Department of Geography
University of Southern California
I have been a practicing urban geographer for most of my professional life, even though (startling confession) my undergraduate thesis was a geomorphological history of a certain Welsh valley. This adds up to many decades of urban studies, which I suppose puts me in the category of mature researcher context symposium have witnessed thrills calamities quantitative revolution rebirth marxist studies rise social theory geography and the challenges of postmodern urbanism in this essay I shall argue that what is most needed now is a concerted effort at comparative urban research.
The recent intellectual history of urban geography reveals how urban research is unavoidably attached to particular times .and places and complicated by an overlay of personal predilections, especially the place from which one writes. In any geographical work, the inevitably idiographic creates problems in the move towards the nomothetic; that is, the specifics of place often render. generalization nugatory. Everyone knows that comparative urbanism is difficult. Data sources are not always compatible nor equally available or accessible; institutional frames of reference, especially those relating to
traditions of governance and practices of land-use regulation, often vary enormously from place to place; and the dynamics of growth and decline can be vastly different, according to the legacies of the geographical and historical record. For such reasons, comparative analysis (even within a single country) can be difficult, even impossible.
Such difficulties notwithstanding, I suggest that the next wave of urban research ought to include a strong dose of comparative urban analysis. Drawing on my recent work on the Los Angeles School and the production of cultural hybridities in the U.S.- Mexico borderlands, I outline an agenda that includes comparative urban geographies, a template for comparative empirical analysis, comparative urban dynamics, and comparative urban epistemologies.
Los Angeles and Chicago
A fruitful way to begin comparative analysis is to examine the assumptions that underlie competing models of urban process. For instance, the theoretical precepts behind the Chicago and Los Angeles (LA) schools are significantly different and an urban epistemology founded in Los Angeles radically contradicts that of the Chicago School. The Chicagonistas assume inter alia: a modernist view of the city as a unified whole, i.e., a coherent regional system in which the center organizes its hinterland; an individual-centered understanding of the urban condition, in which urban process is typically grounded in the individual subjectivities of urbanites, their personal choices ultimately explaining the overall urban condition, including spatial structure; and a linear evolutionist paradigm, in which processes lead from tradition to
modernity, from community to society, and so on. For their part, Angelistas counter that the concept of an urban core organizing its hinterland is obsolete, since the urban peripheries now organize what remains of the center; that a global, corporate-dominated connectivity is balancing, even offsetting, individual-centered agency in urban process; and that a linear evolutionist urban paradigm has been usurped by a nonlinear, chaotic process that includes pathological forms such as gated communities and life-threatening environmental degradation.
Such contradictions are here intended as indicative rather than comprehensive but they already suggest a quite radical theoretical reconfiguration. In order to appreciate the magnitude of the implied shift in urban geographies, recall that the most enduring of the Chicago School models was the zonal or concentric ring theory, an account of the evolution of differential urban social areas by E. W. Burgess (1925). Based on assumptions that included a uniform land surface, universal access to a single-centered city, free competition for space, and the notion that development takes place outward from a central core, Burgess concluded that the city tends to form a series of increasingly less-dense concentric rings. The principal logic in all Chicago models is that the center organizes the urban hinterlands. The Los Angeles school precisely reverses this logic. For it is no longer the center that organizes the urban hinterlands but the hinterlands that determine what remains of the center. The imperatives of fragmentation have become the principal dynamic in contemporary cities. None of these assertions implies that modernist logics or cityscapes have been erased from the urban matrix; they are simply being replaced or (at minimum) overwritten.
Do not underestimate the significance of this simple shift in perspective. In contemporary urban landscapes, "city centers" become, in effect, an externality of fragmented urbanism; they are frequently grafted onto the landscape as an afterthought by developers and politicians concerned with identity and tradition. Conventions of "suburbanization" become redundant in an urban process that bears no relationship to a core-related decentralization. The dialectic oppositions of Chicago and Los Angeles further suggest that traditional concepts of inter- and intraurban structure (such as central place theory) may have to be scrapped or at least severely revised; that the standard wisdom on urban agglomeration economies should be rewritten, a process already underway in the literature on post-Fordist flexible accumulation; and that, in policy terms, a centerless urban process dooms to failure conventional approaches to (say) downtown renewal.
