Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Local name, global fame: The international visibility of Chinese cities in modern times

Yunsong Chen - Nanjing University, China
Fei Yan - Tsinghua University, China; Stanford University, USA


Cities are a crucial part of the international influence of a nation’s culture, as well as being indispensable indicators of a nation’s soft power. The international fame of a city is largely determined by how it is perceived in the global community. Therefore, the processes by which a city develops an international status are crucial to its brand. Yet urban scholars still know little about when and how a city’s global fame is formed, and which factors are most important in shaping that fame.

In the current study, we construct the first-ever international visibility index for Chinese cities based on the Google Books N-gram corpus, a digitized books repository containing enormous volumes of data. Working from the premise that the written language serves as the cultural component of the long-term accumulation of human knowledge, experiences, and attitudes, we use the frequency of city names mentioned in books as a proxy for aggregate international visibility. Specifically, we describe in detail the development and evolution of the international fame of 294 Chinese cities for the years 1700–2000. We find that the top ten cities in terms of global fame are Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Nanjing, Macau, Tianjin, Taipei, Chongqing, and Lhasa.

Besides constructing a measurement of international visibility, we further analyze the means by which Chinese cities have gained international visibility. We hypothesize a significant link between their exposure in western media and their attainment of international visibility. To test this hypothesis, we extract the appearances of Chinese cities from the full-text database of the New York Times, and perform a time series analysis of media mentions and international visibility for the last 150 years.

We find preliminary evidence showing that media coverage influences the international fame of mainland Chinese cities. In other words, the international fame of most Chinese cities is influenced by their mentions in major western media (newspapers), and their statistically significant relationships may interact as both cause and effect. However, this media effect is not statistically significant in former colonial cities such as Hong Kong, Macau, and Taipei, which have been absorbed into the world capitalist system through various forms of economic exchange. This result suggests that other economic factors are more likely to predict the level of a city’s fame when it has a linkage with the global market.

Overall, through analyzing the formation of international visibility, we believe that a parameter as simple as the annual count of words or terms not only gives clues as to the historical ranking of cities in terms of global eminence, it also sheds light on the linkage between the development of a city’s global status and broader sociocultural dynamics over centuries.

Scaling-up low-carbon urban initiatives: towards a better understanding

Didi van Doren - Utrecht University, Netherlands


Eco-districts with buildings covered with PV or self-sustaining neighborhoods powered by smart-grids are no longer images of the future. In cities worldwide, low-carbon urban initiatives are realized by pioneers who are intrinsically motivated to engage in the process due to their levels of environmental concern and willingness to pioneer. In our carbon-constrained world, such initiatives demonstrate that climate mitigation can go hand in hand with viable urban development. However, regardless of the great success and potential of such initiatives, there is a need to increase their impact in order to accomplish the low-carbon transition.

When reading or hearing about low-carbon urban initiatives I often wondered where to go next. How to go from one initiative to large-scale systemic change? In both literature and policy documents you often encounter the notion that there is a need to ‘scale-up’ such initiatives. Yet, what does the term ‘scaling-up’ entail? And how could one stimulate such a process? As a PhD student at the department of environmental governance at Utrecht University, I decided to delve into literature on the concept of ‘scaling-up’. I soon discovered that there exists limited conceptual clarity regarding the meaning of the concept and the factors driving this process within the context of low-carbon urban initiatives. This paper summarizes the findings of the first project of my PhD research, with which I aspire to deepen the knowledge base on the concept and process of scaling-up. Based on a thorough literature analysis, the paper presents a taxonomy on the concept of scaling-up and an explanatory framework consisting of factors expected to contribute to the impact and scaling-up of initiatives. A distinction is made between two pathways to which individual initiatives can go to scale: horizontal and vertical pathways. Horizontal pathways to scaling-up pertain to the spatial growth of an initiative as a result of its expansion or replication. While horizontal pathways to scaling-up are important, scaling-up should not only be about the geographical spread of initiatives but should also be about structural learning and changing the institutional roots of carbon-intensive development. Accordingly, vertical pathways to scaling-up are also critical which imply that lessons, knowledge, values and principles derived from initiatives are used to promote institutional change in favor of low-carbon development. Two case studies are presented in the paper to illustrate the explanatory framework. The studies are illustrative but suggest that the explanatory framework allows for a systematic understanding of how the impact of former initiatives can be explained, and how their scaling-up can be promoted.

