Città e regioni nel nuovo capitalismo. L’economia sociale delle metropoli

Author: Allen J. Scott | Publisher: Il Mulino, 2011

After the crisis in the industrial city, today we witness a revival of the big centers. Cities are renewed as places of cognitive economy and cultural industry: research, media, design, fashion, music. The economy of the metropolis has become more “social” because the new creative activities are based on thick networks of formal and informal relationships that develop in the urban environment. Transformations not without contradictory implications. The segregation of residences is strengthened and there is an increasingly strong social divide between high-income professionals, linked to new businesses, and low-wage service workers who see a strong presence of immigrants. Between economic dynamism and new social inequalities, the double face of the postmodern metropolis.

Review (by Francesca Silvia Rota):
Cities and regions in the new capitalism. The social economy of the metropolis is the Italian edition, edited by Carlo Trigilia, of a volume originally published by Allen J. Scott in 2008 entitled Social Economy of the Metropolis: Cognitive-Cultural Capitalism and the Global Resurgence of Cities. The original work therefore comes out in a historical period in which the international crisis had not yet manifested itself in all its dramatic consequences and in which one could look with a certain optimism to the global economic processes. Today the scenario is undoubtedly very different and there are many cities in which regeneration dynamics have given way to phenomena of demographic and occupational contraction, impoverishment and weakening of social cohesion.

Nevertheless, On the one hand, this is possible because the work is almost a compendium of Scott’s long experience in analyzing and interpreting the urban phenomenon. The simple and precise language, tended to the maximum of clarity, the insistence on some concepts considered particularly important (this is the case with the notions of urban and social economy of the metropolis) and the effective organization, in some teaching ways, of the Arguments make it a particularly suitable text for university students and, more generally, for anyone interested in deepening the complex transformations of the contemporary city from an intrinsically interdisciplinary point of view.

On the other hand, the relevance of Scott’s work lies in the fact that the crisis has had the effect of amplifying many of the processes that the author makes clear in his examination. Among these, certainly, the increased interaction and growing dynamism fueled by the new urban activities of the cognitive and cultural economy, but also the increasing fractures within the urban society between residents of the rich neighborhoods and residents of the poor neighborhoods, among high-skilled workers income and low paid employees.

In an attempt to provide an integrated view of the transformations of post-Fordist cities, the volume is characterized by the attempt to explore interdependencies between economy and urbanization processes from different angles of observation. It follows a great wealth of themes – from the economic structure to changes in physical form, from social composition to political role – of which it is difficult to provide a complete synthesis here. Perhaps because of this, the volume includes a concluding chapter (“coda”) in which the author summarizes the essence of his work.

In particular, in this chapter Scott emphasizes the importance of analyzing economic and urban processes in the light of two main dynamics of the post-Fordist period: the spread of globalization and the advent of capitalism based on culture and knowledge. Precisely the growing pervasiveness in the urban arena of the mechanisms of cognitive capitalism is the basis of the increased integration between the processes of economic production and social reproduction that Scott describes in terms of the social economy of the metropolis. By introducing significant differences in the urban mechanisms of resource management and relations between workers, citizens and administrators, cognitive capitalism thus fuels the process of urban rebirth which began following the Ford crisis, favoring above all large metropolitan areas, the agglomerations of supra-local scale (the city-regions) and, in perspective, a growing number of small urban centers characterized by the presence of local traditions, craft skills or specific cultural resources. Particularly interesting in this regard is the idea that the new urban geography that is taking shape in this new phase of the history of capitalist economy will not tend to a pervasive spatial and social uniformity, but to models of urbanization that are varied from an economic point of view and cultural, From this point of view, in Scott’s reference to “a global mosaic of cities in recovery that increasingly work as economic engines and political actors on a world scale” we can see the reference to scholars like Jane Jacobs who, back in 1969, in an essay titled The Economy of the Cities, he envisaged the end of the nation-state for the benefit of a new autonomous and decentralized entity, that of cities and cities-regions. In Scott’s thinking to emerge will be above all the realities that, equipped with efficient structures of governance and policy making, will be able to deal effectively with the old and new problems of the contemporary city. Not only issues of congestion, degradation of the suburbs, disordered growth of suburban spaces, but also increasing political dilemmas linked to the intensification of economic inequalities and social fractures, the democratic deficit that invests increasing layers of urban society and the need to identify forms of collective action through which to ensure localization advantages and reduce external threats to the local economy.

Lastly, the considerations developed in the volume are used by Scott to formulate an urgent request for renewal both in theory and in political practice on the contemporary city. In this sense, the warning that the construction of the political agenda is not resolved into a question of abstract norms and procedures, often deduced from supposed good external practices, but proceeds within the framework of a clear awareness of the possibilities and limits of the collective action, of the prevailing social realities, of the structure of local political mobilizations, as well as of the networks of interactions that bind cities on an interurban and / or macro-regional scale.