Tag Archives: Globalisation

Cities and Climate Change adaptation: Can we learn from each other?

By Melanie Lombard, Hallsworth Fellow and Alfredo Stein, Lecturer in Urban Development, both at the Global Urban Research Centre.

Image: Household adaptation measures to severe weather, 29 de Octubre Barrio, Estelí, Nicaragua. Source: Global Urban Research Centre

The United Nations’ selection of Cities and Climate Change as the theme for World Habitat Day is a significant and welcomed event. Although climate change has become increasingly prominent on the international development agenda, historically the focus has been on the effects it has on rural environments and agricultural production. This is slowly changing. Given the fact that more than half of the global population now lives in urban areas and that the majority of urban growth this century will take place in low and middle income countries, the effects of climate change on cities are likely to be high up on the development agenda for the foreseeable future.

Many cities are already experiencing the effects of extreme weather disasters generated by climate variability, exacerbating existing patterns of urban vulnerability caused by poverty and inequality. Settlements constructed on flood plains or in landslide zones by low-income residents faced with no alternative housing options present a highly visible risk. Less noticeable but no less severe are the effects of severe weather on shack housing lacking basic services, such as heat stress, heavy rains and recurring storms.

The UN Climate Change Conference held in Copenhagen in 2009 signalled the importance of moving from a focus on mitigation – in other words, interventions to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases – to adaptation, or how socio-economic systems can cope with and build long term resilience to the effects of climate change. Adapting cities to the effects of climate change requires a commitment from city governments to allocate and invest resources in infrastructure and technology. Such a commitment may be hard to conceive in situations where resources are scarce at the local level, and other needs require urgent attention.

However, rather than seeing this as a zero sum equation, city governments could instead mainstream climate change adaptation into urban policies more generally. Recent research undertaken by the Global Urban Research Centre in Nairobi, Kenya, Estelí, Nicaragua and Cartagena, Colombia, shows that in many cities of the global South, poor communities, households and small businesses are already adapting their assets through small, incremental measures to changing weather patterns. This suggests potential for urban governments to recognise and build on these innovative, low-cost responses already taking place in vulnerable neighbourhoods and incorporate them into broader settlement upgrading programmes.

But the potential for learning from the poor goes beyond the city level. While global problems suggest global responses, they also provide an opportunity for transnational learning. In cities of the global North, governments are responding to the need for climate change adaptation through existing planning frameworks and infrastructure networks, applying the latest technology usually through top-down frameworks. Meanwhile, in the global South, communities are developing their own adaptation strategies, often without central and local government support. What would happen if the two approaches were brought together? Applying community-driven adaptation responses from the global South to a Northern context could facilitate greater citizen participation, flexibility and ad hoc responses. Meanwhile, transfer of planning processes and infrastructure knowledge from the North to city governments of the South could strengthen their capacities to support existing community driven efforts to adapt to climate change. As well as being one of the biggest development challenges of this century, climate change thus also offers opportunities to improve the way we plan – and participate – in cities.

When Work Dies: Detroit’s post-industrial decline

Ed Granter - Gas Off, Burslem Port, Stoke on Trent

Ed Granter - Gas Off, Burslem Port, Stoke on Trent

Guest blogger Edward Granter (MBS) reviews two books documenting Detroit’s post-industrial decline and addresses some of the implications of deindustrialisation for cities in general.

Books reviewed:
Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre (2010) The Ruins of Detroit, London: Steidl.
Andrew Moore (2010) Detroit Disassembled, Bologna (Italy): Damiani and Akron (USA): Akron Art Museum.

Deindustrialisation isn’t unique to Detroit. Drive around Stoke on Trent in the English Midlands and the impact of factory closures is all too evident. In Burslem port, around Dimsdale Street, houses are tagged not with the name of the local graffiti artist, but with ‘gas off’ – the better to expedite final, total destruction. Surrounding wasteland provides a sort of postmodern boulevard for the odd human victim of dereliction, in animated conversation with themselves; and yet nearby, working families build their lives in tidy, red brick bungalows.

