The Nature of Emerging Urbanism and the Effect of Globalization on Cities

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Efforts of this research paper is to evaluate the current scenario of the nature of emerging urbanism and to understand the effect of globalization on the cities. The aim of this dissertation is to understand the ‘contemporary city’. The contemporary society is living in the middle of an information, technology, communication and revolution. “Everywhere, places and people are affected by Global economics and social coerces. Despite its demand as a system for global growth, a neo-liberal world view has been adopted and essentially led to a justification in restoring (and creating more) power for the economic elites, thus inviting intense competition among major global cities. This worldwide competition has instilled great pressure upon emerging cities to become more accustomed and responsive to global trends of modernity” (Hunter 2009).

On one side it has led to a gradual decline of the local and the specific as it was earlier existed. On the other side the fusion of the global and local has resulted in new and exciting sub-cultures, but now the demarcation between them are blurred.

Understanding and interpreting globalization

Early dominant empires movement through various regions indeed led to global flow of culture over the last centuries, amplified within the last 100 years or so. During 1870s, merging of large corporate monopolies happened because of a system-wide crisis, colonies emerged out of the territorial breakdown of the world, capital exported, worldwide labor divided between specialized production of goods and raw materials. Fordist system of accumulation and regulation were adopted due to the industrial revolution which resulted in mass production and management of labor (Petras and Veltmeyer 2001).

Globalization is critically linked with social change, therefore the statement that a global society is coming into existence complementary to a global economy. Considering nearly all of the economic, political, social, cultural and geographical delineations within the contemporary world, globalization portrayed itself a highly conflictive theory and meta-narrative (Clark 2006). These lines said, Giddens (quoted by Voisey and O‟Riordan 2001) identified social problems at the basic level of his interpretation quoting that “globalization concerns the intersection of presence and absence, the interlacing of social events and social relations ‘at distance’ with local contextualities” elaborating that “Globalization can thus be defined as the intensification of world-wide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa.”

“Globalization as a concept refers both to the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole” (qtd. In Voisey and O‟Riordan 2001). Short (2001) also refers to a certain densification made by the world streams of capital, polity and global culture, or what Castells (1989) referred it as a “space of flows” –most of the economy is coordinated through material and immaterial components of global information networks through, in real time across miles.

As culture has become increasingly placeless, urbanism is metaphorically compared to be an arena where anyone can see the particularity of local cultures and its efforts to mediate global domination (AlSayyad, 2001). Hunter (2009) refers this as the diversified statements of scale and repercussion cutting across governmental, cultural, and spatial realms, globalization is indeed intensified and very dominant in the present day. Without radically discarding the global event entirely, Tomlinson (1999) believes that changes caused in society by global flows of capital, politics, and production has portrayed global culture “a single homogenized system of meaning”.

Lewis (2002) states some of the phenomena, conditions and contrasting trends of globalization:

  • Faster, data-intensive communication between distant, contrasting cultures.
  • Increased sharing of cultural “products.”
  • Increased multinational business and industrial activity.
  • Increased internationalization and standardization of technology.
  • Increased international mobility for both business and tourism.
  • Economic growth and, for some, rising personal incomes.
  • Increasing gaps between haves and have-nots.
  • Increasing desire for goods and services accompanied by unmet expectations.
  • Increasing threats to natural resources and environmental sustainability.

According to him, this factors affects architecture or the so called “urbanism” directly or indirectly. Positive or negative effects are subjected to the way a person looks at it. Globalization and information networks play a crucial role in forming and influencing the contemporary city over the past 20-25 years (Castells 1996). Convergence of the global/contemporary city , have developed generic ‘cities of sameness’ that results from persistent urban expansion contains the historical city, homogenization of the global economy turning as a productive thrust in urbanism(Liauw & Liu 2009). But Liauw(2009) also states that this global ‘sameness’ is not making everything identical or same, and opposed to Corbusier’s idea of global standardized reproduction .

Here the term ‘generic’ celebrates and embraces the chaos of todays urbanity, tolerating without protest it as given and effective in organizing and maintaining urban resources. Sameness constitutes the lack of understandable difference in and between cities around the world, where cultural connections and material over-abundance have created a state of indifferentiation . What is at stake here is architectural applications contributing to the urban identity(Koolhaas 1995).