Hopefully the paper will be useful for practitioners in their endeavor to assess and scale-up low-carbon urban initiatives. Also, I hope that the discussion on scaling-up will inspire other scholars to delve deeper into this topic as there is a need for empirical studies to examine scaling-up processes and the governance arrangements that can be applied to stimulate such processes. Theoretical frameworks, founded on empirical data, are greatly needed in order to support public and private actors in accelerating the low-carbon transition.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

‘The Lane of Shame’: Stigmatization and Revanchism in Glasgow

John Crossan - University of Glasgow

A few weeks ago I was in conversation with two friends about a new restaurant that will soon be opening in Glasgow City centre. One friend, who is often the ‘word on the street’ when it comes to new bars, clubs and eateries was excited about the novelty of this new establishment, which will be situated outdoors in an alleyway named Gordon Lane. A significant part of the lane is covered and with outdoor heating and contemporary lighting “by all accounts it's going to be a top spot for food and drink in the city” (friend). Whilst this is a privately owned lane it was, until 2013, open to the public and used, amongst other things, as a link between the busy Gordon Street and ‘hipster’ Mitchell Lane. Both entrances to Gordon Lane are now closed off with large metal fences ensuring only those ‘with their names of the list’ get access. I expressed my concerns about the gated lane by reminding my friends that it was used by people for all sorts of reasons, to which one friend immediately replied “aye junkies shoot’n up and homeless people piss’n and shit’n everywhere” (same friend).

This shocking reply holds an element of truth. Non-functioning drug users probably used the lane and homeless people certainly used it for the partial cover it provided – although its unlikely they defecated in the place they slept. Taking such a position when considering issues around city centre planning is not uncommon in Glasgow. An article in a local newspaper, with the headline “Closing time for Glasgow’s lane of shame” reads “the lane is increasingly being used by drug dealers, drunks and criminals” and “just yards from Glasgow’s top shopping streets, it is also used by people sleeping rough” (Evening Times, Dec 2012). The article goes on to inform us that a number of organisations have expressed concerns about the problem lane and its occasional inhabitants, "including the police, Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, businesses and the Style Mile steering group"[1] (ibid).

Gordon Lane fenced off

In neoliberal Glasgow the stigmatization of drug users, homeless people, the poor more generally and the places they inhabit is economically strategic and culturally habitual. Gordon MacLeod (2002) draws our attention to the perfunctory ‘cleaning out’ of poor people from the George Hotel on Glasgow’s Buchanan Street in 2000. This hostel, offering cheap and sub-standard accommodation, was situated directly across from the Buchanan Galleries (a city centre shopping mall opened in 1999). On a related issue George Sneddon, the then director of the Glasgow City Centre Partnership (GCCP)[1], advocated “swift action” on the matter of “beggars scaring away city centre shoppers” (ibid). More recently Gordon Matheson (ex Glasgow City Council leader) contributed to the closure of Paddy’s Market – a city centre flea market that was, up until its closure, popular with some of the city’s poorest residents – by referring to it as a “crime-ridden midden[2]” that “used to be a respectable working-class market” (Matheson G 2009).

Like Gordon Lane, Shipbank Lane where the market was located has been fenced off and earmarked for regeneration. The imposing presence of fencing, which denies ‘certain’ people access to these lanes, is an example of revanchist urban planning. Revanchism originated in the right-wing populist movement active in France in the mid decades of the 19th Century (see Gandy 1999). In its modern usage it refers to a raft of architectural features, planning strategies and attendant government policies that reconfigure public space as exclusionary and overregulated or depending on one’s viewpoint, safe and controlled.

