“The Divided Global City
Richard Florida. August 7, 2012
Writing in Saturday’s Financial Times’s, John Lloyd included my book, The Rise of the Creative Class, Revisited, in his essay on last year’s London riots. He noted that:
Florida believes the London riots were really about the growing social divide; the rioters’ “inchoate rage”, he says, is that of a marginalised group who see vast wealth and luxurious consumption all about them. The riots “should serve as a wake-up call … it’s little wonder we find ourselves in an increasingly fractured society, in which growing numbers are ready to vote — or tear — down what they perceive to be the economic elite of our cities and the world”.
Below is an abridged and revised excerpt of material from my book which addresses the deepening class divide in London and other global cities:
Our global cities may well be the world’s economic engines, but they are increasingly divided.
Globalization has made the world smaller and brought its economies and peoples closer together. But instead of reducing and ﬂattening economic and class distinctions, it has sharpened them, bringing them into ever-clearer relief. We make a big mistake when we look out from our aeries in London, New York, or Los Angeles across the peaks of privilege to Tokyo, Shanghai, Singapore, and Mumbai and tell ourselves that the playing ﬁeld is level.
Today, our great global cities risk being torn apart by class.
The Occupy Wall Street movement, which began in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park in the shadow of Wall Street and by October 15, 2011 had spread to 951 cities in 82 countries, was a harbinger of the worse to come — as were the riots that had exploded in London, just a few months before.
Commentators on the right mostly put the blame for London’s unrest on hooliganism; those on the left cited frustrations with the U.K.’s faltering economy and the Conservative administration’s newly imposed ﬁscal austerities. But more than youth or race, the riots were about class.
What happened in London — and what is happening in other great cities, as I noted in the Financial Times at the time — is global class conflict, played out on a local scale.
On the one hand, London is a magnet for the international super-rich, who come seeking tax shelters and shopping opportunities. On the other, it attracts unskilled immigrants, hungry for better lives. In between are the local populations, left behind by fast-moving economic change.
London certainly has its rich and poor districts. But in contrast to the segregation that you see in most American cities, London’s privileged and its poorest citizens often live right on top of each other in rapidly gentrifying enclaves. Rising housing costs, the concentration of wealth, and divergent life prospects are there for all to see. As the multinational global super-rich skate by, virtually unscathed by the economic crisis, young unskilled people are out of work for longer and longer periods, their life prospects fading as the economy worsens and budget cuts take hold.
The riots can also be seen as a reaction to the unvarnished corporate re-making of London. As is happening in so many other global cities, the vast majority of London’s political energy seems to be directed towards the needs and interests of an elite sliver of its population. The transformation of London into an “Olympic City,” which involves not just the redevelopment of stadium and venue sites but the physical relocation of whole neighborhoods, fueled additional resentment. With the social compact eroding and a lack of viable political institutions to channel the mounting frustrations, what comes out is not a coherent voice or movement, but inchoate rage.
And then there’s this: our greatest cities are not bland monocultures. Some of the very features that make them economically and culturally dynamic also contribute to their political instability. Eric Hobsbawm long ago noted that density and the closeness of the poor to centers of political inﬂuence and power made old cities centers of insurrection. My own research has shown that the most innovative and creative cities in the U.S. also have the highest levels of political protest and among the lowest levels of social capital.”
Via: The Atlantic Cities
Photo: Reuters/Luke MacGregor