Urban Economies and Fading Distances
I was asked to address the question of why and how urban economies
matter today in a context of globalalization and telecommunications. Is
there something different about their role today from twenty or thirty
years ago? This is, inevitably, one particular angle into the question of
the importance of cities today, since most cities have probably had few
interactions with the global economy and have felt only minor
repercussions from its growth. It is also partial because cities are about
much more than their economies. But it is an important issue to pursue
because many experts and policy makers appear to be convinced that
globalization and the new information technologies mark the end of the
economic importance of cities.
The dispersal capacities emerging with globalization and telematics-the
off-shoring of factories, the expansion of global networks of affiliates
and subsidiaries, the move of backoffices to suburbs and out of central
cities- led many observers to assert that urban economies would become
obsolete in an economic context of globalization and telematics. Indeed,
many of the once great industrial centers in the highly developed
countries did suffer severe decline. But, against all predictions, a
significant number of major cities also saw their concentration of
economic power rise. Why?
One way of summarizing my answer to this question and the argument I will
develop here is to say that place is central to the multiple circuits
through which economic globalization is constituted. One strategic type of
place for these developments, and the one focused on here, is the city.
Other important types of places are export-processing zones or high-tech
districts such as Silicon Valley.
The combination of geographic dispersal of economic activities and system
integration which lies at the heart of the current economic era has
contributed to new or expanded central functions and the complexity of
transactions has raised the demand by firms for highly specialized
services. Rather than becoming obsolete due to the dispersal made possible
by information technologies, a critical number of cities:
a) concentrate command functions;
b) are post-industrial production sites for the leading industries of our
period, finance and specialized services;
c) are national or transnational marketplaces where firms and governments
can buy financial instruments and spe-cialized services.
How many such cities there are, what is their shifting hierarchy, how
novel a development they represent, are all subjects for debate. But there
is growing agreement about the fact of a network of major cities both in
the North and in the South that function as centers for the coordination,
control and servicing of global capital.
One extreme case for the analysis of the ongoing importance of cities
in the global economy is the recent growth of electronic trading networks
in finance. I will focus in some detail on this subject. Introducing
cities in an analysis of economic globalization allows us to
reconceptualize processes of economic globalization as concrete economic
complexes situated in specific places. A focus on cities decomposes the
nation state into a variety of sub-national components, some profoundly
articulated with the global economy and others not. It also signals the
declining significance of the national economy as a unitary category in
the global economy.
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The new role of services in the
impact on cities
This new or sharply expanded role of a particular kind of city in the
world economy since the early l980s basically results from the
intersection of two major processes. One is the sharp growth in the
globalization of economic activity. This has raised the scale and the
complexity of economic transactions, thereby feeding the growth of
top-level multinational headquarter functions and the growth of services
for firms, particularly the growth of advanced corporate services. The
second is the growing service intensity in the organization of the
economy, a process evident in firms in all industrial sectors, from mining
to finance. This has fed the growth of services for firms in all sectors,
and for both nationally and internationally oriented firms.1)
The key process from the perspective of the urban economy is the growing
demand for services by firms in all industries and the fact that cities
are preferred production sites for such services, whether at the global,
national or regional level. The growing service intensity in economic
organization generally and the specific conditions of production for
advanced corporate services, including the conditions under which
information technologies are available, combine to make some cities once
again a key "production" site, a role they had lost when mass
manufacturing became the dominant economic sector. They are the world
cities or global cities that are the focus of this paper.
While the decline of industrial centers as a consequence of the
internationalization of production beginning in the 1960s has been
thoroughly documented and explained, until recently the same could not be
said about the rise of major service cities in the 1980s. Today we have a
rich new scholarship, replete with debates and disagreements, on cities in
a global economy.
There are good reasons why it has been more difficult to understand the
role of cities as production sites for advanced information industries.
Advanced information industries are typically conceptualized in terms of
the hypermobility of their outputs and the high levels of expertise of
their professionals rather than in terms of the work process involved and
the requisite infrastructure of facilities and non-expert jobs that are
also part of these industries. Along with the hypermobility of their
outputs there is a vast structure of work that is far less mobile and,
indeed, requires the massive concentrations of human and telecommunication
resources we find in major cities.
