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    How useful is the identification of tensions to an understanding of cities Essay

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    The identification of the tensions that exist within a city are vital to enable us to understand cities and the way we imagine them. Cities are great open intensities, where commodities, information, products and people are brought together. As a result of this great coming together we are left with a range, diversity and difference that is not found, at such a scale, in places other than cities.

    One key facet of the book is how the city cannot be understood just by looking at its physical geography, individual communities and networks, it is the interaction of these communities and networks that are centred within, yet reach out beyond, the physical limits of the city. The difference and diversity of these heterogeneous networks and associations within a city lead to tensions as these groups are found in close proximity.

    To understand a city we need to look beneath its overall impression and look at how these networks and associations interact or not with each other.

    On first impression a city can seem to be a very orderly place, a set of rhythms and flows that can be found in most cities around the world, with some local variation. People seem to flow as one as they head for work or carry out the many services that a city needs, what is not apparent is the way in which the residents of cities have little day to day interactions. Individuals harbour indifference to others that they may meet on the streets and mass transport systems as they travel from home to work and back again. Within the daily rush hour those returning home following their night jobs, such as cleaners and security guards, are lost in the sea of individuals working ‘normal’ office hours.

    Louis Wirth suggests that because of the large numbers of individuals living in close proximity that ‘contacts of the city may be face to face, but they are nevertheless impersonal, superficial, transitory and segmental’ he sees this behaviour as a form of immunisation of individuals from others expectations, there are too many people to get to know them all. We have to remember that Wirth was writing at the time of the depression and that this may have had some impact on his observations.

    We see that the residents of the city are freed from traditional senses of community, they see no compulsion to mix with individuals that they feel they have no connections with, there are groups and networks they can connect with and there are groups and networks that they can treat as others, the great variety of people leads to a greater variety of social networks that people can choose to connect to.

    The essence of Wirth’s theories is that individuals can choose with whom they mix and associate with, outside of traditional pressures they have greater freedom. This choice of association leads to the spatial segregation of groups as they choose not only to identify with each other but also form their own neighbourhoods.

    By forming spatially segregated communities individuals start to exclude others from not only their associations and networks but also from their geographical location. Power relationships lead to the rich forcing out the poor from their residential districts as prices rise along with the desirability of the area. Yet the rich rely on the low wage service industries to maintain their wealthy lifestyles but they control the movements of these workers whilst in their neighbourhoods.

    Wirth sees these mosaics of city spaces as being clear cut, that from outside each segregation gains a generalised description, those who don’t live there become indifferent to the residents of other areas, to non residents Little Italy, Chicago, is seen as full of impoverished Italians, the truth is that within these areas there are nuances of difference.

    Wirth sees the city as having three characteristics, that they bring together many people, that there are a variety of networks that connect and separate individuals and groups and the sheer number of differences and associations leads to further new differences and associations. In essence that the make up of the city is fluid as it reacts to changing networks.

    When we look at Chicago we see how Ernest Burgess mapped out the areas of Chicago and gave them a social classification, Reproduced as Fig 1.12, Page 36 Book 1, where people were spatially segregated according to their financial means and that they aspired to move up the ladder as their finances allowed. Yet this map shows overlaps, such as the ‘black belt’, also that the rich lived in the centre when they wanted too, such as the Gold Coast area adjacent to the roomers area, rich alongside poor, there was no interaction between the two.

    As we look at other tensions we were given the example of Sao Paulo and it’s commercial district. On the face of it the Commercial District is seen as a respectable area where the financial and commercial transactions of the city are carried out, yet on closer inspection we are shown a space where different worlds exist within the same place. In the early hours before most workers start to commute there are many informal traders selling their wares, the formal sector has not started work yet so these are tolerated yet as the day moves on and the formal traders open their stalls the informal traders are moved on, the process is reversed as the day comes to an end. Here we see how the same space can be contested by different worlds, tensions exist as the power of the formal traders, backed by the force of law if necessary, take control of the area.

    Cities have prospered and progressed by encouraging open intensities, the freedom of people, ideas and cultures to mix and form new cultures, innovating business proposals and processes. However, in recent times there seems to be an increase in the number of ‘gated communities’. Gated communities are becoming more and more common as individuals try to control their immediate environment, entry is normally permitted by residents able to afford to live there and also to those permitted by residents. Such Communities take a snap shot of life and try to preserve it. The chance meetings and evolution of communities is placed on hold as bylaws are enforced to mould the community into a perfect community. Those outside of the community are excluded, and although service staff are allowed to enter and maintain the area, these movements are tightly controlled.

