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Cities Unbound: The Intercity Network in the Asia-Pacific Region - Discussion paper n° 23
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Management of Social Transformations - MOST

Discussion Paper Series - No. 23


By John Friedmann



APPENDIX I: List of Participants in the First Intercity Network Workshop, 1-4 April 1997, Royal Institute of Technology (RMIT)

APPENDIX II: Criteria for Assessing the Performance of Cities



The workshop pursued three major objectives: (a) encourage urban policy research among a network of scholars in major cities of the Asia-Pacific Region; (b) promote dialogue and collaboration between local governments in each of the city-regions in the network and, where possible, help establish and/or strengthen centres of urban policy research in each of them; and (c) facilitate the exchange of information and other forms of collaboration among urban policy centres of the Asia-Pacific Region.

The workshop focussed on the following topics: (a) spatial organization and regional governance; (b) environmental sustainability; (c) social sustainability; (d) migrant workers, civil society, and citizenship; (e) intercity networks; and (f) towards a common research agenda. A thematic paper by John Friedmann, "World City Futures: The Role of Urban and Regional Policies in the Asia-Pacific Region" was circulated to participants beforehand. It contained extensive discussions on some of the background to the workshop, its theoretical premises, and the workshop topics. (This paper is available as Occasional Paper 56, February 1997, from the Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, N.T. Hong Kong).

The remainder of this Report provides a brief summary of some of the highlights of workshop discussions under each of the listed topics in the preceding paragraph.

1. Spatial Organization and Regional Governance

Professor Terry McGee (Vancouver) chaired the first round of discussions. He called participants’ attention to the rapid growth and outward spatial expansion of mega-urban regions, and to the problems of governance this posed for the local governments (and sometimes even the national governments) concerned. He particularly emphasized the need for the region to acquire control over a substantial share of the "surplus" produced within its boundaries and the importance of evolving new systems of "representation" in the processes of governance, including various local interests and, in the broader sense, civil society as a whole.

Right from the start of the discussion there emerged what would turn out to be a recurring divergence in the politics of different city-regions, between those championing "growth at all costs" and those wishing to promote "quality of life." Defenders of the latter, it was argued, are particularly vocal in the "post-industrial" cities of Australia and North America whose "civil societies" tend to have a larger influence on public policy than do their counterparts in the booming cities on the Asian side where government policies tend to favour economic growth as a foundation for a higher quality of life.

The governance of city-regions is closely linked with city-building processes. City-regions are a product of multiple influences, among them: the global economy; supra-national institutions such as the World Bank; the nation state; intergovernmental institutions operating at different levels, as well as cross-border cooperative arrangements; specialized authorities to carry out specific functions such as metropolitan transportation that are loosely accountable to "regional" multi-purpose governments; local (county/city/district) governments; private sector enterprises such as powerful real estate developers and industrialists; grassroots and other organizations of civil society; and political parties and charismatic leaders, among others. Most city-building (planning) issues affect several of these collective actors, whose interests are not necessarily converging. The result is a continuing tug-of-war in which the winner rarely takes all. Moreover, given the dynamic nature of this process and the high rates of change which most city-regions experience, traditional master-planning is an altogether ineffective tool for guiding city-building processes. This helps explain why most Asia-Pacific cities concentrate instead on so-called mega-projects (for the most part concerned with infrastructure, but also including New Towns, Technology Zones, Docklands redevelopment schemes, and the like) which shape major parts of the city-region, but fail to take account of all of the dimensions--social, environmental, and the like-which mega-projects are likely to engender. As a result, the city-region is in a constant state of imbalance, with leads and lags, with districts that are upgraded and others that are demolished or made to carry the brunt of social and environmental costs.

The scale at which city-region problems present themselves must be appreciated before simplistic solutions are urged upon governments. For example, Hong Kong and its hinterland, which includes major parts of the Pearl River Delta, accounts for approximately half of China’s GDP and a population in excess of 80 million. But economic performance does not always translate into fiscal strength. Osaka, for example, must give up about two-thirds of its revenues to the central government in Tokyo. And for many years, the case of Shanghai was similar, in that for many decades, Shanghai’s economy was the locomotive that pulled the China train. However, this practice was reversed for Shanghai and Dalian when these cities were upgraded to the provincial level, thus achieving greater autonomy over their development. Generally speaking, however, the problem of fiscal autonomy continues to be one of the most intransigent problems with which city-regions must contend.

For the most part, existing governance arrangements at the level of city-regions, which typically extend over several local and provincial governments, and often involve the national government as well, tend to be informal, though proposals for expanding city boundaries or creating a region-wide level of formal coordination continue to be made from time to time. Jabotapek, which is the extended metropolitan region of Jakarta, is a particularly interesting case in this regard, despite the fact that the central government is heavily involved in the development of Indonesia’s capital region. In any event, a steady state can not be achieved at any time soon, neither in Jabotabek nor anywhere else in the Asia-Pacific, so long as double-digit growth rates in major variables prevail.

The matter is somewhat different in Australia, where state governments often act as powerful regional governments, as in the case of Victoria (Melbourne) and New South Wales (Sydney). As a federal system, Australia is perhaps unique in this regard, since of all the countries in the Asia-Pacific, it is the most highly urbanized, constituting a veritable archipelago of "city-states."

2. Environmental Sustainability

This session was co-chaired by Drs. Ning Yue-min (Shanghai) and Mark Yaolin Wang (Melbourne). The discussion posed the question: how meaningful is it to separate environmental from social sustainability? Furthermore, it was pointed out that "the (natural) environment" must now be treated as an aspect in all urban policies rather than as a policy area in its own right.