The specific forms assumed by globalization over the last decade have
created particular organizational requirements. The emergence of global
markets for finance and specialized services, the growth of investment as
a major type of international transaction, all have contributed to the
expansion in command functions and in the demand for specialized services
A central proposition here is that we cannot take the existence of a
global economic system as a given, but rather need to examine the
particular ways in which the conditions for economic globalization are
produced. This requires examining not only communication capacities and
the power of multinationals, but also the infrastructure of facilities and
work processes necessary for the implementation of global economic
systems, including the production of those inputs that constitute the
capability for global control and the infrastructure of jobs involved in
this production. The emphasis shifts to the practice of global control:
the work of producing and reproducing the organization and management of a
global production system and a global marketplace for finance, both under
conditions of economic concentration. The recovery of place and production
also implies that global processes can be studied in great empirical
Two observations can be made at this point. One is that to a large extent
the global economy materializes in concrete processes situated in specific
places, and that this holds for the most advanced information industries
We need to distinguish between the capacity for global
transmission/communication and the material conditions that make this
possible, between the globalization of the financial industry and the
array of resources -from buildings to labor inputs- that makes this
possible; and so on for other sectors as well. The second is that the
spatial dispersal of economic activity made possible by telematics
contributes to an expansion of central functions insofar as this dispersal
takes place under the continuing concentration in control, ownership and
profit appropriation that characterizes the current economic system. More
conceptually, we can ask whether an economic system with strong tendencies
towards such concentration can have a space economy that lacks points of
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A new geography of centrality
We can then say that the global economy materializes in a worldwide
grid of strategic places, uppermost among which are major international
business and financial centers. We can think of this global grid as
constituting a new economic geography of centrality, one that cuts across
national boundaries and across the old North-South divide. It signals,
potentially, the emergence of a parallel political geography. An incipient
form of this is the growing intensinty in cross-border networks among
cities and their mayors.
The most powerful of these new economic geographies of centrality at the
inter-urban level binds the major international financial and business
centers: New York, London, Tokyo, Paris, Frankfurt, Zurich, Amsterdam, Los
Angeles, Sydney, Hong Kong, among others. But this geography now also
includes cities such as Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Bangkok, Taipei and
Mexico City. The intensity of transactions among these cities,
particularly through the financial markets, transactions in services, and
investment has increased sharply, and so have the orders of magnitude
involved. At the same time, there has been a sharpening inequality in the
concentration of strategic resources and activities between each of these
cities and others in the same country.
One might have expected that the growing number of financial centers now
integrated into the global markets would have reduced the extent of
concentration of financial activity in the top centers.2) One would
further expect this given the immense increases in the global volume of
transactions. Yet the levels of concentration remain unchanged in the face
of massive transformations in the financial industry and in the
technological infrastructure this industry depends on.3)
The growth of global markets for finance and specialized services, the
need for transnational servicing networks due to sharp increases in
international investment, the reduced role of the government in the
regulation of international economic activity and the corresponding
ascendance of other institutional arenas, notably global markets and
corporate headquarters - all these point to the existence of
trans-national economic processes with multiple locations in more than one
country. We can see here the formation, at least incipient, of a
transnational urban system.
The pronounced orientation to the world markets evident in such cities
raises questions about the articulation with their nation-states, their
regions, and the larger economic and social structure in such cities.
Cities have typically been deeply embedded in the economies of their
region, indeed often reflecting the characteristics of the latter; and
mostly they still do. But cities that are strategic sites in the global
economy tend, in part, to disconnect from their region. This conflicts
with a key proposition in traditional scholar- ship about urban systems,
namely, that these systems promote the territorial integration of regional
and national economies.
Alongside these new global and regional hierarchies of cities, is a vast
territory that has become increasingly peripheral, increasingly excluded
from the major economic processes that fuel economic growth in the new
global economy. A multiplicity of formerly important manufacturing centers
and port cities have lost functions and are in decline, not only in the
less developed countries but also in the most advanced economies. This is
yet another meaning of economic globalization.
But also inside global cities we see a new geography of centrality and
marginality. The downtowns of cities and metropolitan business centers
receive massive investments in real estate and telecommunications while
low-income city areas are starved for resources. Highly educated workers
see their incomes rise to unusually high levels while low- or
medium-skilled workers see theirs sink. Financial services produce
superprofits while industrial services barely survive. These trends are
evident, with different levels of intensity, in a growing number of major
cities in the developed world and increasingly in some of the developing
countries that have been integrated into the global financial markets
(Sassen 1996: chapter 2).
