SSASA Symposium - Day Three - The City and Globalization

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Sep 28, 2013
by Oscar Tollast
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SSASA Symposium - Day Three - The City and Globalization

Saskia Sassen and Richard Sennett provide guest lectures at Salzburg Global Professor Sennett and Professor Sassen talking in Parker Hall

Sociologists Saskia Sassen and Richard Sennett visited Salzburg Global today to lecture participants at this year's Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association symposium.

The married couple gave separate lectures both before and after lunch, each focusing on a specific subject area.

Prior to this, participants had split into topical discussion groups to discuss a number of issues.

These included: culture and the city; race, ethnicity and the city; and linking technology to the city.

Professor Sassen's lecture was entitled 'Bringing Cities into the Global Environmental Debate', whilst Professor Sennett's lecture focused on 'The Open City'.

With her husband speaking after lunch, Professor Sassen took to the podium beforehand, describing it as "a great pleasure" to be at Salzburg Global.

The professor of sociology at Columbia University started her presentation by suggesting implementing policy wasn't enough in tackling environmental issues that often veered off into "the wrong direction".

She said: "You have to mobilize [city populations] in terms of the specifics of their neighborhood, their concerns - not by some sort of central command.

"The truth of the matter is that science is not enough in the cities. There is a lot of other stuff happening in the cities, and so cities are a challenge.”

Professor Sassen’s research and writing focuses on globalization, immigration, and global cities.

She was chosen as one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy.

Cities were a “complex but incomplete system” with the capacity to keep reinventing themselves, according to Professor Sassen, but she didn’t advocate a return to nature.

"There are laws that work against you. A lot of what is lawful today actually works against the environment. A lot of what feeds the dynamism of urban economies is against environment."

Following lunch, Professor Sennett discussed how design matters to the vitality of the city.

The professor of sociology at New York University and at the London School of Economics and Political Science discussed the difference between open and closed city systems.

He described how a closed system, whilst lacking innovation and rupture, held context.

Professor Sennett highlighted star shaped cities as an example.

“Nothing is left to chance, in order that every block has equal access to resources in the city.

“Nobody’s left out. That’s the brilliance that everybody has access to everything in the city but they have it by virtue of micro-planning.”

Open systems, on the other hand, contain far more complexity in the formation of streets where multiple functions can be carried out, and allowing for innovation.

But Professor Sennett explained the problem presented by the system.

“We’re advocating something that requires cultural persuasion even though the notion of an open city is very attractive.

“In principle we’re advocating something that is disrupted – particularly in a modern western context – when people want from where they dwell a sense of security.”

Professor Sennett’s research has explored the ways in which individuals and groups make social and cultural sense of the cities in which they live.

He added: “The emergence of a new form other than old is perhaps the most fundamental fact about an open system. It is a fact which sociologists have puzzled over as much as mathematicians.”

Following Professor Sennett's lecture, participants received a break before attending a fireside chat in the Schloss Leopoldskron’s Great Hall, where Bernardus Djonoputro provided an interesting discussion on Jakarta, as a case study for sustainable planning and Asian cities.

Mr Djonoputro, secretary-general of the Indonesian Association of Urban and Regional Planners, spoke about the area's risk to flooding but how steps could be made to fight this challenge.

These included engaging the community and government, identifying the meaning of the flood, finding synchronizing tools, transmitting related information and converting it into a readable language to be shared by all.