John Connell, ed. Sydney: The Emergence of a World City. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2000. xvi + 381 pp. $59.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-19-550748-5.
Reviewed by Lynette Finch (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia)
Published on H-Urban (April, 2002)
Between 1850 and 1914, over fifty million Europeans emigrated to the Americas or Australasia. Throughout the nineteenth and most of the twentieth century, Melbourne was their preferred Australian destination. Until the last quarter of the twentieth century, it had the largest foreign-born percentage of population in the country. By 1850, it was one of a select grouping of globally significant megacities. A city of parks and wide streets, substantial commercial and public buildings, it was a hub of foreign investment capital. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, Australia's most southerly mainland city remained the country's leading financial capital and first choice for head office location amongst national and transnational corporations with headquarters in the country.
Then, in the 1960s, Australia's leading international city was suddenly and definitively overtaken by Sydney in all global indicators. In 1998 Sydney's population passed the four million mark, having added one million in the previous 26 years. By contrast, Melbourne is not expected to reach four million until around 2015. John Connell, editor of this fifteen-chapter collection, writes that Sydney has "established its national dominance as a population centre, and almost certainly as Australia's global city."
Inspired by G. Wynn and T. Oke's Vancouver and its Region, the main theme of the collection is Sydney's role as a global city. Connell defines the term as "a metropolis that is part of a global consciousness." Robert Fagan, in his chapter on the industrial evolution of the city, provides a more complex definition. Global cities are identified by their role as:
"command centres for organising the global economy, especially through corporate headquarters, banks and other finance industries, and their role as nodal points in global information flows. Such cities have been characterised by their openness to global flows of commodities, money, ideas, and information. They have become destinations for both internal and international migration of skilled information workers, but also magnets for new streams of global labour migration, especially from developing countries in Latin America and the Asia-Pacific Region. Finally, global cities at the end of the 1990s, have become pacesetters and diffusion centres for a new culture increasingly connected in cyberspace" (p. 145).
Statistics supporting Sydney's claim to global-city status are provided by several contributors, all using indicators of international business interest in the city. In the 1960s, the mineral boom corporations began to cluster in Sydney and so, too, did Japanese trading companies. Sydney began to attract emergent international finance companies. By the 1984, it had overtaken Melbourne as preferred location to established corporate head offices. Forty-five of Australia's one hundred largest companies had established their main headquarters in Sydney, to Melbourne's forty-one (Fagan, 158). By 1990 the city had attracted four-fifths of foreign bank head offices in an environment of massive inflows of foreign capital. Sydney is now indisputably Australia's leading share-trading centre (Daly and Pritchard, 167).
The chapters that discuss the benefits and disadvantages of global integration make this a distinctive collection. John Connell, for example, argues that the old sandstone mercantile city has become a generic world city bearing a "non-specific" appearance. This might be considered a negative by some, but Hollywood producers find this a highly desirable trait. Andrew Mason, producer of The Matrix, for example, commended the city for its anonymity: "It's got a bunch of interesting buildings with different shapes and there's good geography. It's not hard to use it as a non-specific city, assuming you don't show the Opera House" (p. 18).
Tourism might be expected to suffer if such a generic reshaping is taking place but, in the chapter on this issue, the authors argue that this is not so. The Opera House, the Harbour Bridge and the spectacular harbour, the beautiful Blue Mountains and the old world charm of the Rocks district are features exploited by the tourist promotions industries. Interestingly, however, Morgan Sant and Gordon Waiit argue that they are not the fundamental base of the city's status as "Australia's premier domestic and international tourist destination." They argue that Sydney is benefiting from what will probably prove to be a passing fad amongst the international herd. Ever on the search for new settings, the "tourism industry constantly stalks the globe in search of novelty ... That while the relative decline in air transport cost had made the industry more global than ever before. Australia in general, and Sydney in particular, are relative newcomers in the world tourism."
Robert Freestone's chapter is an outstanding contribution to the collection. Focusing on urban planning, he covers the local factors that historically created Sydney's shape and texture, while introducing the changing milieu in planning wrought by its move to an international city of consumption and spectacle. He presents a case that globalisation brings both benefits and disadvantages to local residents:
Global city status brings economic rewards, but also increases the cost of living, brings into sharper relief social and cultural divides between 'haves' and 'have nots,' and sets new challenges for the planning system in balancing the need for, say, efficient transport and communications infrastructure against maintaining residential amenity" (p. 123).
In their chapter on patterns of morbidity (illness) or mortality, Kevin McCracken and Peter Curson agree that international pressures have widened the gap between rich and poor, just as they had done in other world cities. This gap, rather than any other aspect of Sydney's global status, has produced a typical health pattern of a world city:
"an ageing population (despite immigration) primarily affected by degenerative diseases and by mental illness, but in a metropolis where both intermittent and long-term infectious diseases affect other demographic groups (particular AIDS in the relative anonymity of cities with specialised care services) and where there are significant, probably increasing, divisions in health status, and in access to health care, that reflect and accentuate other urban divisions" (p. 118).
