Global Cities/Ordinary Cities

Discipline: Urban Planning
Instructor: Bassett
Credits: 3
Day: A
Start: 1425
End: 1540
Field Work: Day 1 - Singapore - 22 February | Singapore Download Syllabus

Cities are one of the defining features of humankind – densely settled urban agglomerations
serve as centers of commerce and production, seats of government, places of information
exchange, loci of the arts and culture, and much more. The shape and function of cities,
however, can and has differed over time with once powerful trading or industrial cities losing
influence due to economic decline (e.g., Detroit, Manchester) while other former backwaters
emerge as important urban centers (e.g., Houston, Bangalore). For contemporary cities, one
major driver of growth and change is globalization—which can be thought of as the flow of
people, capital, goods and knowledge across national boundaries. In a globalized world, cities
are increasingly forced to compete with one another to succeed. For many urbanists (essentially
scholars who study urban life), this competition is inevitable and positive; the winner cities in
this competitive landscape are known as “global cities.” Global cities are important nodes—
the top tier really—in the world economic system; their success is both indicative of and
important for the future of the world. Three uncontested global cities are represented on our
itinerary, namely Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore. But other urban theorists challenge
the centrality (and normative approbation) of global cities to the earth’s future. Instead they
assert that “ordinary cities”—cities “between modernity and development” are really the cities
of importance (Robinson, 2006). While these cities don’t fit into noteworthy categories and
rankings, they are hardly “economic{ally} irrelevant” (Knox, 1995). In fact by sheer numbers
alone they present the world with a different form of urbanity and a different picture of our
global urban future. Again cities on our itinerary—for example, Cape Town and Accra—
represent this type of city.

In this course, students will examine the competing concepts of global cities (e.g., Sassen) and
ordinary cities (e.g., Robinson) and use this debate over urban theory as a lens for viewing and
understanding the cities we will be visiting on Semester at Sea. Specifically, students will delve
into the history, economy, social structure (e.g., race, class), built form and role (e.g., seat of
government, place of commerce) of six cities (i.e., Shanghai, Singapore, Cape Town, Accra,
Casablanca, and Ho Chi Minh City). Students will write a research paper—which will draw
upon structured field visits to the cities—to compare two cities (e.g., one global/one ordinary)
and reflect upon this central debate in urban studies.

Field Work

Country: Singapore
Day: 1 - Singapore - 22 February

In this field lab, students will visit the National University of Singapore and meet with faculty associated with their School of Design and Environment.  Students will learn about the history of Singapore, including its rapid post-World War II rise out of poverty and successful integration into the global economy as a hub of finance and information technology.  They will learn about the city’s development challenges and its current work to make the city as leader in sustainability through design interventions like green architecture, elevated parks/green spaces, local food production, and renewable energy.  Two experts will speak to them on this topic:  Dr. Johannes Widodo, a faculty member from NUS and an expert on Singapore’s history and Dr. Limin Hee, the deputy director of the Centre for Livable Cities, Singapore.  Following the talks, students will take a walking/bus tour of the city to look at its development activities, particularly those associated with urban sustainability.   Academic Objectives: 1)      To understand the development of Singapore and the role that government planning and investment played in its rise. 2)      To learn about the challenges of being a small city-state with a limited land/natural resource base 3)      To gain exposure to the cutting edge innovations/actions being taken by Singapore to meet its food, water, and energy needs in order to achieve self-sufficiency sustainability

4)      To develop a baseline understanding of what changes in the global economy has meant to one city; this baseline can/should serve as a comparator for the other cities visited and/or studied in our class.