That being said, discussion revolved around two topics: (1) environmental justice and (2) the problem of what was called political will to undertake the practical steps required to preserve a healthy environment for human beings. On the first topic, little more emerged than that the question "whose environment is to be preserved/improved/polluted" must be regarded as central to a consideration of social justice in the distribution of the costs and benefits in environmental change. It is by now fairly well understood that there is something like a hierarchy of entitlements to a healthy environment, with the most disempowered sectors of the population typically living in the least healthy surroundings.

The conclusion from this sort of analysis is that it is civic influence and power that counts, if the environment for particular population groupings is to be improved. On the other hand, the quality of the urban environment in the rapidly industrializing cities of Asia--air and water pollution above all, but also solid waste disposal (which is a growing problem in land-scarce, densely populated regions) and, of course, transport-related forms of pollution (congestion, toxic gases, noise)--suffers to such an extent that the entire population, even the wealthiest, most powerful sectors, are adversely affected.

Environmental resources, notably water and energy, and landfill sites for urban waste disposal, are also reaching critical points of scarcity that affect entire populations. Environmental justice is therefore only one dimension--albeit a crucial one--in the management of environmental resources.

It was pointed out that, in many cases, we already know how to improve environmental conditions. The frequently observed failure of governments to act on this knowledge was thus ascribed to a lack of "political will." This topic opened up a wide debate. Some thought that poor developing countries, such as Thailand or Indonesia, could not "afford" a healthy environment at present. The idea seemed to be that such countries should "grow now and improve (the quality of life) later." A healthy environment, in this view, is linked to high levels of consumption. And the argument went, only when a country has succeeded in joining the club of the "developed" nations (OECD, for example), can adequate measures be taken materially to improve the physical environment. Environmental disruption is the inevitable price of economic progress.

This idea was closely related to the belief, expressed by some participants, that concern with "the environment" is largely a western preoccupation, rooted not only in the prodigious wealth of their economies but, more fundamentally perhaps, in their culturally constructed view of Nature as a kind of wilderness free from human intervention. In contrast to this, for example, in Singapore, remaining unbuilt space is considered "wasteland," and in Kobe whole mountainsides have been leveled to create artificial land in the harbor (thereby diminishing green space and raising summer temperatures in the city). In other words, Nature in Asian countries is likely to be treated as a material resource for use rather than a metaphysical unity to be restored to some imagined state prior to human habitation.

On the other hand, there is a need, even in Asian cities, to create recreational spaces, and open space planning must certainly be included in the city-building process as an important element. Whatever stance is taken, the point of departure is that environmental deterioration is already very severe in most major city-regions and may well put the brakes on further economic growth.

Another argument bearing on the matter of political will concerned car ownership, which is rising very rapidly in all Asian cities, creating major problems of congestion and air pollution even in wealthy countries, such as Japan and the Republic of Korea. Despite very high levels of taxation, car ownership by the burgeoning middle class is virtually impossible to restrict, as people go to almost any length to demonstrate their new class status by acquiring an automobile. The seemingly inevitable progression appears to be bicycle, motor scooter, motorcycle, small car, big car.

Hence, the conclusion is that the increasingly powerful urban middle classes will not tolerate restrictions on their presumptive right to pollute the environment by driving private motorized vehicles. The "solution" of course would be, among other measures, to build up public transit, eliminate lead from gasoline (petrol), install catalytic converters in all cars, ban older, substandard vehicles from traffic, create a fool-proof public inspection system for all vehicles, improve traffic flow management, charge the full costs of parking to users, and develop alternative fuel vehicles such as the electric car.

This discussion led to the observation by one of the participants that, in China, it is not so much lack of awareness that leads to environmental deterioration as it is the inability of the government to enforce standards that, under present conditions, are not enforceable either because of their high cost or the inability of local governments to ensure compliance. In other words, the fault lies not so much in the lack of environmental awareness--or political will--, but in the fact that standards, while ideal in the abstract sense, cannot as yet be properly applied.

Finally, this discussion led to a distinction between macro- and micro-environmental issues, the latter concerned with people’s "life spaces" in particular localities. Here, social mobilization and the work of non-governmental organizations are crucial, along with encouragement and assistance by governments, as in Jakarta’s famous kampung improvement scheme which has had remarkable effects to make even poor people’s housing more liveable.

While the rhetoric of environmental sustainability directs our attention to an important dimension of urban and regional development, there are no short-cut solutions, and each problem must be tackled on its own terms in the given context. As mentioned earlier, environmental considerations are an aspect in all urban policy decisions. Ultimately, ordinary people must be involved to fight for healthier, more liveable environments. The discussion closed with three questions: how do we organize people for change? How does positive change happen? And what are instances of "best innovative practice" that might serve as an inspiration for such struggles?

3. Social sustainability

Dr. K.C.Ho (Singapore) introduced this session by observing that high geographic mobility, the growing influence of the mass media, and the rapidly spreading culture of capitalism contributed to "decomposing" traditional society, and that urbanization specifically leads to new social formations in which formerly homogeneous, tightly knit "communities" are being replaced by different, looser forms of associationism.

This, of course, has been a classical theme in sociology ever since Toennies’ formulation of the Gemeinschaft/Gesellschaft concept in the late 19th century. The fact that it is a classical theme does not diminish its importance, however, particularly in the new im/migrant cities of the Asia-Pacific region. What new kinds of community are being formed in these cities? Based on what kind of ties? Is everyone included in these new groupings? What takes the place of social controls no longer enforceable within the family or village community? What new entitlements are being claimed? How can social conflict be channeled into constructive forms?

These are not idle questions. In California today, the construction of new prisons competes for attention with educational budgets. More money is being spent on the justice/police/correctional system than on any other major governmental function. To be "tough on crime" is a sure way for politicians to be elected to office. Moreover, new immigrants are seen as the carriers of disorder, and anti-immigrant sentiment is on the rise. California may be an extreme case of a socially unsustainable order, but the problems experienced there are also beginning to crop up in other cities of the Pacific Rim.