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The urban economy
This is not to say that everything in the economy of these cities has
changed. On the contrary there is much continuity and much similarity with
cities that are not global nodes. It is rather that the implantation of
global processes and markets has meant that the internationalized sector
of the economy has expanded sharply and has imposed a new valorization
dynamic, often with devastating effects on large sectors of the urban
economy. High prices and profit levels in the internationalized sector,
e.g. finance, and its ancillary activities, e.g. restaurants and hotels,
made it increasingly difficult in the 1980s for other sectors to compete
for space and investments. Many of the latter have experienced
considerable downgrading and/or displacement; or lost economic vigor to
the point of not being able to re-take their economic space when the
recession weakened the dominant sectors. Illustrations are neighborhood
shops catering to local needs replaced by up-scale boutiques and
restaurants catering to new high income urban elites. The sharpness of the
rise in profit levels in the international finance and service sector also
contributed to the sharpness of the ensuing crisis. These trends are
evident in many cities of the highly developed world, though rarely as
sharply as in major US cities.(See, for example Le Debat 1994 for Paris;
Todd 1995 for Toronto, etc.).
Though at a different order of magnitude, these trends also became
evident towards the late 1980s in a number of major cities in the
developing world that have become integrated into various world markets:
Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Bangkok, Taipei, Mexico City are but some
examples. (See for more detail the series edited by Milton Santos on Sao
Paulo; Sassen 1994; Knox and Taylor 1995). Central to the development of
this new core in these cities as well were the deregulation of financial
markets, ascendance of finance and specialized services, and integration
into the world markets, real estate speculation, and high-income
commercial and residential gentrification. The opening of stock markets to
foreign investors and the privatization of what were once public sector
firms have been crucial institutional arenas for this articulation. Given
the vast size of some of these cities, the impact of this new economic
complex is not always as evident as in central London or Frankfurt, but
the transformation has occurred.
Accompanying these sharp growth rates in producer services was an
increase in the level of employment specialization in business and
financial services in major cities throughout the l980s. There is today a
general trend towards high concentration of finance and certain producer
services in the downtowns of major international financial centers around
the world: from Toronto and Sydney to Frankfurt and Zurich to Sao Paulo
and mexico City we are seeing growing specialization in finance and
related services in the downtown areas. These cities have emerged as
important producers of services for export, with a tendency towards
specialization.4 New York and London are leading producers and exporters
in financial services, accounting, advertising, management consulting,
international legal services, and other business services. (For instance,
out of a total private sector employment of 2.8 million jobs in New York
City in December 1995, almost 1.3 million are export-oriented). Cities
such as New York are among the most important international markets for
these services, with New York the world's largest source of service
There are also tendencies towards specialization among different cities
within a country. In the US, New York leads in banking, securities,
manufacturing administration, accounting and advertising. Washington leads
in legal services, computing and data processing, management and public
relations, research and development, and membership organizations. New
York is more narrowly specialized as a financial and business center and
cultural center. Some of the legal activity concentrated in Washington is
actually serving New York City businesses which have to go through legal
and regulatory procedures, lobbying, etc. These are bound to be in the
It is important to recognize that manufacturing remains a crucial
economic sector in all of these economies, even when it may have ceased to
be so in some of these cities. This is a subject I return to in a later
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The formation of a new production
The rapid growth and disproportionate concentration of producer
services in central cities should not have happened according to standard
conceptions about information industries. As they are thoroughly embedded
in the most advanced information technologies they could be expected to
have locational options that by-pass the high costs and congestion typical
of major cities. But cities offer agglomeration economies and highly
innovative environments. Some of these services are produced in-house by
firms, but a large share are bought from specialized service firms. The
growing complexity, diversity and specialization of the services required
makes it more efficient to buy them from specialized firms rather than
hiring in-house professionals. The growing demand for these services has
made possible the economic viability of a free - standing specialized
There is a production process in these services which benefits from
proximity to other specialized services. This is especially the case in
the leading and most innovative sectors of these industries. Complexity
and innovation often require multiple highly specialized inputs from
several industries. One example is that of financial instruments. The
production of a financial instrument requires inputs from accounting,
advertising, legal expertise, economic consulting, public relations,
designers and printers. Time replaces weight in these sectors as a force
for agglomeration. That is to say, if there were no need to hurry, one
could conceivably have a widely dispersed array of specialized firms that
could still cooperate. And this is often the case in more routine
operations. But where time is of the essence as it is today in many of the
leading sectors of these industries, the benefits of agglomeration are
still extremely high to the point that it is not simply a cost advantage,
but an indispensable arrangement.
