Dear in urban studies. In this commentary,
Dear and Flusty’s repudiationof the Chicago School, and of Chicago as an urban prototype, is entirelyimplicit. Dear and Flusty (1998) in the Annals of the Association of AmericanGeographers. “Have we arrived at a radical break in the way cities are developing?”they ask rhetorically. “Is there something called a postmodern urbanism,which presumes that we can identify some form of template that defines itscritical dimensions?” (Dear and Flusty, 1998, p. 50). The uninflectedtitle of their article, “Postmodern Urbanism,” unambiguouslyannounces their affirmative reply: “This paper is an initial step towardderiving a concept of ‘postmodern urbanism'” (Dear and Flusty, 1998, p.50).
I declare my position withoutany postmodern ambiguity. Although Dear and Flusty (1998) present someinteresting points, their paper fails to present a set of coherent andconvincing arguments. Not only are numerous arguments in their paperself-contradicting, but the paper’s overarching theme—to establish the LosAngeles School of postmodern urbanism—is problematic. Does a postmodern theoryfor a postmodern city justify repudiation of the Chicago School and do Dear andFlusty provide such a theory from their Los Angeles vantage point?. I hope thisreview symposium will blow away the dense smoke that Dear and Flusty havegenerated in urban studies.
In this commentary, I will first comment on Dearand Flusty’s postmodern urbanism, followed by brief remarks on postmodernism ingeneral. I do not believe we can gain a clear understanding of Dear andFlusty’s postmodern urbanism without touching on Dear’s larger agenda: topromote postmodern geography.In this commentary, Iwill first comment on Dear and Flusty’s postmodern urbanism, followed by briefremarks on postmodernism in general. In Dear and Flusty’s postmodern urbanism,As a rhetorical strategy, the announcement of a new paradigm, theory, orintellectual construct often rests on repudiation of something old, a foilagainst which to establish the new by comparison. I do not believe we can gaina clear understanding of Dear and Flusty’s postmodern urbanism without touchingon Dear’s larger agenda: to promote postmodern geography.
Dear and Flusty’s keyargument is that most 20th-century urban analyses have been predicated on the ChicagoSchool’s model of concentric rings. By synthesizing recent studies on thecontemporary form of Southern California urbanism, they aim to develop a newconcept, called postmodern urbanism, under the banner of the Los Angeles Schoolof centreless “keno” capitalism. The fundamental features of the Los Angelesmodel include a global-local connection, a ubiquitous social polarization, anda reterritorialization of the urban process in which the hinterland organizesthe center. This is, indeed, an ambitious undertaking. And yet, in theconclusion, we are told that their notion of keno capitalism is not ametanarrative but rather a micronarrative awaiting dialogical engagement. Ifthe argument to shift our understanding of cities from the Chicago School to theLos Angeles School (if indeed such exists) is not a metanarrative (which mostpostmodernists oppose), I really do not know what a metanarrative is.
This isnot a new problem in Dear’s writings: critics pointed out 10 years ago thatDear seeks to have his own cake and eat it too (Scott and Simpson–Housley,1989). The most serious problem of the postmodern urbanism thesis, as I see it,is that the argument is premised on the dubious assumption that our society hasbeen transformed and has moved from a modern epoch to a postmodern epoch—anunproven argument that has been hotly contested among social scientists, as theauthors acknowledge in their first footnote. Following this assumption, theauthors present only those studies that seem to support their argument.
We aretold, for example, that the Los Angeles School has emerged and replaced theChicago School of urban studies. As the authors describe this change, readersget the impression that there has been a huge vacuum in urban research betweenthe development of the Chicago School in the 1920s and the Los Angeles Schoolin the 1990s. The authors lead the reader to believe that no meaningful orsignificant urban studies were conducted in the intermediate years. I believethat this characterization of the urban literature is neither fair noraccurate. Ironically, the three pillars used by the authors to construct theirpostmodern urbanism—the world-city hypothesis, the dual-city theory, and theedge-city model—are concepts that emerged in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Asanother example, the global-local connection thesis is built on what economistPaul Krugman has called pop internationalism (Krugman, 1997). New tradetheories based on increasing returns (rather than comparative advantages) haveclarified many of the misperceptions of the globalization process—for example,recent research findings revealing that globalization has minimal impact onlocal employment (Krugman, 1998). No wonder Krugman refers to many of theglobal-local connection arguments based on pop internationalism as “globaloney”(Krugman, 1998).
Yet another example is Joel Garneau’s edge-city model, whichDear and Flusty employ to support their idea of centreless keno capitalism.Although Garreau captured some interesting characteristics of urban developmentin the United States, his journalist’s intuition and speculation have not stoodup to scholarly scrutiny. Garreau’s ideas have been discredited by most urbanscholars. According to Beauregard (1995), the edge-city thesis is a fatally flawedrhetorical move to mitigate the urban sting of society’s contradictions. Abbott(1993) regarded edge-city as an updated version of suburban mythmaking.
Thefatal flaw of looking at urban development via the edge-city lens is that ittends to lead us. to “take the shell for the whole oyster.” Even Melvin Webber,one of the earliest urban scholars to speculate about the emergence of apost-city age (Webber, 1963, 1968), has admitted that cities are tenacious andthat his previous speculations have not obtained strong empirical supportbecause of the persisting power of propinquity (Rusk, 1995; Webber, 1996). IfDear and Flusty had paid attention to numerous studies of recent trends in thegentrification of American cities (Smith, 1996), they would not have proclaimedthe argument that the hinterland organizes the center in a centerless kenocapitalism. How does the hinterland organize