Globalization, Modernity and the City (Routledge Studies in Human Geography)

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By , million people lived in slums. And the deepening polarisation of cities, caused by neoliberal globalisation, is providing many conditions that are ripe for extremes of civil, and militarised, violence Vidal , , Castells , , This has led to a proliferation of bloody, largely urban, wars. Many of these, in turn, stimulate vast migrations and the construction of city-scale refugee camps to accommodate the displaced populations which stood at a global figure of 50 million by Agier , ; Diken and Lausten , He observes that:.

All of which means that contemporary warfare and terror now largely boil down to contests over the spaces, symbols, meanings, support systems or power structures of cities and urban regions. Such redefinitions are, in turn, bound up with deeper shifts in the ways in which time, space, technology, mobility and power are constructed and experienced in our societies as a whole Virilo , Given all of this, it is curious, then, that warfare and organised political violence targeting the spaces, inhabitants, and support systems of cities have been persistently neglected in critical social scientific debates about cities and urbanisation since World War II Mendieta , By contrast, this period has seen vast libraries filled with theoretical, empirical and policy books addressing urban de-velopment, con-struction, regeneration, modernisation and growth Bishop and Clarencey , Another cocktail of factors can be diagnosed to help explain this neglect.

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Three are particularly important. First, a simple, and understandable, desire to forget the scale and barbarity of urban slaughter in the last century can be diagnosed. For example, many wider cultural taboos have inhibited dispassionate, social scientific analyses of the aerial annihilations of German and Japanese cities in World War II although these are now slowly being overcome -see Sebald , The annihilated cities, and the hundreds of thousands of carbonised dead on the ground, barely exist at all in these popular narratives.

When they are represented, huge controversy still ensues. The victims of more recent US bombings in Kabul and Baghdad have been rendered equally invisible and uncounted by the ferocious power of Western propaganda and self-censorship. Second, Ryan Bishop and Gregory Clancey , p. They argue that this is because the complete annihilation of urban places conflicted with its underlying, enlightenment-tinged notions of progress, order and modernisation. This worked against an analysis of the city as a scene of catastrophic death.

This left urban social science to address the local, civil, and domestic rather than the inter national, the military or the strategic. Such concerns were the preserve of history, as well as the fast-emerging disciplines of international politics and international relations.

In the dominant hubs of English-speaking urban social science - North America and the UK - these two intellectual worlds virtually never crossed, separated as they were by disciplinary boundaries, scalar orientations, and theoretical traditions. The final factor stems from the fact that urban social science finished sedimenting into modern intellectual disciplines during the Cold War. During this time, urban annihilation, always minutes away, was simply a step on the way to a broader, species-wide, exterminism Mumford , , Thompson [et al.

This also seems to have inhibited critical urban research on place annihilation. Waves of secrecy and paranoia about the urban-targeting strategies of the super powers further worked to undermine critical analysis of what nuclear Armageddon would actually mean for an urbanising planet Vanderbilt , And the inevitable vulnerabilities of cities to nuclear attack were exploited by a wide range of interests seeking to radically decentralise, and de-urbanise, advanced industrial societies Farish , ; Light , Encouragingly, the persistent neglect of place annihilation in urban research has been slowly overcome since Hewitt wrote the above words.

A broadening range of promising work has emerged in critical and interdisciplinary urban research, particularly in the pages of City. In so doing, I aim to help urban social research to further confront the taboos which have, over the last 50 years, tended to inhibit research on, and recognition for, organised political violence against cities within critical social science. In particular, my purpose in this extended essay, drawing on Paul Virilio's term, is to start mapping out what a specifically urban geopolitics might amount to.

This essay's central concern is to argue that the parallel transformations of urbanism and political violence in the post-Cold War period, and the increasing constitution of war and terror by acts of violence carefully targeted against urban, local sites, makes the development of such a specifically urban geopolitics an urgent imperative.

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As states, wars, empires, resistance movements, terror networks and economic, social and cultural formations are reconstituted, in parallel, into stretched, transnational webs which intersect, and constitute, the same sets of strategic urban sites, so this imperative will only gain more momentum. It follows that there is an urgent, parallel, need for the real recent progress in developing a critical geopolitics.

Critical geopolitics must also become sub-national.

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This is necessary so that the increasingly crucial roles of strategic urban places as geopolitical sites can be profitably analysed. A blizzard of questions provides fuel here. For example, on our rapidly urbanising planet, how do the control, targeting, destruction, and reconstruction of urban sites intersect with changing geopolitical structures and discourses?

