Last updated: July 23, 2019
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Media and the Impact London as a Global City

There is nothing like the rapid changes that we are experiencing in the Information Age. The widespread changes that the world is experiencing are part of the trend that is called “globalization”. While an awareness of change is nothing new contemporary debates about specific changes raise more daunting issues. These issues are debated not only in the mass media but in academic institutions where popular discourses concerning an emerging new world both inform and become the objects of analysis (Eade, 1997, p. 1).

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The emergence of megacities—a term originally coined by the UN in the 1970s—aroused dire predictions by the early 1980s that supercities were destined to dominate the world urban structure and distort the economies and city hierarchies of countries everywhere. Urban areas may provide all or some of the following types of functions: retailing, wholesaling, manufacturing, professional and personal services, entertainment, business and political administration, military defense, educational and religious functions, and transportation and communication services. Because all urban functions and people cannot be located at a single point, cities themselves must take up space, and land uses and populations must have room within them (Fellman, 2003).

Upon entrance of the 1990s, the notion of `global city’ was first brought into play by Saskia Sassen. In her first book on this subject, The Global City (1991), she analyzed New York, London and Tokyo as examples of cities which in the two last decades advanced to the status of global cities. Later, she includes other cities in this category like Miami, Toronto and Sydney, as pointed out in her subsequent book, Cities in a World Economy (1994). Under certain circumstances, Sassen suggested that Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Zurich, Frankfurt, Mexico City and Sao Paulo may also be included in the category of global cities, because they fulfill the prerequisites for certain transnational economic transactions. For a better understanding of Sassen’s ideas, she defined global cities as “key sites for the advanced services and telecommunications facilities necessary for the implementation and management of global economic operations. They also tend to concentrate the headquarters of firms, especially firms that operate in more than one country” (1994, p.19).

When the global cities sprouted, new inequalities among these cities became at focus. Nations and their importance within traditional commercial and economic webs lost their privileged positions. The importance of national states started to shrink and certain “global cities” became more important in the globalized landscape than whole nations. A new combination of spatial dispersal and global integration created new strategic roles for major cities like New York, London and Tokyo.

Beyond their long history as centers of international trade and banking, these cities now function in four new ways: first, as highly concentrated command points in the organization of the world economy; second, as key locations for finance and for specialized service firms, which have replaced manufacturing as the leading economic sectors; third, as sites of production, including the production of innovations, in these leading industries; and fourth, as markets for the products and innovations produced (1991, p. 3-4).

Media, being the “watchdog” of the society, has engaged to have a pivotal role in these global cities. It should stand on its purpose and adjust to these rapid changes, by magnifying on the new social issues that dwell in these “global cities”. For example, there are numerous major international corporations that affect world city development and dominance. The growing size and complexity of transnational corporations dictate their need to outsource central managerial functions to specialized service firms to minimize the complexity of control over dispersed operations. With these, labor issues are raised by employees and the media should take on the role as the loudspeaker to voice out the interests of both sides.

As Manuel Castells proclaimed, “Global cities are the new pillars of the informational era (1996, p. 9). These cities provide the full infrastructure needed by the world economy for the realization of international transactions. This includes good airports, hotels, telecommunications, media, Internet, banking, security, stock exchange, and so on. The global cities have a significant number of qualified and efficient people able to supply and produce all necessary services. They are marketplaces able to absorb and recycle all financial flows and transactions. That is why it is important to remember that this hierarchy may change very fast under constantly changing economic conditions. For example, the position of New York may have changed since the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center. Media’s role is somehow “equalize” the hierarchies and promote what is “socially” and “ethically” acceptable.

London: The Global City
Previously, Anthony King has produced an important study of London’s role as a “command and control centre” in the “capitalist world-economy” (1990).  He explained that the location of his discussion of the “world city” within a world systems theory perspective is less useful for our purposes than the work of Saskia Sassen (1991, 1994). She has mounted the most impressive case for describing London among others (notably New York and Tokyo) as a global city.

It is important to point out those key developments which took place during the 1980s became the “trigger” that led London to take up on the role as a major centre for global capital transactions became more transparent and significant as industrial production in the capital declined as the service sector expanded (Budd and Whimster, 1992). Alternative economic strategies were devised by political opponents of the central (Conservative) government’s “free market” approach. However, Conservative electoral success under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher during the 1980s led to the demise of political resistance at the metropolitan level through the elimination of the Greater London Council and the Inner London Education Authority. Vigorous attempts were made to rein in central government spending on public resources such as housing, social and welfare services and both political and financial support was provided to local borough councils such as Wandsworth who pioneered the implementation of central government policy. In fact, the derelict dock area of east London-a symbol of Britain’s industrial past and class confrontation-was redeveloped as a demonstration of the free market philosophy, the freedom from interfering local authorities and the effectiveness of global investment (Eade, 1997, p. 12-13).

