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Living with the Global City
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Fall 1999
Living with the Global City
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Consider the issue of how city-regions can successfully compete in the emerging global economy. In the past, policy makers set about managing regional economic development under the protective wings of the nation-state. Today, the focus is on efforts to sustain competitiveness in global (rather than purely national) markets by encouraging new local business formation, attracting investment and creating the kind of institutional environments needed to promote high levels of economic performance. But how do local policy makers balance market forces with the forms of inter-firm collaboration and cooperation that appear to be essential for high levels of innovation and economic success? What new conflicts are generated by the increasing activism of policy makers in city-regions all over the world, and how can these be dealt with at the national and supra-national levels? How do we ensure broad accountability in the policy-making process while taking into account industry's need for efficiency and responsiveness to rapid change?

Such questions have vital implications not only for economic development but also for how we define citizenship and political participation generally in an era in which cities like Los Angeles, Tokyo and Seoul are all faced with the stresses and strains of globalization. How do we plan for the public interest in, say, Los Angeles, when our fate is closely tied to what happens thousands of miles away in Beijing or Bangkok? With our economic and social prospects increasingly tied to the political initiatives and capabilities of the cities in which we live, citizenship may once again become associated, as it was classically, with city-regions. But what forms of citizenship can meet the needs of the increasingly diverse populations including large groups of low-wage labor migrants that live in the world's major city-regions? This question is made all the more urgent in view of the withdrawal of many of the well-to-do from civic life into insular gated enclaves.

The recently released 10th Annual United Nations Human Development Report underlines another major challenge city-regions face: the ever-widening gap between rich and poor. Globalization stimulates the growth of high-wage occupations in city-regions while promoting the proliferation of marginal, low-skill jobs. There are high social costs associated with this outcome. In California's Silicon Valley, where Asian and Hispanic immigrants assemble electronic parts in their homes for as little as one cent per component, the bottom 20 percent of wage earners have seen their real wages decline over the past 20 years. Such inequalities in the distribution of wealth pose a "dangerous polarization" between rich and poor, the United Nations warns. Yet immigrant populations play a vital role in large city-regions; not only do they supply much of the labor to industry, but they also represent an important reservoir of energetic small entrepreneurs.

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