RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2014

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352 Learning from Small Cities (1): Urban neoliberalism and 'smallness'
Affiliation Geo: Geography and Environment
Developing Areas Research Group
Urban Geography Research Group
Geographies of Justice Research Group
Convenor(s) Ayona Datta (University of Leeds, UK)
Chair(s) Ayona Datta (University of Leeds, UK)
Timetable Friday 29 August 2014, Session 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
Room Sherfield Building, Room 6
Session abstract For the last decade or so urban studies has been preoccupied in decentring its western bias and advocating a postcolonial lens in studying cities of the global south. Mega-cities such as Mumbai, Shanghai and Johannesburg are now ‘champions of urbanity’ (Banerjee-Guha 2013) in global urban studies. Yet, around half of the ‘urban’ population in Africa, Asia and Latin America lives in small and medium cities with populations of less than 500,000 (Satthertwaite 2006). Seen as provincial, parochial, even communal and on the peripheries of urban studies, small and medium towns nevertheless are the new frontiers of urbanization of postcolonial states. They service urban consumers, act as national trade centres, support global manufacturing processes or serve as regional administrative nodes. In recent years, the focus of postcolonial states on cities as engines of neoliberal development and economic growth (Kennedy and Zerah 2008), has also spurred rapid transformation of small and medium towns in new urban experiments of eco-city, smart-city, satellite city and a number of other city-making initiatives. They therefore face a “triple challenge” (Veron 2010, 2833) of the impacts of increased urbanization, development and under-development. While they are characterised by the absence of local democratic institutions, poor urban infrastructure and continued ‘elite capture’ (Kundu 2011) of land for development projects, a broad range of grassroots struggles in these places are also working to redefine rights and justice through active citizenships. The indifference in urban scholarship however to the ‘smallness’ of cities have institutionalised existing inequalities between mega- and small cities, between urban regions and their urbanizing hinterlands, and between the centre and peripheries of urban studies itself.

In this session, we view small cities not as homogeneous, structurally and demographically defined entities, but rather as places with their specific social, cultural, political, historical contexts of ‘smallness’ that are produced through their particular relationships with neoliberalisation, globalization, urbanization and the postcolonial state. Papers in this double session address but are not limited to the following questions:
• What we can learn from small cities and how can this ‘learning’ decentre the practices of ‘doing’ urban studies?
• What are the new frontiers of knowledge and action that are produced when we learn from small cities?
• What are the politics of being and becoming ‘small’, and what does it mean to challenge the injustices of ‘smallness’ in these cities?
• How do aspirations for ‘bigness’ in small cities produce new urban inequalities?
• How are urbanization of mega-city regions and transformations in the political, cultural, social and economic life of small cities co-produced?
Linked Sessions Learning from Small Cities (2): Urban experiments, creativity and identity
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2014@rgs.org
Urban Neoliberalism and Small Cities in the Global South
Mathieu Hilgers (Free University of Brussels, Belgium)
Over the last decade there has been a major scholarly push in urban studies, led by research in the South, to decentre the field, to contest Western analyses, and to produce studies that discuss and critique dominant theories. This presentation participates in this dynamic by focusing on cities that are home to the invisible urban majority in Africa. Today, half of city-dwellers worldwide live in urban areas with populations of less than 500,000. In Africa, 60% of the urban population live in such small and mid-sized towns. Nonetheless, in academic work, Africa’s lesser cities are relegated to a double periphery which reflects the importance attributed to them: the peripheral status of Africa in the world, and that of smaller cities within Africa.