Between 1998 and 2000, five inner London boroughs and three areas of the Docklands had been undergoing to be urban development zones. What should be the consequences of London’s transformation into an increasingly middle-class city, even if the majority of residents is not middle class? Butler (1997), in his research, indicated that perhaps there was a new kind of gentrifier, rather different from the ‘ordinary’ middle class, who might — as it were — look out for their less fortunate neighbors. Even if they didn’t share their sun-dried tomatoes with them, Butler hypothesized that it would perhaps be in their interests to ensure that schooling improved for all. In this way, economic competitiveness and social cohesion might be becoming a virtuous pairing rather than a vicious cycle as has too often been the case. It is a striking factor of  London’s contemporary gentrification that nowhere, even in its leafiest areas, do the middle classes constitute more than a quarter of the population and are unlikely so to do unless and until huge amounts of social housing are recycled into private ownership.

In a large, global city like London the diversity of the housing market, particularly in a period of great changes such as have marked the closing decades of the twentieth century, means that the process of middle-class settlement have become complex. The making of an urban middle class will be heavily influenced by such concerns. For their part, the middle classes have a range of different assets that they are able to deploy; some of these will be constrained (such as lack of relative economic capability), whereas others are more a matter of choice and conscious decision, such as the wish to create active middle-class networks. More likely, these will be deployed in different ways, which will give particular areas their own distinctive ambiences, and that this can be seen as part of the process of class formation in contemporary London. In this sense, the place acquires specific spatial characteristics that, in turn, influence those living in its ambit. In trying to untangle the nature of the urban middle classes in London, the structure of consciousness is likely to prove important and ‘place’ is likely to prove of enduring influence (Butler ; Robson, 2003, p. 25).

One part of London, Barnsbury has increased its cultural infrastructure of consumption and the second to its ‘social capital rich’ reputation among the city residents. Butler and Robson (2003) collected some insights of the residents living there:

It’s now very vibrant, with a great ‘street’ life — a choice of restaurants, bars, theatres etc … recent gentrification is a result of changes in the City. It’s more attractive now for young singles, lots more businesses attracted to the area, which has benefited wider populations and the whole area is much smarter (Barsbury resident, 20).

This is quite a close knit area socially. This street pulls together, we have meetings if there’s a problem (Barnsbury resident, 29).

On positive note on the rise of London as a global city is the increase in accessibility of areas for socialization. Business is booming and the areas outside of a city are affected by it. As the distance away from a community increases, its influence on the surrounding countryside decreases. Many residents felt that they were able to have the best of both worlds, to be centrally placed yet able to get away to their second home

It’s very pleasant here, well provided with parks and lots of things to do with small children. It’s nice for us because we’re well off, less so for others — we are able to get away, leave London. We can get out of here, e.g. for long summer holidays (Barnsbury resident, 43).

For many, centrality was one of the major benefits of living in Barnsbury — both to the West End and to the City. For example, lawyers could ‘pop’ into their chambers on a Sunday if they had forgotten to bring home the right boxfile for a case on Monday morning.

It’s not central to London, it’s in central London, and the West End’s accessible for cinema, theatre, shopping. We can walk into town. Not having to commute is the main thing. I can have breakfast with the kids — that is worth an unquantifiable amount. Being with the kids is just not a problem. That’s the main thing for me, more than the local commercial infrastructure … I like the local school, it has a good atmosphere with a good mix of social classes and people, quite artistic people around (Barnsbury resident, 50).

It’s great to be central, close to things. I know the area very well, and have a lot of good friends in the neighbourhood. I enjoy it — just here it’s peaceful and green, I like the trees and squares of Barnsbury, and their proximity to the West End and Upper St. It’s a nice place to live … There are an awful lot more lawyers around, only they can afford it. Upper St was an ordinary high street when we came here … Islington has become a fashion item, which is pleasant enough (Barnsbury resident, 39).

It is not unusual to claim that even the most ‘isolated’ or ‘traditionalist’ community relations are subject to increasing global influences (Albrow et al. 1994). Factors such as increased mobility, migration and the arrival of ‘new residents’ have altered the appearances of communities traditionally viewed as homogeneous. These factors, coupled with ‘wider’ political processes, which seem to have radically transformed the spatial boundaries of the world as a whole, constitute elements of a process of global change which requires us to challenge essentialist, generalizing statements about what local community ‘is’ or ‘should be’ in favour of an appreciation of the changing meanings, requirements and desires attributed to ‘locality’ and local ‘community’ by residents. Thus, it is presumed that certainties of cultural identity, firmly located in particular places which housed stable cohesive communities of shared tradition and perspective, though never a reality for some, were increasingly disrupted and displaced for all (Carter et al. 1993, p. vii).

It is undeniable that the economic base and the financial stability of those central cities unable to expand and absorb new growth areas have been grievously damaged by the process of suburbanization. However, some people will opt for a separation from the central city and for aloofness from the costs, the deterioration, and the adversities associated with it. Their homes, jobs, shopping, schools, and recreation all existed outside the confines of the city from which they had divorced themselves. As what Barnsbury resident 39 voiced out, the high costs of living would eventually sprout in an emerging global city like London.

The redistribution of population caused by suburbanization resulted not only in the spatial but also in the political segregation of social groups of the metropolitan area. The upwardly mobile resident of the city— younger, wealthier, and  better educated—took advantage of the automobile and the freeway to leave the central city. The poorer, older, least-advantaged urbanites were left behind. The central cities and the suburbs became increasingly differentiated. Large areas within those cities now contain only the poor and minority groups (including women), a population little able to pay the rising costs of the social services that their numbers, neighborhoods, and condition require.

