Globalization Cultural Hybridity and Polarization

Globalization has become, within the last few years, a catch phrase usually mentioned in a negative context and linked to the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first. In architecture and urban design it is typically associated with a loss of place, identity, and character. Cities throughout the world are becoming shapeless entities with a haunting sameness. It is in Third World metropolitan areas where this 'universalization' acquires greater urgency since it is associated with Western hegemony. Such a view has been eloquently articulated by Edward Said in his landmark Orientalism, which paved the way for what has been commonly known as 'colonial discourse analysis', where he argued that there is a 'culture of imperialism' in which the West is trying to superimpose its values and beliefs on the East (the focus of Said's analysis) (Said, 1979). Jane Jacobs noted that such an approach led to the creation of a new analytical language in which such constructs as hybridity, diaspora, creolization, transculturation, etc. figure prominently (Jacobs, 1996). Nezar AlSayyad extends this analysis further by arguing that in cities throughout the world globalization led to creation of 'third places', in-between spaces of 'spatial reconciliation of incommensurable constructions of subcultures' (AlSayyad, 2001). There seems to be a trend in the literature however that globalization does not in and of itself lead to loss of identity/heritage. Jacobs articulates this view as follows: '. . . globalization does not signal the erasure of difference but a reconstitution and revalidation of place, locality, difference' (Jacobs, 1996). This view is also echoed by AlSayyad who writes that '. . . the history of the world demonstrates a movement toward cultural differentiation and not homogenization' and '. . . urbanism will continue to be an arena where one can observe the specificity of local cultures and their attempt to mediate global domination' (AlSayyad, 2001) (figures 1.2 and 1.3).

Yet there are some common issues which are beginning to emerge, described as a 'new trend', which could be linked to globalization. In particular the relevancy of the nation-state is questioned

- in that respect city governments are emerging as the new centres of the 'new' global economy. Transactions occur between multi-national corporations, financial centres, and cities. However, it is noted that the nation-state still has a role to play, albeit through a restructuring process involving a move into supranational levels (the European Union or the Gulf Cooperative Council, for example). But cities are assuming a powerful role, and as a result of such processes they are increasingly being viewed as a product that needs to be marketed. These marketing efforts involve attracting headquarters or regional branches of international companies and staging of 'megaevents'. Other projects include luxury housing, dining establishments and entertainment amenities to attract the professional personnel required to operate these global activities. Urban projects, such as trade centres, conference centres and

Figure 1.2. Central Hong Kong: an intensification of locality within a global world.
Figure 1.3. An Egyptian restaurant in Central Hong Kong.

hotels, provide a catalyst in further encouraging investment and tourism. Architecture in many instances is used as a tool to create 'eye-catching' impressions - the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao is an example in that regard (Habitat, 2001). Such projects are the means to revitalize an otherwise 'stagnant' city - a process sometimes called the 'Bilbao effect'.3

As a result of all this some have noted that a 'dual-city' is emerging in which social polarization is becoming a dominant feature. The work of Saskia Sassen is perhaps representative of such a viewpoint (Sassen, 2001). Due to the presence of these high-profile projects there is an influx of a highly skilled, and paid, workforce. To maintain and service such activities, however, low-wage employees are needed who form the backbone of corporate and financial activities (figure 1.4). Furthermore, a 'rub-off' effect on local industries has been questioned by research.

Thus, a geographical/spatial division occurs in which there are areas with a high concentration of poor in contrast to enclaves housing the very rich. Needless to say such disparities provoke '. . . resentment, social instability and conflict' (Habitat, 2001, p. 30). In other words these mega-projects do not necessarily lead to the happiness of the cities' residents since they are geared to a certain class.4

One of the most visible aspects of globalizing cities is what has been sometimes described as the 'quartering of urban space' due to a sharper division between rich and poor.5 This quartering manifests itself in the presence of distinct residential cities - the most distinctive of these is the enclave or 'citadel'.6 These are '. . . areas that can be considered as protected enclaves of the rich, the representatives of an extremely mobile top, operating at a more global level than ever before . . . [they] generally consist of expensive

Figure 1.4

Residents in Dubai using the low cost abra or ferry.

Figure 1.4

Residents in Dubai using the low cost abra or ferry.

apartments in favorable locations' (Marcuse and Kempen, 2000, p. 4). Examples for these citadels are gated communities, private, high-rise condominiums with heavy security, to cite a few. In simple terms it is an effort to 'wall some in and keep others out' (Habitat, 2001, p. 30).

How does the Middle Eastern city relate to these developments? As the book will show it does not operate in a vacuum but relates to such issues in a strong manner. In some instances the response could be quite enthusiastic and exemplary, such as in Dubai, for example, while in others the attempt to join this 'international party' remains elusive - Algiers for instance. In general, however, the Middle Eastern city has strong potential for examining these issues for a variety of reasons. Many have been subjected to colonialism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which in many respects is very similar to contemporary conditions in terms of the political reality (Western hegemony) as well as economic conditions (capitalism). Strategies, at the urban and architectural level, were developed to cope with this context. For example, attempts were made to wipe out the past and join the 'civilized' West. Yet it is interesting to note that these changes at the turn of the twentieth century occurred within an overall climate of 'modernity' in which history was abandoned in favour of 'embracing' a new age. These developments had a significant impact on the spatial structure of many cities in the region - for example cutting wide thoroughfares through the dense urban fabric of historic quarters and superimposing spacious plazas, as has been pointed out by several contributors in this book, especially in 'traditional' centres - Algiers, Tunis, Cairo and Baghdad.

If this was the situation at that time could one draw parallels to contemporary conditions? Many would argue that there are strong similarities to the political climate present today. In that respect 'colonization' has been replaced by 'globalization'.

This is a tempting viewpoint since globalization, while being presented as a benign process which involves primarily the free flow of goods, people, and information, also contains an element of domination: whether political, social or cultural - since the relationship between developed/underdeveloped nations is not one of equality. But other similarities exist as well, in particular with regard to what one might term a paradigm shift. Similar to contemporary advances in information technology and global communications, technological and artistic advances at the beginning of the twentieth century revolutionized people's sense of space and movement which was reflected in a 'new architecture' and 'urbanism'. The questions thus remains: how has the Arab city responded to globalism and - this is perhaps the most contentious issue - does it differ significantly from colonialism?

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment