Cities for sale how economic globalization transforms the local public sphere

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Doctoral thesis (monograph)
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Yhdyskuntasuunnittelun tutkimus- ja koulutuskeskuksen julkaisuja. A, 36. Arkkitehtuurin tutkimuksia / Teknillinen korkeakoulu, 36
The main argument of the thesis is that since the 1980s economic globalization has, among other phenomena, led to an incremental, continuous privatization of public assets and services not only at the national but also at the local level all over the world. It seems that this privatization process follows a pattern, which has certain similarities everywhere, regardless of what is being privatized. As an outcome, the urban public sphere is disintegrating while it is being emptied of its public elements. The three key themes of the thesis are: the public sphere, privatization, and urban context. Public sphere has a definition in constant transition, consisting of several overlapping layers, such as the political realm, virtual domains, public services and urban infrastructure, and urban space. The contents of the public sphere are matters of common interest that call for participatory decision-making by all for all. To discuss the privatization of the public sphere - not the commercialization of public space - as a process, the baseline conditions of the public and the private also have to be clarified. Local and urban are often used as synonyms here, as counterparts of global and supranational. The four key concepts - local and global, public and private - thus identify the two orthogonal axes outlining the context of the study. Glocalization is a term to describe inter-linkages between globalization and cities. Cities are chosen as context, first as the level of government closest to the people. Second, since globally the majority of people live in cities. Third, the role of cities seems to be changing. Global institutions and multinational private companies increasingly regard cities as equally important as nation states to serve as their domiciles and territories for action. Globalization of financial markets and patterns of consumption and production bring new items to the local decision making agenda. The provision of basic public services, which has often been the responsibility of cities, has become a globally traded item. A number of publicly owned, formerly municipal utilities have been privatized in the past two decades. Outsourced local public services are now increasingly delivered by multinational shareholder companies. The research question calls for the description of a privatization process, through which economic globalization impacts the local public sphere. A single case study depicts the decision making process concerning the privatization of a small but highly visible element of urban infrastructure: bus shelters. It is irrelevant which specific layer of the local public sphere is the topic of the case, because the global public sphere is assumed to be one single sphere, consisting of different elements. By embedding the case in the context of similar documented cases, the pattern of a privatization process of elements in the urban public sphere will emerge. Argumentation analysis will assist in defining drivers of the process. The thesis has two outcomes. The first one describes a process by which elements of the local public sphere are gradually being relocated to the global private sphere, and how this governance process becomes an entrance for economic globalization to access the local level. The second one, a postscript, draws urbanistic and urban policy conclusions. Cities can be read as a text. Not the appearance of public urban space, but the substance of the urban public sphere can be a rearview mirror reflecting decisions which have led to its reformation. Changes in our urban landscape may be shaped more by global political and economic decisions than by the seemingly more visible results of local urbanists, traffic planners and architects. Among other things, cities will need a renewed portfolio of municipal "foreign affairs", because the global level that sets the rules for all has until now been inaccessible to cities. As to the relevance of the thesis, patterns and impacts of economic globalization on cities are probably not fully understood, yet. This research tries to link some changes in the urban public sphere with the global evolution of public and private organizations.
public sphere, urban space, public space, globalization, privatization
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