The politics of cultural difference and the process of identity construction are not confined to Britain’s ethnic minorities, however. As national belongings in the West are challenged by local and more global imaginings of community the assertions of a ‘British’, ‘English’, ‘French’ or ‘Belgian’ cultural differentiations become more obvious-the rhetoric of national unity notwithstanding. Nationalist discourses construct ‘imagined communities’ (Anderson, 1983) but these issues are driven by the ambivalences of referring to a mythic past while recognizing the modernity of the nation-state and civil society (Bhabha 1990, p. 1). Moreover, the changing social and cultural character of those communities belies the tendency towards constructing an essential unity rooted in the past (Eade, 1992).

In this regard, social services needed to support the poor include welfare payments, social workers, extra police and fire protection, health delivery systems, and subsidized housing. Global cities, like London, are often unable to support such an array and intensity of social services since they have lost the tax bases represented by suburbanized commerce, industry, and upper-income residential uses.

The corporate complex and the immigrant community today are probably two extreme modes in the formation and appropriation of urban space. The urban form represented by the global city function — the internationalized corporate services complex and the highly paid professional work force with its high-priced lifestyle — is the one habitually thought to constitute the essence of an advanced post-industrial economy. The urban form represented by the immigrant community, or more specifically, the informal economy, is habitually seen as not belonging to an advanced economy, one to be found here only because it has been imported via immigration (Sassen, 1993). This phenomenon has increasingly segregated the poor and minorities, being trapped in global cities, without the possibility of nearby employment and are isolated by distance, immobility, and unawareness from the few remaining low-skill jobs, which are now largely in the suburbs.

Role of Media in Globalization
Most globalization theorists only acknowledge that media has played a crucial role in the acceleration of globalization. Terhi Rantanen (2005) uses media as the fundamental starting point for a discussion of the theories of globalization and offers a systematic method of studying how lives have changed.

Although the media provide a homogeneous culture, the nations have countered this with powerful ideologies. People have more opportunities to interconnect across great distances, but also within places. Globalization has brought about changes in the way we live. But Rantanen suggested that in order to identify and categorize the changes in a fresh way of looking at the theories of globalization, the media should be at the center in its relationship to time, place, and space; the ways women have traveled throughout generations; and the role of conflict.

As pointed out by Featherstone (1995), globalization suggests simultaneously two views of culture. The first, taking a monoculturalist point of view, treats globalization as the “extension outward of a particular culture to its limits, the globe,” through a process of conquest, homogenization and unification brought about by the consumption of the same cultural and material products (Featherstone 1995, p.6). The second one, adopting a multiculturalist stand, perceive globalization as the “compression of cultures.” The emphasis should be the plurality of cultural development as a result of the anti-colonialism movement. Instead of losing one’s “sense of place” because of increasing global influences, the importance of locality was underlined in the constructing and deconstructing, embedding and disembedding of social forces.

These dimensions of globalization, including the dynamics of the market, modes of production, the contents and messages transmitted, are closely related to the perception of the role and function of communications in the globalization process, the direction of change in the industry, and ultimately, the cultural images presented by the theories of globalization. Apart from that, the media should make the society aware of the advantages and disadvantages of urbanization and “global cities”. There are many issues that should be addressed like city systems, land use, and social area patterns are not necessarily or usually applicable to other cultural contexts. Global cities do little to convey the fact that those settlements are currently growing faster than it is possible to provide employment, housing, safe water, sanitation, and other minimally essential services and facilities. The media sits on the role to inform people about these developments.

Conclusion
Globalization in world cities is inevitable. Global cities are indispensable for international economic transactions. All these global cities make a vital contribution to the circulation of finance capital around the world. They are central to the world capitalist system at the stage of globalization. If one of those cities is paralyzed, as almost happened in New York as a result of the attacks against the World Trade Center, the whole system may be affected. This is why the media is challenged to take on a bigger role to notice these changes and communicate these to the people. Media play a role of middleman in this process by relating cultural values of the West to various cultures. The fear of a standardized global culture being imposed by media is not warranted if one shares the view of inter-acculturation in globalization. If a global culture arises from a melding of diverse particularities of different cultures, rather than a transplant of one single form, there is nothing to be feared. All cultures today have experienced the same process for a long time (Lee, 2000, p. 195).

Communication trends have changed dramatically in the UK in recent years, as digital technology has replaced analogue systems, and mobile phones, e-mail and the internet have emerged as the dominant methods of communication. Almost all of UK has access to TV, radio and the Internet.  However, the macro-structural changes in global economy has become even bigger: the transformation of the industrial into the informational society and the changing emphasis on information rather than material production have produced profound structural changes affecting the organization of societies, their labor force strategies, the power structures of the state but above all the place and hierarchy of contemporary cities. The media has to answer all these changes and should represent all sides and all sectors to ensure that everyone has his or her own place to live peacefully and successfully in a global city like London.

 

 

 

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