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Postmodern Urbanism

Author(s): Michael Dear and Steven Flusty

Source: Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 88, No. 1 (Mar., 1998), pp.
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of the Association of American Geographers
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Postmodern Urbanism
Michael Dear and Steven Flusty

Southern California Studies Center, University of Southern California

Theories of urban structure are a scarce commodity. Most twentieth-century analyses have been
predicated on the Chicago School model of concentric zones, despite the obvious claims of
competing models. This paper examines the contemporary forms of Southern California urbanism
as an initial step toward deriving a concept of "postmodern urbanism." The Los Angeles model
consists of several fundamental characteristics, including a global-local connection, a ubiquitous
social polarization, and a reterritorialization of the urban process in which hinterland organizes the
center (in direct contradiction to the Chicago model). The resultant urbanism is distinguished by
a centerless urban form termed "keno capitalism," which we advance as the basis for a research
agenda in comparative urban analysis. Key Words: postmodem, urbanism, urban structure, Chicago,
Los Angeles.

Sometimes, falling asleep in Santa Monica, he won- Modern Age is being succeded by a post-modern
dered vaguely if there might have been a larger period (1959:165-66).
system, a field of greater perspective. Perhaps the
whole of DatAmerica possessed its own nodal Mills believed that it was vital to conceptualize
points, infofaults that might be followed down to the categories of change in order to "grasp the
some other kind of truth, another mode of knowing, outline of the new epoch we suppose ourselves to
deep within the gray shoals of information. But onlybe entering" (1959:166).
if there were someone there to pose the right ques- Have we arrived at a radical break in the way
tion (William Gibson, 1996:39). cities are developing? Is there something called
O ne of the most enervating aspects of a postmodern urbanism, which presumes that we
recent debates on the postmodern con- can identify some form of template that defines
dition is the notion that there has been its critical dimensions?2 This inquiry is based on
a radical break from past trends in political, a simple premise: that just as the central tenets
economic, and sociocultural life. There is no of modernist thought have been undermined,
clear consensus about the nature of this osten- its core evacuated and replaced by a rush of
sible break. Some analysts have declared the competing epistemologies, so too have the tra-
current condition to be nothing more than ditional logics of earlier urbanisms evaporated,
business as usual, only faster a "hypermod- and in the absence of a single new imperative,
ern" or "supermodern" phase of advanced capi- multiple urban (ir)rationalities are competing
talism.1 Others have noted that the pace of to fill the void. It is the concretization and
change in all aspects of our global society is localization of these effects, global in scope but
sufficient for us to begin to speak of "revolu- generated and manifested locally, that are cre-
tion." In this essay, we are cognizant of an ating the geographies of postmodern society a
invocation of Jacques Derrida, who invited new time-space fabric.3 We begin this search by
those interested in assessing the extent and outlining the fundamental precepts of the Chi-
volume of contemporary change to "rehearse cago School, a classical modernist vision of the
the break," intimating that only by assuming a industrial metropolis, and contrasting these
radical break had occurred would our capacity with evidence of a nascent postmodern Los
to recognize it be released. Similar advice was Angeles School.4 Next we examine a broad
offered by C. Wright Mills in The Sociological range of contemporary Southern California ur-
Imagination (1959): banisms, before going on to suggest a critical
reinterpretation of this evidence that encom-
We are at the ending of what is called The Modern passes and defines the problematic of a post-
Age. Just as Antiquity was followed by several cen-
modern urbanism. In conclusion, we offer
turies of Oriental ascendancy, which Westerners
comments intended to assist in formulating an
provincially called The Dark Ages, so now The
agenda for comparative urban research.
Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 88(1), 1998, pp. 50-72
(? 1998 by Association of American Geographers
Published by Blackwell Publishers, 350 Main Street, Maiden, MA 02148, and 108 Cowley Road, Oxford, OX4 1JF, UK.

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Postmodern Urbanism 51

buildings in the city and stable social groups.

