Effects of Modernity on the City


23 Nov 2017

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Cities in the modern age have fast been experiencing the notion of modernity. In this essay, I will examine how Cities experience it modernity different ways and their consequent relationships. Modernity is the cultural experience of contemporary city life and the associated cultural valorisation and celebration of innovation and novelty. It can occur through economic development as cities progress financially; also, it can be imported from other nations and cities that are perceived as ‘modern’. However, the limited criteria as to what is classed as ‘modernity’ will also be challenged as well as the predictions for the future of cities and modernity.

Cities allow and help achieve modernity primarily through being prime hotspots for economic development. Within a city environment a range of different functions exist, all of which combine to increase the economic and political stronghold of a particular city. Economic development is seen as a key means to reaching a perceived ‘modernity’, closely associated with the west. Until recently, focus was not concerned with Cities but rather international and national policies but World Bank indicatives in the 90s that saw ‘cities as engines of economic growth with the importance of stretching the urban development imagination’ changes this viewpoint. Large Cities were now looked upon as the functioning core of national economies. For instance, city development strategies (CDS) had the common objective of incorporating the diverse concerns of citizens, businesses and governance, which meant that the needs of globalizing sectors and the needs of the poorest citizens were satisfied. This can be seen in the case study of Johannesburg where the unevenness of development between white and black people was very high. Post-apartheid still saw the city being fragmented and divided with local governance, which were still racist and prejudiced. For instance, one fifth of the city’s population were living in informal settlement while more than 10 % of the city’s population had to make do without access to most basic services. This meant that a city wide perspective was vital, schemes emphasised on the provision of of infrastructure both within townships and also to support new connections between segregated townships and economic opportunities in the central city. Overall, the scheme was effective, although a number of factors undermined its efficiency. It has helped contribute Johannesburg into the world city realm with many people benefitting and flourishing with a strong sense of culture and community. This shows that schemes to enhance the economic growth of cities go hand in hand with modernity since Johannesburg is significant better relatively than before. However, for increased effectiveness more schemes must focus on on the ‘ordinary city’ and their various specifics and complexities.

Cities also supposedly reach a higher stage of ‘modernity’ after embracing other cultures, identities and values. For example New York, which is symbolised as the most powerful city in the world and the most popular international symbol of urban modernity, was dependent on borrowings from other places. Lewis Mumford stated that ;one would not do justice to the American tradition in architecture if one neglected the part played in our own development by forces originating outside our country’. Some of the influences notes were cleans forms of Japanese design, the importation of the veranda from India and the heavy European beaux-arts influence on American architectural design. The many different styles which made New York iconic and distinctive and which was an icon of the west can mostly be originated from elsewhere. The ‘iconic’ west was also seen as a yardstick and ideal for modernity in many different cities. This was the case in Brazil where local narratives about the ambition to become modern were inextricably bound up with the framing as coming from outside. Cities using other ideas demonstrates the interconnectability of modernity and despite differences in values, a heavyweight type of modernity may be favoured. This is also normally the primary view of elites such as decision makers, businessperson and generally those with authority as ‘the importation of modern styles from other places in Brazil (London, Paris, and Buenos Aires) was as a source of delight and a marker of achievement of the elite’. Although this may have exterior motives such as attracting visitors, tourists and workers that will directly and indirectly help an economy. Although this is a two-way relationship as ‘Latin America also had considerable impact on Europe in terms of the development of the competing modern architecture of the international style’. This shows that modernity is also subject to constant changes and is not dependent on any country but rather a wide range.

The definition as to what is recognized as a modern city is challenged. Some writers have suggested that the urban West with its institutions, buildings and entertainment is the ideal and anything which doesn’t share characteristics of a similar nature is seen as ’primitive’ and ‘backward’ and in needed of reformation. Current meanings of the term 'modern' have been largely defined by early twentieth-century Western scholars. To be crude, modernity could be understood as simply the West's self-characterisation of itself in opposition to 'others' and 'elsewheres' that are imagined to be not modern, an opposition that was strongly reinforced through the mundane practices of colonisation (King 2004: 71). Although in recent urban studies, the consensus points towards the notion that Modernity is complex and encompassing of a variety of contemporary cities. Cities are places where a collection of people assemble and engage in economic and social relations in many different ways and links which leads to unique cultural meaning developing. ‘Cities everywhere perform this function of facilitating circulation, assemblage and interaction - of enabling diverse forms of 'modernity' to be imagined and practised’. For the supposed idea of western modernity to exist, it has to be counter posed with other societies that are deemed backward and more traditional. As ‘The city has performed an important function in theorising modernity: it has coalesced and helped to make visible a certain range of self-descriptions for the West’. Park 1967: 33) - ‘To the 'city' then, rationality, thought, distanciated social relations; to the ‘primitive', intimacy, feeling, sentiment, instinct and the absence of reason’. However, the key argument is that cities, which contrast this perspective, still have aspects of ‘modernity’ as they are constantly changing and becoming different in varieties of ways.

The relationship between cities and modernity in the future is unlikely to remain constant. With the population of urban cities expected to double by 2030, increasing by an extra 2 billion inhabitants, structural changes are of great importance. Subsequently policy makers and practitioners are focusing on much stronger development interventions without increasing inequality. This could have an impact on modernity as cities now have increased funds and resources that are much more aligned to specific needs to compete. Secondly, with globalisation growing in importance day by day, modernity has become even more important. The world is becoming urban and cities are becoming integrated into globalisation, which means that it is vital that cities are to the needs of various stakeholders that are interested. For instance, globalisation has led to city management strategies focusing on efficiency and effectiveness to encourage inward investment from transnational companies, bilateral and multilateral aid agencies as well as individuals. In addition, business clusters are becoming of increased importance, as proximity is valued highly so again these are focused on in City Development Strategies (CDS). Thirdly, the primitive is becoming more embodied into ideas of modernity because despite great scientific strides, tradition is becoming increasingly emphasised. It is vital that a variety of modernities can co-exist in a harmonising way and not necessarily contrary to each other.

To conclude modernity is an ongoing process where anyone and everyone can be in. A city can still in its realms despite being completely abstracts to another city in ‘modernity’. A limited scope in terms of perception of it denotes that cities are all ordinary. They diverse, dynamic and complex arenas of political, social and economic life. Cities are also developing constantly due to economic developments that helps to develop modernity and change; despite limitations various schemes and initiatives are really making significant changes to development and modernity. The borrowed aspects of modernity from other nations also supports this idea, modernity is dynamic and cities all rely on each other for inspiration. The future is also uncertain, with many changes occurring, modernity may be heightened tremendously, with cities possibly becoming places of unique, distinct and pleasant realms.


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