Reviews / Comptes rendus
Mobile urbanism: Cities and policymaking in the global age edited by Eugene McCann and Kevin Ward
Article first published online: 4 JAN 2013
© Canadian Association of Geographers / L'Association canadienne des géographes
The Canadian Geographer / Le Géographe canadien
Volume 57, Issue 1, page e1, Spring / printemps 2013
How to Cite
Siemiatycki, E. (2013), Mobile urbanism: Cities and policymaking in the global age edited by Eugene McCann and Kevin Ward. The Canadian Geographer / Le Géographe canadien, 57: e1. doi: 10.1111/j.1541-0064.2012.00465.x
- Issue published online: 22 FEB 2013
- Article first published online: 4 JAN 2013
Mobile urbanism: Cities and policymaking in the global age edited by Eugene McCann and Kevin Ward , University of Minnesota Press , Minneapolis , 2011 , xxxxv + 213 pp., paper $25 (ISBN 9780816656295 )
Over the past quarter-century, urban scholarship has been preoccupied with the movement of people; goods and services; technology; money; and culture between cities that apparently constitute the life-blood of a reinvigorated global capitalism. Mobile urbanism focuses on movement of a different kind—that of the ideas and policy measures that circulate regarding urbanism and urban fortunes in an era defined by globalization. The problematic is set out early on by the editors: “scholars still do not understand in a deep and detailed way how those involved in urban politics and policy making act beyond their own cities to practice or perform urban globalness and to articulate their cities in the world” (p. xvii, original emphasis). This issue animates the rest of the collection.
At the heart of this book is what Doreen Massey describes as “the constant interplay between territoriality and relationality and the ongoing trajectories of mutual modification” (p. 12). The relationality-territoriality nexus stands as one of the newer iterations of the more familiar global-local dynamic which has been central to the globalization debates in urban and economic geography. Relationality in this context speaks to the connectivities, flows, and exchanges of urban policy between cities, the cross-fertilization of which blurs the lines between one place and another. On the other hand, the territoriality dimension reaffirms the distinctiveness of place and the importance of historical and geographical contingencies. The general editorial position—one that has become the hallmark of geographical debates regarding globalization—is that global policy forces implicate cities, but cities themselves shape these policy forces and are sites in which external policies can be contested or hybridized. In a very good introductory chapter, the editors summarize the recent growth of interest amongst geographers in policy mobility, which moves beyond standard approaches to policy transfer in political science. McCann and Ward argue for a framing of urban policy mobility around the global-urban assemblage; that is, the constellation or network of actors working at a variety of different scales and with different degrees of power that shape how urban policy is established in a particular place. As a theoretical or methodological approach to understanding the city, the assemblage is already the subject of significant scrutiny within urban studies and this book will likely feature in these ongoing debates. Interestingly, though, the strict use of assemblage thinking is not adhered to especially closely by any of the authors.
What makes this a stand-out collection is the way in which the seven empirical chapters expose elements of the relational-territorial nexus. The particularly noteworthy chapters are those which closely detail how, why, and with what consequences a given policy measure or strategy becomes mobile. Eugene McCann investigates how policy experiments in Frankfurt, Zurich, and San Patrignano, Italy became points of reference in policy debates regarding harm-reduction strategies for drug addicts in Vancouver. Jamie Peck illustrates how creative sector strategies initially designed by municipal socialists in 1980s London have morphed into an easily digestible and marketable policy model for down-on-their-luck cities such as Detroit nearly three decades later. Other chapters, such as Doreen Massey's look at the innovative London-Caracas agreement or Jennifer Robinson's investigation of World Bank mandated city visioning strategies, extend the geographical viewpoint into the Global South and speak to the possibilities of challenging neoliberal policy practices. Roger Keil and S. Harris Ali track the differential readiness and response amongst health institutions in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Toronto to the 2003 SARS epidemic. In each of these cases, policy measures rarely travel without being modified and the detailed case analysis proffered by the authors in this collection is essential to understanding the political work done by particular policies and their associated assemblages.
This is a well-edited book in which the quality of writing across the chapters is unusually good. The editors offer a helpful concluding chapter in which the main themes from the book are drawn out and synthesized. Given that the book provides a valuable survey of an emergent theme in urban studies, one of the only shortcomings is that future directions for research are not more explicitly set out. Still, this collection does suggest at least two new directions for research: 1) whereas much research on globalization and policy is dominated by economic concerns, this book adds other social policies in the realm of urban health initiatives to the debate and this could be usefully broadened to environmental, educational, and crime prevention policies as well; and 2) with the rise and geographical extension of the anti-globalization movement and the Occupy protests more recently, it seems increasingly important to track where ideas of resistance to official or orthodox policy come from and how they spread. Mobile urbanism is a welcome addition to the urban geography literature and will be of great value to students and scholars interested in the intersection between city-making and policy-making in the twenty-first century.