From Chicago to Los Angeles
Beyond this, newer and larger dwellings were to
It has been a traditional axiom of classical writing be found, occupied by the middle classes. Finally,
about the city that urban structures are the domain the commuters' zone extended beyond the con-
of reason Jonathan Raban 1974:157). tinuous built-up area of the city where a consid-
erable portion of the zone's population was
employed. Burgess's model was a broad generali-
The Chicago School zation, not intended to be taken too literally. He
expected, for instance, that his schema would
General theories of urban structure are a scarce apply only in the absence of complicating factors
commodity. One of the most persistent models ofsuch as local topography. He also anticipated
urban structure is associated with a group of considerable variation within the different zones.
sociologists who flourished in Chicago in the Other urbanists noted the tendency for cities
1920s and 1930s. According to Morris Janowitz, to grow in star-shaped rather than concentric
the "Chicago School" was motivated to regard form, along highways that radiate from a center
the city "as an object of detached sociological with contrasting land uses in the interstices. This
analysis," worthy of distinctive scientific atten- observation gave rise to a sector theory of urban
tion: structure, advanced in the late 1930s by Homer
Hoyt (1933, 1939), who observed that once vari-
The city is not an artifact or a residual arrangement.
ations arose in land uses near the city center, they
On the contrary, the city embodies the real nature
tended to persist as the city grew. Distinctive
of human nature. It is an expression of mankind in
sectors thus expanded out from the CBD, often
general and specifically of the social relations gen-
erated by territoriality (Janowitz 1967:viii-ix). organized along major highways. Hoyt empha-
sized that nonrational factors could alter urban
The most enduring of the Chicago School models form, as when skillful promotion influenced the
was the zonal or concentric ring theory, an account direction of speculative development. He also
of the evolution of differentiated urban social understood that the age of buildings could still
areas by E.W Burgess (1925). Based on assump- reflect a concentric ring structure, and that sec-
tions that included a uniform land surface, uni- tors may not be internally homogeneous at one
versal access to a single-centered city, free specific time.
competition for space, and the notion that devel- The complexities of real-world urbanism were
opment would take place outward from a central further taken up in the multiple nuclei theory of
core, Burgess concluded that the city would tend C.D. Harris and E. Ullman (1945). They pro-
to form a series of concentric zones. (These are posed that cities have a cellular structure in which
the same assumptions that were later to form the land uses develop around multiple growth-nuclei
basis of the land-rent models of Alonso, Muth, et within the metropolis-a consequence of acces-
al.) The main ecological metaphors invoked to sibility-induced variations in the land-rent sur-
describe this dynamic were invasion, succession, face and agglomeration (dis) economies. Harris
and segregation, by which populations gradually and Ullman (1945) also allow that real-world
filtered outwards from the center as their status urban structure is determined by broader social
and level of assimilation progressed. The model and economic forces, the influence of history, and
was predicated on continuing high levels of inmi- international influences. But whatever the pre-
gration to the city. cise reasons for their origin, once nuclei have
At the core of Burgess's schema was the Cen- been established, general growth forces reinforce
tral Business District (CBD), which was sur- their preexisting patterns.
rounded by a transitional zone, where older Much of the urban research agenda of the
private houses were being converted to offices twentieth century has been predicated on the
and light industry or subdivided to form smaller precepts of the concentric zone, sector, and mul-
dwelling units. This was the principal area to tiple nuclei theories of urban structure. Their
which new immigrants were attracted, and it influences can be seen directly in factorial ecolo-
included areas of vice and generally unstable or gies of intraurban structure, land-rent models,
mobile social groups. The transitional zone was studies of urban economies and diseconomies of
succeeded by a zone of working-men's homes, scale, and designs for ideal cities and neighbor-
which included some of the oldest residential hoods. The specific and persistent popularity of

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52 Dear and Flusty

the Chicago concentric ring

was reaching new national prominence,model
Los An-
explain, however,geles has begun to make
given theits impression on the
dence in support minds ofof alternative
urbanists. Their theoretical inquiries
likely reasons for focus
its not only on the specific city, but also are
endurance on p
lated to a beguiling more generalsimplicity
questions concerning urban proc-and t
volume of publications esses. Cenzatti claims that one concern common
produced by
the Chicago School. Even as late as 1992, Mike to all adherents of the L.A. School is a focus on
Davis's vision of an ecology of fear in Los Angeles restructuring, which includes deindustrialization and
managed to produce a sketch based on the now- reindustrialization, the birth of the information
familiar concentric rings (Davis 1992c). economy, the decline of nation-states, the emer-
gence of new nationalisms, and the rise of the Pacific
Rim. Such proliferating logics often involve multiple
A "Los Angeles School"? theoretical frameworks that overlap and coexist in
their explanations of the burgeoning global/local
During the 1980s, a group of loosely-associatedorder a heterodoxy consistent with the project of
scholars, professionals, and advocates based in postmodernism.
Southern California began to examine the notion Los Angeles is undoubtedly a special place.6
that what was happening in the Los Angeles region But adherents of the Los Angeles School rarely
was somehow symptomatic of a broader socio-geo- assert that the city is unique, nor necessarily a
graphic transformation taking place within the U.S. harbinger of the future, even though both view-
as a whole. Their common but then unarticulated points are at some level demonstrably true.7 In-
project was based on certain shared theoretical stead, at a minimum they assert that Southern
assumptions, and on the view that L.A. was em- California is a suggestive prototype a polyglot,
blematic of some more general urban dynamic. One polycentric, polycultural pastiche that is some-
of the earliest expressions of an emergent "L.A. how engaged in the rewriting of the American
School" was the appearance in 1986 of a special social contract (Dear et al. 1996; Scott and Soja
issue of the journal Society and Space, which was 1996; Steinberg et al. 1992). The peculiar condi-
entirely devoted to understanding Los Angeles.5 In tions that have led now to the emergence of a
their prefatory remarks to that issue, Allen Scott network of Los Angeles-based scholars may be
and Edward Soja referred to Los Angeles as the coincidental: (a) that an especially powerful in-
"capital of the twentieth century," deliberately in- tersection of empirical and theoretical research
voking Walter Benjamin's reference to Paris as the projects have come together in this particular
capital of the nineteenth. They predicted that the place at this particular time; (b) that these trends
volume of scholarly work on Los Angeles would are occurring in what has historically been the
quickly overtake that on Chicago. most understudied major city in the U.S.; (c) that
The burgeoning outlines of an L.A. School were these projects have attracted the attention of an
given crude form by a series of meetings and publi- assemblage of increasingly self-conscious scholars
cations that occurred during the late 1980s, and by and practitioners; and (d) that the world is facing
1990, in his penetrating critique of Southern Cali- the prospect of a Pacific century, in which South-
fornia urbanism (City of Quartz), Mike Davis was ern California is likely to become a global capital.
able to make specific reference to the School's The vitality of the Los Angeles School derives
expanding consciousness. He commented that its principally from the intersection of these events,
practitioners were undecided whether to model and the promise they hold for a re-creation of
themselves after the Chicago School (named prin- urban theory. The validity and potential of the
cipally for the city that was its object of inquiry), or school will only be decided after extensive com-
the Frankfurt School (a philosophical alliance parative analysis based in other metropolitan ar-
named only coincidentally after its place of opera- eas of the world.
tions). Then, in 1993, Marco Cenzatti published a
short pamphlet that was the first publication to
explicitly examine the focus and potential of an L.A. Ways of Seeing: Southern
School. Responding to Davis, he underscored that Californian Urbanisms
the School's practitioners combine precepts of both
the Chicago and Frankfurt Schools. Just as the This latest mutation in space-postmodern hyper-
Chicago School emerged at a time when that city space-has finally succeeded in transcending the