It is small wonder, then, that popular resistance movements are gathering force. Some are merely quasi-religious cults to which people are rallying who are disenfranchised or disoriented by the speed of social change, with often fatal consequences for themselves. But so-called fundamentalist branches of mainstream religions are also gaining many new adherents, and this may be interpreted as a form of resistance to modernization/ westernization.

More secular answers include such proposals as inventing new forms of "citizenship" which acknowledge new rights and obligations that are not based on a person’s nationality or birth but on local residence and productive work. It also includes an admonishment that governments plan with a view to acknowledging "difference" with respect to gender, age, and culture that reflect very different social needs. One of the participants proposed that "difference" requires government to acknowledge the existence of "multiple publics" and urged us to abandon the myth of the "public interest" as a justification for social planning.

In a city, the social marginalization of im/migrants, particularly those who are poor and unskilled, display evidence of cultural difference, or stand out by their physical appearance, two facts are often perceived to pose a grave danger to the ideal of social harmony. One is the formation of a new class, such as a sub-proletariat or "underclass". The other, by far the most important, concerns the entitlements newcomers may claim to opportunities usually reserved to older city residents. Much of what the public media represent as instances of social disorder, is rather to be understood as a struggle for a politics of inclusion.

China’s "floating population", which is a source of increasing public concern, is perhaps a case in point. Rising crime rates in major Chinese cities often involve new city migrants who, because of the prevailing registration system, are officially classified as temporary sojourners without entitlements to housing, health care, and education in the cities where they actually work. They are seen analogous to West European "guest workers" or Mexican migrant labour in the vegetable fields of Texas and California. Most of them are excluded from local citizenship and are unable to relocate their families to their new abode.

As people lose confidence in the state to protect them from the vagaries of the market and the many other dislocating forces of modernization, they tend to fall back on family networks for social insurance, security, and mutual help. This is an important source of social stability in the new city. They may be supported in this by non-governmental and voluntary organizations, religious communities, and the like, but the scale of these operations is not nearly large enough to fill the existing, rapidly ballooning needs. Important as civil society is in maintaining some sort of social order, the state cannot avoid its responsibility to provide for the rising expectations of the population and their need for inclusion as full citizens in the new city.

4. Migration, Civil Society, and Citizenship

This fourth round of discussions was chaired by Professor Lucie Cheng (Taipei/Los Angeles). Migration, be it from within the country or from abroad, plays an important role in urban growth, since cities typically don’t reproduce themselves, and labour is needed to sustain high rates of economic expansion. Despite this, most countries in the "North" are experiencing an anti-immigration backlash. With regard to foreign labour, backlash is also current in some of the hyperurbanizing countries of Asia.

For example, the Malaysian government has launched a major campaign to rid its cities of an estimated one million illegal foreign workers, most of whom come from neighbouring countries. Thailand has displayed a similar attitude. And in Japan, the number of foreign workers, many of them working without valid visas, has been rapidly increasing, leading the government to adopt ever more stringent measures to control illegal im/migrants.

With regards to the 100 million plus "floating population" in China mentioned earlier, the official position is one of tolerance insofar as accepting workers from rural districts and less developed regions is concerned. However, temporary labour is not taken into account when planning investments in housing and urban social infrastructure, even where they comprise between one-fifth and one-third of the labour force, as they do in Shanghai. Projections are that, before long, some 250 million workers will have become "redundant" in the Chinese countryside and will seek work in coastal city-regions.

The peculiar situation of present day Hong Kong also bears mention in this connection. As a Special Administrative Region, Hong Kong is prepared to take stringent measures to prevent mainland immigrants from moving into its territory.

In short, countries (and regions) are prepared to take what appear to be desperate measures to control the flow of im/migrants, while multinational organizations such as APEC (and the commercial interests linked to them) are talking of "liberating" international labour flows, in the belief that labour markets, like markets for capital and commodities, should be freed from "artificial" restraints.

Several participants suggested that the term immigrant was too imprecise to be of much value for policy analysis and proposed various schemes to distinguish among different forms of mobility and different types of migrants. For example, Professor Cheng, the chair of the session, proposed the following scheme:

Migrant  State-building project
Group Orientation Ethno-national
(Ex: Japan)
(Ex: Australia)
(Ex: Canada)

Transnational migrant

In her scheme, the significance of the migration phenomenon would be different for each type of migrant (group orientation) and for each type of state-building project. Others argued for further distinctions to be made on the basis of skill and capital resources. And because women comprise a growing proportion of all migrants, the need for a gendering of migration studies was suggested. Finally, the legal/illegal dimension of migration was also seen as a major concern.

Although im/migration was thought, at least until recently, to be a problem primarily for national governments, it has become clear that local and/or regional governments bear a major responsibility and burden for providing the basic conditions for the livelihood of im/migrants, whether domestic or foreign, sojourner or settler. Im/migrants need to be integrated with urban society through work, housing, services, education, and culture. This problem becomes particularly acute in the case of mass im/migration of unskilled (or semi-skilled) labour. As already noted, failure to make adequate provision will lead to socially unsustainable cities. In any event, it would be quite unrealistic to suppose that the flow of migrant labour can be stemmed for all but very limited periods of time. The growing interconnectedness of regional economies, even in Asia, makes expectations of flourishing cities without migrant labour, including labour from abroad, an illusion.

5. Intercity Networks

The fifth round was chaired by Professor Chung-Tong Wu (Sydney). Throughout the Asia-Pacific Region, major cities are linked through capital, trade, flows of information and knowledge, labour, tourism, and cultural exchanges, and so are moving closer to each other. This is the basic level of understanding from which intercity networks will emerge. Three issues with regard to such networks were identified: intercity competition; strategic city alliances; and information exchange. Of these, the most interesting, perhaps, are the so-called strategic alliances with their implications for urban diplomacy. A number of such networks have already emerged, such as Metrex and Eurocities, particularly in western Europe. A world-wide Metropolis network also exists. And in Yokahama, twenty-four Asian cities are already joined in a CITYNET for the exchange of know-how and technologies.

