The Nation Invades the City
At the same time that the United States and the Soviet Union were competing for power and influence, scholars worldwide began to debate a contest between the global and the local that was perceived to be surfacing in metropolitan arenas throughout the less developed world. This conflict, captured by some in the idea of urban social inversion, maintains that individuals once thought of as marginal are taking over public space and services in the world’s urban areas. According to Richard M. Morse in his work on “Cities as People” there has been a
people’s invasion that appropriates the city center, creates its own space for commercial activity, causes deterioration of tourist hotels and promenades, and in seaboard locations appropriates the beaches. For the first time since the European conquest, the city is not an intrusive bastion against and control center for the rural domain. The nation has invaded the city . . . Cities are nodal points for the nation and not the citadels of control.
Contamination vs. People’s Invasion
This is in contrast to a perception of “contamination” that dominated the early Cold War years. “Contamination” reflected the predominant belief that those who are marginalized and disadvantaged are undesirable inhabitants of the urban environment. As an aside, one “good communist” I spoke with in Havana depicted the idea quite vividly when he called migrants in Havana cockroaches. The “people’s invasion” argument is interesting as far as it goes. However, a people’s invasion couldn’t occur in a vacuum. In capitalist cases, it was supposed to arrive as a response to the austerity programs and structural adjustment policies imposed by global forces like the International Monetary Fund in response to demands for new borrowing and restructuring of past debt.
The Roots of Protest
This linkage raises several questions. Would the people’s participation in protest activity such as food riots, general strikes, or political demonstrations infer rejection of both the economic and political aspects of the neoliberal project promoted by America’s liberal grand strategy during the Cold War conflict and supported by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank? Or can the proliferation of social movements in the urban arena be explained in the context of the neoliberal paradigm? And what about socialist cities? Here, as we will see in the case of Havana, a people’s invasion has reportedly materialized as a reaction to the collapse of Soviet grand strategy. But, will social movements necessarily follow as in the capitalist case? What is the relationship between the global and the local in socialist cities? In sum, does the contest between the local and the global have universal significance? Or is the notion of globalization that is now being promoted a mask for the advancement of US interests worldwide?
Overlapping Boundaries: Grassroots and Global
Clearly, the concept of urban social inversion is primarily descriptive and does not provide answers to the above questions. It leads to a problematic discussion, at best, because as in the world city paradigm, socialist cities are excluded. Moreover, even for major capitalist cities, it doesn’t explain how life at the grassroots level impacts the global role. This, of course, is the more interesting question because it has long been argued that “the most inherent feature of the world city is its global control function and this gives it its principle geopolitical characteristic.”
If, as some argue, the people have invaded the city, undermining its primary role as a “citadel of control,” the impact of the global and the local on the urban environment must be reconsidered.
For instance, is the growth in industrial employment associated with informal types of manufacturing — the sweatshop, industrial homework — connected to the more global functioning of the world city? Or is such employment related to meeting the needs of the indigenous community?
Is the labor force associated with such enterprise — primarily immigrant and ethnic women — along with the growth of the informal economy as a whole, tied to the importance of the high level service sector associated with global management and finance? Or, is it possible that the tentacles of the multinational organization (as well as the internationalization of banking and finance) have put in motion population forces that, in the end, incite social movements which reinforce the local rather than the global?
Has the focus on “the activities involved in producing and reproducing the organization and management of the global production system and the global labor force” obscured the impact of more local variables on the urban environment? And what about major sports events like the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil? (For more background see our post on Cold War Cities in Crisis.)
Recently, there’ve been enormous street protests in Brazil against government spending for the World Cup, and anger is now building over the costly transportation projects intended to get soccer fans to matches. Christopher Gaffney reports
There’s a real lack of robust governance structures here to deal with an event this size, so things start breaking and people start dying.
At least two workers were killed this past November when a construction crane collapsed at the stadium in Sao Paulo where Brazil plans to hold the opening game of next year’s World Cup, raising concerns over the country’s ability to finish an array of lavish arenas that have been plagued by delays and cost overruns.
The accident at the Arena Corinthians stadium, intended to seat 70,000 spectators when completed, highlights festering tensions in Brazil as the June 2014 beginning of the World Cup approaches. When Brazil was chosen to host both the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, the news was seen as confirmation of the country’s status as a developing world power. But spending on the stadiums has drawn the ire of street protesters and prosecutors questioning priorities in a nation where public schools and hospitals remain in lamentable conditions. (The New York Times: November 27, 2013)
Clearly, the contest between the global and the local is still at play in parts of the former Third World.