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Postmodern Urbanism 53

capacities of the human body

capitalist to Accompanying
accumulation. locate this itself,
shift t
organize its immediateis asurroundings
postmodern consciousness, aperceptuall
cultural and
and cognitively to map itsreconfiguration
ideological position inhow
altering a wemappab
external world (Fredric Jameson 1991:44).
rience social being. The center holds, however,
because it functions as the urban panopticon, the
strategic surveillance point for the state's exercise
Taking Los Angeles Seriously
of social control. Out from the center extends a
melange of "wedges" and "citadels," interspersed
Most world cities have an instantly identifiable
between corridors formed by the boulevards. The
signature: think of the boulevards of Paris, the
skyscrapers of New York, or the churches of consequent urban structure is a complicated
Rome. But Los Angeles appears to be a city quilt, fragmented, yet bound to an underlying
without a common narrative, except perhaps the economic rationality: "With exquisite irony, con-
freeways or a more generic iconography of the temporary Los Angeles has come to resemble
bizarre. Twenty-five years ago, Rayner Banham more than ever before a gigantic agglomeration
(1973) provided an enduring map of the Los of theme parks, a lifespace composed of Disney-
Angeles landscape. To this day, it remains power- worlds" (Soja 1989:246).
ful, evocative, and instantly recognizable. He These three sketches provide differing insights
identified four basic ecologies: surfurbia (the into L.A.'s landscapes. Banham considers the
beach cities: "The beaches are what other me- city's overall torso and identifies three basic com-
tropolises should envy in Los Angeles.... Los ponents (surfurbia, plains, and foothills), as well
Angeles is the greatest City-on-the-shore in the as connecting arteries (freeways). Suisman shifts
world," p. 37); the foothills (the privileged enclaves our gaze away from principal arteries to the veins
of Beverly Hills, Bel Air, etc., where the financial that channel everyday life (the boulevards). Soja
and topographical contours correspond almost considers the body-in-context, articulating the
exactly); the plains of Id (the central flatlands: "An links between political economy and postmodern
endless plain endlessly gridded with endless culture to explain fragmentation and social dif-
streets, peppered endlessly with ticky-tacky ferentiation in Los Angeles. All three writers
houses clustered in indistinguishable neighbor- maintain a studied detachment from the city, as
hoods, slashed across by endless freeways that though a voyeuristic, top-down perspective is
have destroyed any community spirit that may needed to discover the rationality inherent in the
have once existed, and so on ... endlessly," p. 161); cityscape. Yet a postmodern sensibility would re-
and autopia ("[The] freeway system in its totality is linquish the modernism inherent in such de-
now a single comprehensible place, a coherent state
tached representations of the urban text. What
of mind, a complete way of life," p. 213).
would a postmodernism from below reveal?
For Douglas Suisman (1989), it is not the
One of the most prescient visions anticipating
freeways but the boulevards that determine the
a postmodern cognitive mapping of the urban is
city's overall physical structure. A boulevard is a
Jonathan Raban's Soft City (1974), a reading of
surface street that: "(1) makes arterial connec-
London's cityscapes. Raban divides the city into
tions on a metropolitan scale; (2) provides a
hard and soft elements. The former refers to the
framework for civic and commercial destination;
material fabric of the built environment-the
and (3) acts as a filter to adjacent residential
streets and buildings that frame the lives of city
neighborhoods." Suisman argues that boulevards
dwellers. The latter, by contrast, is an individual-
do more than establish an organizational pattern;
ized interpretation of the city, a perceptual orien-
they constitute "the irreducible armature of the
city's public space," and are charged with social tation created in the mind of every urbanite.8 The
and political significance that cannot be ignored. relationship between the two is complex and even
Usually sited along the edges of former ranchos, indeterminate. The newcomer to a city first con-
these vertebral connectors today form an integral fronts the hard city, but soon:
link among the region's municipalities (Suisman
the city goes soft; it awaits the imprint of an identity.
1989:6-7). For better or worse, it invites you to remake it, to
For Ed Soja (1989), Los Angeles is a decen- consolidate it into a shape you can live in. You, too.
tered, decentralized metropolis powered by the Decide who you are, and the city will again assume
insistent fragmentation of post-Fordism, that is, a fixed form around you. Decide what it is, and your
an increasingly flexible, disorganized regime of own identity will be revealed (p. I 1).

