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Comments by Joan-Eugeni Sánchez to Session 7. SOCIO-SPATIAL COMPETITION AND POLARIZATION
Joan-Eugeni Sànchez
Reproducido de: "Regional and Urban Restructuring in Europe" final Conference. Roma, 20-22 March, 1994.

1. Cities and regions in competition

In the present context of internationalization, the historical relation of competition between cities has acquired special importance. Every large European city tries to find the system to compete among the others in an increasingly competitive framework at two levels: in a world market of cities and in a European market of cities.

It is possible to distinguish some different ways in the strategy of each city, related to their particular historical, political and territorial position; taking advantage of some relevant qualities or of its position:

- Due to its previously dominant position as a great capital (like London, Paris or Frankfurt and currently Berlin).

- Due to its role as a State capital.

- Due to its position inside a nation-State, or profiting from the comparative advantage of location (such as Milan, or Budapest in the foreseeable future).

- Due to its position inside a nation-State against the background of State competition in Europe, and especially in the formation of the European Union (such as Brussels, Frankfurt or London).

- Due to a particular event staged to promote themselves (such as Brussels in the past, or Barcelona recently).

- Due to its high degree of specialization (such as Munich, Zurich or Geneva).

- Due to its position in a developed area based on intensive economic relationships in a synergistic milieu (as the 'banana' figure attempts to reflect) or in world relations (such as the large central European cities, or Amsterdam).

In this sense, what is very important is their position in the European and World Urban System.

But we must not forget that the local ambit is not an independent variable. On several occasions it is subordinate, or suffers the effects of external processes or actions. The influence of the strategies and actions of multinational companies upon countries and cities is a clear example.

External conditions operating upon the city are very important, either in furthering the local policies, or as a limitation upon its efforts to promote itself.

For instance, a city can not avoid being dragged along behind the "trademark image" of the nation where it is located. The prestige or discredit that the nation as a whole has, in the world context, has clear induced effects upon concrete locations inside it. Because of this, some times the efforts made by a city to promote itself can not be successful.

This aspect is significant within the European Union context related to its internal territorial tension. The organization of the European Union on the basis of nations can be a "kidnapper" of the cities' dynamic. Here the role of the central government is determinant, while the cities appear as territorial pawns. Recently we have lived the example, as cities were in apparent competition with each other to locate European agencies. However, the true competition was among the European Union nations.

We can stress this role of the city as a political instrument in the process of building the European Union -as a bargaining chip- in the competition between States. The city reinforces its role as the center or node where the economic and social relationships take territorial form.

From another perspective the city is faced with a potential and growing new tendency where it must adopt a new strategy in the context of competitiveness. We are referring here to the aspirations of the regions in the construction of the new Europe.

For one sector of society the region exists as a substitute for the State, with a vocation to draw the new map of Europe along the lines of "regional" states where 'local' interests can be reinforced, and the city exists as a territorial concretion of the power relationships, as a center of decisions, and as the point of articulation of the regional territory in its material and ideological conditions.

We must not ignore the increasing demands of the European regions. In the future, the regions will not necessarily be delimited the same as they are now inside the states, above all within the limits of the present borders of the European Union. It is not difficult to imagine territorial recomposition in the regional frontiers. It is already possible to perceive it.

But, on the other hand, large cities aspire to be the territorial center of regional organization, not a subordinate center of regional powers.

In this context, it is logical that urban policies will be oriented toward reinforcing the role of the city in the challenge of European union. It means that the spirit which informs the process of European restructuring is more one of competition than of collaboration. The scenario is more like a field of battle -with winners and losers- than a cooperative framework. For this reason, it should not surprise us that social relationships more and more reflect a similar winners and losers scenario between people and places.

This phenomenon is reinforced by conservative tendencies of a neo-liberal character. Competitiveness will be the background of the ideological conception over which the new Europe is being constructed. In this context we may well ask if the rivalry will be profitable or damaging, and for whom. In other words, we may ask which is more advantageous, obstacles and delays in projects and actions, or competitiveness incentives in order to produce more and better, as a mechanism to prevail over the opponent.

2. Winners and losers: people and places left out

Power relationships incorporate counter-power relationships. In other words, uniformity generates a differentiating process. For Europe, the consequence has been the reappearance of the process of territorial differentiation .

On the one hand this revitalization is justified as the maintenance and survival of old cultures, defending them from the processes which tend to promote cultural uniformity. In the face of the potential dissolution and extinction of these distinct cultures within a new European culture, the peoples of these regions want the historical differences between them to be maintained.

But we must remember the component of selfishness and defense of special interests and particular positions that may lie hidden behind this ideological pronouncement in order to maintain cultural-territorial differentiation in these conditions. The defense of personal and private interests usually provokes a very dangerous social situation, where war is an all-too-likely consequence, as historical experience shows.

In terms of power relations, the question is to find out whether integration means uniformity or, on the contrary, a process of uniformity has as its consequence a new process of differentiation. This process of differentiation would always have as its objective the maintenance of permanently differentiated power relations.

A way to analyze this kind of process would be to observe if the dominant ideas are to search out what is common between different societies in order to establish and organize a common system of relations and the solution of problems, or, on the contrary, the differences are ideologically reinforced in order to maintain a permanent difference between social ideas, rules, behaviors -and very especially, languages-. In this process, we are facing the renewal of nationalism, dangerously close to reductionist and isolating cultural and social propositions. This ideology nourishes ethnic and racial conceptions, claiming territorial delimitation. The magnification of the significance of the territory is used as an excuse to delimit, to create hierarchies and to appropriate the territory on behalf of the national groups as defined, excluding -territorially or socially- the people who are rejected by the purist ideology.

The creation of hierarchies is very near to marginalization, both socially and/or territorially, where territory, in its material base, appears and is used as a mechanism of discrimination, clearly recognizable and easily controllable.

In this situation the objective is to delimit closed territories, that can be recognized by the internal uniformity of their language, social image, ideology, ethnic groups and so on, under the dominance of the ideology of maintaining the historical cultural inheritance "in order not to impoverish humanity's overall legacy". The problem is to know at what point we should recognize underlying them the selfish personal interests -of individual persons or small groups- who wish to maintain privileges or old power relations, or to introduce new forms of social domination.

This is not the moment to debate whether the center-periphery concept, geographically considered, picks up the problem in all its extension. But what appears evident is that all forms of power need to be territorialised, showing clearly which are the spaces of power and which the spaces of domination located in the margins.

In the RURE Programme the stress has been placed on the metropolitan areas and largest cities, but the classical geographical opposition between the rural and the urban has still not been resolved, especially with respect to its capacity as a dualism generator of differences and marginalization. The present domination by the city of the rural areas, by means of urban occupation by city inhabitants, and by developed areas over less-developed areas shows a new form of domination through the element of leisure time and the spaces in which to enjoy it.

What everyone seems to agree about is the process of increasing the differences with the urban milieu. As Brian D. Jacobs says: "Changes have intensified the divisions between regions, social classes and racial groups. The cities urgently need to develop new social, economic and political structures to meet the challenges of today and the future. This task is not insurmountable, nor does it require resources that are beyond the reach of national governments and local communities. The elements of appropriate new structures presently exist in innovative programs, but sustained effort to develop them is required if there is to be an effective response to the urban problems".

© Copyright Joan-Eugeni Sànchez

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