Hackworth, Jason: The Neoliberal City: Governance, Ideology and Development in American Urbanism.
The Neoliberal City: Governance, Ideology and Development in American Urbanism.
Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007.
ISBN: 9780801473036 (pbk)
In this readable book Jason Hackworth provides an account of how redevelopment in American cities over the last thirty years may be understood as a 'spatial fix' easing the transition from a Keynesian to neoliberal approach to economic governance. Left unqualified such a description might suggest a mechanistic, functional explanation, but that would do the book a gross injustice. Hackworth emphasises that neoliberalism cannot be understood as a juggernaut rolling out over cities (and countries) in a uniform manner, creating a homogeneous economic and socio-political landscape. On the contrary, one of the book's central arguments is that there is a 'spatial contingency' (p. 173) to neoliberal cities, inasmuch as a city's distinctiveness (in terms of its history/ies, cultures, institutions etc.) will affect how it has responded to--and in turn has helped shape--the economic and political forces extending beyond its boundaries.
The book is in three parts, prefaced by an introductory chapter which does the useful job of discussing briefly just what neoliberalism is, and isn't. Part one of the book then considers, in three chapters, how neoliberalism has influenced the nature of urban governance in US cities. Two of the chapters incorporate different aspects of the declining significance of the nation state in urban governance as compared to both international and sub-national institutions. What Hackworth refers to as the 'upscaling' of governance (p. 41) is illustrated by the growing influence of credit agencies, while 'downscaling' is exemplified by the changing nature of public housing provision in US cities. For the latter, short case studies effectively show spatial variations in the way neoliberal trends in public housing provision have played out. The third chapter discusses the nature of urban regimes, demonstrating how local coalitions of interest can (and should) be understood in terms of their role in mediating the structural changes in capitalist economies in different places.
The book's second part is its longest. In four chapters Hackworth looks at spatial patterns of investment/development from the project to metropolitan scale. A particularly interesting chapter looks at the changing nature of gentrification in recent decades including the ways in which corporate investment has become more significant than bohemian pioneers in defining the gentrified frontier of inner areas of cities.
The final part considers how neoliberalism has been questioned and contested. Hackworth is acutely sensitive to the varying successes experienced by opposition to neoliberal projects. He provides a sober, but not dispiriting, analysis of the fractured opposition to an approach to governance which many powerful economic and political interests believe cannot be allowed to fail. The book ends--in a laudably radical fashion--by highlighting oppositional practices which can provide guidance and hope for a more developed contestation of neoliberalism in the future.
While not shying away from acknowledging the astonishing ascendancy of neoliberalism in much of the world, the book tries hard to avoid any hint of historical inevitability. I suspect that judgements as to how successful Hackworth is in providing the nuanced account for which he strives may vary according to the theoretical and political disposition of the reader. I for example--admiring (and influenced by) the work of David Harvey and Neil Smith--found myself broadly sympathetic to the author. Others might prefer a few more pages--and fuller case studies--devoted to the nature of local circumstances so that they could be assured that the book is not presenting these as some kind of 'noise' which muddies, but does not fundamentally alter, the essentially top-down economic dynamic of capitalist cities.
This book is likely to be particularly useful for students of urban geography and urban studies. Researchers, too, will enjoy reading such a clearly-written and lucidly-argued book, though some of the material may be familiar, in part from the author's earlier work.
School of City and Regional Planning