New European Urban Hierarchy

New European Urban Hierarchy.
Critically assess the forces which are influencing the shape of a ‘new European urban hierarchy” (Hall, 1993). Use case studies to illustrate and assess how individual cities are positioning themselves in this new spatial order. Throughout Europe, cities and regions have launched on a path of competitive redevelopment by means of a variety of strategies, ranging from large-scale mega developments and integrated action plans to community- based local re-conversion efforts.
These schemes are spread over the European urban and regional landscape, operating in a variety of regulatory, political and socio-economic contexts, welfare regimes and public policy frameworks and combine private and public initiatives and finances in a great diversity of institutional framework. However, they are comparable in the sense that they are inserted in and grapple with epochal global trends and attempt to re-assert their position in the new global economic competitive climate and its associated technological, cultural and social transformations.
Each of these produces a series of profound mechanisms of exclusion/integration and, at the end of the day, it is such activities, which shape or moderate the process of polarization and exclusion itself. The 1980″s saw competition between European cities for mobile investment in a variety of ways. Multinational enterprises boosted this competition through looking at the location of new productive plants and offices, this therefore saw city governments promoting and marketing themselves in a more beneficial way in an effort to be a magnet for inward investment.

They saw ways to ‘Hall mark” events such as major sporting events; cultural festivals and trade fairs which can all have considerable economic effects. I will be looking at Barcelona, Dublin and Lille and at the different strategies they have used to respond to global, economic pressures within and between cities in positioning themselves in the European urban hierarchy and the changes that have taken place. Differences in infrastructure and human capital are widely recognised as contributing significantly to variations in regional competitiveness.
The economically stronger and more prosperous regions of the Community are generally more richly endowed with more resources, while the lagging regions typically have serious deficiencies (Commission of the European Community, 1994, p. 65). All major cities have become actively involved in what has been termed ‘city marketing”. There are ways in which academics have sought to identify cities from the best to the worst, this has been established through “league tables. From these league tables the cities to be at the most highest are obviously seen as the most appealing cities to live in and also for investment.
Rankings are made on the basis of economic variables such as gross domestic product per head, the unemployment rate, pressure for the demand for space or the proportion of the workforce employed in higher-order occupations. Quality of life is measured in ways such as education, health care, cultural or leisure facilities and environmental variables. “A new geography of Europe is emerging which ignores national frontiers. The most successful cities are located in what Hall termed ‘the blue Banana”.
Cities in the core derive considerable scale economics and access advantages whilst cities in the periphery do not and must bare substantial distance costs” (Lever 1992:936) The core banana covers the cities of London, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Cologne, Frankfurt, Munich and Milan. A subsidiary core banana has developed which encompasses Mediterranean cities like Barcelona, Marseilles and Nice and which is connected to the first banana through the Alpine region. Most of the successful or those furthest up the hierarchy are located within these regionalised cores.
These advantages have resulted in growth due to the specialised high technology manufacture and information processing. The Commission of the European Communities has pointed there are weaknesses which are forcing investors to move out; the high costs of wages and land and also the congestion and pollution. They also stated that the older urban centres in the core have older populations and will in time undergo a demographic decline whereas the younger populations of the periphery will engender further progress. There is not a single urban hierarchy in Europe.
Rather there are a number of overlapping hierarchies, which centre on particular functions…. Each urban area is in competition with a range of others according to the economic function and the sphere of influence – global, national, or regional – at which it performs its specialisms (Commission of the European Community, 1994, p. 44). The paradox in this statement illustrates the crucial point in the debate about territorial competition within the European urban system. It is not the urban areas themselves that are directly in competition, but the economic specialisms and functions, which operate from within them.
The locations of economic activities – new production and service facilities, international institutions and major cultural and sporting events – are also a function of an urban area’s social capital. The externalities generated by the degree and level of social capital are the basis for urban areas competing for the location of economic activities in the first instance and maintaining them locally in the second. However, it is the leading edge or specialist activities, contained within city-regions, which compete within the global or international economy.
Given the regionally networked nature of international production and service provision, there is also a degree of complementarily. Urban policy in Lille centres on the improvement of the competitive position and the development of large-scale operations that are capable of improving the urban image and of attracting external investments. Eurolille is a large –scale commercial quarter which has included many different policy domains; job creation, education, development of urban space for new activities and function, new industries, neighbourhood revitalisation and improvement of security.
The creation of the retail business centre Eurolille also led to the redistribution of commercial spaces in the city itself. The policies of urban regeneration and the struggle against social exclusion in the Lille metropolis reflect these institutional and strategic transformations. Their analysis helps to understand the process that led to the realisation of Eurolille. The most generic procedure put forward by the Ministere de la Ville and the Delegation Interministerielle a la Ville is the Contrat de Ville (CDV).
The main objective of this procedure is to combat urban exclusion at the level of “priority-targeted” neighbourhoods and at the level of the agglomeration on the other. Actions for social assistance aiming at improving daily life as well structural actions involving large-scale urban operations (roads, improvement of the housing stock) are launched. “Lille could expect substantial economic benefits from its position on the TGV network” (Newman and Thorney 1996: 190) The construction of the TGV station in the centre of Lille in 1994 plays a key-role in this strategy of regenerating the Lille metropolis.