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54 Dear and Flusty

Raban makes no claims to a postmodern con- (8) stylishness (appealing to the fashionable,
sciousness, yet his invocation of the relationship chic, and affluent),
between the cognitive and the real leads to in- (9) reconnection with the local (involving delib-
sights that are unmistakably postmodern in their erate historical/geographical reconstruc-
sensitivities. tion), and
Ted Relph (1987) was one of the first geogra- (10) pedestrian-automobile split (to redress the
phers to catalogue the built forms that comprise modernist bias toward the car).
the places of postmodernity. He describes post- Raban's emphasis on the cognitive and Relph's
modern urbanism as a self-conscious and selec- on the concrete underscore the importance of
tive revival of elements of older styles, though he both dimensions in understanding sociospatial
cautions that postmodernism is not simply a style urban process. The pallette of urbanisms that
but also a frame of mind (p. 213). He observes arises from merging the two is thick and multidi-
how the confluence of many trends gentrifica- mensional. We turn now to the task of construct-
tion, heritage conservation, architectural fash- ing that palette (what we earlier described as a
ion, urban design, and participatory template) by examining empirical evidence of
planning caused the collapse of the modernist recent urban developments in Southern Califor-
vision of a future city filled with skyscrapers and nia (Table 1). In this review, we take our lead from
other austere icons of scientific rationalism. The what exists, rather than what we consider to be a
new urbanism is principally distinguishable from comprehensive urban research agenda.9 From
the old by its eclecticism. Relph's periodization of this, we move quickly to a synthesis that is pre-
twentieth-century urbanism involves a premod- figurative of a protopostmodern urbanism, which
ern transitional period (up to 1940); an era of we hope will serve as an invitation to a more
modernist cityscapes (after 1945); and a period of broadly based comparative analysis.
postmodern townscapes (since 1970). The dis-
tinction between cityscape and townscape is cru-
Edge Cities
cial to his diagnosis. Modernist cityscapes, he
claims, are characterized by five elements (Relph
Joel Garreau noted the central significance of
Los Angeles in understanding contemporary
(1) megastructural bigness (few street entrances
metropolitan growth in the U.S. He asserts
to buildings, little architectural detailing,
(1991:3) that: "Every single American city that is
growing, is growing in the fashion of Los Angeles,"
(2) straight-space / prairie space (city-center
and refers to L.A. as the "great-granddaddy" of
canyons, endless suburban vistas),
edge cities (he claims there are twenty- six of them
(3) rational order and flexibility (the landscapes
within a five -county area in Southern California).
of total order, verging on boredom),
For Garreau, edge cities represent the crucible of
(4) hardness and opacity (including freeways
America's urban future. The classic location for
and the displacement of nature),
contemporary edge cities is at the intersection of
(5) discontinuous serial vision (deriving from
an urban beltway and a hub-and-spoke lateral
the dominance of the automobile).
road. The central conditions that have propelled
Conversely, postmodern townscapes are more de-
such development are the dominance of the auto-
tailed, handcrafted, and intricate. They celebrate
mobile and the associated need for parking, the
difference, polyculturalism, variety, and stylish-
communications revolution, and the entry of
ness (pp. 252-58). Their elements are:
women in large numbers into the labor market.
(6) quaintspace (a deliberate cuteness),
Although Garreau agrees with Robert Fishman
(7) textured facades (for pedestrians, rich in de-
that "[a] 11 new city forms appear in their early
tail, often with an "aged" appearance),

Table 1. A Taxonomy of Southern California Urbanisms

Edge Cities Interdictory Space

Privatopia Historical Geographies of Restructuring
Cultures of Heteropolis Fordist/PostFordist Regimes of Accumulation/Regulation
City as Theme Park Globalization
Fortified City Politics of Nature