Comparing Urban Outcomes
The secure knowledge that every place and time is ultimately unique does not absolve us from the responsibilities and opportunities of generalization. The task of comparative empirical analysis inevitably begins with a first case study, necessary for establishing a viable template from which comparative work can proceed. For instance, the detailed empirical analyses contained in From Chicago to LA (Dear, 2002) reveal shifts in the practices of urban place production-demographic, economic, political, social, cultural and virtual. They also show that altered ways of knowing the city are vital in recognizing and accumulating evidence of changing material circumstances. The book's 14 empirical chapters reveal how one city may furnish a template for interurban comparison, a kind of "workbook" for comparative urban empirics. They emphasize, for instance, that population diversity is becoming the norm in contemporary cities, so that conventional divides between Black and White are submerged by a minoritizing polity; that new waves of immigration are altering concepts and practices of community and citizenship; that the principal tropes of contemporary urbanism include edge cities, pri vatopias, and other mutant urban forms; that the rise of post-Fordism and the network society is transforming urban geographies everywhere; that religious practices are dominated by diverse, multiple-identity populations with transnational ties separate from traditional religious institutions; and that a crisis of sustainability has positioned nature and environment as irrevocable components of the urban question.
It is not my position that such trends are unique to Los Angeles, nor that they are solely a function of our urgent present. My point is that in combination they represent a major usurpation of the terms and conditions under which cities are manufactured, affecting cities across the world, though not all cities in equal proportion. As such, they offer a valuable foundation for excavating the future of a globalllocal urban process in other cities.
Comparative Urban Dynamics
In recent years, I have been deeply immersed in understanding the urban synergies linking the cities of Southern California with the rapidly-growing cites of Baja California, particularly Tijuana, Tecate, and Mexicali. These cities, in my judgment, form a single city-region that just happens to be separated by an international border; I call this region "Bajalta California" (Dear and Leclerc, 2003). Two vexing questions in this project have to do with regionalization and periodization, i.e., the choice of appropriate spatial and chronological scales to describe and explain the emergence of
"post-border" cultures. In spatial terms, the border is not confined to La llnea, nor even to border states but is an all-pervasive bi-national phenomenon. And in chronological terms, the contemporary mestizaje cultures of the borderlands have demonstrable historical roots predating the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, in earlier periods of
Spanish intervention, the Mesoamerican empires, and prehistoric indigenous cultures. Exactly how these twin Mexican and American cultures are historically and presently articulated into a single world city is the focus of my inquiry.
My response to the absence of adequate comparative data has been to establish a heuristic device capable of describing the principal historical and geographical dimensions of the places and processes under review. Such heuristics may never be comprehensive nor fully tractable in empirical terms but they can serve to structure what would otherwise be an eclectic data-retrieval exercise with little promise of comparative insight. My template for comparative urban dynamics seems well-suited to an era of globalization, as well as serving a methodological need for flexible, multiscale analysis. The common dynamics linking U.S./Mexico urban process focus on five principal tendencies:
World City: the emergence of a relatively few centers of command and control in a globalizing economy, increasingly referred to as "city-regions," and functionally integrated with national as well as international urban hierarchies.
Cybercity: the challenges of the information age and the rise of a "network society," especially the emergence of geographically well-defined "technopoles" of growth that contradict the much-touted capacity of connectivity to supplant the constraints of place.
Dual City: an increasing social polarization between the rich and poor, between nations, between the powerful and the powerless, between different ethnic, racial, and religious groupings, between genders, and between those who are digitally connected and those who are not.
Hybrid City: the fragmentation and reconstitution of material and cognitive life inspired by global and regional migrations, including the collapse of conventional identities and communities, the emergence of new concepts of citizenship, and the
rise of cultural hybridities and spaces.
Sustainab!e City: the emergence of a world-wide consciousness about the need to protect and conserve natural resources and to manage urban growth in order to ensure the future viability of the global habitat by minimizing the ecological impact of human activities and settlements.