The comparison is somewhat facetious of course, the product of genetic local pride, even in decay; what is demonstrated by these two volumes of photography by Marchand and Meffre, and Moore, is the sheer scale of the devastation in Detroit, Michigan. For Stoke it was ceramics, for Detroit, motor vehicles. Both took on the world in a do-or die battle of industrial production; both lost.

And so Detroit becomes a ne plus ultra – none more so – of post-industrial decline. Both of these books provide an engaging, sometimes stunning catalogue of tumbledown mansions, abandoned offices, gutted factories, and near empty streets.

Detroit, more than any city perhaps, illustrates industrial production’s power to shape society. To build cities, communities, human worlds, lives – and to destroy them. Anyone who saw Julien Temple’s excellent documentary Requiem for Detroit (Films of Record 2009), or read any of the slew of broadsheet articles that followed, knows the story of the rise and fall of America’s Motor City. How Detroit grew to be the fourth biggest city in the USA, workers flooding in from across the country and beyond. How Americans couldn’t match the 2 second per minute ‘down time’ of the Japanese auto workers, though they’ve caught up a lot since – too late for Detroit.

And so the factories closed, with Ford, General Motors and the like often relocating where labour costs were cheaper, where workers wouldn’t expect their own home, their own car, garden, health insurance. Now the factories, once veritable cathedrals of capitalism, lie abandoned and ripe for photographic exploration. A canvas for graffiti artists, an income stream for scrap collectors, a shelter of sorts for humans who have themselves fallen into dereliction. Underneath the visual impact of these photographs lies an almost unconscious awe at the waste of it all. Millions (billions?) of tons of steel and concrete, hours of engineering in human thought and human labour… abandoned. But capital knows no sentiment, and if it is cheaper to abandon than to reuse or rescue, then so be it.

Once work disappears, so does the infrastructure that supported it. Notable in this respect is the Michigan Central Station. Marchand and Meffre, and Moor feature this vast testament – once to entropy, now to atrophy. Housing too; both books, similar as they are, covering all three points of the work/civil society/family triangle. Mansions overgrown with ivy, intrepid families still hanging on to their listing wooden home, grand red brick buildings that once hosted American Associations of This and Worshipful Companies of That now little more than doorways in which the broken people huddle – those broken people again.

It seems that the authors of these two books have visited many of the same sites; a number of their subjects are the same. The melted, Dali-esque clock in an abandoned Cass Technical High School, the Aurora Apartments, the detectives’ room at Highland Park police station. This latter particularly poignant. We see case-posters of ‘Vickie Truelove’ and ‘Debbie Friday’, whose names can be linked through a brief web-search to the serial killer Benjamin Atkins. And what of ‘Jacob’, aged 11 (Moore: 177), his parents’ plea and his suspected kidnappers’ mugshots still pinned to the noticeboard?

So what is left for Detroit? Urban farming and young ‘alternative’ artists and musicians, it seems, although neither are represented in any depth by these books. In Detroit, as elsewhere, the Global Financial Crisis has focused minds on ‘alternatives’ to traditional ways of living and working – something similar happened in the 1980’s in Britain when unemployment rocketed and inner cities looked to be on the verge of collapse. Back then, commentators talked of ‘the possibilities of work beyond employment’ and artists sketched drawings of ‘collectivised gardens’ (See Pym’s essay and Harper’s drawings in ‘Why Work’, 1990). In a city as vast and half empty as Detroit, urban gardening has taken off with some vigour. Charities and volunteers do it to help feed the poor, the poor do it to help feed themselves, and now, illustrating Marx’s dictum that history repeats itself first as tragedy and then as farce, ‘one of the last remaining wealthy white financiers living in the city’ (Harris: 2010) leads Hantz Farms into a new dawn of urban agricultural production and employment.