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Postmodern Urbanism 55

stages to be chaotic" (1991:9), he is able to iden- (McKenzie 1994:19). It has provoked a culture of
tify three basic types of edge city. These are: nonparticipation.
uptowns (peripheral pre-automobile settlements McKenzie warns that far from being a benign
that have subsequently been absorbed by urban or inconsequential trend, CIDs already define a
sprawl); boomers (the classic edge cities, located new norm for the mass production of housing in
at freeway intersections); and greenfields (the cur- the U.S. Equally important, their organizations
rent state-of-the-art, "occurring at the intersec- are now allied through something called the
tion of several thousand acres of farmland and Community Associations Institute, "whose pur-
one developer's monumental ego" [p. 1161). poses include the standardizing and professional-
One essential feature of the edge city is that izing of CID governance" (1994:184). McKenzie
politics is not yet established there. Into the po- notes how this "secession of the successful" (the
litical vacuum moves a "shadow government" a phrase is Robert Reich's) has altered concepts of
privatized protogovernment that is essentially a citizenship, in which "one's duties consist of sat-
plutocratic alternative to normal politics. isfying one's obligations to private property"
Shadow governments can tax, legislate for, and (1994:196). In her futuristic novel of L.A. wars
police their communities, but they are rarely ac- between walled-community dwellers and those
countable, are responsive primarily to wealth (as beyond the walls (Parable of the Sower, 1993),
opposed to numbers of voters), and subject to few Octavia Butler has envisioned a dystopian priva-
constitutional constraints (Garreau 1991:187). topian future. It includes a balkanized nation of
Jennifer Wolch (1990) has described the rise of defended neighborhoods at odds with one an-
the shadow state as part of a society-wide trend other, where entire communities are wiped out for
toward privatization. In edge cities, "community" a handful of fresh lemons or a few cups of potable
is scarce, occurring not through propinquity but water; where torture and murder of one's enemies
via telephone, fax, and private mail service. The is common; and where company-town slavery is
walls that typically surround such neighborhoods attractive to those who are fortunate enough to
are social boundaries, but they act as community sell their services to the hyperdefended enclaves
"recognizers," not community "organizers" (pp. of the very rich.
275-8 1). In the edge-city era, Garreau notes, the
term "master-planned" community is little more
than a marketing device (p. 301). Other studies Cultures of Heteropolis
of suburbanization in L.A., most notably by Hise
(1997) and Waldie (1996), provide a basis for One of the most prominent sociocultural ten-
comparing past practices of planned community dencies in contemporary Southern California is
marketing in Southern California. the rise of minority populations (Ong et al. 1994;
Roseman et al. 1996; Waldinger and Bozorgmehr
1996). Provoked to comprehend the causes and
Privatopia implications of the 1992 civil disturbances in Los
Angeles, Charles Jencks (1993:32) zeroes in on
Privatopia, perhaps the quintessential edge- the city's diversity as the key to L.A.'s emergent
city residential form, is a private housing devel- urbanism: "Los Angeles is a combination of en-
opment based in common-interest developments claves with high identity, and multienclaves with
(CIDs) and administered by homeowners' asso- mixed identity, and, taken as a whole, it is perhaps
ciations. There were fewer than 500 such associa- the most heterogeneous city in the world." Such
tions in 1964; by 1992, there were 150,000 ethnic pluralism has given rise to what Jencks
associations privately governing approximately calls a hetero-architecture, which has demon-
32 million Americans. In 1990, the 11.6 million strated that: "there is a great virtue, and pleasure,
CID units constituted more than 11 percent of to be had in mixing categories, transgressing
the nation's housing stock (McKenzie 1994:11). boundaries, inverting customs and adopting the
Sustained by an expanding catalogue of cove- marginal usage" (1993:123). The vigor and
nants, conditions, and restrictions (or CC&Rs, imagination underlying these intense cultural dy-
the proscriptive constitutions formalizing CID namics is everywhere evident in the region, from
behavioral and aesthetic norms), privatopia has the diversity of ethnic adaptations (Park 1996)
been fueled by a large dose of privatization, and through the concentration of cultural producers
promoted by an ideology of "hostile privatism" in the region (Molotch 1996), to the hybrid com-

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56 Dear and Flusty

plexities of emerging This is because cultural

"the 800 telephone number forms
1997). the piece of plastic have made time and space
The consequent built environment is charac- obsolete," and these instruments of "artificial ad-
terized by transience, energy, and unplanned vul- jacency" have eviscerated the traditional politics
garity, in which Hollywood is never far away. of propinquity (Sorkin 1992:xi). Sorkin observes
Jencks views this improvisational quality as a that the social order has always been legible in
hopeful sign: "The main point of hetero -architec- urban form; for example, traditional cities have
ture is to accept the different voices that create a adjudicated conflicts via the relations of public
city, suppress none of them, and make from their places such as the agora or piazza. In today's
interaction some kind of greater dialogue" "recombinant city," however, he contends that
(1993:75). This is especially important in a city conventional legibilities have been obscured
where minoritization, "the typical postmodern and/or deliberately mutilated. The phone and
phenomenon where most of the population forms modem have rendered the street irrelevant, and
the 'other,'" is the order of the day, and where the new city threatens an "unimagined sameness"
most city dwellers feel distanced from the power characterized by the loosening of ties to any spe-
strucure (Jencks 1993:84). Despite Jencks's opti- cific space, rising levels of surveillance, manipu-
mism, other analysts have observed that the same lation and segregation, and the city as a theme
Southern California heteropolis has to contend park. Of this last, Disneyland is the arche-
with more than its share of socioeconomic polari- type described by Sorkin as a place of "Taylor-
zation, racism, inequality, homelessness, and so- ized fun," the "Holy See of Creative Geography"
cial unrest (Anderson 1996; Baldassare 1994; (1992:227) What is missing in this new cyber-
Bullard et al. 1994; Gooding-Williams 1993; netic suburbia is not a particular building or place,
Rocco 1996; Wolch and Dear 1993). Yet these but the spaces between, that is, the connections
characteristics are part of a sociocultural dynamic that make sense of forms (xii). What is missing,
that is also provoking the search for innovative then, is connectivity and community.
solutions in labor and community organizing In extremis, California dreamscapes become
(e.g., Pulido 1996), as well as in interethnic rela- simulacra. Ed Soja (1992:111), in a catalogue of
tions (e.g., Abelmann and Lie 1995; Martinez Southern California's urban eccentricities, iden-
1992; Yoon 1997). tified Orange County as a massive simulation of
what a city should be. He describes Orange
County as: "a structural fake, an enormous adver-
City as Theme Park tisement, yet functionally the finest multipurpose
facility of its kind in the country." Calling this
California in general, and Los Angeles in par- assemblage "exopolis," or the city without, Soja
ticular, have often been promoted as places where asserts that "something new is being born here"
the American (suburban) Dream is most easily based on the hyperrealities of more con-ventional
realized. Its oft-noted qualities of optimism and theme parks such as Disneyland (1992: 101). The
tolerance coupled with a balmy climate have exopolis is a simulacrum, an exact copy of an
given rise to an architecture and society fostered original that never existed, within which image
by a spirit of experimentation, risk taking, and and reality are spectacularly confused. In this
hope. Architectural dreamscapes are readily con- "politically-numbed" society, conventional poli-
vertible into marketable commodities, i.e., sale- tics is dysfunctional. Orange County has become
able prepackaged landscapes engineered to satisfy a "scamscape," notable principally as home of
fantasies of suburban living.10 Many writers have massive mail-fraud operations, savings and loan
used the "theme park" metaphor to describe the failures, and county-government bankruptcy
emergence of such variegated cityscapes. For in- (1992:120).
stance, Michael Sorkin, in a collection of essays
appropriately entitled Variations on a Theme Park
(1992), describes theme parks as places of simu- Fortified City
lation without end, characterized by aspatiality
plus technological and physical surveillance and The downside of the Southern Californian
control. The precedents for this model can be dream has, of course, been the subject of count-
traced back to the World's Fairs, but Sorkin insists less dystopian visions in histories, movies, and
that something "wholly new" is now emerging. novels.11 In one powerful account, Mike Davis

