Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Can cities really be sustainable?

            There is a twofold reality concerning cities. On the one hand, they are the locus of many of our most well-rehearsed national problems (Amin, Massey & Thrift, 2000), but on the other, they can be considered among the brightest stars in the constellation of human achievement (Rees & Wackernagel, 1996). Therefore, they are sinks of challenges, but also sources of creativity and hope (Amin, Massey & Thrift, 2000).
The nature and variety of challenges which cities have faced during their existence have differed widely. At the very beginning, the first human agglomerations or ‘walled cities’ were shelters against invasion, starvation and wild elements. Then the Greco-Roman cities can be considered the origins of politics, democracy and citizenship but also were centres of slavery and injustice. Much later, the Victorian industrial metropolis was locus of poverty, grime and disease as well as generators of moral revolutions (Amin, 2006). Nowadays cities are recognized as being arenas for social inequalities and major causes of natural resource degradation. Moreover, since the first years of the last century, these problems have been increasing due to the progressive urban population growth. In this sense, according to the last World Urbanization Prospect report, within 40 years almost the 70% of the total population will live in cities (World Urbanization Prospects, 2007). As mentioned by Amin (2006), the human condition has become the urban condition, and hence, the future of mankind is now (more than ever) closely linked to the destiny of our cities.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Entrepreneurial Urban Regeneration of Bilbao

In the last fifteen years, Bilbao (Fig. 1) has changed its image from an old city in decline to be considered “la nouvelle Mecque de l’urbanisme” (Masboungi, 2001) with the Guggenheim museum as the most conspicuous flagship (González Ceballos, 2004).

Fig. 1. Satellite image of the city of Bilbao.

Nevertheless, the process recently developed in the Basque city is not original neither innovative. Actually, Bilbao is just one more in a large list of cities which followed the regeneration model of some North American and British metropolis such as Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Glasgow or Birmingham (Rodríguez et al., 2006). According to Rodríguez et al. (2001, p. 167), the strategies used by Bilbao are framed within the New Urban Politics (Cox, 1993), “a view that subordinates urban government strategies to the imperatives of globalized capital accumulation”. The authors go on to argue that this new form of urban governance is based on two main components. First, in the last three decades, there has been an inter-city competition to attract international investment and to promote themselves (Begg, 1999). Secondly, the new urban governance system is grounded in the entrepreneurial government of Harvey (1989). On the one hand, the entrepreneurialism performed in these urban areas is centered in the speculative notion of quangos (public-private partnerships) and, on the other hand, it is also more focused on the political economy of the city rather than of territory.