L[i/o]ving cities

Posts tagged ‘local’


In this trilogy I have previously talked about two of the dimensions of the city limits. I have talked about the physical limits of the cities and about their influence outside their physical limit. In this new post I am going to extend into the implication of the city limits and I want to talk briefly about how these limits have an influence on people and on people relations.

In this case I want to focus on how human relations have been altered with the city expansion/explosion. I think that there is an essential question, the bigger the city, the weaker the social control. So we can find an interesting paradox where agglomeration means some kind of isolation or liberation to people.

On the one hand, we know that in small towns and in closed communities there is a big social control from the rest of the people. In these settlements you are supported by the rest of the community but also controlled by the community rules. On the other hand, we know that in big cities your are more free to do whatever you want, although you are supported by fewer people than in smaller communities.

If I continue with this example it is funny to see how both sides of the story (bigger and smaller communities) have managed to try to get the good things of the other. For example, in small cities people usually go to more populated cities to spend time doing some activities that are not possible in the small cities and that express the individual likes of people (theatre, cinema, sport events, shopping…). On the other hand, people in big cities usually go to the same bars or cafes, or need to start different activities to meet people with similar likes.

I think that in big cities we enhance our individual side and in small towns we enhance our social or collective side. In any case, as people with complex behaviors, we have to reinforce the side of us that we are lacking due to the size of the city in which we are living. That implies that our individual behavior suits better a certain city topology. Of course, as we change our behavior during life, we will feel more comfortable in different types of cities along life.

Summarizing, in the first city limits post I have concluded that the size of the city is directly related to the physical possibility of communication. In the second city limit post I have concluded that as places for relation, the influence of the city network has to be considered worldwide. Finally, in this third city limits post I have explained that individually, different cities suit us better or worse depending on our own behavior. So maybe these three posts are not really useful to have a definition of the city limit, but I think that the importance of this city limit to understand its implication on personal relations is clear.



In the former post, The City Limits I: The City Itself, I talked about the ways of understanding the physical limit of cities. In this post, I still want to talk about the city limits but from a different point of view, not related to physical dimensions. In this case I want to talk about the intangible limit of the cities or the city hinterland.

In the last post I argued about the physical possibilities of mobility as the key factor to consider the limit of the city itself. But apart from the physical occupation of the land, it is true that cities have a bigger influence. For example, if we are talking about the world cities network we can see how there is a small number of cities that form part of this network, while the rest of the cities are just serving the principal nodes. We can see it clearly if we look at airports networks. Those main cities (known by everybody) which have the international connections are the world nodes and have the power to connect people from all over the world. That is an interesting key point, because again we are linking the physical possibility of moving and the transport ways of doing it.

We can also talk about the influence of cities economy. I have made an easy exercise, taking the 2008 GDP of several cities (PricewaterhouseCoopers UK Economic Outlook November 2009) and countries (Wikipedia). I have related the GDP of some mayor cities with their countries GDPs. The result is the following:

  • New York City 9,6% of USA GDP
  • Madrid 16,7% of Spain GDP
  • Paris 22,1% of France GDP
  • London 25,0% of United Kingdom GDP
  • Tokyo 27,4% of Japan GDP
  • Mexico D.F. 37,5%of Mexico GDP

These figures show how important is the mayor cities economy in the national (and in the international) level. We can also talk about political importance. To instantiate this reality I have found the following figure from Taylor et al. In the figure we can find a world formed through the great metropolis, but as decision centers who finally are the places which are ruling the world.

These three examples that I have exposed are another way to understand the city limits apart from their own physical limit. As we have seen, the holistic vision of the world as a sum of the biggest cities and not as a sum of countries is based in heavy foundations that guide us to understand their political, economic and connecting importance. So if in the former post we have said that the city is limited by the mobility possibilities, in this post we can say that, maybe, the cities have no limit if we understand them as the network where things happen in this world.


During the thirty four years of my existence I have been living in six cities in two different countries. In all those cities I met people with whom, luckily, I am still in touch and who allowed me to build my own personality with their points of view and actions. All these natural comes and goes in a young adult life could be considered as a utopia for my parents and much more for my grandparents.

The possibility of this kind of life, so individual and so far away from that static groups of people who influenced us during our whole life, is not casual. Fortunately, nowadays we have facebook, twitter, linkedin, skype, mobile phones, e-mail, low-cost transport and all the tools that are to come and that, for the first time in history, allow us to connect our relations in real time and not to lose them in our memory.