    In isolation the rich become indifferent to the poor, without interaction, movement through the poorer areas on foot has succumbed to the car, the rich lose any association to the poor and vice versa. This isolationist behaviour can only lead to tension between the rich and the poor as the open intensities are closed. The city needs interactions to progress, without the city would be likely to stagnate, cities constantly reinvent themselves as life progresses in order to maintain their status and influence, the interconnections that centre on a particular city could just as easily centre elsewhere.

    The tensions caused by the gated communities show how the better off residents of a city are able to secure an area of the city for themselves, by building walls and reducing interactions to those necessary to maintain their lives they are creating a world where the tensions are likely to rise, as the residents of the gated communities are usually a wealthier, and dominant powerful, association then these communities are allowed.

    It is not only in the gated communities that power relationships born out of tension help to shape how a city projects its image to others. Cities are required to compete with other cities in order to become centres of the global financial services and commerce. Whilst those with power want to live in preserved communities they also want their cities to have influence in the global arena, the powerful choose the direction of the city.

    The example of the City of London with its planning application process, a property developer had bought an area of the city that had symbolic meaning, it represented a coming together and centre of the old British Empire. The area had helped the City of London to be seen to be an important place at the centre. However the British Empire has now long gone and the City of London has become a global megacity, a centre of finance with national, regional and global influence. The property developer wanted to demolish the old building and a erect a new building that would be more in keeping with this new image.

    The first set of plans were refused planning permission and so were the second set of plans. The developer went back to the planners but their arguments were about preserving the historical importance of the area, but the city has moved on, it has reinvented itself and has gained power from this change. The power base has shifted towards global commerce and planning guidance has been changed to reflect this. A move from preservation of history to a reflection of the past, modernity with reference to the surrounds. Serious lobbying reflected the change in power from the old city to the new city. London can no longer rely as being an unquestionably (self imposed) central city it now has to earn its place in the global community and the dominant globalisation process has usurped the old guard.

    This demonstrates how tensions between different social networks can lead to how a city represents itself to others, whilst the globalisation lobby care for the modernisation of the centre what care do they have for the less important areas of the city. The globalisers see the centre of the city as its image on the world, little care is taken on the areas of the inner city away from their worlds. This leads on to the increasing divide between the rich and the poor, we now have earning differentials that are as wide as the time of Dickensian Britain, PM Program, Radio 4, 06:30pm 12 Mar 04. and it is not only in the developed world where these differentials exist.

    Again looking back at Sao Paulo we can see how the rich have segregated themselves from the poor, where once there were open public places, buildings are now surrounded by high walls and fences. The upper and middle classes are creating their own worlds away from the troubles of the poor, once these troubles are hidden or confined elsewhere they become less of a concern for the better off. Ignorance comes from this lack of interaction and indifference to the problems of the poor forces a greater divergence of the two networks of social association.

    The rich and the poor live in the same city, the city being a focus for many interconnections and networks. Sao Paulo has entered into the world of globalisation and its connections means that it has to compete against other cities, by offering better facilities, cheaper labour or regional influence. The power relationships in Sao Paulo are allowing the business and commerce sector of the city to prosper whilst ignoring the growing disparity between rich and poor. If the widening of the wealth gap continues then the cohesion of society will disintegrate, a city will be created that has little association for the poor.

    Whilst developed countries have distinctly rich and poor networks there seems to be little concern for the poor of the third world. M Ismail Serageldin, looked at the tensions between haves and have nots as cities progress along the path of development. He sees the rapid development of the third world cities as causing major social problems, he sees that third world cities are struggling to cope with growing inequality between the formal and informal sectors, a lack of resources as they compete against established cities and the fact that the rich of the world are looking away, it could also be said that the rich within these cities also cocoon themselves away from their own poor and problems.

    It is important to understand that cities as open intensities are the foci of many networks. That by recognising the plurality of these networks we can see how the city is formed not as a single actor but a sum greater than the parts. For a city to work, thrive and compete in the globalised economy it must add some value to the intersections or it will lose its place in the world.

    Having recognised that these interconnections exist and their importance in understanding a city we have to be aware of the tensions between different networks. By understanding the power relationships that govern which network prevails we can see how a city can reinvent, and model itself to meet the requirements of a global city. But as Serageldin highlights the growing disparity between the haves and have nots should not be ignored by third world cities as they strive for a place in the global economy. Some countries have rejected the western way and have gone down the path of Islamic law, freed from the pressures of competing in the global marketplace they have acquired their own importance and influence within this alternative line of interconnection.

    By identifying the tensions within a city, we are able to see the result of the power relationships and the resultant overall image portrayed by city, we are able to understand that behind this fa�ade there are many other inner worlds with their own connections that through intensity and diversity compete for control of the city.

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