These five tendencies-globalization, network society, polarization, hybridization, and sustainability-represent deep-seated structural trends defining the emergence of Bajalta California and other global city-regions. They form a basis for thematic comparative work even when precise empirical indicators are unavailable.
Comparative Urban Epistemologies
Some of my earliest published work in urban geography includes research on abandoned housing in Philadelphia (Dear, 1976) and Marxian-inspired critiques of capitalist urbanization (Dear and Scott, 1981). In those heady days, the "urban question" concerned the ways in which the capitalist mode of production gave rise to-indeed, required-the formation of dense clusters of economic and residential activities called cities. Today, it is obvious that cities are subject to a very different set of intentionalities, encapsulated by such terms as postcolonialism, post-Fordist flexible accumulation, postmodern urbanism, and the like. And yet, in the rush to the "post," we have overlooked important elements in the earlier cognitive frameworks.
Hence, my final proposal is for a comparative urban epistemology. This focuses on the intellectual history of various schools of thought in urban studies, their epistemological foundations, urban archetypes, and classic empirical examples. The purposes of comparative epistemology are to uncover the historical trajectory of urban knowledge, its continuities and breaks, and to confront the obsessions of present epistemologies with the still-relevant ghosts of epistemologies past. This exercise should assist us in better knowing our past, present and future. A simplified comparative urban epistemology for the past half-century would include the following: a scientific/quantitative approach, which emerged in the 1960s, focused on the industrial city, with a positivist, Chicago-inspired modernism as its foundation; an urban political economy, launched in the 1970s, and inspired by a Marxian modernism focused on the general dynamics of capitalist society rather than the specifics of any particular city; and a postrnodern urbanism, emerging in the 1980s out of a so-called "postindustrial" society, and inspired primarily by Los Angeles.
Whether or not you agree with this caricature is beside the point. More important is recognizing the value of interrogating the strengths and weaknesses of all epistemological alternatives. Thus, for me, it is not a question of Chicago versus LA, but of Chicago and LA in direct dialogical confrontation (cf. Dear, 2002). Since all ways of seeing are necessarily contingent and provisional, the best theoretical and applied urban geography will arise from a multiplicity of perspectives.
Burgess, E. W., 1925, The growth of the city. In R. E. Park, E. W. Burgess, and R. McKenzie, editors, The City: Suggestions for Investigation of Human Behavior in the Urban Environment. Chicago,IL: University of Chicago Press, 47-62.
Dear, M., 1976, Abandoned housing. In 1. Adams and B. Berry, editors, Urban Policy Making and Metropoiitan Dynamics: Geographical Essays. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger, 55-99.
Dear, M., editor, 2002, From Chicago to LA: Making Sense of Urban Theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Dear, M. and Leclerc, G., editors, 2003, Postborder City: Cultural Spaces of Bajalta California. New York, NY: Routledge.
Dear, M. and Scott, A. J., editors, 1981, Urbanization and Urban Planning in Capitalist Society. New York, NY: Methuen.Comparative Urbanism
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Michael Dear, Department of Geography, University of Southern California, 3620 S. Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90089; telephone: 213-740-0050; fax: 213-740-0056, email: email@example.com
Urban Geography, 2005. 26, 3, pp. 247-251.
Copyright @ 2005 by V. H. Winston & Son. Inc. All rights reserved.
One of the most important things to come out of the LA School is a rush of new interest in comparative urbanism. This is most fundamentally an empirical inquiry concerned with the extent to which what is being observed in LA is also happening (or not) in other urban areas.
For instance, in the collection of essays, from Chicago to LA (C2LA),
contributors laid out some of the most important empirical dimensions
of urban change in Southern California. (In the following summary,
author names and chapter numbers refer to essays in C2LA.)
The material conditions of urbanism in contemporary Southern California
offer much support for the notion of a radical shift in the way in
which cities are being created.
New York & Los Angeles: Politics, Society, and Culture a Comparative View, edited by David Halle. 2003. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-31370-0, (paper).
