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Urban Asias – Essays on Futurity Past and Present

238 VI. Doing

238 VI. Doing ong>Urbanong> Futures and major sites of severe environmental degradation that is seriously jeopardizing the future of Earth and its human habitation. 34 One major expression of the Anthropocene is global climate change that is already implicated in the rising incidences of environmental disasters, the majority of which are in Asia. 35 Reversing these trends calls for a serious reduction of urban ecological footprints, air, land and water pollution, and destruction of the world’s natural habitats. It also calls for a critical redefinition of “sustainable development” away from paradigms such as the widely-adopted UN Brundtland Report 36 that defines nature as an economic resource and sustainable development only in terms of human wants. Recognizing that humankind exists within rather than apart from the world’s natural environment is fundamental to steering urbanization away from continuing to be a major contributor to disastrous global environmental collapse. For a city to be called progressive, advances must be made in seriously reducing negative impacts on the global as well as the urban environment. New ong>Urbanong> Politics and the Rise of Progressive Cities in Asia The crises discussed above are appearing during a period in which Asia’s rapid urbanization is being accompanied by the rise of civil society pushing for redress. ong>Urbanong>ization levels were less than 20 percent in almost all countries in the 1960s. Municipal governments were appointed from the center and had very little financial or political power to effectively engage in public decision-making. By the late 1990s urbanization was approaching the 50 percent mark, and along with it came burgeoning urban working and middle classes capable of mobilizing for political reform. In South Korea, Taiwan and Indonesia democratization with substantial devolution of power to municipalities occurred. In many other countries, authoritarian regimes were toppled, but were then replaced by successions of the same political order using neo- neoliberal reforms that further Globopolis. The rising discord between political regime entrenchment powered by corporate interests and aspirations of large sections of civil society has reached a crisis level. 37 Recent analysis of big data collected on protests around the world indicates that “the number of highly politically significant protests has reached an all-time high in the past decade”. 38 Among the reasons identified for protests are political disaffection with a new purpose of “exodus from oppression”, economic inequality, and democratization of media. In Asia,

239 FROM CORPORATE GLOBOPOLIS TO PROGRESSIVE CITIES IN ASIA insurgencies have broadened beyond those for democratic reform to now include protests against (global) corporatization of government through, e.g., privatization of public services. They are also widening in their diversity in going beyond places of work to the “right to the city”. 39 Protests against global economic summits such as APEC, environmental pollution, and unfair labor practices now also add to those against lack of affordable housing, the loss of public parks, evictions for megaprojects and global spectacles, and the loss of livelihoods to mini-marts, among others. In other words, they are responding to all of the crises noted above. 40 In all of these expressions of discontent, even in the same country, cities respond differently, and in almost every country, some cities have become known as being more progressive than others. Especially where decentralization of government powers has been significant, national political systems are experiencing previously unexpected openings for progressive leaders without national political connections to rise to municipal government and on to the national stage. The meteoric rise of Joko Widodo (Jokowi) as a progressive mayor of secondary city, Surakarta, to become Governor of Jakarta and President of Indonesia in less than two years is one of the most prominent cases in point, and is one that would not have been possible even a decade ago. Now with democratization and thoroughly devolved system of government, the potential increases for the aspirations of local people to be transformed into progressive actions by government through the electoral processes. While many tendencies and trends, notably the rise of civil society in the public sphere, are crucial dynamics in addressing the crises of corporatization, they are insufficient in explaining why some cities are better able to respond than others. And while leadership is also crucial, a “magic mayor” is not alone capable of changing political scenes. Following from Clavel’s 41 pioneering studies on progressive cities in the U.S., preliminary research in Asia shows that a critical factor in the emergence of progressive cities through the windows of reforms is local grassroots mobilizations that have extensive histories beginning well before the appearance of a progressive government. 42 As in Surakarta before Jokowi’s mayoral tenure, this well observed accumulation of social capital in that city had no predetermined expression, however, and progressive leadership was paramount as well. Also to be noted is the reality that progressive leadership must invariably engage in coalition building within government, which encounters its own bottlenecks and reversals as well as successes. The combination of progressive urban culture and leadership is perhaps still exceptional, though research on the local state in Asia also remains too limited to address this question.