to increasing capitalism and trade liberalism. In considerance of this, the established disconnections of certain undesirable elements and parts of these cities will challenge a wholesome view of liberal city existence. In concurrence, the distinctive post communist problems of Moscow’s populace, will call into question the open intensities of cities which are aspirant to achieve a similar level of capitalist development on the global stage.

New York is an ‘archetypal modern city’ with a ‘concentration of special talent, communication skills, and financial resources’ (Mowat, 1999). Indeed, the very image of the Manhattan skyline is iconic of a progressive civilization due to the advanced architectural design of its skyscraping buildings (see Figure 1). Within this concentrated entanglement of office blocks one can envisage a greatly successful web of far reaching interactional networks, embodied as a seemingly living, breathing organism, which possesses a ‘metabolism’ of both innovative production and insatiable consumption (Jopling and Girarder, 1996). Castells (2000, p.412) denotes the modern city, of which New York aptly epitomises, as a ‘co-ordinating hub’ of world market flows, and a switching point for the smooth transmission of information and knowledge. As core component Manhattan is therefore an open space of interaction between business elites and professionals who benefit from a concentration of specialist knowledge and information sharing (Massey, 1999). A definitive enabling factor of this is neo-liberal city governance, through which works the widespread flows of money and finance orchestrated by powerful global institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organization, all of which are successfully embedded within New York City (Pryke, 1999). In concordance, Mowat (1999) notes that ‘New York has the flair for mixing business with pleasure’ as it is also a global centre of ‘publishing, advertising, theatre, and the visual arts’. Furthermore, New York is transient home to ‘twenty-four million overnight visitors’ who come to share the intensity and add to the diversity of a city in which over eighty languages are spoken daily within a ‘city of a hundred religions’ (Mowat, 1999). Indeed, New York seemingly thrives on this ability to heterogeneously make connections, and on the surface, its apparent success is subliminal and all-encompassing. However, its open intensity, most easily viewed in Manhattan, is not without casualty, and within it’s peripheral areas, an issue of governance threatens the ability of minority social groups to capitalise on New York’s success.

The area of Williamsburg in New York consists of numerous disparate ethnic factions, including Hasidic Jews, Latinos, African Americans and Asians, with some first signs of gentrification. Indeed, this diversity lays testament to the openness of New York’s liberal tolerance of different religions and racial groupings, thus aligning with Massey’s (1999) assertion of the city being defined partly by the extent of its convoluted cultural entanglements. However, Mowat (1999) suggests that perhaps, the seemingly liberal acceptance of ethnic minorities is more subtle in what may, in all actuality,# be a governance driven disposition and disconnection of an urban populace whom live in relative poverty. In continuance, Mowat (1999) states that, ‘they are victims of the fall out from New York’s success story’, as industrial waste, garbage disposal areas, and New York’s only nuclear storage facility lie within the bounds of a neighbourhood already suffering from urban degradation due to lack of investment (see Figure 2). In concurrence, Luis Garden-Acosta (1999) expresses his anguish towards Williamsburg’s governance, stating that the financially poor inhabitants struggle further due to these ‘insurmountable environmental odds’ which affect health, and therefore highlight what he calls the ‘immorality’ of a city that# appears to disconnect and peripheralizes the financially disadvantaged. Therefore, these dualities of connection with disconnection, affluence besides relative poverty, great urban growth alongside peripheral degradation, all appear to challenge the economic spatiality of New York’s openness. Within economics and the city, the ‘huge juxtapositions’ of wealth characterise a limiting factor to city openness (Massey, 1999, p.165). Certainly, those with a specialist knowledge base or financial stability can attempt to access the business arena of highly connected Manhattan. However, to the relatively poor of the Williamsburg hinterland, the successes enjoyed a mere few residential blocks away are a seemingly ‘closed box’, where the unempowered struggle to not become the ‘victims of New York’s success story’ (Mowat, 1999).

The city’s duality of advantageous urban elites, within close proximity to peripheralized migrants, poses the question of for who exactly are cities wide open spaces? First appearances indicate that the city is limitlessly open for those with educational and financial empowerment, which enables them to capitalise on available opportunities (Massey, 1999). However, increasingly these ‘elites’ are viewed as insular and spatially enclosed within a ‘set infrastructure of orderly networks and gated communities’, in an attempt to protect their advantageous positions from the fearfully unknown quantity of ‘strangers’ (Allen, 1999, p.85). Sennett (1977) observes that these ‘purified communities’, which segregate and exclude those who are not the same, attempt to deal with city life dividedly, hindering the movement of people to more controllable contact points, whilst assuming an exclusive identity to define certain spaces. Openness becomes limited to people with the imagined qualities of being ‘respectable, educated, civilized, law-abiding’, and ‘middle class’, whilst subtly defining those without access as the potentially uneducated and uncivilized inhabitants of the city (Calderia, 1996, pp.307–14). Massey (2001) in reference to Mexico City asserts that the stigmatisation of the rural poor who migrate to find work demonstrates a similar difficulty, especially with ‘native people’ who find ‘discrimination, abuse, and a pervasive attitude’. Juan Escovada (1999) elaborates on this felt alienation stating that Mexico City now ‘belongs to the rulers and the rich’, to which the area of Santa Fe stands testament. ‘Some plots and new developments here cost up to a million dollars’ explains Giair Mozona (1999). The inhabitants of Santa Fe ‘want to be protected’ (Mozona, 1999) from the disorders of the city, which does not prompt the development of a porous and open city. It is therefore clear that contact points have been ‘eroded by an institutional change which does not prompt people to interact’ (Sennett, 1994, p.357). Furthermore, this institutional change is derived from increasing trade liberalism and progressively capitalist culture which Duncan Green (1995, p.1) names the ‘silent revolution’, where the financial rhythms of the global economy become the dominant influence of the city’s further societal and cultural development (Pryke, 1999).