How are cities, and urban everyday life, being affected both by the umbilically connected interplay of terror and counter-terror? What place do the tems of mobility, communication, infrastructure and logistics that are so central to contemporary urban life play, as targets and weapons, within the emerging crisis? Finally, what are the prospects for creatively blending critical urban and geopolitical theory to match the parallel rescaling of political violence and urbanism in today's world?

In sum, this essay has been written in the belief that both a specifically geopolitical urbanism, and a specifically urban geopolitics, are now urgently required. A constructive dialogue between such usually separated research communities would, I believe, open up many extremely promising avenues for theory, analysis and activism.

What follows is designed to help such a dialogue along. To achieve this, my simple aim is to help illustrate the inseparability of war, terror and modern urbanism. Arguably, humankind has expended almost as much energy, effort and thought to the annihilation and killing of cities as it has on their growth, planning and construction.

Such city annihilation or urban warfare requires purposive work. It needs detailed analysis.


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Thus, it is necessary to assume that a continuum exists connecting acts of building and physical restructuring, on the one hand, and acts of all-out, organised war on the other. Even in supposedly democratic societies, planned urban restructuring often involves autocratic state violence, massive urban destruction, the devastation of livelihoods, and even mass death.

In both authoritarian and democratic societies, ideologies of urban planning have often actually invoked metaphors of war and militarism. This has been wisely practised as a means of comparing the purported need for violent restructuring in cities to achieve desired effects with the mass violence of states. Anthony Vidler , p. Thus, place annihilation can be thought of as a kind of hidden - and sometimes not so hidden - planning history Sandercock, The planned devastation and killing of cities is a dark side of the discipline of urban planning that is rarely acknowledged, let alone analysed.

The latter work even involved the founder of Central Place Theory, that seminal economic geographer, Walter Christaller - star of any school human geography course. Mock German and Japanese housing units, complete with authentic roofing materials, furniture, and clothing, were erected in Nevada to allow the incendiaries that would later burn Dresden and Tokyo to be carefully customised for their intended targets Davis , , pp.

Similarly grim work goes on and on. It is also scarcely realised that demographers, statisticians, geographers, architects and planners have been central to Israel's efforts to deepen its control over the three-dimensional spaces of the Occupied Territories. In our second illustration, many strategies of occupation and colonisation have been based explicitly on the planned destruction and devastation of cities. First, this was done to quell local insurgencies in non-Western, colonised cities. Later, such militarised planning strategies were often imported back to the homeland to reshape the great imperial capitals for similar purposes Misselwitz and Weizman , In the process he committed many atrocities against civilians and fighters alike and imprinted massive avenues through the City to sustain military surveillance and movement.

This broke the resistance for a time, at least Misselwitz and Weizman, Bugeaud's doctrines, for example, had a major influence on Baron Haussmann in the s, as he violently imprinted a strategy of massive boulevards and canon firing-arcs on Paris, partly for the sake of improving the strategic control of the State on the volatile capital Misselwitz and Weizman , In an episode that sadly would be repeated in the same city 56 years later by the Israelis, in , the British took 4, kilos of explosives to the refugee camp in Jenin and destroyed a whole quarter of the town.

This was an act of collective punishment at the continuing resistance to their occupation of Palestine Corera , A similar process of urban remodelling by demolition, aimed at undermining resistance, occurred in Jaffa in the same year.

Our third illustration centres on the first of two deep connections that run between modernist urbanism and aerial bombing. They were also a reaction to a widespread obsession in thirties Europe with the need to completely re-plan cities so that they presented the smallest possible targets to the massed ranks of heavy bombers then being fielded by the major powers.

Like the Italian futurists before him, Le Corbusier celebrated the modernism of the aircraft machine and its vertical destructive power. The famous modernist architectural theorist Sigfried Gideon - who was strongly influenced by Le Corbusier's views - argued in that:. Following the war, as the scale and scope of devastation became clear, preservationists achieved some limited success in rebuilding parts of some cities along old lines.

Many ruined buildings - churches especially - were also preserved as war memorials. Our fourth illustration centres on the way in which devout modernists saw the unimaginable devastation as an unparalleled opportunity to reconstruct entire cities according to the principles of Le Corbusier and other modernist architects. Thus, in a way, the total bombing of total war - a massive act of planned urban devastation in its own right - served as a massive accelerator of modernist urban planning, architecture and urbanism. The tabula rasa that every devoted modernist craved suddenly became the norm rather than the exception, particularly in the city centres of post-war Europe.