Asian participants pointed out that a number of city sub-systems already exist or are projected for the near future. Often referred to as cross-border growth "triangles," they include a number of cities in Northeast Asia; the Yellow Sea sub-system linking Seoul, Dalian, Tianjin, and Beijing; Southeast Asia, especially the one centred on Singapore; and the Greater China triangle of Hong Kong, Taipei, and Shanghai. These linkages often have their origin in urban initiatives, a fact reflected in the title of a book recently published by a Japanese think tank, entitled City Diplomacy. It is these initiatives which have suggested to some that what we are seeing in the multi-level system of governance emerging in the world at the end of the 20th century is the increasing prominence of major city-regions that are beginning to behave as quasi city-states, as they display imagination and skill in the construction of their own economic spaces.


1. Two Discourses in Political Philosophy

Governance, a term recently introduced in the literature, refers to the processes by which public decisions are made and implemented. Specifically, it poses the question of how the three principal collective actors involved in the governance of city-regions--state, corporate capital, civil society--articulate their respective roles and interests in the overall process of city-building. A keynote paper by John Friedmann, "The Common Good: Assessing the Performance of Cities," proposed a set of three criteria which could be used by organized civil society to evaluate the "performance" of a given city, comprising governance, management, and "good city outcomes." (1) In this normative framework, forms of governance and management are treated as being as important as their outcomes rather than as merely the means towards a desirable end, which is the "good city." All three, in turn, are derived from a fundamental proposition that All human beings have the right, by nature, to the full development of their innate intellectual, physical, and spiritual potentialities in the context of wider communities. A complete listing of these criteria is found in Appendix II.

The paper stimulated a vigorous debate. Some thought the criteria too abstracted from actual institutions through which they might be realized. Others expressed skepticism about the possibilities of discovering a "common good" for the sort of cities that are emerging in the Asia-Pacific region. But perhaps the most interesting discussion concerned the paper’s emphasis on citizen "rights" as opposed to obligations. Here it became apparent that there might be an irreconcilable conflict between those speaking out of their East Asian background and experience and those who, like the author, are grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition of the West, particularly as made manifest in Anglo-American political theory. The latter unambiguously champions a theory of individual rights that are asserted against the state, whereas the former tends to view the world as an hierarchical system of reciprocal obligations governing social relations from the family on up to the imperial benevolence of the state.

This essentially Confucian approach to good governance has little to say about individual rights and is silent on the question of civil society.

On the other hand, western political theorizing, which takes for granted the existence of a viable social order beyond the reach of the state, which we call civil society, has little to say about the obligations of citizens toward the political community which sustains them, other than to insist on obedience to the law, the payment of taxes, and military service for men in times of war, none of which are unique responsibilities in state systems.

In western countries, the claiming of citizen rights is seen as a way to resist the inherent propensity of states to extend their authority into the private sphere. (2)

These contradictory worldviews render communication between East and West difficult. Americans, for example, are quick to label East Asian regimes as authoritarian, while the latter can’t understand the discourse of rights, seeing it rather as a symptom of social disorder. This is not the place to explore this deep divide in political philosophy between East and West and the possibility of reaching a common ground. It is nevertheless a serious issue that will need to be addressed if only in the interest of furthering common understandings concerning the social and political order.

2. Utopians vs. Realists

Another division appeared in several of the presentations to the workshop, seemingly reflecting the current national crises in the Region. Presenters from countries that are currently in the throes of major crises and are trying to reposition themselves in the global order--Japan, Indonesia, and the island of Taiwan--adopted a frankly utopian approach in their papers, while seemingly more stable regimes--the Republic of Korea, Canada, and Australia--brought to the table more realist analyses of urban-regional governance.

The most "radical" paper, perhaps, was by Hendro Sangkoyo from Indonesia who addressed not only the question of urban-regional governance but challenged the prevailing ideology of development in his country. He saw the national capital region of Jakarta spreading environmental and social blight throughout the archipelago, and proposed a regionally decentered approach to development that would stress local self-reliance and reflect the great cultural diversity of his island nation. The instrument for this sea-change in political orientation would be a nation-wide social movement among those with the least to lose, the rock-bottom poor who are effectively excluded from present economic policies and such benefits as might flow from them.

Chu-joe Hsia from Taipei proposed a reconfiguration of the spatial division of powers for his area as a contribution to the current debates over constitutional reform. The basic building blocks would be one hundred cities and counties--the distinguishing feature of the latter being their more rural character--overlain by a grouping of five to eight provinces or Yuan-supervised urban regions. Finally, at the central level, the local government’s primary responsibility "will be to encourage and facilitate interregional cooperation while respecting local autonomy. Its symbolic value is far more important than its actual concentration of power. The central government exists without being obtrusive."

The real political power, one imagines, would emanate from below, giving rise to intercity associations and cooperative ventures, while the state in Hsiu’s neo-Taoist utopia would be primarily engaged in conducting the appropriate rites and rituals to ensure the harmonious articulation of the whole. One of the outcomes of this reordering of spatial power would be a revival of civil society in the island of Taiwan, a movement that is already taking place and would become the carrier of this vision.

Toshio Kamo from Osaka presented a third version of a radically decentralized state. After a detailed historical account of the various failed attempts at removing the heavy hand of Tokyo’s central bureaucracy on local cities in Japan, he proposed to return to an up-dated version of feudal Japan whose many local fiefdoms were subordinated to what was largely the symbolic authority of the Emperor. In his utopia, Japan would transform itself into a federation of autonomous local states. This "project" is apparently dear to some leading businessmen in Osaka.

