Global Downtowns

Global Downtowns

Global Downtowns

Global Downtowns


Global Downtowns reconsiders one of the defining features of urban life--the energy and exuberance that characterize downtown areas--within a framework of contemporary globalization and change. It analyzes the iconic centers of global cities through individual case studies from Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the United States, considering issues of function, population, imagery, and growth. Contributors to the volume use ethnographic and cultural analysis to identify downtowns as products of the activities of planners, power elites, and consumers and as zones of conflict and competition. Whether claiming space on a world stage through architecture, media events, or historical tourism or facing the claims of different social groups for a place at the center, downtowns embody the heritage of the modern city and its future.

Essays draw on extensive fieldwork and archival study in Beijing, Barcelona, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dar es Salaam, Dubai, Nashville, Lima, Philadelphia, Mumbai, Havana, Beirut, and Paris, among other cities. They examine the visions of planners and developers, cultural producers, governments, theoreticians, immigrants, and outcasts. Through these perspectives, the book explores questions of space and place, consumption, mediation, and images as well as the processes by which urban elites learn from each other as well as contest local hegemony.

Global Downtowns raises important questions for those who work with issues of urban centrality in governance, planning, investment, preservation, and social reform. The volume insists that however important the narratives of individual spaces--theories of American downtowns, images of global souks, or diasporic formations of ethnic enclaves as interconnected nodes--they also must be situated within a larger, dynamic framework of downtowns as centers of modern urban imagination.


Gary W. McDonogh and Marina Peterson

“DOWNTOWN!” The word itself, like its myriad global cognates including el centro, wasat al-madina, centre ville, and zhongwan, evokes intensities at the core of urban life, space, and capital: “Bright lights, surging crowds, tall buildings, big money, power politics.” To speak of global downtowns demands careful analysis of the particularities of place and people as well as examination of shared processes connecting and transforming cities worldwide as dense, active sites of encounter, competition, celebration, and conflict. In this volume, we look at widespread processes, knowledge, and mediations underpinning the formations of such central spaces. We consider the global elements of individual cases, the civic consciousness and elite strategies that connect downtowns around the world, and the points of conflict and transformation that spill out into streets and spaces from Barcelona to Los Angeles, Beirut to Mumbai. We listen to and interpret competitive politicians, multinational corporations, cosmopolitan planners, and itinerant tourists while recognizing local citizens, associations, artistic vanguards, and excluded voices in the day-to-day reconstitution of space and image. As crucibles of international flows, downtowns offer unique vantage points on globalization, which we illuminate in this volume through comparative urban ethnography. The concept of “global downtowns” thus captures the ways in which downtowns around the world increasingly share common features, serve as models for the transformation of old city centers and the emergence of new ones, and become sites for the convergence of diverse global processes.

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