“…a new approach to city development is needed which connects knowledge of local processes within a city (place) to knowledge of global processes between cities (network). Although this conception has existed for some time most studies remain quite general and little empirical evidence on networks are provided to validate them…Besides the empirical problem, it is equally clear that city network theory is still at a relatively new stage of development and that much conceptual confusion exists amongst theories.”
Ronald Wall’s PhD, Netscape: Cities and Global Corporate Networks (pdf here) attempts to empirically advance urban network theory via precision, large-scale relational mapping. Formerly a designer/researcher/project manager at OMA, West 8, and MVRDV, Ronald Wall has slipped into the expanded field and is now conducting his research in the allied realm of economic geography. Wall uses customized GIS datasets derived from Fortune®, Lexis-Nexus® and Reach® corporate data that tracks sources of corporate shares and investments from multinational headquarters to their multiple subsidiaries to visualize such processes of globalization:
“The fate of cities is strongly related to their hierarchical importance within global corporate networks…Corporate activity strongly transcends the boundaries of cities and nations…these networks remain highly uneven and a vast majority of the world’s cities and nations hardly participate with this system at all. In this light, the study empirically shows that the world is still far from flat and is instead highly polarized. The study reveals that only a few hub cities hold the majority of connections and that these are the preferential places for business locations.”
[European distribution of corporate shareholds in geographic space. The white dots depict the presence of firms within cities, scaled accordingly. The black lines depict corporate sharehold ties greater or equal to five, while the light grey lines show ties less than five. The thicker lines demonstrate greater ties]
NetScape highlights the space and connectivity between cities, via the temporal, structural, scalar, competitive and performance characteristics of current globalization processes. The mapping provides a current read of Castell’s Space of Flows and Saskia Sassen’s Global Cities. It also adds an interesting perspective to recent inquiries into the geo-political dominance/importance of cities over nation states, and the nature of relationships between ‘mega’ cities and those that are less prominent. Again, as Wall states:
“The dependency of cities on supraregional and global networks emphasizes the uncanny complexity of the knowledge needed to effectively engage with development. In this context, in a time when sustainable development [???] (insertion mine) has become paramount, it is advisable that policymakers and developers start to engage with empirical knowledge concerning the external relationships of their cities and nations. Naturally this means dealing with complex issues and the uncertainty manifested in this (bold added).
The study contributes to a new vision on development because it shows how cities and nations have a relative, highly specific understanding of their positions (centrality) and interdependencies with other cities and nations (linkages). To developers and politicians this means learning to operate between global forces of economic production and local ideals on the production of space (Lefebvre). In this way, it is important for cities to unravel why certain cities are more capable of attracting and sustaining global headquarters and subsidiaries…it is advisable that cities start to comprehend their network relationships to other cities and utilize this knowledge in their development policies…By understanding a city’s economic position and linkages to other cities worldwide, future policymakers may start to engage with competitor and collaborator cities that are ‘specifically’ important to them.“
[Wall and Knaap’s iteration of the expanded field]
And as we slowely approach the coda of the Infrastructural City Blogiscussion, Wall’s research has particular relevance for us. As expressed in many other posts, one walks away from a reading of the Infrastructural city searching for a new formulation of regionalism, or ‘mega’regionalism, premised upon something far more systemic and overtly late- avant capitalist at the same time; a persistent desire to better articulate connections at the overlapping scales beyond those of the immediate city. Perhaps something like the forthcoming third coast atlas (we hope, predict and anticipate.).
*All quotes and imagery are courtesy of Ronald Wall’s Netscape: Cities and Global Corporate Networks. We have removed the many, many references sited within steals of quotes formWall’s text for reading in this post. Ronald Wall’s thorough and informative discussion and requisite bibliography related to urban network theory is well worth the read if you are interested in a genealogy of the subject*
**Of related interest: check out mammoth’s thoughtful interview with Lola Sheppard and Mason White of Lateral Office for other iterations on the expanded field, ‘extrinsic architecture’ and why you should be reading the Economist. **