Paddy's Market 2007 before its closure by the Glasgow City Council in 2009

Shipbank Lane today, the site that was once Paddy's Market

By employing the dual strategies of stigmatization and revanchism city council officials and other powerful urban stakeholders are attempting to inscribe upon our urban lives their vision of the city. In doing so they are imposing their particular understanding of what is wrong with the city; what is a crime; what we should fear; and what the right trajectory for the city is. The ‘right’ trajectory here favours a particular type of urbanite – those that can afford to participate in public space designed to extract profit from its users. In doing so it excludes those who cannot participate or do not wish to participate in this urban vision.

This strategy attempts to regulate the urban poor and sanitize public space. But it is not only the urban poor who are being regulated. Consider John Allen’s (2006) theory of Ambient Power, which suggests certain consumer spaces transmit authoritative directives by offering a series of “choices around movement and patterns of interaction yet at the same time limiting those movements and interactions in broadly skirted ways” (Allen 2006: 445). Such tight choreographies are celebrated in Glasgow, which is promoted as one of the best retail centres in the UK. Glasgow’s main shopping district has been named ‘The Golden Z’ (referring to the plan of three main streets – Argyle, Buchanan and Sauchiehall Street). This name conjures up images of religious reverence. It serves to mystify the power of a particular urban policy programme that now dominates the city centre.

The St Enoch Centre stands in the heart of the city like a sacred building

The Golden Z is a fa├žade that obscures the harsh realities of Glasgow’s urban neoliberalization programme. We can add to the ‘class cleansing’ initiatives discussed above a raft of other policy outcomes that too often go unnoticed by the citizen-consumer, such as rent-racking, further increases in the precarious labour market, land grabs and public asset stripping (Anderson et al 2013). I want to make it clear that in acknowledging the seductive qualities of these spaces I am not suggesting people are without agency. I am arguing that interaction with these highly regulated consumer spaces undermines non-consumer subjectivities by disciplining the expression of those subjectivities. This has political and moral implications. Public space is reconstructed as apolitical and citizens, like my ‘word on the street’ friend, become desensitised to the plight of others.


Allen J (2006) Ambient Power: Berlin's Potadamer Platz and the Seductive Logic of Public Space. Urban Studies 43(2): 441-455.

Anderson E, Gray N and Roff E (2013) Stripped for Business. Scottish Left Review 74: 6-8.

Gandy M (1999) The Paris sewers and the rationalization of urban space. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 24(1): 23-44

MacLeod G (2002) From Urban Entrepreneurialism to a "Revanchist City"? On the Spatial Injustices of Glasgow's Rennaissance. Antipode 34(3): 602-624.

Matheson G (2009) in Paddy’s Market Bags Last Bargains, BBC News, Available from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/glasgow_and_west/8049357.stm

[1] A Public/private partnership, whose aim is to promote Buchanan Street as world-class shopping experience. 
[2] A private sector led public/private regeneration partnership set up in 1999 to promote central Glasgow as a shopping attraction. Disbanded after three years for failing to deliver on its overall vision, it was replaced with a council-led public/private partnership City Centre Action Plan.
[3] Midden is a Scots word meaning Refuge Dump.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Segregation influences the life chances of young adults

Eva K Andersson - Stockholm University
Bo Malmberg - Stockholm University

In the U.S. several studies have convincingly demonstrated that disadvantaged neighborhoods can negatively influence the income careers of underprivileged groups. We are now able to extend these findings through an analysis of data from Sweden - a country with a well-developed Nordic type, welfare state. Growing up in an area where a high share of neighboring families are poor increases a person’s risk of being poor as an adult. Conversely, if a person’s neighbors when s/he is school-age are affluent then this will promote that person’s chances of becoming well-off in adulthood. These results hold even if the effect of family background factors such as parent’s education, income, or having a single mother are considered. An innovative feature of the study is that the nearest neighbors of each individual has been identified using anonymized, geo-coded, register data. This allows for a more precise measurement of residential context and it is a possible explanation for the clear-cut results obtained.

