The global city is not a place but a process (Castells, 1996). Discuss.
Castells, 1996, P. 377, deals with the complexity of the interaction between technology, society, and space. It presents the new spatial logic of the information age which Castells famously terms the space of flows. This new space is, according to Castells, ‘the material organisation of time-sharing practices that work through flows’ (p. 412). It has three layers:
1. The electronic impulses in networks
2. The places which constitute the nodes and hubs of networks, and
3. The spatial organisation of cosmopolitan elites in terms of work, play and movement.
Here we focus upon the second layer. Castells identifies global cities as ‘the most direct illustration’ of hubs and nodes (p. 415).
Cities as nodes of these networks are directly linked. Cities are increasingly important in terms of networking on a global scale. The spatial organisation of the information age is characterised neither by focal point of activities nor scattering of settlements and activities. It’s both centralisation and decentralisation using the influence of new technologies. The space of the information age is made of architecture of nodes and networks. Territories are united across distance in their function and meaning in the spatial flows, but places continue to exist as privileged locales of experience. The global city is not limited to special cities. It’s the global functions of each city in the world connected through electronic and telecommunication links. The financial district of every city, and of every major city in the world, is part of the global network functions.
Cities are sources of innovation. Innovation is the source of value addition in our kind of economy and society. Silicon Valley is a node in a major network. One cannot understand Silicon Valley without Mumbai or Bangalore or Munich or other places. Saskia Sassen showed that advanced services are made of global networks anchored in global cities. Networks of innovation are in spatially different dimensions. Network innovation in science is different than in finance, is different than in high-tech or multimedia. But access to these networks, and belonging to these networks, need specific sets of features which are directly related to major metropolitan regions. Metro regions have
1. The connectivity links to fast transportation and telecom systems.
2. They have the largest concentration in quality and quantity of human resources for innovation.
3. They are the spaces of freedom and free communication.
Culture and institutions of tolerance are essential to innovation. The ability to attract capital and labour also depends on the visibility of the milieu of innovation and this visibility’s link to media exposure which is centred in major metropolitan areas.
The internet is the tool for free communication.
Global cities amass immense concentration of economic power while cities that were once major manufacturing centres suffer excessive declines. The business centres in metropolitan areas receive massive investments in real estate and telecommunications while low income urban and metropolitan areas are starved for resources. Highly educated workers in the corporate sector see their incomes rise to unusually high levels while low or medium skilled workers see theirs sink. Financial services produce super profits while industrial services barely survive. Global elements are localized. Immigration has a set a process in international labour markets.
Cities are the terrain where people from many different countries are most likely to meet and a multiplicity of cultures comes together. The international character of major cities lies not only in their telecommunication infrastructure and international firms: it lies also in the many different cultural environments in which these workers exist. One can no longer think of centres for international business and finance simply in terms of the corporate towers and corporate culture at its centre. Today’s global cities are in part the spaces of post-colonialism and indeed contain conditions for the formation of a post colonialist discourse (see Hall 1991; King 1990).
The least spatial patterns of white collar work which are harmonious with its existence, is beginning to emerge in some rural and peripheral areas of major cities of the world. The more highly skilled home-based workers are predominantly immigrants, exploiting skills and market contacts developed. These workers may be of particular significance for the wider development of such regions through the particular competencies and contacts that they bring, as well as the effective demand for locally produced goods and services.
The use of electronic data interchange technology is used primarily for the transfer of commercial documents can be extended for use in the home environment. These electronic data interchanges have created the electronic cottage. Extensions to this technology have provided the users and suppliers with new message structures to perform their tasks. This has lead to the increased use of the system for the exchange of information without the necessity for there to be a ‘transaction’ involved. The use of structures has aided the provider and the user of the information in giving an appropriate vehicle for the exchange of data.
An early proponent of this utopia was futurist Alvin Toffler (1980), explained, “The electronic cottage rises once more on a mass scale the possibility of husbands and wives, and perhaps even children, working together as a unit.” Toffler predicted a decline in the need to commute to work, an increase in the ability to change jobs without having to move one’s home to a new location. He foresaw “greater community stability” and a “renaissance among voluntary organizations like churches, women’s groups, lodges, clubs, athletic and youth organizations.”
So in a world of international networks, Castell’s idealization of flow of information without borders has began to transcend cultural barriers and the impact on employment, work, business, society and culture is profound. Castells suggests that local governments might “…mobilize local civil societies to support a collective strategy toward the reconstruction of the meaning of the locality in a conflictive dynamics with the placeless powers.” (Castells, 1989, p.352) He uses the term “placeless powers” because of the less evident and more subtle nature of control exercised by the classes, corporations and governments who own and operate the means of production in the new techno-economic paradigm. But the counter-strategy he suggests is organic and slow to take root. The nature of Castells call indicates the difficulty of getting a solid grasp on a global phenomenon composed of such intangible fundamental elements as data, information and knowledge. The flow of information made possible by global networks of communications technology and flexible manufacturing facilities is the key component redefining space in the information age.
- Alvin Toffler (1980) TheThird Wave
- Castells, Manuel (1996) The rise of the network society. The information age — Vol. I
- Sassen, S (1991) The Global City. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press
- Sassen S (1994) Cities in a World Economy. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press
- King, A.D. 1990. Urbanism, Colonialism, and the World Economy: Culture and Spatial Foundations of the World Urban System. The International Library of Sociology. London and New York: Routledge.
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