Contemporary global circuits of policy advice are abuzz with ‘urban solutions’ from a growing industry of ‘thought leaders’.
These urban experts talk about ‘policy solutions’ and ‘best practice models’ and they have a ready supply of policy success stories from around the world.
“What I’m really trying to study is this global circuitry of knowledge, a global network, and I’m engaging with cities not as specific field sites, but as entry points into this dynamic, fast-moving landscape.”
Rachel Bok calls this ‘superlative urbanism’; a practice whereby urban solutions experts have created an industry out of selling city managers a range of urban fixes. And while we’re talking about urban fixes, you really should read Rachel’s paper on the idea of the ‘fix’ called By our metaphors you shall know us’: The ‘fix’ of geographical political economy. Rachel says the celebratory policy narratives about innovation and progress often stand in stark contrast to the lack of urban policy innovation on the ground.
“I see ‘best practice’ as a legitimising technique. You use it to mean a certain organisational benchmark. You have to say ‘best practice’ otherwise people… inside your organisation, people outside your organisation are not going to listen.
We handed the City Road audio field kit over to Sophie Webber, who is reporting from in the field in this episode. She’s talking with Rachel in Washington DC about her global, multi-sited ethnography on the global urban solutions industry.
The global urban solutions industry “have also become rather inoculated; immunised to the language of ‘best practice’, which is why to them it is something that is everyday, it’s commonplace, but it does really have much currency anymore”.
Rachel’s undertaking a range of internships with businesses involved in the global circuitry of urban solutions for her PhD. We track Rachel down in Washington DC to talk about her global, multi-sited ethnography.
Rachel Bok is a PhD candidate in the Department of Geography at the University of British Columbia. Her research interests sit at the intersections of global urban governance, critical urban theory, and political economy. Her current research examines the globalisation of the urban “solutions” industry and its emergent norms and forms of superlative urbanism.