Indeed, since the collapse of the soviet communist doctrine, cities and their global interconnection are no longer limited by a developmental dichotomy of capitalism versus communism (Watson, 2008). This has created new spatial openings within cities where regimented careers and livelihoods once defined the limitations of city openness. Moscow, the centre of a vast Soviet empire, suddenly fragmented with the collapse of communism in 1991 (Pryke, 1999). Local resident Mikhail Simetnick (1999) elaborates on the turmoil caused by ‘old rigid ways’ giving way to new and more open capitalist opportunities. There was ‘great excitement’, and the ‘scale and pace of change turned the city upside down’ (Simetnick, 1999). The impact on people’s city lives was dramatic with ‘old assumptions abandoned within a city moving to the rhythms of the market economy’ (Pryke, 1999). In concurrence, Masha Philippenko (1999) states that these ‘capitalist ways’ have caused many Russian people to struggle because ‘new Moscow’ allows a heightened level of opportunistic freedom of thought, expression, and career movement, where ‘for so many years people were squeezed by prohibitions, rules and ideologies’. Subsequently, Pryke (1999) asserts that a ‘Moscow City Project’ was created in an attempt to reassert the global prominence that Moscow once enjoyed under communism. However, this time the ‘city’s leaders’ are trying to ‘transform Moscow into a global financial centre’ within the Neoliberal guidelines of capitalism. This may further influence the city’s developmental openness towards foreign businesses, although, as suggested by political commentator Boris Notkin (1999) the city may not initially ‘be able to make such fortunes as America or Britain’; due to the mindset of its inhabitants who still find the openness limited by the infrastructural remnants of the old nationalistic communist business conduct.

In conclusion, the example of New York City, a veritable epitome of a presumably progressive civilization, has demonstrated that whilst some cities appear to flourish economically, the social openness towards those considered financially disadvantaged, unempowered or of relative poverty, may show a subtle and partially governance driven, disconnection of the city’s undesirable elements. Specifically, Manhattan is noted as an open space of interaction between business elites who benefit from a concentration of similar professionals (Massey, 1999). This was suggested to be possible through a neo-liberal governance of capitalism, which enables the embedding of multitudinous successful global businesses (Pryke, 1999). Indeed, this factor together with ‘twenty-four million overnight visitors’ (Mowat, 1999) and over 80 spoken languages and religions, can impose an image of New York as definable by its heterogeneity and burgeoning open intensity. However, within New York’s periphery, places such as Williamsburg demonstrate an infrastructure and education deficit that challenges the governance and openness of the city to those who are financial unempowered. Luis Garden-Acosta (1999) states the felt ‘immorality’ of the situation, as these people are increasingly disconnected and overlooked causing increased levels of urban degredation and perhaps ‘insurmountable environmental odds’. A similar occurrence tends to limit openness in Mexico City where an increasing capitalist development, together with trade liberalization, begins to define the core business district through its multitudinous transnational interconnection. However, the example of Mexico City questions city openness due to the insular and spatially enclosed networks of the rich populace which move within ‘set infrastructures and gated communities’ (Allen, 1999, p.85) in order to protect themselves from the stigmatised poor of peripheral parachute settlements (Massey, 1999). Therefore within Mexico, psychological fears of the potentially uneducated and uncivilized inhabitants of the city (Calderia, 1996, pp.307–14) causes business elites to shield themselves within ‘communities of similarity’ (Sennett, 1977) in order to protect their financially advantageous position. Paradoxically, this can be seen as limiting the openness of the city for the most economically empowered inhabitants. Mexico City’s fundamental institutional change due to trade liberalization has undoubtedly created new spatial openings whilst challenging old ways of interacting. Similarly, Moscow’s drastic ideological alteration, from communism to capitalism, has caused both ‘turmoil’ and ‘great excitement’ as ‘old assumptions and rigid ways’ (Simetnick, 1999) are replaced by liberal and open freedoms of thought, expression and career movement. Therefore, the degree of openness seen within the city is often limited by spatial variations in infrastructure, the enacted policies of governance, the enveloping ideology, and by the psychological mindset of its inhabitants, thus challenging the conduct of city life and its burgeoning interactional intensity.
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