Comparing large cities at the top of the American urban hierarchy has always been of interest to urban scholars wishing to demonstrate the connections of these cities to the global network of large cities as well as their influence on cities lower in the national hierarchy. A more recent contribution to this literature provoked a debate within the urban studies community by pronouncing a new Los Angeles school, one based on postmodernism interpretations as opposed to the urban ecology approach advocated in the 1920s by the Chicago school of sociology. The book reviewed here
adds fuel to the fire by suggesting a New York school of urban studies to be contrasted with the Los Angeles school. David Halle, the editor, does not take issue with the Los Angeles school, rather he suggests that the urban character (a dispersed and centerless urban area) prescribed by L.A. school proponents to the L.A. area, do not capture urban settlements with strong centers such as New York City. Unlike the intellectual divide between postmodernism and urban ecology perspectives used as the basis for the establishment of a Los Angeles school, Halle turns to differences in
urban structure as the bases of the argument for a New York school.
In the introductory chapter, David Halle reviews the central tenants of the two schools. In the explanation of the L.A. school, Halle draws upon many quotes from those who have spearheaded the school, namely Michael Dear, Jennifer Wolch, Allen Scott, Edward Soja, and Michael Davis. Halle interprets the Los Angeles schools purpose as an offering up of the Los Angeles urban area as a prototype of a new urban form characterized by low-density growth around a centerless mass. Halle only makes indirect reference to the L.A. schools postmodern bias when he describes the new terms created by the school for urban development in the Los Angeles context such as global ltaifundia, privatopia, cybergioisie, protosurps, holsteinization, and praedatorianism. The summary of the L.A. school is comprehensive and even includes reference to its critics and alternative prototype offerings such as Miami, which to one urban scholar is more typical of future U.S. cities.
In contrast to the L.A. schools emphasis on low density sprawling urban development, Halle suggests that the New York school is characterized by an interest in the central city. Like the L.A. school, the New York school has many voices including Jane Jacobs, Sharon Zukin, Kenneth Jackson, Robert Stern, Richard Sennett, and William Whyte. These authors have in common a fascination with contemporary New York City, especially Manhattan, and a belief, in some cases passionate, in the superiority of city life over suburban life (p. 15). In contrasting the New York school from the Chicago school Halle notes that the Chicago school did not depict the central city as desirable for the middle class or the rich whereas the New York school sees NYC as a place for the middle class and the rich, not just the poor and the working class (p. 15). Halle credits Jane Jacobs as the founding voice for the New York school due to her role in high profile events such as the defeat of the Lower Manhattan Expressway in the 1960s as well as to her seminal book The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Other major contributions to the development of a unique New York school includes Sharon Zukins 19882 study of loft living in Soho, which Halle dubs as one of the earliest accounts of urban gentrification. Kenneth Jacksons Crabgrass Frontier and William Whytes The Organization Man are additional books that Halle includes as essential voices for the New York school as they provide some of the best critique of suburban living.
Presenting on racial and ethnic segregation in the last chapter of the overview section, Halle, Gedeon, and Beveridge compare and contrast racial and ethnic patterns between the New York City and Los Angeles metropolitan areas. After a historical overview of the changing composition of the two areas, the authors identify four models of residential composition that help describe the diversity of the two regions. The traditional ghetto/barrio model best depicts the trends occurring in the core areas of New York City and the city of Los Angeles where levels of residential separation between blacks and non-Hispanic whites are high. The trend is less strong in city of Los Angeles where the level of separation had declined in recent decades, but the authors note that the opposite is true for New York City where the pattern remains stable and at very high levels.
A second model depicts the suburbanization trend of African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians who have settled in enclaves that house large numbers of their own groups. A third model also captures the movement of these groups to the suburbs, but depicts a situation with low levels of segregation. The latter model is one that has received much attention in the residential segregation literature as of late, with some citing a rise of multiethnic neighborhoods while others noting that the situation is probably temporary and will only result in re-segregation in the long term. A fourth model, specifically addressing relations between Hispanic and non-Hispanic whites in the Inland Empire of the Los Angeles region, highlights the very rapid rise of Latino suburbanization and the resulting low levels of segregation that occur as a result of
the large influx into previously settled areas. These models of residential composition help to account for a very complex set of racial and ethnic interactions occurring in these two places and the authors use them effectively to illustrate the
differences between these two urban regions.