This article has two objectives. First, by sketching out an analytic framework within which these cities can be studied comparatively through specific case studies, it takes into consideration the impact of urban policies and structural adjustment in these cities. Second, it contributes to recent debates over urban transformations in the neoliberal era (Brenner, Theodore 2002, Brenner, Theodore 2005, Ong, Roy 2011, Gulson, Pedroni 2011). Within these discussions, one recurring question concerns the degree of generality and the actual impact of neoliberal reforms. Given the postcolonial turn in urban studies, the question is complex. How can we understand the reach of neoliberalism in cities of the South while most theories shaping urban geography are forged in the North?
Learning from Solo (aka Surakarta), Indonesia
Tim Bunnell (National University of Singapore, Singapore)
In the context of overwhelmingly negative evaluations of local government performance in decentralized Indonesia, the city of Solo (population circa 520,000) in Central Java has emerged as a rare success story of people-centred urban development. As mayor of the city between 2005 and 2012, Joko Widodo (‘Jokowi’) oversaw the equitable and peaceful resettlement of street vendors, expanded provision of public and green space, invested in traditional markets and small business (rather than wooing or pandering to large investors), and provided a conducive political environment for non-governmental organizations to promote popular participation in the planning process. Solo thus emerged as a popular destination for study tours (studi banding) from local governments within and beyond Indonesia, while Jokowi mobilized his fame as a successful mayor of the city to win election as governor of the Indonesian national capital region of Jakarta in October 2012. This paper examines how/what other local governments are learning from Solo, and considers wider academic lessons that may be derived from critical evaluation of Solo-as-model. In particular, I focus on efforts by the municipality of Pak Kret in Thailand to learn from Solo’s experiences of traditional market rejuvenation, and how Jokowi has sought to take lessons learned from Solo to megacity Jakarta (thus inverting conventional metrocentric imaginings of urban learning and innovation). More widely, the case of Solo points to possibilities for the local state to implement progressive urban development, and for progressive models to travel, in a wider context of neoliberalization and fast policy mobilities.
The Taj Mahal Love Story: ‘Smallness’ in the age of heritage tourism in Agra
Sheela Prasad (University of Hyderabad, India)
Kapil Kumar Gavsker (University of Hyderabad, India)
In the contemporary model of globalization, historically famous towns are also imagined along the lines of a standardized vision of urban development, to cater to the demands of the global tourist. Agra otherwise a ‘small city’ is home to a legacy from history that has caught the global imagination with the UNESCO declaration of the Taj Mahal as a world heritage site in 1983. Following this, Agra a forgotten historical town, caught in the glare of global tourism, is aspiring to transform to a ‘big’ global tourist destination. Much of the inspiration for this makeover is drawn from India’s megacities, all of whom are in different stages of moving towards a global city status.
This paper focuses on the urban planning implications and socio-spatial consequences of heritage tourism in Agra. How do the particularities of towns like Agra cope with the demands of global processes? We would like to argue that the ‘world heritage site’ status to Taj Mahal has seen growing global tourism, judicial activism for a pollution free environment and involvement of global institutions with a particular vision and planning agenda. These have reconfigured everyday city life and the spatial geography of Agra city and created a disconnect between the global and the local often deepening urban inequalities. The most affected by these new developments are the poor communities staying in and around the ‘Taj Mahal’ for centuries, who find themselves alienated as their space/world is taken over by the juggernaut of heritage tourism.
This paper provides a critical perspective on how tourism priorities frame urban policy in the context of a non-metro city. This discussion is navigated through the following questions the paper seeks to address:
• How do ‘small cities’ respond to global demands – is this process a smooth transition?
• How has this ‘’global honour’ impacted the local urban space and everyday life of Agra city?
• Is heritage tourism creating new kinds of urban inequalities and marginalization in Agra?
• How do we understand notions of urban citizenship in the era of globalization and heritage tourism?
The Forgotten City: Small Urban Centres in the Global South
Ian M. Cook (Central European University, Hungary)
Mangalore, a rapidly urbanising city of around 500,000 on the west coast of India challenges much of what is taken for granted about urban centres in India. Whereas India's metropolises are characterised by seemingly insurmountable problems such as overcrowding, inadequate infrastructure and congestion, the scale of the problems in smaller cities like Mangalore suggest that other patterns of development are possible. The city is all but free from slums with good inter-city connectivity and the region has rain-washed fertile land and a literate, educated populace. However the ongoing capture of resources by elites, opaque urban governance and a near universal subscription to a form of neoliberal modernity have placed Mangalore on a similar trajectory to larger cities on the subcontinent. This paper argues – through a detailed exploration of Mangalore – that size, whilst only one criteria of urbanity, is an important category in India with striking material consequences: competitive urban governance exacerbates uneven capitalist development, often to the detriment of smaller cities; most national development programmes, such as the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, exclusively focus on the country's larger cities, using size a criterion for funding; and this low-investment and under-development is further aggravated by state institutions too small for their growing responsibilities. 'Smallness' is also inherent in certain 'provincial' practices (such as a police enforced informal curfew on unmarried youth), desire for 'development' amongst the urban elite (in which often size and level of progress are conflated) and in a general lack of anonymity in comparison to larger urban centres. Importantly however, small cities like Mangalore are not places of 'urban phenomena light', but sites for understanding divergent forms of contemporary urbanity.
Redefining the role and place of small towns and cities in the South African urban system
Etienne Nel (University of Otago, New Zealand)
Metropolitan dominance of the South African economy masks the reality that dynamic and vibrant changes are taking place in the secondary cities and small towns of the country. Recent research and critical debate about these types of settlements reveals the nature of the changes which are taking place within the urban system, the structural constraints which exist and how many such places are rearticulating their role within the broader national and international economy. Drawing on both statistical evidence of demographic and economic shifts and qualitative evidence of current planning and local development debates and practise, the paper identifies how this role is evolving in response to local, national and global pressures. The evidence examined clearly reveals what the impact of the interplay of economic and political forces, institutional capacity and local resilience and capacity has been in defining the role which centres of various size now play in a political-economic context marked by both elements of neoliberalism and the partial application of the ‘developmental state’. Clear differences have developed between different settlements based on their history, political context, the role played by local institutions and socio-political forces and the broader economic context.