On ‘competitive’ cities and trickle down geography

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Or are they? Is some of their growth extracted from the rest of the economy? Source: World Bank

Or are they? Is some of their growth extracted from the rest of the economy? Source: World Bank

There’s a long article in The Guardian from 2014 by four academics, Ewald Engelen, Sukhdev Johal, Angelo Salento and Karel Williams, entitled How to Build a Fairer City. The purpose of this blog is not so much to dissect this article in detail, but to point to it. Because it’s important for our competitiveness investigations. Its introduction is framed like this:

“The central argument is that we can move towards a fairer city by reframing our problems and rethinking our solutions in two ways:

1. Break with the dominant old problem of the competitive city, which competes economically against other cities and sponsors internal competition for limited opportunities.

2. Stop fixating on redistributive policies which will not deliver fairness, and start thinking about reorganising policies which build a grounded economy in the areas which are not exposed to competition.

The global obsession of our age is competing everywhere with everyone for everything. In the mainstream imaginary, every city has to chase competitive success in a league table where it secures prosperity by getting ahead of others.”

And here’s one of many key sections:

“Take any report, website or paper: unfailingly, public investments in locations and areas frequented by the upper middle classes – campuses, museum quarters, central business districts – are being sold politically with the argument that the additional employment and tax revenues will ultimately reach the poor and vulnerable in socially disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

This was ironically called ‘trickle down geography’ in 2005 by the doyenne of critical economic geography, Doreen Massey.”

This is describing, roughly speaking, an urban version of what we call the Competitiveness Agenda. They also outline, as some of them have elsewhere, a sort of partial antidote to the Competitiveness Agenda, which they call the Foundational Economy. It’s a useful term, which we’ll return to.

As we said, this isn’t a detailed dissection, but a pointer. There’s lots more in there: Now read on.



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