These different versions of desired governance structures with their extreme devolution of powers to the local level stood in marked contrast to realist analyses of governance problems in Seoul, Pusan, Vancouver, and Sydney. According to Won-Bae Kim of the Korean Institute of Human Settlements, the severe financial and economic crisis in the Republic of Korea has led, not surprisingly, to a call from interested parties for more doses of neo-liberal medicine: deregulation and privatization. "Given the Republic of Korea’s economic crisis, the erosion of the centralized system is likely to be accelerated by the process of globalization and hence suggests an increasing role [in urban-regional governance] of transnational corporations and the business sector in general. The national competitiveness argument favored by these profit-seeking enterprises is gaining momentum and is exerting pressure for the deregulation of [perceived] obstacles to economic growth." While citizen movements clamor for more power at the local level, their weakness is an inability to think about the implications of the Republic of Korea’s insertion into the global economy.

Thus, for example, the recent resurgence of nationalism ("Buy Korean!"), especially among university students, is at odds with the imperative to open up the country’s markets to global competition. As Professor Kim concludes, "Except for a few, citizens groups in general are primarily concerned with localized issues such as the siting of unwanted facilities and micro land use changes in their neighbourhoods." Nevertheless, he envisions a future structure of governance in which subnational units such as provinces and large cities will play a leading role, with central government acting as both facilitator and mediator rather than attempting to control local outcomes directly.

Dong-Ho Shin reported on the saga of attempts at finding a solution to the problem of urban-regional governance in the Republic of Korea’s Southern Industrial Belt (SIB) which, six hours removed from Seoul by train, is centred on the industrial port city of Pusan. Over the past twenty-five years, the SIB has developed across four provincial boundaries, connecting the steel cities of Pohang to the East and Kwangyang to the Southwest, with many urban and rural areas in the 200 km-wide stretch in between. Its 1995 population stood at 6.7 million, with more than half living in the metropolitan area of Pusan.

Forty years ago, the Republic of Korea’s southeast was still largely a region of farmers and fishermen. But a major industrialization process has been underway since the early 1960s which has completely overturned the accustomed ways of life of the people in the region and transformed the lay of the land familiar to them for generations. Steel plants, automobile manufacturing plants, petrochemicals and other such industries, promoted by the central government, located in the area, bringing in their wake many small companies providing inputs to the larger firms and, in some cases, utilizing the output of the emerging industrial cluster. At times, competition among local and provincial governments--based on regional jealousies that were hold-overs from the pre-industrial era--was so severe that it rendered attempts at a more receptive climate for cooperation all but impossible. It wasn’t until the 1990s that some successes were scored, with the adoption of an interregional planning process for Pusan and Kyungnam Province, a process which enjoyed the full backing of the central Ministry of Construction and Transportation.

Terry McGee’s version of the Vancouver regional governance model sounds positively placid when compared to the preceding accounts, a reflection perhaps of the adaptability of Canada’s federal system. Compared to the top-down models of regional governance in East Asian countries, the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) is controlled by its member municipalities, with public consultations being mandated. The GVRD administers critical regional services, such as drinking water, liquid waste collection and treatment, solid waste disposal, environmental controls, regional park management, economic development promotion, and transportation services. Representation on the GVRD is formalized, while services are managed through so-called Service Districts, which are statutory authorities that operate independently but are accountable to the GVRD where policy coordination takes place.

The picture of regional governance for Sydney, given by Peter Murphy and Chung-tong Wu, is similarly one of utter tranquillity. Just as in the Republic of Korea, the present political discourse is about "competitiveness" which seems to be primarily a rhetorical wedge to shift the balance of power to private business interests. The local state--in this event, New South Wales, which is the operative planning agent for Sydney--is encouraged to act "entrepreneurially" to "capture geographically mobile investment and consumption flows or to otherwise boost a city’s economy." Quoting from a recent text by Hall and Hubbard, they note that "urban politicians and governors are increasingly arguing that cities can benefit not only from "conventional" welfare measures or land use planning but by mobilizing local resources in the scramble for rewards in an increasingly competitive free market."

Moreover, these "new" modes of governance are characterized by "the promotion of local economic development by urban government, typically in alliance with private capital." One may observe in passing that none of the key terms in these phrases are further analyzed, such as "intercity competition" or the precise meaning of "scramble for rewards." Indeed, what is often masked by the rhetoric about the rewards of "increasingly free markets" is who gains and who loses. Much of the mobilization of local resources turns into a massive "give-away" to private capital interests, as Australian cities are set off against each other in their mad "scramble for rewards," leaving the national economy without a net gain.

Furthermore, given the powers of the Australian federal states over local council governments, the vaunted entrepreneurialism of the state frequently translates into the effective disempowerment of local councils, with their interest in maintaining the quality of life in their respective areas. Despite the fact that one hears increasingly that the model of the "developmental state" in Asia is at the end of its tether--though, except for IMF-mandated changes, an alternative model has not yet emerged- it would seem that the Asian model still has widespread appeal in Australian cities, such as New South Wales (Sydney), where the future of the city is being gambled away by high-risk ventures, not least the up-coming Olympics.

In an era of entrepreneurialism, the power of citizens--so often invoked in the papers discussed up to now - would seem to be minimal even in the most stable democracies of the region. The new form of governance has indeed shifted power, but not towards the greater empowerment of civil society. The gains have been captured by the wealthiest sectors of the population, the Asian "high-rollers" who still jet away to casinos in Sydney and Melbourne to amuse themselves by betting off millions of dollars over a long weekend of self-indulgence, and by transnational corporations who are neither loyal nor accountable to anyone but themselves. It is against this background, that the utopian hopes of some of the workshop participants must be compared.