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As a result, to use the words of Ken Hewitt , p. In our fifth illustration, Cold War cities were often deliberately remodelled as a function of them resting at the centre of the nuclear cross-hairs. It was also actively encouraged by military strategists to reduce the United States' strategic vulnerability to a massive first nuclear strike by the Soviet Union. As well as burrowing underground McCamley , ; Vanderbilt , , massive efforts were made to make city's sprawl. Core cities, meanwhile, were widely portrayed by popular media and planners as inherently risky and unsafe, a politics of fear that mixed tragically with the wider racialisation of urban centrality in post-war America and further fuelled central city decline Galison , Marshal Berman argues that the scale of devastation - if not the human lives lost - in such programmes, means that the Bronx needs to be seen in the same light as the all-out, or guerrilla wars of Berlin, Belfast and Beirut.

On the other, the military industrial complex sought to gain finance and power by reshaping civil strategic spaces in cities Beauregard , Whilst rarely discussed, such planning-based urbicide is still extremely widespread around the world.

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The world is littered with failed utopian, modernist urban landscapes. Many of these now resemble dystopian sites of ethnic battles, economic and social collapse, financial meltdown, or physical decay Olaiquiaga , ; Buck-Morss , Particularly within the dizzying peaks and troughs of capitalist urbanism state-led planning often boils down to the legitimised clearance of vast tracts of cities in the name of the removal of decay, modernisation, improvement, ordering, economic competition, or facilitating technological change and capital accumulation and speculation.

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Rather, it is to try and overcome obsolescent structures, abandoned neighbourhoods, half-built or half-ruined cityscapes, decayed infrastructures and war-like levels of gang, ethnic, and drug-related violence and arson Vergara , , Five brief points need to be stressed here. First, the potential for catastrophic violence against cities and urban life has changed in parallel with the shift of urban life towards ever-more distantiated, transnational, and flows-based systems and networks.

The result of this is that the everyday technics, spaces and infrastructures of urban life - airliners, metro trains, computer networks, water systems, electricity grids, trade networks, food systems, medical systems, scientific research grids - may be easily assaulted and turned into agents either of instantaneous terror or debilitating demodernisation. Luke , ; Graham and Marvin , But it also applies to the much less well-known efforts of US and Israeli militaries to systematically demodernise entire urban societies in the past few decades.

A massive perversion of everyday mobility systems orchestrated for saturation realtime coverage, these attacks brought an overwhelmingly symbolic and mediatised act of urban mass murder to a devastating conclusion Graham and Marvin , ; Luke Over the next decade, over , Iraqi civilians were to die because the war and the sanctions forced a modern, urban society to live without the basic, life-sustaining systems that are needed to keep it alive. Second, the relative anonymity of urban life renders cities as the last sites of refuge from the globe-spanning, high-tech military omnipotence of US surveillance and killing.

These derive their power from the United States' massive dominance in space-based satellite targeting, navigation and surveillance Graham , b. And, as is being revealed in the Iraqi guerrilla war, urban warfare is also seen to necessitate a much more labour-, and casualty-intensive way of fighting than the US is used to these days. Peters' military mind recoils in horror at the prospect of US forces habitually fighting in the majority world's burgeoning megacities and urbanizing corridors see also Rosenau , ; Spiller To Peters, the pivotal geo-strategic role of urban regions within the post-Cold War period is stark and clear.

And we will fight to subdue anarchy and violent 'isms' because disorder is bad for business.

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All of this activity will focus on cities. All these aggressions have devastated, and immiserated, the fragile systems that allow urban societies to function. Thousands of dwellings have been demolished. Infrastructure systems have been systematically ripped up by the claws of bulldozers.

And whole refugee camps deemed to be the symbolic or actual centres of resistance to occupation - both through the horrific programme of suicide bombing in Israeli cities, and other means - have been bulldozed in the culmination of brutal urban battles. Urban areas have had the life literally strangled out of them by extending arrays of checkpoints, curfews and barriers, combined with the progressive annexation of water resources and the destruction and annexation of agricultural land.

The Palestinian population has been brutalised like never before, with 2, civilians killed between September and October 21st alone Graham , d. Thirdly, as always, these urban wars are being made and legitimised through language. Both Sharon's assaults on Palestinian cities, and Bush's assaults on Iraqi and Afghan ones, have been justified through indiscriminate, Orientalist, categorisations.

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As Derek Gregory , p. Fourth, such destruction, and the new strategy of pre-emptive war also, of course, create opportunities for predatory, imperial gain. This is especially so as they are located within a globalising, neoliberal, political economy centred on the rapacious accumulative appetite of politically favoured transnationals for both urban and infrastructural assets and strategic raw materials Kirsch , ; Harvey , b.

This has operated through the privatisation of assets and infrastructures in conquered lands and the handing over of these assets, and natural resource rights, to the massive corporations that are almost inseparably woven into the Bush regime.

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