This entire new real world that is emerging in the last years, as François Ascher explains in his book “Les Nouveaux Compromis urbains”, is pushing us to rethink about the nature of what local means. Nowadays, we have several transport technologies that have blurred distances between goods and people and, we also have, the information technologies that allow us to share knowledge around the world. Therefore, in my point of view, the meaning of local, which historically was focused in territorial aspects, has to go forward to be focused in the relational aspects.

It is a fact that the territorial aspect was, is and is going to be a key factor on the generation of links and relations between people, but, nowadays, that is not the only place for relations. An example of this is that people swap things and have personal or professional relations with other people who have never seen. Therefore, this new way for relations has to have its consequences in territorial organizations and in the possibility of letting people participate in local policies.

At this point come up new possibilities that have to be studied, developed and could be incorporated in our democracies to improve their own acceptance. As examples I can add, in the first place, the possibility of a territorial weighting of votes depending on the implication of people with different territories (eg. for people who live in two cities simultaneously) or, in the second place, the possibility of participation on particular issues for people who have a relation with the place of the issue although it is not a residence place.

On the other hand, it seems that tools as the local census or as the vote in fixed districts according with the residence place are becoming a bit restricted in this global word of relations that we are creating. As one friend of mine said: “globalization beyond economy: citizenship and public spirit are key concepts”.

If somebody asks me, I will say that home is the place where people that value me are, but, just now, I do not know where they are.


A lo largo de mis treinta y cuatro años de existencia he vivido en seis ciudades diferentes de dos países. En todas ellas he conocido a gente con la que, por suerte, todavía sigo manteniendo vínculos y que, con sus opiniones y acciones, me han permitido construirme como persona. Lo curioso es que este devenir vital, con tanta ida y vuelta y tan natural para la gente de mi generación, podía considerarse una utopía para mis padres y ya no digamos para mis abuelos.

Desde luego, la posibilidad de establecer estos periplos vitales, tan personales para cada individuo y cada vez más alejados de esa lógica grupal que a lo largo de una vida nos iba influyendo de manera continua, no es fruto de la casualidad. Por suerte, hoy en día tenemos Facebook, Twitter, Tuenti, Skype, móvil, e-mail, transporte low cost y quién sabe qué otras herramientas nacerán que, por primera vez en la historia, nos permiten seguir el rastro de nuestras relaciones en tiempo real y hacer que no se pierdan en el recuerdo.

Con esta nueva realidad que se está configurando en los últimos años, creo que es imprescindible replantearse la naturaleza de lo local, como muy bien apunta François Ascher en su libro “Los nuevos principios del urbanismo”. Hoy en día poseemos unas tecnologías del transporte que han difuminado las distancias para satisfacer la movilidad de las mercancías y de las personas y unas tecnologías de la información que han barrido las barreras a las que se puede difundir el conocimiento. Por ello, bajo mi punto de vista, lo local, que históricamente se encontraba completamente centrado en el aspecto territorial debería pasar a estar fundamentado en lo relacional.

Por supuesto, la componente territorial sigue y seguirá siendo fundamental a la hora de generar nexos y relaciones, pero, hoy en día ya no es el único espacio para la relación, prueba de ello es que todo el mundo tiene intercambios y mantiene relaciones personales, laborales o de otro tipo con gente que no ha visto en su vida. Por eso, esta nueva forma de configurar las relaciones entre los individuos debería tener su reflejo en las organizaciones territoriales y en la posibilidad de intervenir en las políticas territorialmente locales.

Aquí surgen numerosas posibilidades que deberían ser estudiadas, desarrolladas y agregadas en nuestras democracias para mejorar el grado de aceptación y la afección a las mismas. De forma rápida se me ocurre, en primer lugar, la ponderación del voto territorialmente según los diferentes grados de implicación de los individuos con los territorios en los que viven o, en segundo lugar, la participación en decisiones concretas en territorios con los que se tienen vínculos aunque en la actualidad no exista una residencia. Por otro lado se me antoja que instrumentos como el padrón municipal o el voto en circunscripciones únicas se empiezan a quedar pequeñas dentro del mundo de relaciones que estamos creando.

Si me pregunta alguien, yo diré que mi hogar lo forman las personas que me aprecian, pero vaya, que ahora mismo no se decirte donde están todas.

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