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Keywords:

  • economic governance;
  • globalization;
  • cities;
  • political projects;
  • spatial imaginaries;
  • institutions;
  • Australasia

Abstract

This paper explores how territorial economic governance is discursively constituted in a globalising and neoliberalising world. It acknowledges both the increasingly recognised formative role of spatial imaginaries in economic interventions and the workings of co-constitutive political projects that link particular imaginaries with political ambitions and policy strategies. Embracing recent calls for comparative ethnographic urban research at the local-global interface, it explores currently dominant spatial imaginaries across the four Australasian cities of Auckland, Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth. Based on multiple qualitative methods, this study claims that a considerable number of actor's spatial associations and reference points can be related to particular city-specific governmental projects; Auckland's Super-City, Sydney's Global and Green City, Melbourne's Liveable City, and Perth's Vibrant City. It is demonstrated how discursive governance techniques such as ‘story-telling’, benchmarking, and policy transfer have been pivotal in the activation, circulation, and performance of those spatial imaginaries and their transformation into temporarily dominant visions for strategic urban interventions aimed at repositioning urban actors, spaces, and activities. While spatial imaginaries can be related to differently framed global aspirations, the effects of spatial political projects on urban governance and investment trajectories differ significantly across space. Theoretically, the paper stresses the importance of particular conceptions of territorial relations and time- and place-specific institutional mediation in shaping context-dependent discursive material governance alignments.