It is this combination of constraints that has promoted the formation of
a producer services complex in all major cities. This producer services
complex is intimately connected to the world of corporate headquarters;
they are often thought of as forming a joint headquarters-corporate
services complex. But it seems to me that we need to distinguish the two.
While it is true that headquarters still tend to be disproportionately
concentrated in cities, many have moved out over the last two decades.
Headquarters can indeed locate outside cities.
But they need a producer services complex somewhere in order to buy or
contract for the needed specialized services and financing. Further,
headquarters of firms with very high overseas activity or in highly
innovative and complex lines of business tend to locate in major cities.
In brief, firms in more routinized lines of activity, with predominantly
regional or national markets, appear to be increasingly free to move or
install their headquarters outside cities. Firms in highly competitive and
innovative lines of activity and/or with a strong world market orientation
appear to benefit from being located at the center of major international
business centers, no matter how high the costs.
But what is clear, in my view, is that both types of head-quarters need a
corporate services sector complex to be located somewhere. Where is
probably increasingly unimportant from the perspective of many, though not
all headquarters. From the perspective of producer services firms, such a
specialized complex is most likely to be in a city rather than, for
instance, a suburban office park. The latter will be the site for producer
services firms, but not for a services complex. And it is only such a
complex that can handle the most advanced and complicated corporate
.Corporate Headquarters and Cities
It is common in the general literature and in some more scholarly
accounts to use headquarters concentration as an indication of whether a
city is an international business center. The loss of headquarters is then
interpreted as a decline in a city's status. The use of headquarters
concentration as an index is actually a problematic measure given the way
in which corporations are classified.
Which headquarters concentrate in major international financial and
business centers depends on a number of variables. First, how we measure
or simply count head-quarters makes a difference. Frequently, the key
measure is size of firm in terms of employment and overall revenue. In
this case, some of the largest firms in the world are still manufacturing
firms and many of these have their main headquarters in proximity to their
major factory complex, which is unlikely to be in a large city due to
space constraints. Such firms are likely, however to have secondary
headquarters for highly specialized functions in major cities. Further,
many manufacturing firms are oriented to the national market and do not
need to be located in a cities national business center. Thus, the much
publicized departure of major headquarters from New York City in the 1960s
and 1970s involved these types of firms. If we look at the Fortune 500
largest firms in the U.S. (cf. "Fortune Magazine 500 list") many have left
New York City and other large cities. If instead of size we use share of
total firm revenue coming from international sales, a large number of
firms that are not part of Fortune 500 list come into play. For instance,
in the case of NYC the results change dramatically: 40% of U.S. firms with
half their revenue from international sales have their head-quarters in
New York City.
Secondly, the nature of the urban system in a country is a factor. Sharp
urban primacy will tend to entail a disproportionate concentration of
headquarters no matter what measure one uses. Thirdly, different economic
histories and business traditions may combine to produce different
results. Further, headquarters concentration may be linked with a specific
economic phase. For instance, unlike New York's loss of top Fortune 500
headquarters, Tokyo has been gaining headquarters. Osaka and Nagoya, the
two other major economic centers in Japan are losing headquarters to
Tokyo. This is in good part linked to the increasing internatio-nalization
of the Japanese economy and the corresponding increase in central command
and servicing functions in major international business centers. In the
case of Japan, extensive government regulation over the economy is an
added factor contributing to headquarter location in Tokyo insofar as all
international activities have to go through various government
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The research and policy
There are a number of emerging issues for research and policy. I will
discuss a few at some length and simply name a few others.
1. The impact of telematics on cities.
Telematics and globalization have emerged as fundamental forces in
the re-organization of economic space. This reorganization ranges from the
spatial virtualization of a growing number of economic activities to the
reconfiguration of the geography of the built environment for economic
activity. Whether in electronic space or in the geography of the built
environment, this reorganization involves insti-tutional and structural
Global cities and global value chains.
