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Global Downtowns

Edited by Marina Peterson and Gary McDonogh

Publication Year: 2012

Global Downtowns reconsiders one of the defining features of urban life—the energy and exuberance that characterize downtown areas—within a framework of contemporary globalization and change. It analyzes the iconic centers of global cities through individual case studies from Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the United States, considering issues of function, population, imagery, and growth. Contributors to the volume use ethnographic and cultural analysis to identify downtowns as products of the activities of planners, power elites, and consumers and as zones of conflict and competition. Whether claiming space on a world stage through architecture, media events, or historical tourism or facing the claims of different social groups for a place at the center, downtowns embody the heritage of the modern city and its future.

Essays draw on extensive fieldwork and archival study in Beijing, Barcelona, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dar es Salaam, Dubai, Nashville, Lima, Philadelphia, Mumbai, Havana, Beirut, and Paris, among other cities. They examine the visions of planners and developers, cultural producers, governments, theoreticians, immigrants, and outcasts. Through these perspectives, the book explores questions of space and place, consumption, mediation, and images as well as the processes by which urban elites learn from each other as well as contest local hegemony.

Global Downtowns raises important questions for those who work with issues of urban centrality in governance, planning, investment, preservation, and social reform. The volume insists that however important the narratives of individual spaces—theories of American downtowns, images of global souks, or diasporic formations of ethnic enclaves as interconnected nodes—they also must be situated within a larger, dynamic framework of downtowns as centers of modern urban imagination.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: The City in the Twenty-First Century

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-viii

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Introduction: Globalizing Downtown

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pp. 1-26

“DOWNTOWN!” The word itself, like its myriad global cognates including el centro, wasat al-madina, centre ville, and zhongwan, evokes intensities at the core of urban life, space, and capital: “Bright lights, surging crowds, tall buildings, big money, power politics.” To speak of global downtowns demands careful analysis ...

Part I. Imagination

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1. Toward a Genealogy of Downtowns

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pp. 29-47

How do we sense a city? Is it a matter of directing our gaze from building to street to traffic to neon signs and back to the building again, accumulating impressions of line, scale, enclosure, mass, and spectacle, just as we do when viewing a painting of a landscape? No, the immediacy of our body’s movement through the city ...

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2. From Peking to Beijing: Production of Centrality in the Global Age

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pp. 48-64

On August 7, 2008, one day before the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, Qianmen Avenue reopened to the public and tourists after several months of extensive renovation. Qianmen (meaning “front gate” in Chinese) is adjacent to Tiananmen Square, the geographic and symbolic center of Beijing, ...

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3. Simulations of Barcelona: Urban Projects in Port Spaces (1981–2002)

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pp. 65-89

The large port zone close to central Barcelona has witnessed, in a brief period of time, an important series of urban reforms. This area has been transformed into a new civic space without losing its older condition of zona franca (a distinct port authority). The space also now houses new commercial buildings, offices, and cultural centers …

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4. Urbanist Ideology and the Production of Space in the United Arab Emirates: An Anthropological Critique

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pp. 90-110

Along with China, the contemporary Arabian Gulf is undergoing an urbanization of massive proportions. Possessing 40 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves and flush with profits from recent spikes in global oil prices, the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council were devoting trillions of dollars ...

Part II. Consumption

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5. Reaching for Dubai: Nashville Dreams of a Twenty-First-Century Skyline

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pp. 113-135

So Nashville developer Tony Giarratana told the New York Times in 2006 (Chamberlain 2006), referring to the proposed Signature Tower, a residential high-rise projected to radically transform Nashville’s skyline. Given that Giarratana had opted to eschew public subsidy on the project and was still seeking ...

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6. From National Utopia to Elite Enclave: “Economic Realities” and Resistance in the Reconstruction of Beirut

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pp. 136-159

On October 1, 2009, officials of the Lebanese Company for the Development and Reconstruction of the Beirut Central District (BCD), or Solidere, as it is popularly known, offered journalists a guided tour of the company’s flagship development: the new Beirut Souks.1 Slated to open to the public the following day, …

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7. When the Film Festival Comes to (Down)Town: Transnational Circuits, Tourism, and the Urban Economy of Images

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pp. 160-185

Urban sites have long served as concentrated nodes where cultural life, communications, capital, and communities all come together to attain a certain density and power, exercising influence far beyond city limits. The image of downtown certainly testifies to the iconic reach and centralizing force that cities possess, …

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8. The Future of the Past: World Heritage, National Identity, and Urban Centrality in Late Socialist Cuba

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pp. 186-206

In the summer of 1996, demolition crews arrived in the Plaza Vieja—a 500-year-old plaza in Havana’s historic center, Habana Vieja—equipped with explosive charges. Carrying out orders issued by the city historian, they planned to eliminate every trace of a republican-era park and an underground parking structure, ...

Part III. Conflict

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9. Utopia/Dystopia: Art and Downtown Development in Los Angeles

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pp. 209-233

The day began and ended with the LAPD. A morning interview with the captain of the Central City Division of the Los Angeles Police Department extended into the afternoon as I was introduced to one and then another police officer, the last the head of the beat patrol for the Skid Row area, ...

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10. “Slum-Free Mumbai” and Other Entrepreneurial Strategies in the Making of Mumbai’s Global Downtown

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pp. 234-252

In late 2004, the municipal government of Mumbai,1 carrying out orders from the state’s chief minister, undertook a massive demolition campaign to clear the city’s unregulated slums and squatter settlements. During the fourmonth campaign, government bulldozers dismantled hutments built along roads and railways ...

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11. Downtown as Brand, Downtown as Land: Urban Elites and Neoliberal Development in Contemporary New York City

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pp. 253-272

On Monday, July 6, 2005, the New York Public Authority Control Board (PACB) took a fateful vote. This obscure governmental body, its members appointed by the governor and the leaders of the two houses of the state legislature, held the power to approve—or deny—the public borrowing necessary to fund the New York Sports ...

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12. Beside Downtown: Global Chinatowns

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pp. 273-296

For much of the nineteenth and twentieth century, in Barcelona’s barrio chino/barri xino, decaying tenements and crowded streets housed thousands of immigrant workers slaving in aging factories or seeking day-to-day opportunities at the nearby port. Only the broad, tree-lined Rambles, a promenade beloved of flâneurs, ...


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pp. 297-310


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pp. 311-344

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List of Contributors

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pp. 345-348

William Cunningham Bissell is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology, Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania. His research interests include cities, cinema, and spatial dynamics; globalization and African film; modernity and development; urban planning and power. ...


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pp. 349-358

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pp. 359-360

This volume orginated from a panel organized at the Washington AAA in 2005 by Marina Peterson and Sareeta Amrute entitled “Center, Symbol, Site: Reexamining Downtown.” McDonogh at that time was a discussant alongside Travis A. Jackson. We would like to thank all the participants who created the path that led to this project ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812208054
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812243840

Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: The City in the Twenty-First Century