• Stephan Raab

Dual cities or City Diplomacy as a new approach to global discourse

Photo credit: https://uscpublicdiplomacy.org/blog/toward-city-diplomacy-20

In a world ever more dominated by the powers and possibilities of digital communication, it could be argued that time and space are becoming negligible. However, the months of lockdown have proven that digital communication has become less about communicating with each other, but rather blaming each other through fake news and echo chambers. Considering these developments, this contribution will argue that cities as experienced spaces of global changes in daily life could promote new opportunities for common future dialogues. Firstly, it will be discussed that every city presents itself as a unique glocal social system. Secondly, it will be shown why cities have to deal with a dual integration, serving as integration machines from inside for local societies and from outside as part of the global society. Eventually, the third part will conclude with the prospects of urban diplomacy for globalisation.

Diverse and Dense - The peculiarities of a city

Where do we live and how do we want to live as an urban society? Facing the many challenges, studying not just cities, but studying within cities, conceiving them as laboratories for new social ideas can provide a great opportunity to interconnect a global understanding of world problems, with a local perspective to empower people in finding answers to pending issues of our time.

Take a moment to reflect on the following questions. What makes the city you are living in unique and special to you? Why do you enjoy living there, are there things you do not like? Furthermore, would you consider moving to another city, if yes, why?

Since earliest days, the evolution of cities has been considered a hallmark of civilisations and their creeds, values as visions for the future. On the one side, utopia is the dreams and visions of society (Sargent, 2005, p. 11). On the other side, there are the built societies, expressed in buildings, sights, and architecture representing a particular city (Zukin, 1995, p. 268). In urban environments, the ideas of future societies become visible as they are experienced in daily life.

Considering the rising importance of urbanization, it seems to be essential to define what constitutes a city. Astoundingly, despite the increase in urbanization worldwide, there still exists no common definition globally agreed upon to distinguish cities from other forms of settlement (United Nations, 2015, p. 4). According to the pioneers of sociology from the Chicago School, cities are defined by three characteristics, which are size, density and heterogeneity. Firstly, every city covers a certain area of built space (Wirth, 1938, p. 4), with a high density of interactions (ebd. p.6). Heterogeneity emphasizes the diversity of the urban population, always attracting people from various regions and ways of life, posing as a melting pot of populations (ebd. p.10.). In the city, people are known according to the function they perform such as bus driver, medic, or salesperson. The prototype in the village is the neighbor, in the city, it is the foreigner (Siebel, 2015, 288f.). However, cities appear in many forms, encouraging citizens to find their own definition of what defines their city. Conversely, rather than disputing about what cities might be, urbanization focuses on the process, examining what cities are doing, best expressed by Karl Scheffler in his biography of “Berlin – ein Stadtschicksal” (Berlin - destiny of a city). Analysing the DNA of Berlin he concludes: ” Berlin you are doomed to ever become and never to be” (Scheffler, 2015 (1910), p. 220). Consequently, “the contemporary urban phenomenon cannot be understood as a singular condition” but as something dynamic and ever-evolving (Brenner and Schmid, 2015, p. 152). Urbanization covers the process of transformation, taking the local context into consideration (ebd. p. 161). Every city comes into existence through social interaction, developing what can be considered a certain “Eigenlogik”. Thus the city should be the subject of research instead of certain phenomena therein; examined should be the processes; and procedures should be applied locally (Berking and Löw, 2008, p. 7). City building is about forming identity.

Therefore, referring back to the first questions, consider: what are the peculiarities, the special identity of your city. Do you perceive your city as rather dynamic, modern, and progressive, rather bound to earth, pragmatic and conservative, or even something with an artificial identity?

Global Urbanisation or World Cities in a World of Cities

Take a moment to reflect again. What made you move to another city, or maybe what were the reasons for you to stay in the city you were born and raised in? What is attractive about it? Every day new people flock to the cities, seeking to make their urban dreams come true. The diversity of these societal structures reflects the ever more present complexity and diversity of globalisation, where every city searches to be part of shaping this process. As cities have to cope with the increasing diversity, it can also prove to be a solution to their issues ”The capacity to generate open-ended diversity is one of the most important characteristics of many complex systems, from ecosystems to modern human societies” (Youn, 2006, p. 6).

