Globalization and Urban Change: Capital, Culture and Pacific Rim Mega-projects. (Book Reviews).
Article Type: Book Review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Edginton, David
Pub Date: 12/22/2001
Publication: Name: Canadian Journal of Urban Research Publisher: Institute of Urban Studies Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2001 Institute of Urban Studies ISSN: 1188-3774
Issue: Date: Winter, 2001 Source Volume: 10 Source Issue: 2
Topic: NamedWork: Globalization and Urban Change: Capital, Culture and Pacific Rim Mega-projects (Book)
Persons: Reviewee: Olds, Kris
Accession Number: 84306610
Full Text: Olds, Kris.

Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

328 + xvii pp.

ISBN 0-19-823361-2.

$119.50 (Hardcover).

In a globalized world, 'urban mega-projects' (UMPs) are part and parcel of the various images used to project and promote so-called 'global cities'. Often these building projects involve the redevelopment of vast tracts of old industrial and low-rise residential lands with high-rise hotels, offices and condominiums. In not a few cases, such projects have been triggered by holding international events such as Expositions and Centennials (e.g., in the case of Brisbane, Sydney, Yokohama and Vancouver). Author Kris Olds sees the formation of UMPs as a 'microcosm' of wider 'global forces' and examines two such projects on either side of the Pacific Rim: the Pacific Place redevelopment project, in Vancouver, and Lujiazui Central Area, Pudong, in Shanghai.

Deriding neo-classical analysis of global property deals, as well as Marxist/political economy interpretations, Olds attempts a more culturally sensitive' analysis focussing upon the relevant 'actors' who feature in each plot or narrative, and reveals how their actions have been socially constructed. His objective therefore is to look beyond the more traditional statistics on global cities, such as the number of corporate headquarters that each contain, together with branches of international banks, offices of international organizations and so on. To do this he leads his two narratives into an analysis of the role of individual personalities that actually make 'big build' projects happen, and points to the many non-economic factors involved in property deals. Indeed, the pair of case studies examined in this book represents an interesting balance. On the one hand we have a story of Hong Kong business immigrants (Li Ka-shing and his family, together with immigrant architects Terry Hui and Stanley Kwok) invol ved in one of the largest urban redevelopment schemes in North America (the former 1986 Expo lands in Vancouver). On the other hand is a story of an international design competition, and a London-based architectural firm (Rogers International) that draws upon its experiences in various western cities to develop ideas for Shanghai's nascent financial centre.

Olds draws in theoretical insights from the work of anthropologist Arjun Appadurai and his concept of the 'global cultural economy'; sociologist Manuel Castell's notions of 'networks' and the 'space of flows'; and geographer Peter Rimmer's image of the 'global intelligence corps'. The latter refers to the elite architects, engineers, chartered surveyors and developers who secure 'big build' projects in global cities, and hence help to diffuse an 'international style' of architecture around the world. (As an aside, a good example of how networks have been generated between academics, architects, property developers and others in Pacific Rim cities is exemplified by the PRCUD organization [Pacific Rim Council of Urban Development]; see for more details).

'Brand name' architects and overseas Chinese money are certainly important for understanding the processes reshaping many modern cities through large-scale development projects. Kris Olds' finely detailed research is therefore a significant contribution to the field. Still, at the end of these two well-told stories, one is left with the impression that traditional analyses, especially 'coreperiphery' models, might still be relevant. For instance, who got the better deal out of 'engineering' the UMPs in question? One reading is that the Chinese appear to have gained the upper hand. Thus, in the Shanghai case the mayor and his team set out to exploit the western architects, realizing that the 'brand' of their conceptual designs was more important in attracting international finance and interest than actually following their master plans to the implementation stage. In fact, the winning conceptual plan of the Rogers International team was severely compromised by the Shanghai government building 20 office towers over 30 stories high on the site -- even as the western architects were finalizing their designs. Moreover, according to Olds, neither Rogers nor any of the other teams ever received further commissions in China. The major beneficiaries of Shanghai's rapid development in the 1990s were overseas Chinese developers and financiers.

In Vancouver, Olds notes that the city was out-manoeuvred by Li Kashing and his team, both over the price negotiated for the former Expo land, and when city planners were later unable to demand more than a minimum level of services and negotiated infrastructure, such as land for parks and schools. Against this, however, must be balanced the wave of new investments in condos and hotels that were attracted after 1987 into Vancouver by Li's own 'brand' and reputation in Hong Kong business circles. In other words, British Columbia's provincial government and local businesses were eventually big winners from Li's involvement in terms of the city's overall economic diversification. Still later, Vancouver was substantially hurt by the sudden downturn in Hong Kong migration after the reunification with China in 1997. This, together with the impact of the Asian financial crisis (1997-1998), has made demand for Pacific Place condos vulnerable, and revealed a downside to increasing linkages to Pacific Rim markets -- nam ely a worrying volatility that must now be placed alongside the more traditional image of dynamism of Pacific Rim economies.
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.