The vast new economic topography that is being implemented through
electronic space is one moment, one fragment, of an even vaster economic
chain that is in good part embedded in non-electronic spaces. There is no
fully virtualized firm and no fully digitalized industry. Even the most
advanced information industries, such as finance, are installed only
partly in electronic space. And so are industries that produce digital
products, such as software designers. The growing digitalization of
economic activities has not eliminated the need for major international
business and financial centers and all the material resources they
concentrate, from state of the art telematics infrastructure to brain
Nonetheless, telematics and globalization have emerged as fundamental
forces reshaping the organization of economic space. This reshaping ranges
from the spatial virtualization of a growing number of economic activities
to the recon-figuration of the geography of the built environment for
economic activity. Whether in electronic space or in the geography of the
built environment, this reshaping involves organizational and structural
changes. Telematics maximizes the potential for geographic dispersal and
globalization entails an economic logic that maximizes the
attractions/profitability of such dispersal.
The transformation in the spatial correlates of centrality through new
technologies and globalization engenders a whole new problematic around
the definition of what constitutes centrality today in an economic system
I) a share of transactions occurs through technologies that neutralize
distance and place, and do so on a global scale;
II) centrality has historically been embodied in certain types of built
environment and urban form, i.e. the central business district. Further,
the fact of a new geography of centrality, even if transnational, contains
possibilities for regulatory enforcement that are absent in an economic
geography lacking strategic points of agglomeration. There are at least
two sets of issues that we need more research on:
1) Leading economic sectors that are highly digitalized require strategic
sites with vast concentrations of infrastructure, the requisite labor
resources, talent, buildings. This holds for finance but also for the
multimedia industries which use digital production processes and produce
digitalized products. What is the range of articulations and their spatial
expression between the virtual and the actual components of a firm, or
more generally, an organization? What are the implications for urban
space, the urban economy, urban government?
2) The sharpening inequalities in the distribution of the infrastructure
for electronic space, whether private computer networks or the Net, in the
conditions for access to electronic space, and, within electronic space,
in the conditions for access to high-powered segments and features, are
all contributing to new geographies of centrality both on the ground and
in electronic space. What does this mean for cities?
2. The place of manufacturing in the new urban service economy.
Another subject for research and debate is the relation between
manufacturing and producer services in the advanced urban economy.
(Drennan 1992; Markusen and Gwiasda, 1995). The new service economy
benefits from manufacturing because the latter feeds the growth of the
producer services sector, but it does so whether located in the particular
area, in another region, or overseas. While manufacturing, and mining and
agriculture for that matter, feed the growth in the demand for producer
services, their actual location is of secondary importance in the case of
global level service firms: thus whether a manufacturing corporation has
its plants off-shore or inside a country may be quite irrelevant as long
as it buys its services from those top level firms. Secondly, the
territorial dispersal of plants, especially if international, actually
raises the demand for producer services because of the increased
complexity of transactions. This is yet another meaning of globalization:
that the growth of producer service firms headquartered in New York or
London or Paris can be fed by manufacturing located anywhere in the world
as long as it is part of a multinational corporate network. It is worth
remembering here that as GM was off shoring production jobs and
devastating Detroit's employ-ment base, its financial and public relations
headquarters office in New York City was as dynamic as ever, indeed busier
Thirdly, a good part of the producer services sector is fed by financial
and business transactions that either have nothing to do with
manufacturing, as is the case in many of the global financial markets, or
for which manufacturing is incidental, as in much of the merger and
acquisition activity which was really centered on buying and selling
rather than the buying of manufacturing firms. We need much more research
on many particular aspects in this relation between manufacturing and
producer services, especially in the context of spatial dispersal and
cross-border organization of manufacutring.
Not unrelated to the question of manufacturing is the importance of
conventional infrastructure in the operation of economic sectors that are
heavy users of telematics. This is a subject that has received little
attention. The dominant notion seems to be that telematics obliterates the
need for conventional infrastructure. But it is precisely the nature of
the production process in advanced industries, whether they operate
globally or nationally, which contributes to explain the immense rise in
business travel we have seen in all advanced economies over the last
decade. The virtual office is a far more limited option than a purely
technological analysis would suggest. Certain types of economic activities
can be run from a virtual office located anywhere. But for work processes
requiring multiple specialized inputs, considerable innovation and risk
taking, the need for direct interaction with other firms and specialists
remains a key locational factor. Hence the metropolitanization and
regionalization of an economic sector has boundaries that are set by the
time it takes for a reasonable commute to the major city or cities in the
region. The irony of today's electronic era is that the older notion of
the region and older forms of infrastructure re-emerge as critical for key
economic sectors. This type of region in many ways diverges from older
forms of region. It corresponds rather to a type of centrality -a
metropolitan grid of nodes connected via telematics. But for this digital
grid to work, conventional infrastructure -ideally of the most advanced
kind- is also a necessity.