Having described the process of urbanisation, this process comes along another process called globalisation. “Globalization is a compression of time and space” (Harvey, 1989, p. 284). However, that does not imply that space becomes redundant, rather the opposite. Global cities serve as commando points to process the complexities of an interconnected global economy (Sassen, 2001, p. 344). These dynamics become visible in daily life. However, in addition to metropolises, the smaller cities can also be called “global cities” , as they are confronted with the challenges of globalisation as well. Referring to Japanese architect Takashi Machimura: “no global city story can be understood without reference to the local processes, which give it its substantial form” (Machimura, 1998, p. 184).

Now we are at a point where both processes of urbanisation and globalisation start to intersect, leading to global urbanisation. “What will be remembered about the twenty-first century more than anything else except perhaps the effects of a changing climate, is the great and final, shift of human populations out of rural, agricultural life and into cities” (Saunders, 2011, p. 1). Both processes are shaping, changing, and developing the identity of the cities. However, the greatest obstacle preventing cities from thriving is balancing the local conditions and global demands, determining who is empowered to shape the process of global urbanization in a given city.

Global urbanization is a process of bringing local and global demands together through shaping the identity of each individual city. However, citizens have different opportunities to influence these developments. Food for thought comes from the Chinese Sci-fi author Hao Jingfang. In “Folding Beijing“, she depicts the model of a city where, according to economic status, inhabitants are granted different access to daylight, revealing the various social classes and their capacities within the city (Jingfang, 2015). Admittedly, being rather dystopian, certain similarities can be found in the current tendencies of urbanization. Facing a “dual city” , there are two kinds of people within the city sphere. On the one hand, there are those who are mobile, cosmopolitan, able to live in various cities as they know the codes of conduct of those elite bubbles. On the other hand, there are the immobile who, due to a lack of economic means, is bound locally. (Castells, 2010b, 445ff.). Both groups have different perceptions to shape the process of global urbanisation, affecting their cities as the next part will show.

Place is the new space - The role of utopia

Take a moment to remember the questions from the first part. Building upon your answers now elaborate on the following: “What is your dream of your city, making it an attractive place to live? What kind of changes do you see, or what kind of changes would you like to incentivize in your city? Eventually, consider how far you feel integrated into shaping those changes in your area?

The answer is about finding a utopia - an idea about what the city should look like in the future, how it should develop. Transformation due to global urbanisation becomes visible at Fürther Straße in Nuremberg. Once, one of the centres of the “Wirtschaftswunder”(Economic Miracle), during the 2000s many brands were closed down, leaving the street and the whole quarter with a number of empty buildings, waiting to be filled with meaning for the future. Impressions of this time of transition can be found in the photo below.

Figure 1 What to do with an unused urban space (Picture by the author)

Mediating between the global and the local – A case study from Nuremberg

Here, other questions begin to arise. Where do you see the impacts of globalisation in your daily life? How do those impacts become visible? Do you consider those impacts rather positive or negative? Do you have the impression of being empowered to shape those changes?

Having elaborated on the importance of utopia as a means to endow cities with meaning, this part will attempt to show why global urbanisation is highly political, applying a case study of my own city. Similarly, to the concepts of urbanization and globalisation, citizenship can be understood as a process of participation and identification, not a right but a willingness to (van Bochove et. al. 2010:346), providing a utopia for building an urban society. However, where you come from might determine how you approach the city. Urban areas are confronted with two different kinds of flows, as defined by the Spanish Sociologist Manuel Castells. On the one side, there is the space of flows. This contains investment, innovations, decisions, or people. Those flows are not bound to any time or space, yet, always searching for a spot to land (Castells, 2010a, p. 442). On the other side, there is the space of place. This is daily life in a city, where the impacts of the space of flow-through investments, innovations, or migration become visible (ebd. p.458). Attracting foreign investment or the creative class can provide prosperity for a certain city. Thus, every city, eager to participate in the process of global urbanization searches to become a nodal hub, where those flows find a suitable spot to settle down (ebd. p.443). Meanwhile, providing suitable conditions by building a landing place for those flows, the local peculiarities or unique identity of the place of space should not be forgotten. Consequently, the utopia every city has to find is confronting global challenges by finding answers on how global cities can turn into attractive homes for the global citizens residing there, or “the necessity for all cities under contemporary capitalism to manage two divergent dynamics: their internal contradictions and their external integration” (Brenner and Keil, 2014, p. 13).