Not all contributors to the collection agree that globalisation has been the driving force in Sydney's late twentieth-century development. Robert Fagan, for example, argues that national policy and regional factors dominate planning in industrial and suburban infrastructure and that the global city discourse overstates the importance of global processes, distracting attention from the principal role of domestic forces. Chris Gibson's and John Connell's well-written, fascinating chapter on the city through the lens of painting, literature, film, music, and television, presents a distinctive, easily recognisable Sydney, or rather Sydneys. Gibson and Connell represent a city of wildly divergent and distinctive settings, of different urban and suburban realities, a city in which the gloss of the tourist brochure sits "alongside images of crime, drugs, hedonism, and the ever-present suburban 'sprawl'" (p. 292). The arts, especially popular literature, glory in each local Sydney, with Newtown, Redfern, or Bondi all being presented as recognisably idiosyncratic. Their argument that the arts represent Sydney as a combination of distinctive local villages, could have resulted in some interesting comparisons with Robert Fagan's position, but no links have been made between the two chapters. In fact, no effort has been made to integrate the chapter into the organising logic of the collection, even though the editor is one of the authors.
Quite a high percentage of contributors do not address the issue of globalisation at all. To some extent, the editor has explained this by arguing that the book is not just about globalisation itself, but seeks to examine "the processes of recent change, and to paint a picture of Sydney at a unique moment in its history ... a metropolis in transition ... a cosmopolitan, global capital." But it is very hard to discern any central theme running through all chapters, and the expectation that each chapter will address some aspects of globalisation is established by the book's sub-title. It is an expectation that places some of the authors in a difficult position with their work sitting awkwardly in this collection. Andrew Short's chapter, for example, is on the landforms of the region. As almost all of the contributors are geographers, this chapter was an obvious inclusion, but it does not contribute to debate on the central theme. It is interesting and well written but makes no international comparisons and tells us nothing about whether Sydney's geological base has played or will play any role in the city's integration into a global network. David Chapman's chapter on climate and disaster management follows in a logical transition. Chapman has made some comparisons with other major international cities, especially in the discussion of flooding, and has strengthened the relevance of the chapter within this collection for having done so.
Jim Kohen's sweep of 30,000 years of Aboriginal experience is an excellent overview of indigenous experience capturing some of the paradoxes of modern urban life for the original inhabitants, but its place in this particular collection is questionable, because the author hasn't taken up any of the opportunities to make global comparisons. Given that native title legislation is based on international law, comparisons with other global cities would have been extremely interesting. In its own right as a paper on Australian indigenous experience, especially within an urban context, it works well and balances the story of hope amidst despair, in a thought-provoking, yet sensitive manner. The section on the Block, an area of Redfern seen by many as both a real and symbolic Aboriginal place in the centre of the city, is the highlight of the chapter. As Kohen notes, it was a meeting place for Aborigines coming to the city, and very much the "black capital" of Australia, where a defined area of Aboriginal land had been marked out on the ground. Unpaid rent combined with high upkeep costs took a terrible toll on beautiful old terrace housing and on their inhabitants. As urban prices soared and social problems in the Block intensified, Mick Mundine, Manager of the Aboriginal Housing Company (the grass roots indigenous organisation which had fought to establish an Aboriginal housing stock in the city) argued that it had become "a ghetto, a place that symbolised defeat and 'welfare mentality.'" In the 1990s, parts of the Block were demolished, and the residents were rehoused in other suburbs.
Kohen's chapter also provides illustration of another flaw in this collection. Although the book was produced in time to catch an international market created by the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, the main target audience will be academics and students. Yet, almost all the chapters have inadequate bibliographies, and students will have little guidance on where to go for further detail. Almost all the authors have disregarded the wealth of material on their topics provided by historians, especially urban historians. Jim Kohen's sweep of pre- and early-European settlement, for example, has not guided readers to the seminal work of Henry Reynolds. Graeme Aplin's chapter on the historical geography of Sydney concentrates on the present CBD and adjacent inner suburbs and provides a history of the expansion of the urban area from the 1870s to the 1990s. This historical sweep should have used the plethora of work by urban historians, and Aplin's choice to pay no attention to crucial texts by Paul Ashton and Shirley Fitzgerald, amongst others, diminishes the authority of his chapter and its use for students.
Overall, the Sydney that emerges from this collection is a modern city, divided between CBD and suburbs, shifting its geographical centre west-wards, merging into a consumption rather than industrial economy, growing in significance as a centre of international capital, moving from its nineteenth century genetic base drawn primarily from the British Isles to a multicultural ethnically diverse centre, harbouring suburbs of difference. It is a city where Aboriginal communities and Chinese, Vietnamese, and African shopping centres are harboured within this sometimes quirky and beautiful, sometimes bland and generic, city. It's a mixed bag--not unlike this collection. Sydney, the Emergence of a World City is a scholarly and useful collection, but it doesn't contain much path-breaking or even new material. It will be useful for undergraduates, especially of urban studies, although it would have been more successful if more comprehensive and inclusive bibliographies and a more detailed index had been included.
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Lynette Finch. Review of Connell, John, ed., Sydney: The Emergence of a World City.
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