3. New forms of marginality and polarization.
The new growth sectors, the new organizational capacities of firms, and
the new technologies -all three interrelated- are contributing to produce
not only a new geography of centrality but also a new geography of
marginality. The evidence for the U.S., Western Europe and Japan suggests
that it will take government policy and action to reduce the new forms of
spatial and social inequality.
There are misunderstandings that seem to prevail in much general
commentary about what matters in an advanced economic system, the
information economy, and economic globalization. Many types of firms,
workers, and places, such as industrial services, which look as if they do
not belong in an advanced, information-based, globally oriented economic
system are actually integral parts of such a system. They need policy
recognition and support: they can't compete in the new environments where
leading sectors have bid up prices and standards, even though their
products and labor are in demand. For instance, the financial industry in
Manhattan, one of the most sophisticated and complex industries, needs
truckers to deliver not only software, but also tables and light bulbs;
and it needs blue collar maintenance workers and cleaners. These
activities and workers need to be able to make a decent living if they are
to stay in the region. (See e.g. Social Justice 1994; Competition and
Change 1995; King 1996).
Yet another dimension not sufficiently recognized is the fact of a new
valuation dynamic: the combination of globalization and the new
technologies has altered the criteria and mechanisms through which
factors, inputs, goods, services are valued/priced. This has had
devastating effects on some localities, industries, firms and workers.
Thus salaries of financial experts and the profits of financial services
firms zoomed up in the 1980s while wages of blue collar workers and
profits of many traditional manufacturing firms sank.
4. The global city and the national state.
Globalization has transformed the meaning of and the sites for the
governance of economies.(See, e.g. Mittelmann 1996; Competition and Change
1995; Sassen 1996). One of the key properties of the current phase in the
long history of the world economy is the ascendance of information
technologies, the associated increase in the mobility and liquidity of
capital, and the resulting decline in the regulatory capacities of
national states over key sectors of their economies. In order to
understand what challenges and opportunities this brings to urban
government we need to consider at least the following points.
1) One is the relation between the global economy and sub-national units,
particularly major cities that are international business and financial
centers. This means understanding how global processes are partly embedded
in strategic concentrations of resources and infrastructure, such as
financial districts, as well as understanding the importance of what is
often referred to as world-class cultural centers, typically found in
large international cities. These are among the crucial aspects making
cities more important as a nexus with the global economy.
2) A second issue is the extent to which deregulation, privatization and
generally the declining role of the national state in the economy-all key
elements in the current phase of globalization-may contribute to replace
the diad national state/global economy with a triangulation which brings
in sub-national units, particularly global cities. This would clearly have
major policy implications. A key aspect of the change and the potential
for future change in this relation is the fact that the content of foreign
policy has shifted more towards economic issues, so that a greater
component of what we call foreign policy is today international economic
The transformation in the composition of the world economy, especially
the rise of finance and advanced services as leading industries, is
contributing to a new international economic order, one dominated by
financial centers, global markets, and transnational firms.
Correspondingly we may see a growing significance of other political
categories both sub- and supra-national.6) Cities that function as
international business and financial centers are sites for direct
transactions with world markets that take place without government
inspection, as for instance the euro-markets or New York City's
international financial zone (International Banking Facilities). These
cities and the globally oriented markets and firms they contain mediate in
the relation of the world economy to nation-states and in the relations
5. Making claims on the city.
There are major new actors making claims on these cities, notably foreign
firms who have been increasingly entitled to do business through
progressive deregulation of national economies, and the large increase
over the last decade in international business people. These are among the
new "city users." They have profoundly marked the urban landscape in many
major cities. Their claim to the city is not contested, even though the
costs and benefits to cities have barely been examined.
City users have often reconstituted strategic spaces of the city in their
image: emblematic is the so called hyper-space of international business,
with its airports built by famous architects, world class office buildings
and hotels, state of the art telematic infrastructure, and private
security forces. They contribute to change the social morphology of the
city and to constitute what Martinotti (1993) calls the metropolis of
second generation, the city of late modernism. The new city of city users
is a fragile one, whose survival and successes are centered on an economy
of high productivity, advanced technologies, intensified exchanges.
