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The Post-Industrial City:
Challenges and Responses since 1950


The Post-Industrial City:

pilProject description
pilFinancial sponsors

Project description

Lars Nilsson, Institute of Urban History, Stockholm, March 2008

Aims and methods

There are two overarching aims to the project: (i) to explore and compare the local effects of globalisation ("glocalisation") and European integration by examining a number of towns and city trajectories in the late 20th century; (ii) to explore how city authorities have perceived and responded to the socio-economic, political and technological challenges to which they have been subjected during the second half of the 20th century.

Urban trajectories and European urban systems

A first and essential task is to construct a reliable database with population figures for major European cities and metropolitan areas since 1950. A rich amount of data, mainly from the censuses, is already available in the national sources. The problem is that the comparability of existing data is often incomplete between nations and over time due to among other things new definitions and changing of geographical borders. Even comparisons of one and the same city over a longer period of time raise a lot of complications. Population figures from the year 2000 cannot directly be related to those from 1950. Available sources must be carefully scrutinised to ascertain that data are ascribed to the same geographical unit and comparable with each other. Thus, effects from changing borders, new definitions and other external effects on population figures must be eliminated. This is a time-consuming work but absolute necessary if we want to have reliable data. For Sweden The Institute of Urban History has already registered population figures for all urban places ("tätorter") in Sweden up to the year 2005.

The improved statistical figures will make it possible for us to create urban trajectories there we can follow each city and its development in a comparative perspective, and thereby for example identify winners and losers. The database can also be used for describing and analysing national urban systems. As a prelude to the modern development urban population growth 1850-1950 will be examined, analysed and outlined.

The project will on an aggregate level identify the conditions for winners and losers among major European cities in the restructuring of the urban labour markets and economies. The restructuring includes among other things the rise of producer services, the coming of new financial markets due to deregulations and privatisations, a process of deindustrialisation, the breakthrough for new modes of communication like the Internet and mobile phones, the development of a knowledge based economy with new relations between science and industry, and increased competition.

The relationships between cities have therefore changed dramatically. Some cities have prospered as places for control and coordination of the flows of capital and information. Other cities have suffered from extensive population losses. How have cities perceived, and reacted to these steadily ongoing transformations. How have the city systems of Europe changed? How can we understand the processes behind these new patterns of growth?

"Glocalisation" – Globalisation in the local context

This part of the project will examine the challenges and opportunities that globalisation has posed at the local level. Old industrial cities have undergone particularly profound changes during the present wave of globalisation, but they have by no means been the only cities to face serious challenges. As Phil Hubbard and Tim Hall (in The Entrepreneurial City, 1998) argue, the internationalisation of economic activity and other related changes ‘have instilled an edgy insecurity at all levels of the urban hierarchy’, and have shaken both urban policies and the ways in which these policies have been constructed and legitimated.

Special attention will here be given to major European cities (Stockholm, Helsinki, Amsterdam, Madrid, Athens, Lisbon, Copenhagen, Oslo or others). While unable to challenge the top-rank world cities, these cities have nevertheless shown relatively strong evidence of “world-city formation”, and as “gateway cities” they have served broad regions.

The first objective is to explore the questions of how city authorities have defined the economic challenges, threats and opportunities presented by globalisation and how they have responded to them. What will be of greatest interest here is the interaction of the global and local forces: the ways in which the new strategies have evolved from the interplay of the global and local politics. Thecomparative approach used in this project provides an opportunity to explore why the cities have done what they have done, since it often shows that they could have done otherwise. By revealing what happened but also what did not, a comparative approach clarifies the choices the cities have made – what they accepted and what they rejected.

Another consequence of the restructuring process is that old elites have been replaced by new elites with other attitudes and life styles. The demand from well-educated and well-paid people on domestic and other private services has certainly increased. A new informal urban economy may therefore have developed with immigrants and even women making up a substantial part of the labour force. We can easily imagine that the rise of the new elites and an increasing volume of immigrants in low-paid jobs will result in escalating social and ethnical segregation. The new urban life styles will probably be followed by new demands on the urban space including changed residential patterns.

New quickly expanding branches such as financial services (banking, insurance companies) and other producer services have quite other demands on the urban space than the old disappearing manufacturing companies. The new dynamic activities are for example less space consuming and therefore more attractive for inner city locations. This will probably be reflected in the price of land and property.

High population pressure has together with the social and economic restructuring (the new post-industrial economy) been correlated with new ideas of urban planning and building. The modernist style with rather sparse settlements has been replaced by an interest for high-rise buildings and a more dense and compact model. There has been a return to 19th century ideals and inner city norms. It has also been argued that skyscrapers can be seen as a response to the ecological challenges, because they save nature and greenery. Thus, an analysis of urban trajectories and causes of urban growth will raise a wide range of questions concerning local development.

A second objective relates therefore to the spatial organisation of cities. Global forces have dramatically changed both the social structure and spatial organisation of cities during the last decades. Several studies concerning power and urban space have shown that globalisation has served to increase polarisation within cities: it has generated new gaps between “have” and “have-nots” and created new vulnerabilities to political turmoil. Theorists, such as Zukin in The Culture of Cities, 1995 and Soja in The Urbanization of Injustice, 1997, have argued that globalisation has shaped a fundamental new city. The project will contribute to these debates about the character of the post-industrial city. Have global forces created an entirely new urban form, a post-modern or post-fordist city, which is fundamentally different from its predecessors?

In recent years, many writers have questioned this argument. They acknowledge that new forces have dramatically changed the spatial organisation of cities, but at the same time they emphasise continuities in urban development. Some scholars have broadened the discussion even further to include processes that have served to confine conflicts and bridge gaps during the era of globalisation (see for example Beauregard & Haila in Globalizing Cities: A New Spatial Order, 2000).

The project will contribute to these debates for example by examining the ways in which urban life has been regulated at the time when globalisation has increased polarisation in the cities. The aim will be to explore, for example, how the ‘globalised elites’ and the city authorities have maintained their power and legitimacy and how their power has been contested. However, the attention is focused not only on the processes that have polarised urban societies but also on the processes that have held urban societies together, despite all difficulties. In other words, the attempt is to examine mechanisms that have emerged or have been created for confining conflicts and mediating differences in income, gender, culture, language, religion or access. What has been the role of civil society (voluntary associations, organisations, ad hoc groups etc which all are important intermediaries in the formation of collective identity) in confining conflicts and eroding boundaries within the cities during globalization? And how the local governments have intervened either directly or through organisations to diminish segregation and exclusion.


The Institute of Urban History | Director: Heiko Droste | Last update: 22-apr-09 rad 2 i sidfoten