Saskia Sassen

Urban Geography, 2008


In this essay, I engage the L.A.-Chicago debate by repositioning both area-specific constraints and visual orders as intermediary variables. This leads the discussion to two considerations that in turn reposition the meaning of the familiar differences attributed to Los Angeles and Chicago. First, a focus on the particular implications of translocal processes for an area allows us to establish that agglomeration and dispersal might both be part of a given firm’s or sector’s chain of operations and that they might be distributed across very different types of geographic areas. The main implication for a comparison of the L.A. and Chicago models is that it makes problematic the notion that geographic dispersal à la L.A. is the new spatial form corresponding to today’s new economy, and agglomeration à la Chicago belongs to an earlier modernity. The second focus is on the limits of homogenization and convergence in urban landscapes as explanations in comparative studies. I recode these homogenized landscapes—the hyperspace of global business—as an infrastructure: they are necessary but indeterminate in that they can be used for different purposes. This shifts the emphasis to what inhabits that built environment. A key underlying economic dynamic I find in my research is that the global economy thrives on the specialized differences of countries, regions, and cities. But it does need homogenized standards (e.g., of production, of financial reporting, of accounting, and the like), and I add, it also needs standardized built environments.

View the article hereRe-Assembling the Urban