Generic city is Rem Koolhaas’ literary effort in defining and formulating the ‘contemporary city’ based on critical watchings of many global cities he had experienced. It is “uncontrollable, autopoeietic and infinitely repeatable… held together not by an overdemanding public realm, but by the residual” (Koolhaas, 1995). He recognizes that sucha universal urbanity could only be understood as systematic assembly of culturally activated/supported space, he questionioned how perceived divergences are conceived and received in cities.

Convergence is possible only at the price of shedding identity. That is usually seen as a loss. But at the scale at which it occurs, it must mean something

Question of identity in the generic city. According to Koolhaas(1995) despite repeated failures to plan and create order in cities, these cities never manage to lose their vitality; nor do such failures tend to conceal their growth. The major argument here is that the social, economic, and political spheres in the past few decades have rendered changes that have lead to the time when the concept of a city ends - as we have traditionally viewed it.Decentralization will be the urban action that will free the city from spatial interrelations defined by history. The centrality requires periphery and vice-versa, so no centre leads to no periphery, and thus the sense of sameness is created. Continuity requires attention for cities. Continuity provides a understandable data point for all groups to be able to identify with and within the city, with some variations that allow different groups to participate. Jean Attali, the French philosopher, has stated that a universal urbanity represents the terminal end of the idea of a city – he asks “whether difference is embodied in physical elements of the city, or in the abstract rules that control their systematic assemblage, or created through our perception?” In Generic City, Koolhaas dismisses traditional datum concerns for collective good/bad and nostalgia. The generic city is amoral and pragmatic, free to start and end again whenever it desires.

A precursor to Generic City was ‘Typical Plan’ (Koolhaas,1993) from his book S M L XL where typical plans are indeterminate, indiscriminate and everything is possible.

Later in essay ‘Junkspace’ (Koolhaas, 2002) he proclaims: “the lack of uniqueness as a virtue, absence is a vacuum always needing to be filled, reworked, redefined. In generic cities buildings become floating signifiers, divorced from programmatic content and historical past…they are pragmatic and able to change to fit new needs…like a Hollywood studio lot, generic city can produce a new identity every Monday morning”. It has dissolved the connection between spatial setting, social and cultural activity. Contemporary cities are complex rapidly mutating entities that defy established categories of identity, not static but dynamic and stretchable.

41Koolhaas’ Generic City has not been critiqued or further developed since the 1990s due in part to its actual rampant proliferation and globalization in emerging countries like China. Since the 2008 financial market crisis and real estate collapse, unrestrained out-of-control urban development has begun to be critiqued in many countries affected by the fluctuations of global capital markets. In China itself, the world’s fastest growing economy and largest urbanizing population, a critical rethink of the generic city has started with academic projects on contemporary Chinese cities at Chinese University of Hong Kong (Liauw & Liu, CUHK 2008, 2009) around the Pearl River Delta, withprojects such as Songgan Post-Industrial Urbanism (2008) and Shunde River Urban Regeneration (2009). The spawning of generic cities in this region of China requires an urgent need to re-examine their operating premises of them, whilst at the same time providing opportunities to critically speculate about what and how post-generic futures are possible.


Petras J and Veltmeyer H 2001, “Globalization Unmasked”, Fernwood Publishing, Halifax, Zed, London.

Clark D 2006, “Urban World / Global City”, Routledge, New York.

Voisey H and O’Riordan T 2001. “Globalization and Localization” in O‟Riordan, Tim (editor), Globalization, Localism and Identity: Fresh Perspectives on the Transition to Sustainability, Earthscan.

Short, john R 2001, “Global Dimensions: Space, Place and the Contemporary World”, Reaktion, London.

AlSayyad N 2001, “Hybrid Culture/Hybrid Urbanism: Pandora‟s Box of the Third Place”, Praeger, Westport, pp. 1-18.

Sassen S 2005, “The Global City: introducing a Concept”, the brown journal of world affairs, vol. 9, issue 2, pp. 1-12

Liauw & Liu 2009, “POST GENERIC CITY – learning from Shenzen the gongming experiment”,CUHK, honkong, China.