Other Cities: Africa, Asia, Latin America

We’ve been expanding the collection. We have gotten information about places outside of the United States: Latin America, South Africa, Asia. We have restricted our ambition to one piece in each continent – simply to indicate the range of possibility.

Asia. Michael Douglass begins by noting the transition, in many Asian countries, from centralized, autocratic rule to a developmental policy, eventually devolved to the cities, so that in many places there arose contestation over such issues as the treatment of the poor – led by emerging middle class and reformist movements. Then at some point central governments were hobbled by fiscal crisis and austerity policies, so that cities became the arena for political innovation. [1]   He refers to a Malaysian movement spreading widely including to Hong Kong creating collectivities similar to the U.S. “Occupy” movement. [2]   He also notes Indonesia. [3]   But Seoul was the most developed example. A middle class developed, enriched though the industrialization efforts of the central regime. By 2010 the activist and academic Won-soon Park won office and immediately sought dramatic reforms. There were “two axes of reform.” [4]   One is the replacement of an “economy centered development agenda” and a sharp rise of welfare budget up to over 30 percent of the total, a record high, that went in parallel with the cut of budget for mega development projects. There were plans for 80,000 public rental housing units, an increase from 5 to 7 percent of Seoul’s total housing stock; and 280 public day care centers. Alongside these were impressive participatory reforms, and Park won re-election in 2014 by a significant margin.

Latin America. Benjamin Goldfrank and Andrew Schrank, “Municipal Neoliberalism and Municipal Socialism in Latin America.” (2009) list 21 Latin American cities as cases of “municipal socialism,” created in the context of national democratization and devolution in the 1980s. [5]  They note the redistributive nature of the municipal socialist programs. For Porto Alegre (Brazil) they write “The expansion of infrastructure and services … had a strongly redistributive cast, for the participatory budgeting criteria allocated spending to areas with the greatest needs.” But they seem to give equal emphasis to participatory reforms:

PT [Worker’s Party] mayors simultaneously attempted to implement a variety of participatory programs including the participatory budgeting (PB) initiatives for which their cities are by now justifiably famous. PB is characterized by public debate and (to a greater or lesser extent) determination of municipal investment and spending priorities and is perhaps most often associated with Porto Alegre, arguably the most successful case of municipal socialism in Brazil.

Africa. What of Africa? We have seen little evidence, except for the tantalizing suggestion from Xolela Mangcu of abortive progressivism in the wake of the emergence of the African National Congress as a legitimate municipal governing force at the end of Apartheid in the early 1990s, and a research effort by Claudia Gbaffou and Rasheed Sedat, apparently in process as we write. [6]




[1] Mike Douglass. “The Rise of Progressive Cities for Human and Planetary Flourishing – A Global Perspective on Asia’s Urban Transition.” Paper presented to the International Symposium on Making a Progressive City: Seoul’s Experience and Beyond. Organized by The Seoul Institute, Seoul, S. Korea, 15‐16 October 2015.

[2] Douglass, “The Rise of Progressive Cities…”, p. 2

[3]”The Rise of Progressive Cities…”, p. 12.

[4] Cho, Myung-Rae. “A Progressive City in the Making? – The Seoul Experience.” Paper prepared for the International Symposium on Making a Progressive City: Seoul’s Experience and Beyond, organized by the Seoul Institute, Seoul, Korea, 15–16 October 2015, p. 9.

[5] Benjamin Goldfrank and Andrew Schrank, “Municipal neoliberalism and municipal socialism in Latin America.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Vol. 33, No. 2 (June 2009), pp. 443-62. There is a substantial literature on Latin American city politics and so there are drawbacks using one article to characterize the experience of 21 cities or of a continent. Still, it seems a remarkable piece, as are Goldfrank’s other works, including the recent Deepening Local Democracy in Latin America (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2011).

[6] Claire Bénit-Gbaffou & Rashid Seedat. Post apartheid Johannesburg planners tell their stories. Draft 18 October 2012.