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Postmodern Urbanism 57

noted how Southern Californians' obsession

or the self-contained "world citadel" clusters of wit
security defensible
has transformed theoffice region
towers. into a fortr
This shift is accuratelyOne manifested indifferen-
consequence of the sociospatial the phy
form of the city, which tiation described by Davis and Flusty
is divided intois an acute
cells of affluence and fragmentation places ofof terror
the urban where p
landscape. Commen-
battle the criminalized poor. These urban phe- tators who remark upon the strict division of
nomena, according to Davis, have placed Los residential neighborhoods along race and class
Angeles "on the hard edge of postmodernity" lines miss the fact that L.A.'s microgeography is
(Davis 1992a: 155). The dynamics of fortification incredibly volatile and varied. In many neighbor-
involve the omnipresent application of high-tech hoods, simply turning a street corner will lead the
policing methods to the "high-rent security of pedestrian/driver into totally different social and
gated residential developments" and "panopticon physical configurations. One very important fea-
malls." It extends to "space policing," including a ture of local neighborhood dynamics in the forti-
proposed satellite observation capacity that fied culture of Southern Californian cities is, of
would create an invisible Haussmannization of course, the presence of street gangs (Klein 1995;
Los Angeles. In the consequent "carceral city," Vigil 1988).
the working poor and destitute are spatially se-
questered on the "mean streets," and excluded
from the affluent "forbidden cities" through "se- Historical Geographies of Restructuring
curity by design."
Historical geographies of Southern California
are relatively rare, especially when compared with
Interdictory Space the number of published accounts of Chicago and
New York. For reasons that are unclear, Los An-
Elaborating upon Davis's fortress urbanism, geles remains, in our judgment, the least studied
Steven Flusty observed how various types of for- major city in the U.S. Until Mike Davis's City of
tification have extended a canopy of suppression Quartz (1990) brought the urban record up to the
and surveillance across the entire city. His taxon- present, students of Southern California tended
omy of interdictory spaces (1994:16-17) identi- to rely principally on Carey McWilliams's (1973)
fies how spaces are designed to exclude by a seminal general history and Fogelson's The Frag-
combination of their function and cognitive sen- mented Metropolis (1967), an urban history of L.A.
sibilities. Some spaces are passively aggressive: up to 1930. Other chronicles of the urban evolu-
space concealed by intervening objects or grade tion of Southern California have focused on
changes is "stealthy"; space that may be reached transportation (Bottles 1987; Wachs 1996), the
only by means of interrupted or obfuscated ap- Mexican/Chicano experience (del Castillo 1979),
proaches is "slippery." Other spatial configura- real estate development and planning (Erie forth-
tions are more assertively confrontational: coming; Hise 1997; Weiss 1987), and oil (Tygiel
deliberately obstructed "crusty" space sur- 1994). The political geography of the region is
rounded by walls and checkpoints; inhospitable only now being written (Fulton 1997; Sonenshein
"prickly" spaces featuring unsittable benches in 1993), but several more broadly-based treatments
areas devoid of shade; or "jittery" space ostenta- of Californian politics exist, including excellent
tiously saturated with surveillance devices. Flusty studies on art, poetry and politics (Candida Smith
notes how combinations of interdictory spaces are 1995), railways (Deverell 1994), and the rise of
being introduced "into every facet of the urban suburbia (Fishman 1987).
environment, generating distinctly unfriendly In his history of Los Angeles between 1965 and
mutant typologies" (1994:21-33). Some are in- 1992, Soja (1996a) attempts to link the emergent
dicative of the pervasive infiltration of fear into patterns of urban form with underlying social
the home, including the bunker-style "block- processes. He identified six kinds of restructuring,
home," affluent palisaded "luxury laager" com- which together define the region's contemporary
munities, or low-income residential areas urban process. In addition to Exopolis (noted
converted into "pocket ghettos" by military-style above), Soja lists: Flexcities, associated with the
occupation. Other typological forms betray a fear transition to post-Fordism, especially deindustri-
of the public realm, as with the fortification of alization and the rise of the information economy;
commercial facilities into "strongpoints of sale," and Cosmopolis, referring to the globalization of

