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Imagining Urban Futures Programme working paper

This working paper is part of the Imagining Urban Futures Programme working paper series

Relationality / territoriality: Toward a conceptualization of cities in the world

Eugene McCann and Kevin Ward


The paper will contribute to the conceptualization of cities in the world by first outlining the conceptual and empirical challenges of theorizing the urban/global nexus in both relational and territorial terms. It argues that the most useful and appropriate approach to understanding contemporary urban governance in global context is to develop a conceptualization that is equally sensitive to the role of relational and territorial geographies, of flow and fixity, of global contexts and place specificities, of structural imperatives and embodied practices, in the production of cities. In order to illustrate the benefits of this conceptualization, the paper will apply it to the case of how downtown development is governed in contemporary Western world cities. The role of the Business Improvement District (BID) program and New Urbanist planning models in shaping downtowns will be examined in terms of: (1) how and by whom these models are developed in a global-relational context and are set ‘in motion’ through scaled circuits of policy knowledge and (2) how the mobilization of these models are conditioned by their territorialization in specific spatial and political economic contexts. The paper emphasizes that the ‘local globalness’ of policy models like BIDs and New Urbanism and their consequences for cities can best be understood through a combined focus on relationality and territoriality.

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