Has globalization really made the world more “flat?”

Most people are probably familiar with Thomas Friedmans argument that globalization is making the world a place of more equality, a place where more people have access to technology and economic opportunity. I have to disagree, and I believe that as an aspiring international planner I need to be aware of the uneven nature of economic development. Friedman claims that technology is creating more equality between people and places because the technology is about the individual, who is “competing against other individuals all over the planet” (11). This ability was enabled by the pc, fiber-optic cables, and the rise of work flow software which then allowed the people to “go global as individuals” (11).

One of the most basic issues with Friedman’s argument is equality of that While the global digital assemblage seems to be non-territorial located in space, it is actually place based and subject to control and its territoriality inherently implies inequality (Sassen 2006). Stephen Graham (2002) says that the global digital assemblage, favors urban networks and communication infrastructure is more likely to be located in an urban area. He continues to say that the amount of connectivity in a city and the telecommunications infrastructure makes is one way that cities compete, thus creating inequality. For a reality check, just think about your cell phone and how there are some “dead zones” where you don’t get service. Those zones are generally in out of the way places, while urban centers with a concentrated user base aids service. So, there is actually great inequality in the supposedly flat world.
Perhaps more troubling in this analysis of a “flat” world is the inequality between cities. Saskia Sassen is known for her analysis on “Global Cities” where she ranks cities based on their interconnection in the global economy. New York, London, and Tokoyo rise in their importance because they hold a disproportionate amount of power in the Global Economy. These cities rise in prominence because of the neo-liberal economies favoring of cities that can act as command and control centers, and cities which specialize. As a result, cities are specializing in the economy, but they are specializing with great differences. Mumbai has specialized to be a center of outsourcing. The economic prospects there are hardly the same as the economic prospects of a person in New York.

Understanding this difference is imperative for planners—no matter what their context. We have to realize the relationship between our experiences. We also have to recognize the specialization of cities is a direct result of the neo-liberal economy. The challenge as a planner is for us to overcome the challenges of neo-liberalism, and help cities that are on the periphery of the economy to engage. How can we help cities to specialize within the neoliberal economy? How can we help to reduce the inequalities between cities?

Post by Juliana Wilhoit


2 thoughts on “Has globalization really made the world more “flat?”

  1. Pingback: Spaces of Hope | Transnational Planning

  2. Pingback: Technology in the City | Transnational Planning

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