3. A Stakeholder Approach to Governance

Somrudee Nicro from the Thailand Environmental Institute (TEI), a non-governmental organization, presented a case study of governance that took a departure from the remaining papers by focussing on the actual processes of bringing about desired change in an urban context. Defining governance as a political relationship between state, civil society, and the private corporate sector, she championed a bottom-up model of good governance, with active, conscious citizens at the base. She also urged the workshop to depart from the customary view of development as being driven by economic growth to a more "human-centered" view which, while not ignoring economic growth, has the full development of human capacities as its primary objective.

Her case study centered on the southeast industrial district of Bangkok, Samut Prakan, with a population of nearly 900,000 in 1994 spread out over an area of 10,000 km2. Two-thirds of its production originates in manufacturing, which overall generate 91,400 tons/year of hazardous waste, 455,000m3/day of waste water, and 916 tons/day of solid waste. The challenge assumed by the TEI was how to mobilize people’s participation in a major clean-up and recuperation of this heavily polluted area in conformity with the eighth National Development Plan and the Environmental Act of 1992 which stressed decentralization and people’s participation in environmental projects. With funding from the European Community, the TEI had to face the big questions: Who are the people? Who should participate? How should they participate?

The solution was what she called a "stakeholder approach," which brought to the table representatives from central, provincial, and local government, commerce, industry, lower income communities, schools, institutions of higher education, NGOs, and the media. In a complex, staged system, a workable method was arrived at, involving a formal opening, round table meetings, and planning group meetings...in short, a series of intensive discussions in which "stakeholders" were able to voice their concerns, priorities, and takes on the issue. This was followed by the formation of a conference with two members from each of the stakeholder groups which, in turn, led to the establishment of an executive committee, PEMEC, which would have operational responsibilities. PEMEC members would meet on a monthly basis, while TEI provided for continuity and training to PEMEC’s several working groups on such topics as environmental management, cleaner technology, environmental auditing, strategic planning, and conflict prevention and negotiation. The immediate aim was the reduction of community solid wastes, the reduction of industrial solid waste and wastewater, and "town greening." The project is still ongoing, with action plans to be implemented.

While it is too early to assess the results of this major undertaking, the story does suggest the magnitude of the job if environmental clean-up were to be extended to the whole of the Bangkok metropolitan region.

In Samut Prakan, it took generous funding from the European Community and the dedicated work of a Thai NGO to initiate the project and bring it to its present state. And even though the stakeholder approach might constitute a "best practice," one may wonder whether the project is capable of replication over the whole of the nation’s capital region.

4. Transborder/boundary Governance

Despite intimations to the contrary, the nation-state is alive and well. Borders still matter, even when enthusiasts proclaim the imminent arrival of the "borderless world." But economic activities do have a tendency to leap across frontiers. This is nowhere more evident than in the case of the city-state of Singapore and the quasi city-state of Hong Kong. In these two regions, neighbouring economies have become intertwined with their principal urban nodes despite their separation from these nodes by national boundaries. The fact that Hong Kong rejoined China in 1997 may have changed a national boundary into a mere regional one, but the one-country-two-systems approach to the governance of the Hong Kong SAR (Special Administrative Region) established that boundary into something not very different from a national border, if not in a strictly political sense.

K.C. Ho of Singapore tackled the complex issue of the governance in the growth triangle of Singapore-Johor-Riau (SIJORI), which is a metropolitan region extending across the national boundaries of Malaysia to the North and Indonesia to the South. For both of Singapore’s neighbours, the dynamic growth of the city-state proved to be a bonanza: in the case of Johor, cross-border Singaporean investments helped restructure the State economy from primary production and simple processing to manufacturing and tourism, while the Riau Islands experienced a tremendous "boom". Within ten years, population shut up from a few thousand fishing folk to 120,000, tourists increased to nearly a million, and exports were in the hundreds of millions of dollars. To quote Dr. Ho: "Thus, rather than a border characterized by common underdevelopment on both sides, it is the unequal development existing at three adjacent locations, with Singapore needing to expand its spatial economy, and with Johor and Riau able to contribute land and labour of various skill levels, that create the economic complementarities that drive cross-border cooperative efforts."

This impressive economic performance was made possible through the joint efforts of the national governments concerned, working hand-in-hand with large Singaporean investors in partnership with local capital. Riau Province and Johor State governments, however, were largely sidelined, a fact that has impeded coordination, particularly in regard to the hoped-for but still unrealized dream of sustainability.

Drawing a number of parallels between SIJORI and transborder developments in western Europe and North America, Dr. Ho concludes that the transborder governance process has relied too much on bilateral agreements among sovereign states instead of creating tripartite regional institutions, including the two provincial/State governments involved. "These tripartite institutions must be capable of monitoring environmental and social problems which stem from the development process and, more important, empowered to solve them."

Mee-kam Ng’s report on Hong Kong’s relations with neighbouring Guangdon Province arrived at very different conclusions. Although Hong Kong capital has "colonized" the Pearl River delta region over the past two decades, shifting most of its manufacturing activities to the mainland, no official mechanisms exist to coordinate developments, address common environmental problems, or deal with the many social issues occasioned by rapid industrial urbanization in the neighbouring province. Unlike the situation in Singapore, there are no bilateral negotiations between the provincial Guangdong government and the Hong Kong SAR. The whole process of regional development is in a somewhat chaotic state, with individual entrepreneurs striking local "deals" with Chinese city and county officials, deals that typically bypass the concerns of a sustainable development.

