revive your city with philanthropy? innovations for export!

As I poured over a few articles from the Atlantic, I couldn’t help but notice the potential problems of viewing the city as a laboratory.  It first off views the city as something which can be contained, controlled, and managed in its entirety; it can’t.  Secondly, the laboratory is something I view as a sterile environment, a place for testing very controlled interventions, as a place for producing knowledge that is legitimate, but all the same, it is subjective and reflects the ideals and ideas of those conducting the “science” in the “laboratory”.   The city, in this sense, is a place, a productive force, for coming up with innovative ideas for solving global problems.  I agree cities are important because they are centers of humanity and creativity. Yet, they are co-produced with the system of capitalism, and as Harvey has noted (in The Urban Experience), are reflections and necessities of the capitalist system.  So are innovative solutions to be found in promoting the same system? What are the global problems to be addressed? Who defines those problems? Are they reflective of contingent “public interests”? Are they crises of capitalism resulting from internal contradictions?


I think a convening of powerful figures and city leaders would be best suited to furthering a paradigm of growth, not necessarily equity and sustainability. It seems to me like a bourgeois gathering of those who feel we can manufacture culture with “lifestyle centers” or by trickle-down economics or through fostering creative classes. Why aren’t they gathering to discuss alternative solutions to urban governance, planning, and policy? Can there be faith in a system which has given them privileged positions and left others materially deprived? It seems like “growth philanthropy” to me.  As described in the post, the session is “designed to examine and help spread successful practices from world cities in areas including technology, intellectual capital, infrastructure, job creating and the environment.”  This also raises an issue with the possibility of exporting solutions and “best practices”. James C. Scott perhaps get at this best with his discussion in Seeing Like A State of high modernist planning.  Below he discusses Le Corbusier’s logic of replicating the system of production in the spatiality of city, the organization which would mirror the structure of corporations, profit machines.  It also speaks to the problem of synoptic rationality and experimentation at the scale of the city, at creating knowledge’s that can be abstracted from their place and exported to others with a cloak of expertise aimed at “helping them”, the other. And so, there is also the notion of alterity which needs to be considered. The creation of an “other” which has a problem (defined by whom?) which needs solutions is inherent in the creation and definition of problems and solutions being crafted in such a way.

“For much of the left, productivism promised the replacement of the capitalist by the engineer or by the state expert or official. It also proposed a single optimum solution, or “best practice,” for any problem in the organization of work. The logical outcome was some form of slide-rule authoritarianism in the interest, presumably, of all.” (Scott 1998, 99)

So can we actually find best practices that are exportable/importable? I’m all for collaboration, creativity, and reasoned planning, but this seems like a contrived attempt at organic solutions.  Are we just going to import ideas from this summit and impose them on cities? How are we going to account for local interests in a democratic way? I might be cynical, but I feel like there are numerous problems with these sorts of “solutions generators”. Its good to test ideas, but we must practice “experiments” with an understanding of the impacts and an understanding that the knowledge produced is situated and contingent to particular places, people, and their values.

Heres the link to what got me going…


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