Book review: Making Cities Global: The Transnational Turn in Urban History

reviewed by Jialin Shi

12 Aug 2021, 12:14 p.m.
Jialin Shi

Making Cities Global book cover

Book review: Making Cities Global: The Transnational Turn in Urban History

by A. K. Sandoval-Strausz and Nancy H. Kawk and reviewed by Jialin Shi

Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017; 352 pp.: ISBN: 9780812249545 £44.00 (cloth)


Dr AK Sandoval-Strausz (the University of New Mexico) and Dr Nancy H Kwak (the University of California at San Diego) have made collaborative efforts in editing a thought-provoking and insightful book titled ‘Making Cities Global: The Transnational Turn in Urban History’ in 2018. In a broad sense, this book sketches a comprehensive planning and zoning framework in different regions such as Asia, Latin America and North America from a perspective of transnational history. In a narrow sense, cities such as Manila, Singapore, Toronto, Rio de Janeiro, Bogotá, Los Angeles and Chicago underwent substantive and productive processes in their urbanisation, neighbourhood rectification and suburbanisation since late 19th century and throughout the 20th century.

Seen from its title page, the book starts with the two editors’ introduction to the transnational turn in urban studies against the backdrop of the globalisation, during which human networks and flows are omnipresent and gaining strength, thereby making urban areas expansive and national boundaries obscure. The entwining locality and globalism are increasingly represented in the diversity of urban population on the basis of space of flows, pushed by international politics, acts of state and transnational corporations. However, compared with the traditional research paradigm, which designates that the grand historical narratives are defining in deciding the ontological development, the new research orientation in this book employs specific empirical inquiries into exploring the built environment – how transnationalism shapes the landscape with cases like housing programmes in Rio de Janeiro, the Kennedy-era Alliance for Progress, suburban typological transformations in Markham of Canada and so on.

Roughly, this book could be divided into two parts, with its first part primarily about how governments, as planning and operational agents, have carried out the urban governance in Colombia, Brazil and the Philippines. In the first part, a homeownership programme like Ciudad Kennedy (CK) under the Alliance for Progress in Bogotá, and the resettlement scheme after slum clearance in Manila, witnessed the urban transition of the developing countries in the 1960s. In regard to the former, with aided self-help housing under the auspices of the Instituto de crédito Territorial (ICT), CK enabled poor Colombians to have their own houses. Furthermore, financed by national and international sponsors (the Inter-American Housing and Planning Center, the Organization of American States, the US Housing and Home Finance Agency etc.), CK achieved its success to some extent on the basis of the complementarities of community labour force, financial assistance and intergovernmental cooperation. As for the latter, so similar was the situation to that in the State of Guanabara, Brazil in the 1960s. With the fund of United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the specific functioning of housing company like Companhia de Habitação Popular (COHAB), the relocation scheme, targeted for establishing a working-class neighbourhood, revealed a successful urban renewal case, which incorporated transnational cooperation into foreign diplomacy, the future residents into bourgeois values of domesticity and comfort regardless of habitual displacement and isolation from the triage zones. Other grassroots resettlement planning cases can be found in Nancy H Kwak’s Slum Clearance as a Transnational Process in Globalizing Manila, dissects how slums and squatters in neighbourhoods like Barrio Fugoso, Intramuros, Harrison Plaze, Malate, North Harbour etc. after WWII were cleared because of the Philippine federal government’s forceful reconfiguration of Great Manila in order to make room for industry, trade and tourism at the cost of sacrificing the fundamental interests of slum residents. The complicated story of the Philippine slums and squatters overturns our traditional concept in urban renewal, which initiates a thorough urban transformation and upgrading from rustic rural and suburban areas into modern ones. This failing case dislocated the low-class and low-income citizens, and further aggravated their life inconvenience and community ghettoes, though the domestic and intergovernmental organisations, like the National Housing Authority (NHA), the Homeowners’ Association (HOA), the World Bank and heads of state like F Marcos, C Aquino and G M-Arroyo, were proactively involved in the resettlement work.

In comparison, the following part encompasses the articles concerning a domain of place, culture and power of transnational immigrants. As is noted in the book Intercultural Cities: Policy and Practice for a New Era, cities are becoming an increasing assertive and powerful actor in the political scene, and the discourse of pluralism works better at the local level, linked to a specific territory, avoiding a clash with national identity which is often complex and charged with historical and geopolitical controversies (White, 2018, p. 57). From the essay of Arijit Sen, the transnational experience of Indian people in Chicago have attested the successful incremental integration and engagement of Indians to the American mainstream society and culture, while maintaining their cultural and national specialty. However, what strikes me most, from the essay by Nikhil Rao, is that local urbanisation in India accentuates the difficulties facing Indian local people. In the colonial era, the interests of local Indian people were usurped by British officials, pro-government speculators and high-caste families. Back to the 1970s, though cooperative housing programmes, as a form of self-help for the urban poor, tended to deal with the suburbanised houses for the poor people, Indian cities remained indelibly stamped by the legacies of the suburbanisation agenda initiated by the British colonial state (pp. 250–251). Similarly, Richard Harris attempts to expound why ‘suburb’ never happens in India from the perspective of post-colonial discourse. In the article Transnational Urban Meanings: The Passage of ‘Suburb’ to India and Its Rough Reception, ‘suburb’ was endowed with the political meaning, which officially means the counterpoint of ‘slum’. Together with many other scholars like Arjun Appadurai, Ulf Hannerz, Pierre-Yves Saunier in cultural and subaltern studies (Saunier and Ewen, 2008, p. 11), Richard focuses on the cultural interpretation of cities, in which everyday words and their meanings are typical of culturality and identity performance. Nowadays, the biggest conundrum and contradictoriness facing suburban Indian people are that they have to erase their cultural colonial imprinting on the one hand, but on the other hand, they also have to maintain a certain of ethnic proximity in using English and keeping urban culture.

Besides the above quintessential urban planning cases, what is also worth noticing is that Making Cities Global brings in two valuable theoretical and methodological essays. Carola Hein’s Crossing Boundaries: The Global Exchange of Planning Ideas further fleshes out the transmission of planning ideas, the establishment of urban networks and roles of the intergovernmental institutions while Carl H Nightingale elaborates more on a move of transnational urban history, which transits from a transnational turn to the prevailing digital turn. In recent years, the emergence and employment of new media and tools such as graphic, mapping and big data enrich the studies of urban-related subjects and gain a new understanding of urban space from the interdisciplinary and new technology perspectives.

What, then, are the drawbacks and merits of Making Cities Global to professors and readers? The biggest reward from reading Making Cities Global is that planning students or related researchers will definitely benefit enormously from learning the roles of the local governments’ in urban planning and renewal movements while for city developers and transmigrants, they ought to take urban poor interests into consideration and prioritise their concerns during the course of urbanised evolution. By borrowing the advanced experience from Europe and the US, Asian urbanisation and housing problems should be more people-oriented and based on sense of humanism. The argument will be more persuasive and convincing should the book have worked out a more orderly array of book layouts and cases in different continents.


The author disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This review article is fully funded by Major National Philosophy and Social Science Fund (titled ‘A Study of Transition in Global Urbanization in the 20th Century’) (Ref. 16ZDA139).



Saunier, P-Y, Ewen, S (2008) Another Global City: Historical Explorations into the Transnational Municipal Moment, 1850–2000. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
Google Scholar | Crossref
White, BW (2018) Intercultural Cities: Policy and Practice for a New Era. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.
Google Scholar | Crossref


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