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The Unseen Global City

June 27, 2016

“In today’s modern century, countries are conducting a massive social experiment, rapidly converting cities into the next ‘global city’ like Shanghai, Dubai, and Istanbul,” says Professor Michael Goldman. “Global cities are alive with two very different social imaginaries: Those who desire to rebuild the city with ‘world-class’ infrastructure versus the urban majority’s concerns of being dispossessed by these elite projects.”

How are these two phenomena connected?  “Look at Rio de Janeiro in Brazil,” Goldman says.  “Brazil is one of the foremost emerging markets today, and with the global urbanization of Rio, they managed to host the soccer World Cup in 2014 and will host the Summer Olympics in 2016.”  But to build this world-class infrastructure, Brazil borrowed from international banks and rerouted resources away from the pressing needs of the urban majority in order to pay for these mega-sport spectacles. Goldman contends these practices may intensify existing social inequalities, create greater economic hardships, and leave the urban majority with the hard task of managing life in a city captured by these global desires.

Another emerging market, India, is also experiencing the speculation and risks of global urbanism. In 2006, Goldman was living in the city of Bangalore, India, which at the time had a population of six million. Today, the urban area has almost doubled in population and grown threefold in size.

Goldman’s inspiration for his research came from the ideas of a former student in addition to New York Times writer, Thomas Friedman, who espoused the “world is flat” from watching Bangalore grow with information technology firms that were relocating from US in the 1990s. Friedman imagined that such growth would automatically improve city life for all. Meanwhile, national leaders thought they could harness that wealth and borrow money from investment firms to build world-class infrastructure so that the city itself could be a source of profit and splendor. But today many of those IT firms are no longer “local”—they roam the world seeking cheaper labor and inputs, leaving cities financially broke with unfinished projects too expensive for locals to afford.

Michael Goldman received funding from the University’s Global Programs and Strategy Alliance for a collaborative research project on global cities with scholars here and in India. The University is also supporting his PhD students who are conducting research on questions of access to work, land, and water in Bangalore, and it has set up a new study abroad program for undergraduate students to live and study in Bangalore.

Goldman was recently awarded a prestigious Chair Professor position at the Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC) in Bangalore. Goldman will visit ISEC twice a year to give lectures, work with PhD students, and initiate collaborative research with University of Minnesota and Indian scholars in this vibrant field of urban studies.

“Ultimately, I aim to work alongside academia and community activists so that my research better understands the pulse of the city, in order to inspire socially just policies that respond to the needs of the urban majority.”

This story was written by an undergraduate student account executive in CLAgency. Meet the team.