The book is then organized into sections on society, politics, and culture. In the society section, welfare reform and the rise in working poverty is addressed by Levitan for New York and by DeVerteuil, Sommer, Wolch, and Takahashi for Los Angeles. These back to back chapters examine the consequences of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act on the labor force of New York and Los Angeles. Levitan first compares some broad economic trends for the nation from the second half of the 1990s through 2001 and notes that New York City was an outlier and didnt experience the same economic prosperity. For instance, real wages of New York City residents at the end of the nineties remained below pre-recession levels throughout most of the wage distribution (p. 253). Levitan
describes the population shifts and poverty rate changes resulting in part by welfare reform and links them to the changing face of the citys poor by the late 1990s when the proportion of families headed by someone with a high school degree or more education constituted one-half of the citys poor (p.266). The Los Angeles chapter demonstrates that national welfare reforms have placed more pressure on the local welfare state which is becoming the manager of an economically marginalized population.
In the politics section, Sears proposes a model for the future of ethnic politics in Los Angeles. After reviewing historic conflicts between blacks and whites in Los Angeles, Sears demonstrates that the new immigrants (Asians and Latinos) will follow a European model as opposed to an African American model of racialized politics. In comparing the situation of blacks and these new immigrants, Sears concludes that most of the Asians and Hispanics now living in the Los Angeles metropolitan area are first-generation immigrants and are rarely more than second generation (p. 388). Blacks of course are an older racial minority group with strong racial consciousness and great political solidarity (p. 388). This contrasts sharply from the new immigrants where the longer they and their families remain in the United States, the less they identify with their own ethnic group, the weaker their ethnic identity, and the less they prefer policies that serve the distinctive interests of their ethnic group (p. 388). Sears concludes that the political future of Los Angeles would seem likely to involve the kind of ethnic coalition-building that marked New York City and other Eastern and Midwestern cities in the aftermath of heavy European immigration (p. 389).
Presenting the opening chapter in the section on culture, Adras Szanto contrasts the visual art worlds of New York and Los Angeles. The history of visual art is chronicled for both places with New York having the edge early on due to its
connections to Europe and an elite willing to spend large sums of money on art. By the 1960s the visual arts in Los Angeles was taking off, but it remained in the shadows of New York. This was due to two problems, the first was geography, that is, similar to urban development in Los Angeles, the visual arts sprawled as it expanded. It is argued that the density that is found in New Yorks art communities provided energy to its participants. The diffuse pattern in Los Angeles on the other hand, made it difficult for the artist to interact. The second problem was regionalism or the lack of interest by the Los Angeles artist for artistic trends occurring elsewhere. The Los Angeles artist felt that their art was more real than New York art, which isolated their community. An L.A. distinctive style emerged as a result of this
isolation however it was often viewed as anti intellectual.
Turning to New York Szanto reviews the booming 1980s and its climax coinciding with the auctioning of Van Gohs portrait of fr. Gachet for $82.5 million at Christies. Soho and the East Village were the New York art neighborhoods of the time, which were fueled by media hype and extravagant investment schemes. These neighborhoods cooled down with the early 1990s recession and in 1999 Chelsea overtook Soho as New Yorks main contemporary art district. More recently Chelsea coalesced with the meat market district to the south forming the worlds largest loft and gallery district. Szanto speculates that the next zone of artist gentrification is Harlem where he notes that studios and lofts are beginning to mushroom.
This review touched on only a third of the essays included in the book, so one should read the book to get a fuller appreciation of the variety of themes that are compared for New York City and Los Angeles. The content is well organized and the material articulates both similarities and differences in the social, political, and cultural aspects of both cities. Scholars with an interest in the debates taking place within urban studies over which cities and or processes are most reflective of current day urbanism will want to read this book.
Richard P. Greene
Department of Geography
Northern Illinois University