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  • The poor and the shop window:globalisation, a local political instrument in the South African city?
  • Claire Bénit (bio) and Philippe Gervais-Lambony (bio)

A spectre is haunting cities around the world: the spectre of globalization. The fear is of convergence on an undesired United States model of urban spatial form and social content, involving increased segregation, shrinkage of public amenities, commercialisation of civic life, decline of central cities, and social polarization. (…) We may call this model the 'partitioned city'. It is accompanied by the ideological belief that states as well as cities are helpless to do anything but ameliorate, at the margin, some of the negative aspects of this partitioning. History, geography, culture, local agency, resistance, are all ultimately irrelevant; under the relentless pressure to compete, urban leaders have no choice but to move even faster in the direction all the others are going, each seeking their own bit of competitive advantage over each of the others.

(Marcuse and Van Kempen (eds) 2002:3, 8)

That the present phase of the globalisation process causes urban change seems undeniable. Many factors have profound effects on the ways in which cities work/function (Soja 2000) in a shrinking world: growing consciousness of its unity; intensification of movement (of information, capital, commodities and people); concentration at global scale of the commanding economic centres and bringing into relation all localities. In the first place, the city/ industry relation has changed radically (Scott 1988, Sassen 1996). Urban de-industrialisation dominates contemporary urban process, giving rise to urban forms and functions very different from those of the Fordist industrial city. Globalisation and transformation of the city/industry relationship thus allows us to consider whether the nature both of urbanised space and of urban society are changing. In relation to spatial change, one notes the extension of urbanised spaces, their geographical sprawl, their demographic [End Page 1] growth and their increasingly polycentric character (Kloosterman and Musterd 2001). In relation to social change, cities experience new socio-spatial divisions - without doubt stronger than previously - and urban society, at the metropolitan scale, no longer seems to constitute a single whole. Weakening of the middle class, disappearance of the working class as previously known, socio-economic exclusion of one section of urban citizens and by contrast the extreme enrichment of others, gives rise to a dislocated, fragmented urban society. Such fragmentation has discernable consequences at political and managerial levels. In many of the world's largest urban complexes, there is no longer a common political theatre but rather a juxtaposition of municipal territories and a consequent subdivision of urban management. A substantial literature addressing urban change describes this general tendency towards a fragmentation of urban institutions (see Navez-Bouchanine 2002) not only in industrialised countries (Jaglin and Piermay 1996). This evolution is often presented as irresistable since it is supposed to be accompanied by a weakening of the role and the potential of the public sector. The purpose of the present article is to examine this last point through a South African example. Is it correct that governments (local, regional or national) have no option but to try to manage transformations linked to the inevitable effects of globalisation? Or can one hypothesise that governments partly use or instrumentalise globalisation as a means of promoting policies adopted by choice?

Significance of the South African case

In the perspective described above, South African cities have an unusual position since they find themselves caught, more strongly than others,1 in the tension between a desire to participate in global competition and a desire to restructure the urban space in order to address the inequalities and other ravages of apartheid. A euphoric period of democratic transformation followed the formal end of apartheid during which South African cities experienced successive reforms in local government (Cameron 1999, Gervais-Lambony 2001, Beall et al 2002). The most recent reform (of 2000) is implicitly based on a model which stresses 'governance' and 'management' as promoted by the World Bank. How (and why) has this global model of liberal urban management been applied locally? On one hand, privatisation of urban services, encouragement of public-private partnerships, an emphasis on economic growth, decentralisation and promotion of participation point...


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