The subsequent construction of an international business centre must put Lille at the heart of a Northern European transportation network and provide the metropolis with an important international role. This, in turn, should help to attract external investments, to create a pole of advanced business services; and will make the metropolitan and regional economy much more dynamic. The advent of the Channel Tunnel and the high-speed train network in France, has also improved its attractiveness.
Barcelona is a Mediterranean city, the heart of the industrialization and the social, political, and cultural movements of contemporary Spain. The city has remarkable evidence of moving from profound economic crisis in 1980 to a city with a strong image. The high degree of private investment in the projects related to the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games corresponds to the great expectation created by the attractiveness of the city of Barcelona. “The Olympic games bought the attention of the world to Barcelona” (Newman and Thornley 1996:91)
Among the physical impacts – which per se can have important economic effects – is the impact on urbanism. The change in the urban model can be seen immediately by comparing the density of traffic in 1990 before the ring roads were built, with the density of 1993, after the opening of the Dalt and Litoral ring roads. The changes in traffic due to the effect of these roads was one of the most synthetic expressions of the impact of the Olympic Games on the city. European integration strengthens the Western Mediterranean region, as a bridge between the centre and the south of Europe.
In this context, Barcelona also has another powerful attraction: its metropolitan area, found in a central axis of European communications. Barcelona is thus an excellent location for head offices and its metropolitan area excellent for the introduction of their plants. The possibilities of capitalizing on the Olympic impulse, consolidating its new role as a service centre specialized in activities with high surplus value, seems clear. The build up to the Games brought about further impact on the city fabric, not least because it led to a massive increase in speculation on land values, and housing prices soared.
There was a substantial growth in the number of properties available, which contrasted drastically with a birth rate at a record low, not to mention its negative migratory balance. Despite these facts nothing held down the rise in property prices for both home ownership and rent. Dublin as the national capital and primate city in Ireland has produced both renaissance flagship urban development projects and socio-spatially excluded communities in the drive to modernise and compete with other comparable cities in the newly emerging urban hierarchy of the European Union.
The CHDDA International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) Urban Regeneration project is one of the main projects designed to enhance the city”s image and competitive position in the international urban arena. The urban renewal act of 1988, set out a process for model of regeneration in Dublin. With 23 property developers and 30 urban planners many changes were made to the city of Dublin. Since the 1980″s Dublin has turned around and has been extremely successful from investments and has become a magnet for tourists.
The IFSC represents an important attempt by the Irish government and the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) to reposition Ireland in the international division of labour from national primate city to peripheral world city. It seeks to avail of some of the benefits of the hypermobility of capital within the economy of the international financial system. Dublin”s IFSC has developed a niche for itself in the international division of financial services by focusing on back office banking operations and corporate treasury activities.
Although no rival to London or New York, Dublin”s ‘niche” has strong global dimensions. Temple Bar was one of the key areas to receive European funding. A variety of cultural facilities, ranging from the National Film Centre, Children’s Theatre, Music Centres, Art Galleries, all received major European funding. This contributed hugely to its capital programme. In addition, it had much better financial incentives than elsewhere in the City Centre. This concentration of European Funding and Government Tax Incentives within a relatively small area has been the financial power behind the scheme.
Dublin Corporation has embarked on a major regeneration project for a historic part of the city from O’Connell Street westwards towards the Phoenix Park – one of the key areas in the old Abercrombie/Sydney Kelly plan – H. A. R. P. – Historic Area Regeneration Project. It covers a large part of the inner north city and includes the city markets area, major shopping centres, important public buildings, long established residential communities, areas of dereliction and many socially deprived areas. It also includes major civic elements, like the North Quays and Smithfield.
The new light rail transport system – LUAS, will pass through the area and this should have a strong economic effect. Policy tools can be applied in various combinations to manage change in practice and to attempt to achieve sustainable development. The development and implementation of city-wide environmental strategies and action plans require effective community participation and partnership mechanisms, as called for in the Local Agenda 21 programme. Local Agenda 21 is essentially a strategic process of encouraging and controlling sustainable development.
The development, management and implementation of this process requires all the skills and tools that can be brought to bear by a local authority and its community. “Cities are not just passive places in which international capital or prestigious functions locate, but in the new global competition for economic growth, have themselves become important factors in creating opportunities for economic development and influencing the new urban hierarchy” (Newman and Thornley 1996:16) Cities have been positioning themselves in this ‘new urban hierarchy” through the marketing strategies and construction of new images.
This has taken place by many cultural activities and symbols all of which try to enhance the European world ranking of cities. Cities are obliged to adapt themselves rapidly to constant changes in economy and in other sectors. It is essential not to forget that this new form of development implies a danger to create a bigger division than the one that already exists inside urban societies. One of the key elements in this adaptation process to new changes is that cities must have a permanent and flexible educational and training system able to adapt itself rapidly to each moment circumstances.

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