RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2019

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32 “Secondary Cities” in the Global South (1)
Affiliation Urban Geography Research Group
Developing Areas Research Group
Convenor(s) Nina Gribat (Technical University Darmstadt, Germany)
Christian Rosen (Technical University Darmstadt, Germany)
Chair(s) Nina Gribat (Technical University Darmstadt, Germany)
Timetable Wednesday 28 August 2019, Session 1 (09:00 - 10:40)
Room Huxley Building, Room 341
Session abstract In recent years, “secondary cities” have (re-)emerged as a distinct urban category, which is connected to a range of hopes in the context of international development such as decentralisation, economic growth or poverty reduction (Roberts 2014). Based on analyses of urban systems and hierarchies as well as normative concerns for balanced economic and spatial development, secondary cities were (and are largely) constructed as strategic sites for policy intervention and development (Rondinelli 1983 a,b). Conversely, secondary cities are also considered as possible sites for alternative urban futures beyond world and global cities (DeBoeck et al. 2010). Diverse approaches to defining secondary cities have established: from considering absolute numbers of inhabitants, positions or functional relevance in urban systems to gauging them as ideal contexts for economic growth, health, education, politics and culture.

This session seeks to contribute to the debate on global and comparative urbanisms (Robinson and Roy 2016), by: (i) critically examining the various formations and possible contestations of an urban category that is underpinned by different normative and universalising tendencies; and (ii) exploring the actual tensions between decentralisation policies and local autonomy and actual practices and policies in diverse urban contexts beyond metropolises.
Linked Sessions “Secondary Cities” in the Global South (2)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2019@rgs.org
Towards a new categorisation of secondary cities
Christian Rosen (Technical University Darmstadt, Germany)
More than a billion people worldwide live in secondary cities but still research mostly focusses on the development of the far bigger megacities, primary or capital cities or world cities. This paper aims to explore the development of two secondary cities in Peru trying to describe their development opportunities but also restrictions using the perspectives of local actors. By describing the cases of Arequipa and Trujillo I will point out (1) how important these secondary cities are within their regional and national context, (2) how different urban development paths can be in cities that have a lot in common statistically and (3) which steps to go towards a new categorization of secondary cities that is informed by the knowledge of local actors from many relevant sectors of urban development. Working towards this direction, I interviewed actors from the fields of local and regional politics, the private economy sector, civil initiatives, culture, education and tourism. Their knowledge as experts but also inhabitants of these cities is what helps to describe development paths that lead away from traditional western-inspired growth theories towards new directions of urban futures.
Thinking Penang Through Elsewhere: Worlding, Comparisons and Development in a Secondary City
Creighton Connolly (University of Lincoln, UK)
This paper offers an examination of civil society movements in secondary of the Global South, focusing on the case study of Penang, Malaysia. Penang has one of the largest and most active civil society sectors in Malaysia, which some have attributed to the somewhat marginal position of Penang within the Malaysian nation state, and its oppositional politics (Cheng and Ma, 2015; Connolly, 2018). The case is particularly interesting from the lens of global urbanism, as disagreements between the State Government and civil society over Penang’s rampant development offer considerable insights as to how to build alternative urban futures beyond world and global cities, and the challenges faced in doing so. For instance, the State Government has sought to achieve ‘development’ and ‘modernity’ through the construction of buildings and other infrastructure that is, ‘the tallest, the biggest, the longest and the widest’ (Jenkins and King, 2003: 45). In other words, urban governance has become characterised by an emphasis on economic growth and inter-urban competitiveness (see Hall and Hubbard, 1998; Harvey, 1989). On the other hand, recognizing that Penang cannot realistically replicate the development trajectories of established global cities, local civil society groups - notably the Penang Forum - are seeking a more liveable city that is more financially realistic and maintain’s Penang’s unique character and charm. As I will demonstrate, local civil society groups have identified other smaller, secondary cities in other Asian and Latin American countries as models to follow in (re)developing its transportation infrastructure and housing stock, rather than established ‘global’ or mega-cities. The paper thus echoes Robinson’s (2016) contention that a more cosmopolitan urban theory can be helpful in understanding the world, and in imagining possible urban futures.
India’s “smart cities”: sustainability challenges for medium-sized cities in the global South
Harini Nagendra (Azim Premji University, India)
Hita Unnikrishnan (University of Sheffield, UK)
The Government of India’s Smart City Mission, being implemented in 100 cities across India, is an ambitious venture aimed at sustainable and equitable urbanization. Drawing on extensive field work in the seven smart cities in the state of Karnataka: Belagavi, Bengaluru, Davangere, Hubbali-Dharwad, Mangaluru, Shivamogga and Tumakuru: we assess how well the program speaks to the unique challenges of mid-sized, fast growing cities. We identify four challenges. First, despite the clear presence of city-wide systemic environmental concerns such as air pollution, the focus of the Smart City Mission is on area based development in specific areas. Second, while each of the cities faces specific challenges owing to their ecological and geographic location, there is a disregard for the specific environmental vulnerabilities that, for instance, distinguish coastal and inland cities. A third and growing problem is the exclusion of the poor from traditional livelihood uses of green and open spaces, due to a focus on landscaping and recreation. Finally, an emphasis on digital modes of citizen participation and dissemination only covers a small percentage of the population of these mid-sized cities, with serious implications for democratic decision-making and local self-governance. In conclusion, mid-sized cities in the global South face especial challenges of environmental planning, given the lack of existing technical, financial and infrastructural capacity. While the need for a new vision for mid-sized cities in the global South is clear, such a vision must ultimately be locally crafted, on the principles of environmental sustainability, local accountability and social justice.
Un-worlding the ordinary city? Critical reflections on mobile urbanism from Luzhou, China
Yimin Zhao (Renmin University of China, PR China)
Yi Jin (London School of Economics and Political Science, UK)
The “ordinary cities” approach advocates a shift of focus of the urban research towards cities “off the map” for their creative trajectories of development, which might be distinctive from the Anglophone “models.” While this approach has been facilitating productive echoes for more global urban studies, a challenge emerges simultaneously that may set limits to the effects of such reflections. This challenge is rooted in the fact that the “ordinary cities” are shaped not only by local and historical conditions but also through their interconnections with the relational dynamics of capital and power – and what is more, the former is more often than not bounded within the latter in a global sense of place. In this paper, we investigate the last two decades’ urban change of Luzhou, an “ordinary city” in Western China, attending in particular to its adoption and remolding of urban policies elsewhere in figuring out its own urban development strategies. Together with the recognition of its points of reference in the process of policy transfer, where Hangzhou (a mega city in Coastal China) stands out, we also explore in detail the political and political-economic mechanisms that have promoted such transfer. We find that the urban strategies of ordinary cities like Luzhou are directed by capital-power brokers and their “universal” models yet confined by the status quo of uneven development at the national level. Such dynamics are wrapped up into a mundane mode of urban development that has undermined this city’s agency of policy innovation and its creative engagement with the worlding process, which reminds us to attend more to pains and struggles of such cities entrapped by the logics of capital and power.