Ed Granter - Factories near Burslem Port, Stoke on Trent

Ed Granter - Factories near Burslem Port, Stoke on Trent

Architect and commentator Karl Sharrow has already pointed out that urban farming in cities such as London may not be quite as viable – given than many people can hardly afford to live there themselves due to the lack of space, and an attempt at urban horticulture in Brighton recently ended in a melee of bailiffs and diggers. This seems unfortunate, but the industrial trajectory of Detroit, ably captured by Marchand, Meffre and Moore, and the apparently positive elements of the aftermath of greening and growing, raise uncomfortable questions. Will the residents of post-industrial cities (still cities?) live in a developed, comfortable, stable society, or a semi agricultural, marginal one? Will we occupy the interstices in industrial capitalism’s wreckage, or something more dignified? And who decides? Urban gardening/farming as a hobby can be extremely rewarding, as increasing numbers of British city dwellers are discovering. Urban farming as a source of nutrition or employment for the human flotsam of industrial collapse may be a reasonable, temporary response to a crisis, but these crises just keep on happening. Poverty is reinvented in some new form with every cycle, at once elegiac and grotesque. Something leaves a strange taste in the mouth – we thought industrial capitalism had taken us beyond Americans and Europeans having to grow food or go hungry. Has it?

Harris, P. (2010) ‘Detroit Gets Growing’, The Observer, Sunday 11 July 2010. (Accessed 9 June 2011)
Richards, V. (1990) Why Work? London: Freedom Press.
Sharrow, K. (2010) ‘Urban Farming: The future of food or Arcadia on the cheap?’ (Accessed 9 June 2011)

Globalisation, Agglomerations and Regaining Balance

Image: Manchester Agglomeration.

Dr Marianne Sensier is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Political and Economic Governance (ipeg), University of Manchester. Here she talks about her recent study on agglomeration economies and how balance can be achieved in the economy.

Global imbalances are widely seen to have caused the financial crisis and subsequent recession. The downturn saw a sharp fall in trade and a synchronised decline of economic activity across nations. The recovery from this recession has been uneven across the world which has prompted increased discussion about economic rebalancing at regional, national and global scales.

Agglomeration economies occur when the concentration of economic activities leads to the emergence of positive externalities, which are transmitted both within and between firms through channels such as technological spillovers, an increasingly skilled labour market and enhanced firm-supplier networks. A recent ipeg study of mine (with co-authors Artis and Curran) has found that over recent years, both industry and service sectors have increased productivity in city regions (although for industry this has been accompanied by the cost of falling employment in this sector), where they benefit from the growing demand that a relatively affluent daytime population brings. The long term decline in traditional manufacturing, caused by increased competition in the global market place, also means industries are less likely to cluster together. However, we find that the financial services sector does benefit from locating near companies in the same sector.

“Made In Britain” (a book by Evan Davis to accompany his BBC 2 series to be shown in June 2011) supports the findings of this ipeg study. Evan Davis explains that traditional manufacturing was dispersed geographically mainly due to natural resources – i.e. the concentration of steel works in Wales due to the availability of pig iron and coal – but now with the rise of the knowledge industries, and the greater need for face-to-face contact, people cluster in particular regions which has lead to the regional imbalances we see today.

Globalisation has increased the size of agglomerations in that firms and workers are attracted to places with lower production costs and larger local markets which reinforce regional imbalances. In my view it seems that the only way countries can compete in the global market place is to make certain locations more desirable so that efficient firms looking to lower costs of production will move into regions. The free market does not allow this solution, agglomerations left to grow to unsustainable levels will lead to negative externalities of pollution, congestion and other social ills (as in the case of London, see the article in Saturday’s Guardian).

So what is left for policy makers to work with post Regional Spatial Strategies? Well the Coalition Government has created Enterprise Zones (announced in the March 2011 Budget and offering discounts in business rates, simplification of the planning system, superfast broadband, enhanced capital allowances for firms that focus on high value manufacturing, use of Tax Incremental Finance and support from UK Trade and Investment for inward investment and trade opportunities). In this global market place we need to compete internationally and other countries offer similar incentives for firms to locate. National and local support for business is vital to help them set-up, grow, access finance, innovate, network, train workers, export and compete in the global market place. Enhancing the regional skills base is critical and further support for education was mentioned in the Budget in the form of funding for work experience places, apprenticeships and the expansion of University Technical Colleges. Incentives to business and investment in education are essential to sustain growth of an economy, help the environment and rebalance wealth from the overcrowded regions within our nation.