Several actors are eager to contribute to their utopia, giving their meaning to a particular spot. Applying a case study from my hometown will trace the process of this concept (Raab 2018). Referring back to Nuremberg and the Fürther Straße, there were two buildings, separated just by a metro station. On the one side, there was Quelle, a famous catalog selling enterprise, and on the other side, there was AEG, a renowned producer of household devices. Both closed down around the same time around 2010. Now, both areas constitute something called “Leerstellen”(empty spaces) to be filled with meaning (Baecker, 2009, p. 264). Starting from the ground, neither Quelle nor AEG differ from any other spot around, vast for being reshaped (isotopy). However, Quelle and AEG developed in two different directions. While Quelle was bought by a global investor who considered this area as an object for speculation (isotopy), the locals saw Quelle as a part of their biography, with many having worked there. Thus, they argued, the area should be preserved as a historic landmark (heterotopy). Here, global interest and local demands were pitted against each other. At AEG, a global investor originally coming from Nuremberg endowed a certain meaning into the area, starting to develop it in accordance with the citizens of Nuremberg (heterotopy). Eventually, local artists and citizens proposed to turn Quelle into a centre for art and creativity, including a museum about Quelle and the West of Nuremberg (utopia); yet, this concept was never realised, as the place remained an item for speculation. Conversely, at the side of AEG, the old industrial soil could be transformed into a centre for art, creativity, and science, giving new meaning to an old building (utopia). his short case study shows that both the local and the global demand have to be processed within the cities, by a certain meaning to a place.

Figure 2 City Diplomacy exercised by building a utopia (Figure by the author)

As soon as places can be distinguished from each other, they receive a meaning (heterotopy). Those places are different, follow their own rules, yet, unlike a utopia, they really do exist. (Foucault, 2005, p. 18). Eventually, there comes utopia, expressing the meaning actors associate with a place “Anything can become a home, a place of convergence, a privileged site, to the extent, that every urban space bears within this possible- impossible, its own negation” (Lefebvre, 2003, p. 39). This is where cities get their definition and receive their individual identity.

The Urban Agenda - Building the future dialogue

“Buildings talk about democracy and aristocracy, about openness and arrogance, about threats and friendly welcome, about sympathy for the future or the desire for the past” (Botton, 2008, 71f.). It has been shown that cities are not simply objecting to be described, but rather dynamic processes to be discovered, lifestyles to be shaped.

Considering the rising importance of urbanisation, it needs to be decided who might or should be empowered to shape those processes. Accordingly, the concept of the “right to the city” was introduced into the urbanist discourses. This right ensures that urban residents have the power to shape the urban space according to their own needs. They create the city according to their utopia in order to be “living within their own creations” (Harvey, 2003, 939f.).

Approaching global issues just through a global one-size-fits-all approach might surely lead to opposition as the answers to global challenges do not take the local context into consideration. However, when global issues are translated through the lenses of local patterns, suddenly, those incomprehensible changes become visible, giving local citizens a chance to feel empowered. “All rational politics must begin with the concrete facts of regional life, not as they appear to the specialist, but as they appear first to those who live within the region”(Mumford, 1970, p. 383). In other words, cities can provide a forum for globalisation, where global questions of global actors will be bridged with the local answers of local experts.

Cities serve as “integration machines”, connecting various worlds with each other, bringing people with different backgrounds together (Häußermann, 2006, p. 257). Urban democracy remains dynamic due to those excluded, trying to become integrated. They are those who put the system in question by contributing new solutions to local issues (Bareis, E./Cremer-Schäfer, H., 2013, p. 145). This counts not just for the European Union but also the world of international city diplomacy. Here, cities all over the world facing challenges can learn from each other. Focusing less on grand themes, and more on the necessity for local solutions; urban governments can bring hostile actors together. Furthermore, they could serve as a bridge defusing territorial tensions, alleviating cities and regions to decide between the European Union and, for instance, the Russian Federation.

This concept of European city diplomacy is applied in the European Neighbourhood Policy. Eventually, cities have their antennas on the ground, perceiving developments that are often not to be seen, with the big levels of European grand politics, contributing new perspectives (Parkes, 2020, 2f.).

Where we live, how we want to live

Where do we live and how do we want to live as an urban society? Facing many challenges, studying not just cities, but studying within cities, conceiving them as laboratories for new social ideas, we can interconnect a global understanding of world problems, with a local perspective empowering people in finding answers to pending issues of our time. To conclude, it can be stated that “[c]ities become the solution to their own problem” (Baecker, 2009, p. 264). A high diversity allows cities to find new and innovative approaches within their own local contexts, providing local answers to global questions.

Dialogues at a local level and the implications of these changes become obvious. Suddenly, global urbanisation is no longer a process we are exposed to, but an encouragement a