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58 Dear and Flusty

Los Angeles both in Post-Fordist

terms regimes of accumulation
of its are asso-
city status and its ciated with analogous regimes of
internal regulation, or
cation. According to Soja, peripheralization, social control. Perhaps the most prominent mani-
post-Fordism, and globalization together define festation of changes in the regime of regulation
the experience of urban restructuring in Los An- has been the retreat from the welfare state. The
geles. Three specific geographies are consequent rise of neoconservatism and the privatization
upon these dynamics: Splintered Labyrinth, which ethos have coincided with a period of economic
describes the extreme forms of social, economic, recession and retrenchment which has led many
and political polarization characteristic of the to the brink of poverty just at the time when the
postmodern city; Carceral City, referring to the social welfare "safety net" is being withdrawn. In
new "incendiary urban geography" brought about Los Angeles, as in many other cities, an acute
by the amalgam of violence and police surveil- socioeconomic polarization has resulted. In 1984,
lance; and Simcities, the term Soja uses to describe the city was dubbed the "homeless capital" of the
the new ways of seeing the city that are emerging U.S. because of the concentration of homeless
from the study of Los Angeles-a kind of episte- people there (see Wolch 1990; Wolch and Dear
mological restructuring that foregrounds a post- 1993; Wolch and Sommer 1997).
modern perspective.

Fordist versus Post-Fordist Regimes of
Accumulation and Regulation Needless to say, any consideration of the
changing nature of industrial production sooner
Many observers agree that one of the most im- or later must encompass the globalization ques-
portant underlying shifts in the contemporary po- tion (cf. Knox and Taylor 1995). In his reference
litical economy is from a Fordist to a post-Fordist to the global context of L.A.'s localisms, Mike
industrial organization. In a series of important Davis (1992b) claims that if L.A. is in any sense
books, Allen Scott and Michael Storper have por- paradigmatic, it is because the city condenses the
trayed the burgeoning urbanism of Southern Cali- intended and unintended spatial consequences of
fornia as a consequence of this deep-seated post-Fordism. He insists that there is no simple
structural change in the capitalist political economy
master-logic of restructuring, focusing instead on
(Scott 1988a, 1988b, 1993; Storper and Walker two key localized macro-processes: the overaccu-
1989). For instance, Scott's basic argument is that mulation in Southern California of bank and
there have been two major phases of urbanization real-estate capital, principally from the East
in the U.S. The first related to an era of Fordist mass
Asian trade surplus, and the reflux of low-wage
production, during which the paradigmatic cities of manufacturing and labor-intensive service indus-
industrial capitalism (Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, tries, following upon immigration from Mexico
etc.) coalesced around industries that were them- and Central America. For instance, Davis notes
selves based upon ideas of mass production. The how the City of Los Angeles used tax dollars
second phase is associated with the decline of the gleaned from international capital investments to
Fordist era and the rise of a post-Fordist "flexible subsidize its downtown (Bunker Hill) urban re-
production." This is a form of industrial activity newal, a process he refers to as "municipalized
based on small-size, small-batch units of (typically land speculation" (1992b:26). Through such
subcontracted) production that are nevertheless connections, what happens today in Asia and
integrated into clusters of economic activity. Such Central America will tomorrow have an effect in
clusters have been observed in two manifestations: Los Angeles. This global/local dialectic has al-
labor-intensive craft forms (in Los Angeles, typically ready become an important (if somewhat impre-
garments and jewelry), and high technology (espe- cise) leitmotif of contemporary urban theory.
cially the defense and aerospace industries). Ac-
cording to Scott, these so-called "technopoles"
until recently constituted the principal geographical Politics of Nature
loci of contemporary (sub) urbanization in Southern
California (a development prefigured in Fishman s The natural environment of Southern Califor-
description of the "technoburb"; see Fishman 1987; nia has been under constant assault since the first
Castells and Hall 1994). colonial settlements. Human habitation on a