Another important finding in the study is that segregation is most pronounced in the largest metropolitan regions of Sweden but less severe in medium sized and small cities. Since differences in social composition are smaller, parents in non-metropolitan areas need to worry less over selecting the best residential neighborhoods. In highly segregated metropolitan area differences in the impact on life chances can be substantial. This could help explain why some families in the largest cities choose to buy houses in the most expensive areas.

A central message from this paper is that policy-makers should be concerned if there is an increase in residential segregation. In highly segregated societies, children of high income parents will have a double advantage. Coming from an elite family will increase their educational opportunities and provide them with career-promoting social networks. Growing up in an elite neighborhood will add to this advantage. In less segregated societies there will instead be some equalization of life chances since the experience of growing up in average neighborhoods will be more widely shared.

From a theoretical point of view an important contribution of this paper is that the use of geo-coded data has made it possible to isolate the effects of different types of neighborhood influences, for example, living in neighborhoods with many foreign born, single-family house neighborhoods, elite neighborhoods, and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. In earlier studies this has been difficult since many socio-economic variables are highly correlated at the local level. However, be using geo-coded data this difficulty can be overcome by taking advantage of the fact that correlation patterns look different at different spatial scales.

This paper, thus, demonstrate that studies of neighborhood effects can be benefit a lot both from an increasing availability of geo-coded data and the increased processing speed of modern computers. Scientific advances have often been spurred by technological advances that give researchers access to better measurements and better data. Therefore, it cannot be excluded that the coming years will bring further increases in our understanding of how geographical context influences individual level outcomes.

Locating neighborhood diversity in the American metropolis

In recent years, the growing racial and ethnic diversity of American suburbs relative to their central cities has attracted significant attention in the popular media.  This is perhaps best exemplified by writer Alan Ehrenhalt’s suggestion that a “demographic inversion” characterizes many large American cities, in which old models of central city diversity in contrast to suburban homogeneity no longer hold. 
The purpose of my article is to explore this shifting geography of metropolitan diversity in US metropolitan areas, and suggest some methods of exploratory data analysis and visualization to accomplish this.  One such proposed method is a diversity gradient, which I define as a smoothed curve fit through a scatterplot that displays neighborhood-level racial and ethnic diversity scores against neighborhoods’ distances from their respective urban cores.  Diversity scores are represented with a metric called the scaled entropy index, in which a score of 1 represents perfect evenness between non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic blacks, Asians, and Hispanics.  An example diversity gradient from the article for Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas is below. 

The visualization suggests greater homogeneity in urban neighborhoods around 5 miles from central Dallas and Fort Worth when compared with neighborhoods 15-20 miles from the downtowns, where the most diverse neighborhoods in the entire metropolitan area tend to be located. 

Additionally, I explore geographic shifts in diversity over time through exploratory spatial data analysis.  I accomplish this through identification of spatial “clusters” of high and low diversity neighborhoods in the Chicago and Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan areas, and compare the locations of these clusters between 1990 and 2010.  An example for Dallas-Fort Worth is found below. 

As the figures illustrate, high-diversity clusters (represented in red) within 10 miles of either core city hall in 1990 in some cases have given way to low-diversity clustering by 2010, especially on the Dallas side of the metropolitan area.  High-diversity clusters in 2010 tend to be located between 10 and 20 miles from the urban cores, suggesting that neighborhoods of high racial and ethnic diversity are increasingly more commonly found in the suburbs rather than closer-in areas. 

While the article focuses on Chicago and Dallas-Fort Worth, I have developed an interactive application at http://walkerke.shinyapps.io/neighborhood_diversity that allows users to explore aspects of the analysis in the article for themselves for many of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States.   Future research will expand upon the exploratory spatial data analysis component of the article to identify where within metropolitan areas neighborhoods tend to shift from high to low-diversity clusters and vice versa, comparing these shifts among the US’s largest metros.