Yet, as the regional economy of the delta and Hong Kong become more integrated, problems which must be faced jointly become increasingly urgent.They include the seriously worsening air pollution which drifts southward from the mainland to turn Hong Kong’s formerly blue skies into a turgid grey, urban-industrial wastes that empty into the waters of the Pearl River Estuary, posing grave threats to local fisheries and recreational amenities, the coordination of highways and airports, and the senseless competition among the many cities of the delta which promote environmental degradation, wasteful duplication, and unnecessary "give-aways" to entrepreneurial capital. A Joint Hong Kong Environmental Protection Liaison Group, set up in 1990, and initially focused on the border with Shenzhen, has shifted its attention to Deep Bay and Mirs Bay, but has not so far been an effective body tackling transboundary pollution.

The Hong Kong SAR may have to take some responsibility for the problems its economic investments are causing in Guangdong Province and begin to work with provincial officials to begin to resolve them. A strategic outline plan for the region already exists, albeit entirely the work of the Provincial government, but this might become the basis for continuing, longer-term work involving both governments.

A provocative research note by Lucie Cheng (Taipei/Los Angeles) on the growing phenomenon of cross-border citizenship concluded the workshop. Entitled "Beyond Structural Reform: Transnational Society," her presentation developed the argument that territorial identities matter less in today’s "borderless economy" and that we should stop thinking about states as "containers" of society. She writes: "The reification of state territorial spaces as fixed units of sovereign space within which society dwells has blinded many to the increasing global fragmentation of daily life and the growing importance of societies not contained within the state."

Chief among social phenomena is transterritorial migration. Transmigrant communities maintain close links with their former homes ; some families maintain domiciles in two or more cities spread among several countries, multiple passport holders are becoming quite common, and national politics in one country spill over into transmigrant communities abroad. Similarly, familistic networks conduct business on a global scale and are turning transterritorialism into a way of life. The following excerpt from Professor Cheng’s paper gives the flavour of what she has in mind.

"A special Chinese term was coined in Taipei about a decade ago to describe the transterritorial, and specifically transnational existence of some Chinese. "Kung-chung fei-jen" or "trapeze artists" are residents of multiple places, often with at least dual citizenship carrying passports of different countries. Their lives are not truncated like either their previous fellow countrymen or spouses who remained at home in earlier times. Instead, these "kung-chung fei-jen" tend to have "families" on both sides of the Pacific, networks of friends and associates who are interconnected in varying degrees. They participate in the economic, political and social lives in both places, sometimes blurring the spatial boundedness of those activities. Not only do they contribute monies to organizations of both places, and to transnational NGOs, but also help raise monies from one place for organizations situated in the other. They have always been given formal recognition of their status by the allocation of seats in parliaments or congresses for their representatives. How these representatives have been determined remains a guarded secret to outsiders."


The governance "project" of Asian-Pacific cities is still unfolding. While West and South Pacific cities seem well settled into institutional routines, Southeast and East Asian cities are still wrestling to find the right institutional framework for managing exploding urbanization underwritten by rapid economic growth. The ideology of neo-liberalism prevails throughout the entire region, however, with its mantra of deregulation, privatization, and unfettered competition, conjuring up the illusion that we are nearing the Nirvana of a borderless world.

The Asian financial and economic crisis has given rise to the frequently heard observation that the "developmental state" is dead, that Asian exceptionalism was wrong-headed from the start, and that the real problem with the economy has always been and continues to be too much government interference with the benevolent iron logic of the market. Although it is widely recognized that social and environmental problems accompany the transformation of an agrarian into an industrial society, these problems are often viewed as "transitional," to be solved when a country reaches relative prosperity.

Neo-liberal ideology was somewhat in evidence among workshop participants but did not go unchallenged. There were occasional references to a human-centred, sustainable development, and the economic crisis seemed, at least to some participants, to hold out the promise of an historical opportunity to shift the current development model into a more "sustainable" direction. Although neo-liberal ideologists carefully avoid the use of phrases such as "wild capitalism," and claim to support the notion of a sustainable development, the hard facts of experience are that the present pattern of urbanization is un-sustainable. Land speculation is rife in nearly all Asian cities, "mafias" have gained influence on local government in places such as Osaka, Taipei, Jakarta, and Bangkok, tax payers are obliged to subsidize giant give-aways of public patrimony and the IMF-sponsored bail-outs of private banks, while mega-urban regions spread environmental and social blight over areas many times larger than their actual built-up area.

Some participants placed their hope for renewal in a revived "civil society," but in most Asian cities, organized civil society remains very weak and is in need of nurturing, as in the case of Bangkok, where the Thai Environmental Institute is working hard to organize a participatory process of local environmental management. For the most part, civil society is too preoccupied with daily survival issues to mobilize in politically effective ways. To some extent, this is true even of Canadian and Australian cities where unemployment rates fluctuate between 8% and 12%, and the population below the poverty line has risen from one-fifth to one-quarter of the urban population. In China, the so-called temporary or floating population in major coastal cities, rising to one-third of total population in some instances, are entirely disenfranchised, with no claims on the cities where they earn their meager livelihood. But even when local people are heard to speak out, it is typically on issues of neighbourhood liveability which seem to carry little weight with governments determined to play a fashionable entrepreneurial role.

In many cities, including those in Australia, the interests of local councils are overridden time and again by Ministerial decisions taken to smooth the way for large-scale developments. Occasional exercises in regional planning, such as the Pearl River Delta Regional Plan promoted by Guangdong Province, remain chiefly on paper for lack of any implementing mechanisms.

All in all, then, the explosive urban-regional growth of the eastern Pacific appears to be out of control for the moment. But it is to be hoped that the imperatives of daily life--food water, waste disposal, health, fresh air, housing, work, civil order--will eventually lead to the sort of innovations in governance that will allow the emerging megacities in Asia to attain to the greatness that one would hope will be their destiny in the 21st century.

