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Globalizing cities

In this first step, we introduce the notion of the global city and explain the role of globalization cities as agents of diversity in the global cultural landscape.

The two first weeks have emphasized the various realities of cultural diversity in cities and how cities deal with and promote it in a variety of contexts. A key message that lays the foundation for this week’s journey is the idea that cities are actors and not merely receptacles of a variety of cultures. They are producing new forms of culture and contributing to cultural diversity.

Thus this week we will take a closer look at how cities contribute to the transformation of global culture. Does the emergence of global cities around the world contribute to homogenizing or diversifying global culture?

The idea of cities as actors of globalisation already has a long tradition. By the 1980s, authors like John Friedman and Anthony King had accounted for cities’ ever-stronger role as nodes of global processes. In 1991, Saskia Sassen’s book ‘The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo’ was very influential in showing how globalization was making the city a relevant scale for understanding new power dynamics.

These works didn’t remain in the closed circles of academia and were widely influential among leaders around the globe. A growing number of cities in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East launched plans to rise as global cities. Numerous rankings and indexes backed these initiatives, like the A. T. Kearny’s list that developed a Global Cities Index based on five dimensions: business activity, human capital, information exchange, cultural experience, and political engagement. Each criterion was measured with specific indicators such as the number of company headquarters, universities, TV channels, sporting events, or embassies.

In order to rise in these rankings, some cities have launched major cultural projects, like the West Kowloon Cultural District in Hong Kong or the Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, where billions of dollars were invested to concentrate several world-class cultural institutions.

This brings us back to some of the questions that we will raise during this week:

  • Do global cities accentuate cultural homogenization?
  • What is their impact on global culture?
  • How is globalization transforming our cities?

We will explore three dimensions:

  1. Urban space. The culture of cities manifests itself in the materiality of streets, buildings, or signs. Urban space is also the site of multiple rites and practices that range from spirituality and artistic performances to daily life. Therefore, we will be questioning how cities control, regulate, and transform urban space. Which identity do they promote, who is included and excluded?

  2. Museums. As we have suggested, museums have become instruments in global cities’ strategies. They seem to reflect a process of global homogenization of culture. But at the same time they are also key centres where identities can be put into question. We will see how museums can take advantage of the diversity surrounding them. We will discuss whether new models are appearing in emerging global cities.

  3. Movies. We will talk about the rise of cities as centres for movie production. American movies produced in Hollywood have dominated the global landscape for almost a century. How can new voices emerge?

Share your experience:

What do you view as signs of homogenization of global culture in contemporary cities?

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This article is from the free online course:

Cultural Diversity and the City

European University Institute (EUI)

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