Global urbanism: Urban governance innovation in/for a world of cities

Pauline Mr-Guirk


Despite its currency, ‘global urbanism’ is a nebulous concept deployed in dissonant registers that offer diverse perspectives on the dynamics of a global urban age. ‘Mainstream’ global urbanism (Sheppard et al., 2015) suggests Global North urbanism, ordered by globalised neoliberalised capitalism and liberal democracy, as the universal essence and norm. In parallel, the planetary urbanisation thesis (Brenner and Schmid, 2015) posits a generalised global condition wherein cities’ extensive demands on global flows and relations cast the planet as always and already in the grasp of capitalist urbanisation. Countering these unitar)' registers, postcolonial perspectives reject the telos of global capitalist logic shaping a singular (if variegated) global urbanism and suggest a world of multiple global urbanisms wherein multiple processes beyond neoliberalised capitalism shape cities differently in a ‘differentiated, changing and globalising urban world’ (Parnell and Robinson, 2018: 28).

In this chapter, I consider yet another invocation of global urbanism: one that echoes a postcolonial appreciation of the diversity of processes and relations defining a ‘world of cities’.This is a form of global urbanism that frames maniform global challenges—climate change, resource consumption, economic expansion, inequality and poverty, biodiversity, migration, etc.—both as distilled in and governable through cities’ diverse social, material and political capacities. Expressions of this framing can be found at multiple scales: in the urban turn in global policy evident in the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals 11, in the proliferation of global intra-city networks (e.g. C40 Cities, ICLEI, The Things Network, Shareable) that catalyse cities’ capacities to act collectively and in emergent governance configurations in multiple individual cities. Crucially, this conceptualisation of global urbanism as vector of global change and pragmatic site of intervention creates new expectations of urban governance as a means through which to innovate, tackle global challenges and foster prosperous and sustainable futures (Acuto et al., 2018).

Indeed, in the context of global urbanism, urban governance innovation is becoming‘the new normal’ as cities experiment with novel arrangements, techniques and practices to deal with the complexity and dynamism of‘global urban’ issues (Timeus & Gasco, 2018). Diverse globally referenced ecosystems of innovative urban governance are being shaped with the capacity to transform the parameters and practices of governance. In this chapter, writing from the Global North,

I sketch the ways in which emergent ecosystems are reworking urban governance in relation to global urbanism, recasting relations, mechanisms and operations. I then turn to the epistemological orientations useful to recognising innovative urban governance, drawing out the atfordances of a postcolonial sensitivity, receptive to how such innovation is shaped across the ‘relational multiplicities, diverse histories and dynamic connectivities’ (Robinson and Roy, 2016: 180) of a ‘world of cities’ and attuned to understanding related progressive and potentially problematic possibilities. To conclude, I reflect briefly on the politics of urban governance innovation and the knowledge politics of related research in the context of global urbanism.

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