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Urban Asias – Essays on Futurity Past and Present

288 VII. Asia in New

288 VII. Asia in New Geographies of Theory reasons. First, we need to move beyond our situated knowledge (perspectives in themselves are not epistemologies)—that is, beyond our claims to ontological difference (of novelty or uniqueness) and the attendant politics of identity (cultural, linguistic, ethnic, sexual, class, and/or geographical difference). It is right that we relativise the hegemonic centers of world-systems but we cannot simply stay inside the comfort zones of critique and self-assertion and not also acknowledge our common humanity and the universal material challenges of making, doing, and living in our cities. Second, we are also compelled to do so if we are to solve many of the serious challenges to human survival—building and living in sustainable and livable cities is now synonymous with solving all aspects of human survival. Most of these solutions necessarily are going to have to be sought inside the geographical marker of Asian hyper-urbanist scapes. Asia today is the center of global urbanizations and urbanisms. It is number one for the number of megacities and for the speed and intensity of these processes. In a world of rapid urbanization and hyper-urbanism it is hard to see past the gargantuan metropolitan archipelagos to spot new trends and new sites of urban innovations. The trends in megacities however are clear enough even as their meanings are not and their diversities are complex. The modern epoch of city making has been an artefact and an effect first of the emergence of the industrial cities of trans-Atlantic modernity and then subsequently their imperial expansion, domination, and replication across the globe. This process has expanded, intensified, and sped up with each passing decade. A first question then can be asked: The modern Asian megacities have been absorbing trans-Atlantic technology innovations, planning regimes and social imaginaries since at least the turn of the twentieth century, but is this simply a mimetic process or are Asian cities generating new innovations—superadding world history-making inventions, systems, cultures, and experiences into the global urban soup? All culture is mimetic and every copy—however faithful—is necessarily different by virtue of its performance in a different time, place, and context. Even in the context of the unequal power dynamics of the center-periphery, metropolitan-provincial circuits of world-systems, there are also differences in experience and feedback loops in appropriation, adaptation, and innovation. 3 Here is a little schema for thinking about contemporary forms of global urbanization processes that endeavors to capture emergent, dominant, and declining epochs and regimes of city building and how these shift across civilizations, cultures, and regions, but in one emergent world-system: 1. Industrial urbanism: Late eighteenth and nineteenth century Britain cities are the epicenter here. The industrial city of Britain and its

289 TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY ASIAN URBAN IMAGINARIES AND THE LONGUE DURÉE attendant environmental, economic, political, and social horrors and injustices was the generative center for a host of late nineteenth century and early twentieth century anti-urbanism social reform movements (i.e., social movements agitating for public housing, sewerage, gas and water, public health, national trust, national parks). These movements in turn became animating sources of the suburban revolution (house and garden, public green spaces, zoning). 2. Suburbanism: Whilst the roots of suburbia are to be found in the Victorian railroad age with the invention of the bourgeois home modelled on the country house, it is not until the logics of Fordism (organization-era industrialism) kick in after the Second World War in America that it becomes hegemonic in new world societies. Los Angeles is the template and Australasian cities are the most radical experiments in suburbanism. Suburbia is characterized by the attendant technologies of air conditioning, refrigeration, the motor car, the freeway, and the shopping mall. With this came suburban ideologies, lifestyles and cultural artefacts, and big shifts to new areas where cities could be built from scratch. These technologies come replete with fantasies of the good life. These suburban imaginaries were mainly mediated via America. 3. Despotic anti-urbanism: This did not survive the decline and later fall of communism as a viable alternative modern imaginary. North Korea has been the singular holdout. Various attempts at anti-urban people’s development strategies in Maoist China, militarized Burma, and the Khmer Rouge’s Cambodia 4 were all dead ends with horrific tolls on their citizens. 4. Neo-medieval urbanism: The post-industrial era witnessed a small “back to the city” urban movement. This was underpinned by a revaluation of medieval European cities, attempts to humanize the city for pedestrian use, reappraisals of collective modes of transit et cetera. Here I am thinking of urban villages, urban consolidation, cities for people, and other such slogans of American, Western European, Scandinavian, and Australasian urban reformers. These reformers were drawn from the urban professional middle classes. 5 5. Asian export urbanism: In the new epoch of Asian hyperurbanization and hyper-urbanism (cf. 6, below) we are witnessing highdensity projects and new urbanisms in new world migrant societies like Australia and Canada that are either direct investments by Asian developers or inspired by them. 6 6. Hyper-urbanism: This is a key phenomenon of our own times: the rapid rise of Asian mega-cities and their intensive peri-urban regions