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Importing and Exporting Worldly Urbanism: The Challenges of Studying the Global Circulation of City Models, Best Practices and Imaginaries

David Sadoway and Anthony M. Levenda

Our session seeks to analyze, scrutinize and theorize the importation, exportation and appropriation of circulating urban ideas, projects and the practices of actors that make these ʻpolicy mobilitiesʼ (McCann & Ward 2012) possible. As cities examine and opt for a plethora of policies, model projects and programming from across the globe, various groups – including city governments, developers, consultancies, civil society and universities – are offering services such as thinktanking, thought leadership, urban branding, standards and metric-making, rankings, rating systems, best practices and models-in-the-making. These circulating urban policy, planning and design ideas, and coupled imaginaries, provide rich insights into questions about knowledge, power and place-making.

It appears to have become standard practice for cities to engage in what urban scholar Eugene McCann refers to as ʻextrospectionʼ— a mode of policy transfer that is characterized not only by the constant allure to look elsewhere, but by the desire to attract external mobile capital (i.e. financial, social or intellectual capital). Conversely too, cities, businesses, consultancies and civic groups are (hyper)actively engaging in exporting memes, schemes and dreams about urbanism. This mode of import-export urban policy development is wrapped up in the complexities of world-making and cosmopolitan ʻworldingʼ of cities (Ong & Roy 2011).

What worlds collide or what worlds are displaced when urban neighbourhoods are ʻworldedʼ or ʻworld classedʼ? What are the impacts of ʻworldly modelsʼ that touch down in cities or are ʻtested beddedʼ as place-making endeavors? What powers, knowledges, technologies, infrastructures and everyday practices make urban policies, ideas and ideals mobile and worldly? With the critical understanding that policies, projects, and urban imaginaries are both territorial and relational, these are the types of questions we seek to explore in examining the exportation/importation of urban planning memes, schemes and dreams. Our RC21 stream session invites papers, short videos, research notes, or reports on projects in-the-works, which focus on the challenges of comparative urbanism in a world awash with circulating models, best practices and more. We invite works that engage with these themes in any geographical or spatial context, but especially those that transcend and transgress across socio-economic, socio-technical, ecological and political milieus, including, those examining:

  • The practices and technologies of exporting urban design, planning, and management ideas: thinktanking, branding, best practices, ranking, test bedding, model-making, etc.
  • Worlding and its impacts on the urban commons, civic life and governmentality, etc.
  • Worlding and world-making (Ong & Roy 2011) within and amongst cities.
  • Policy mobilities (McCann 2011) and how they touch down in city-regions.
  • Planning ideas that travel (Healey 2009) and their import (or export).
  • Comparative or translocal urbanism (Robinson 2011, McFarlane 2013, Ward 2011, Peck 2015) as studies within, amongst and between cities.
  • Comparative global urban strategizing, networking and coalition-building, etc..
  • G/local urban knowledge networks/systems and assemblage urbanisms.
  • Role model cities, consulting urbanism, fast urbanism, enclave urbanism & ʻsmart citiesʼ.