List of Participants in the First Intercity Network Workshop, 1- 4 April 1997, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT)


  • John Friedmann, Adjunct Professor, LEAP, RMIT (Co-convenor)
  • John McKay, Professor, Monash and Director, Monash Institute of Asia Studies (Co-convenor)
  • Leonie Sandercock, Professor of Human Settlements and Chair, Department of Landscape, Environment and Planning , RMIT
  • Mark Yaolin Wang, Lecturer, Department of Geography, Melbourne University
  • Chung-Tong Wu, Dean, Faculty of the Built Environment, UNSW
  • Peter Murphy, Adjunct Professor, Faculty of the Built Environment, UNSW
  • Budhy T. S. Soegijoto, Deputy VII, BAPPENAS (National Planning Agency)
  • K.C. Ho, Senior Lecturer, Sociology, National University
  • Daranee Thavinpipatkul, Associate Professor, Fac. of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University
Hong Kong:
  • David K.Y. Chu, Lecturer, Geography, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
  • Ning Yuemin, Institute of Urban and Regional Development Studies, East China Normal University
  • Lucie Cheng, Publisher, and Professor of Planning, National Taiwan University
  • Dolly Cheng, Sr. Planner, DUD, Taipei
  • Yuh-fen Kao, Planner, DUD, Taipei
  • Toshio Kamo, Professor of Political Science, School of Law, Osaka University
  • Won Bae Kim, Korean Research Institute of Human Settlements, Seoul
  • Terry McGee, Professor and Director, Institute of Asia Research
Los Angeles:
  • Edward Soja, Professor of Urban Planning, UCLA
  • Mike Douglass, Professor of City and Regional Planning, University of Hawaii, Manoa

Papers Presented at the Second Intercity Network Workshop, 14-18 April, 1998, Taipei:
Lucie Cheng and Chu-joe Hsia, "Constitutional Reform and Urban-Regional Governance in Taiwan."

Won-Bae Kim, "National Competitiveness and Governance of the Capital Region of Korea."

Dong-Ho Shin, "The Battle Between the Periphery and the Core: Expanding Metropolitan Region and Competition Between Kyungnam and Pusan, Korea."

Toshio Kamo, "Globalization, Decentralization and the Changing Regional Governance system in Japan: The Case of Metropolitan Osaka."

K. C. Ho, "Transborder Regional Governance and Planning: The Case of Singapore."

Mee-kam Ng, "Regional Governance and Planning: the case of ‘One country, Two Systems’.

Peter Murphy and Chung-tong Wu, "Governing Global Sydney: Intergovernment Relationships, Deregulation, and Growth Coalitions."

Terry McGee, "Building Mega-Urban Governance in an Era of Volatile Globalization: A Case Study of Greater Vancouver."

Hendro Sangkoyo, "Resistance through Subcultural Co-Governance: Daring a Learning Common for All."

Somrudee Nicro, "Good Governance: A Multi-Stakeholder Approach (Bangkok Metropolitan Area)."
John Friedmann, "The Common Good: Assessing the Performance of Cities."

Criteria for Assessing the Performance of Cities:
I. Criteria of Good Governance
    * inspired political leadership: leaders who are capable of articulating a common vision for the polity, building a strong consensus around this vision, and mobilizing resources towards the realization of this vision.

    * public accountability: (1) the uncoerced, periodic election of political representatives and (2) the right of local citizens to be adequately informed about those who stand for elections, the government’s performance, and the overall outcomes for the city (see III below).

    * Inclusiveness: the right of all citizens to be directly involved in the formulation of policies and programs whenever consequences can be expected to affect their life and livelihood.

    * responsiveness: the fundamental right of citizens to claim rights and express grievances; to the existence of appropriate channels for this purpose; to a government that is accessible in the neighbourhoods and districts where people live; and to an acknowledgment by government that citizens’ claims and grievances require an attentive, appropriate response.

    * non-violent conflict management: institutionalized ways of resolving conflicts between state and citizens without resort to violence.

II. Criteria of Good Management

    * accessibility, transparency, responsiveness: the city bureaucracy should be equally accessible to citizens from all walks of life, transparent in its manner of operation, and responsive to citizen complaints and initiatives.

    * effectiveness: programs launched to attain specific, politically-sanctioned results should also come close to achieving them. Privatized urban services should be carefully monitored for their compliance with performance standards.

    * efficiency: is a measure of output per unit of input. In striving for maximum effectiveness, government-sponsored programs should use resources as efficiently as possible.

    * honesty: in carrying out public programs, all concerned parties should be treated fairly, without favoritism. Basically, this criterion speaks to the honesty and incorruptibility of public officials.

III. Criteria of Good Outcomes

    * a productive city provides for the right to adequately remunerated work for all who seek it.

    * an environmentally sustainable city ensures the right to a life-sustaining and life-enhancing physical environment for every citizen, now and in the future.

    * a liveable city guarantees all citizens their right to decent housing and associated public services, including health and personal safety, in neighbourhoods of their choice.

    * a safe city ensures each person’s right to the physical integrity and security of their body.

    * an actively tolerant city honors citizen rights to group-specific differences in language, religion, national custom, sexual preference, and similar markers of collective identity, so long as these do not invade the rights of others and are consistent with more general human rights.

    * a caring city acknowledges the right of the weakest members of the polity to adequate social provision.


1. The paper is available from the author. E-mail: 106244.116@compuserve.com

2. For a very different view, see Thomas Janoski, Citizenship and Civil Society: A Framework of Rights & Obligations in Liberal, Traditional, and Social Democratic Regimes. Cambridge University Press, 1998.

The author

John Friedmann is Professor Emeritus of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of California at Los Angeles and Adjunct Professor, Department of Landscape, Environment and Planning, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. He has worked as a consultant to the U.S. Agency for International Development, the United Nations Development Programme, the World Bank, and the Ford Foundation, focusing on Latin America. Major publications include Regional Development Policy (1966), Planning in the Public Domain (1987), and Empowerment (1992). E-mail: 106244.116@compuserve.com

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