On the one hand this raises a question of what the city is for
international businesspeople, and what their sense of civic responsibility
might be. On the other hand, there is the difficult task of establishing
whether a city that functions as an international business center does in
fact recover the costs involved in being such a center: the costs involved
in maintaining a state of the art business district, and all it requires,
from advanced communications facilities to top level security (and
Perhaps at the other extreme of conventional repre-sentations are those
who use urban political violence to make their claims on the city, claims
that lack the de facto legitimacy enjoyed by the new "city users." These
are claims made by actors struggling for recognition, entitlement,
claiming their rights to the city.
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The massive trends towards the spatial dispersal of economic activities
at the metropolitan, national and global level which we associate with
globalization have contributed to a demand for new forms of territorial
centralization of top-level management and control operations. National
and global markets as well as globally integrated organizations require
central places where the work of globalization gets done. Further,
information industries require a vast physical infrastructure containing
strategic nodes with hyper-concentration of facilities; we need to
distinguish between the capacity for global transmission/communication and
the material conditions that make this possible. Finally, even the most
advanced information industries have a work process that is at least
partly place-bound because of the combination of resources it requires
even when the outputs are hypermobile.
This type of emphasis allows us to see cities as production sites for the
leading information industries of our time and it allows us to recover the
infrastructure of activities, firms and jobs, necessary to run the
advanced corporate economy.
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Saskia Sassen is Professor of Sociology at the University of
Her books are The Mobility of Labor and Capital (Cambridge University
Press, 1988; currently, fourth printing); The Global City: New York London
Tokyo (Princeton University Press, 1991; currently, seventh printing);
Cities in a World Economy (California: Pine Forge/Sage, 1994; now in its
fifth printing); Losing Control? Sovereignty in an Age of Globalization
(New York: Columbia University Press 1996); Migranten, Siedler,
Flüchtlinge (Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt); and Globalization and its
Discontents. Selected Essays 1984-1998. (New York: New Press 1998). She is
currently working on a book sponsored by the Twentieth Century Fund
entitled Immigration Policy in a World Economy: From National Crisis to
Multilateral Management. Her books have been translated into several
She has begun a new five year research project A Governance and
Accountability in a World Economy,@ and is director of a new project on
global cities and cross-border networks for the Institute of Advanced
Studies, United Nations University (Tokyo). She has been a member of
several research groups, among them the Japan based project on Economic
Restructuring in the U.S. and Japan, sponsored by the United Nations
Centre on Regional Development and MIT (1988-1990); the Social Science
Research Council Working Group on New York City, sponsored by the Russell
Sage Foundation (1985-1990); the Social Science Research Council Committee
on Hispanic Public Policy, sponsored by the Ford Foundation (1987-1991);
the New York-London Comparative Study sponsored by the Economic Social
Research Council of the United Kingdom. She also was a member of the Ford
Foundation Task Force for Research on Hispanics; the Research Working
Group on the Informal Sector, supported by the Ford, Tinker, and
Rockefeller Foundations; the Stanford University Project on Mexico-U.S.
Relations; and, more recently, the Immigration and Economic Sociology
Project sponsored by the Russell Sage Foundation (1992-1995); the
Comparative Urban Studies project at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington
DC (1992-on); and the Group of Lisbon sponsored by the Science Program of
the European Union and the Gulbenkian Foundation (Portugal 1993-on). She
has served on various advisory panels, including Queens Borough President
Claire Shulman's Blue Ribbon Panel on Government, and the New York State
Industrial Corporation Council.
She has also served on several scientific juries, most recently for the
French Government's Ministry of Urban Affairs and the Belgian Government's
Agency on Science and Technology in the Office of the Prime Minister. She
serves on several editorial boards.
She has received multiple awards, among others from the Ford
Foundation, Tinker Foundation, Revson Foundation, Chicago Institute for
Architecture and Urbanism, and Twentieth Century Fund. A 1986 studio she
co-directed won the national prize of the American Institute of Certified
Planners. Most recently she was a Fellow at the Wissenshaftszentrum
Berlin, Germany; Distinguished Lecturer at the Institute for Advanced
Studies, Vienna, Austria; Henry Luce Lecturer at Clark University. She has
been a Visiting Scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation, and a Visiting
Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and at
the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. She has been
made a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a Fellow of the
American Bar Foundation.
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