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Postmodern Urbanism 59

metropolitan scale hasononly been

its emasculation throughpossible
human interventionthrou
a widespread manipulation of nature, especially (Davis 1996) and on its potential for political
the control of water resources in the American mobilization by grass-roots movements (Pulido
West (M. L. Davis 1993; Gottleib and FitzSim- 1996). In addition, Wolch's Southern California-
mons 1991; and Reisner 1993). On one hand, based research has led her to outline an alterna-
Southern Californians tend to hold a grudging tive vision of biogeography's problematic (Wolch
respect for nature, living as they do adjacent to 1996).
one of the earth's major geological hazards and in
a desert environment that is prone to flood, land-
slide, and fire (see, for instance, McPhee 1989; Synthesis: Protopostmodern Urbanism
Darlington 1996). On the other hand, its inhabi-
tants have been energetically, ceaselessly, and If these observers of the Southern California
sometimes carelessly unrolling the carpet of ur- scene could talk with each other to resolve their
banization over the natural landscape for more differences and reconcile their terminologies,
than a century. This uninhibited occupation has how might they synthesize their visions? At the
engendered its own range of environmental prob- risk of misrepresenting their work, we suggest a
lems, most notoriously air pollution, but it also schematic that is powerful, yet inevitably incom-
brings forth habitat loss and dangerous encoun- plete (Figure 1). It suggests a "protopostmodern"
ters between humans and other animals. urban process, driven by a global restructuring
The force of nature in Southern California has that is permeated and balkanized by a series of
spawned a literature that attempts to incorporate interdictory networks; whose populations are so-
environmental issues into the urban problematic. cially and culturally heterogeneous, but politi-
The politics of environmental regulation have cally and economically polarized; whose residents
long been studied in many places, including Los are educated and persuaded to the consumption
Angeles (e.g., FitzSimmons and Gottleib 1996). of dreamscapes even as the poorest are consigned
The particular combination of circumstances in to carceral cities; whose built environment, re-
Southern California has stimulated an especially flective of these processes, consists of edge cities,
political view of nature, however, focusing both privatopias, and the like; and whose natural en-

Globalization /Restructuring

Cultures of Political-Economic
Heteropolis Polarization

Interdictory Spaces

Dreamscapes Carceral Cities

Edge Cities/Privatopia Fortified Cities/Mean Streets

Politics of Nature

Figure 1. A concept of protopostmodern urbanism.

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60 Dear and Flusty

vironment, also instances and disciplines (e.g.,of

reflective Knox and Taylor
these p
being erased to 1995).
the Neologisms have
point of been unlivabilit
used here in cir-
same time, providing cumstances when
a there
focus were no existing
for terms poli
to describe adequately the conditions we sought
to identify, when neologisms served as metaphors
Postmodern Urbanism to suggest new insights, when a single term more
conveniently substituted for a complex phrase or
The only theory worth having is that which you have string of ideas, and when neologistic novelty
to fight off, not that which you speak with profound aided our avowed efforts to rehearse the break.
fluency (Stuart Hall 1992:280). The juxtaposing of postmodern and more tradi-
tional categories of modernist urbanism is also an
Recognizing that we may have caused some
essential piece of our analytical strategy. That
offense by characterizing others' work in this way,
there is an overlap between modernist and post-
let us move swiftly to reconstruct their evidence
modern categories should surprise no one; we are,
into a postmodern urban problematic (Table 2).
inevitably, building on existing urbanisms and
We anchor this problematic in the straightfor-
epistemologies. The consequent neologistic pas-
ward need to account for the evolution of society
tiche may be properly regarded as a tactic of
over time and space. Such evolution occurs as a
postmodern analysis; others could regard this
combination of deep-time (long-term) and pre-
strategy as analogous to hypothesis-generation,
sent-time (short-term) processes, and it develops
or as the practice of dialectics.
over several different scales of human activity
(which we may represent summarily as micro-,
meso-, and macroscales) (Dear 1988). The struc-
Urban Pattern and Process
turing of the time-space fabric is the result of the
interaction among ecologically situated human
We begin with the assumption that urbanism
agents in relations of production, consumption,
is made possible by the exercise of instrumental
and coercion. We do not intend any primacy in
control over both human and nonhuman ecolo-
this ordering of categories, but instead emphasize
gies (Figure 2). The very occupation and utiliza-
their interdependencies-all are essential in ex-
tion of space, as well as the production and
plaining postmodern human geographies.
distribution of commodities, depends upon an
Our promiscuous use of neologisms in what
anthropocentric reconfiguration of natural pro-
follows is quite deliberate.12 This technique has
cesses and their products. As the scope and scale
been used historically to good effect in many
of, and dependency upon, globally integrated

Table 2. Elements of a Postmodern Urbanism











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Postmodern Urbanism 61

consumption increases, institutional action con- manifestations is flexism, a pattern of econo-cul-

verts complex ecologies into monocultured fac- tural production and consumption characterized
tors of production by simplifying nature into a by near-instantaneous delivery and rapid redi-
global latifundia. This process includes both ho- rectability of resource flows. Flexism's fluidity re-
mogenizing interventions, as in California agri- sults from cheaper and faster systems of
culture's reliance upon vast expanses of single transportation and telecommunications, globali-
crops, and forceful interdiction to sustain that zation of capital markets, and concomitant flex-
intervention against natural feedbacks, as in the ibly specialized, just-in-time production processes
aerial spraying of pesticides to eradicate fruit flies enabling short product- and production-cycles.
attracted to these vast expanses of single crops. These result in highly mobile capital and com-
Being part of nature, humanity is subjected to modity flows, able to outmaneuver geographically
analogous dynamics. Holsteinization is the process fixed labor markets, communities, and bounded
of monoculturing people as consumers so as to nation states. Globalization and rapidity permit
facilitate the harvesting of desires, including the capital to evade long-term commitment to place-
decomposition of communities into isolated fam- based socioeconomies, thus enabling a crucial
ily units and individuals in order to supplant social dynamic of flexism: whereas, under
social networks of mutual support with con- Fordism, exploitation is exercised through the
sumersheds of dependent customers. Resistance alienation of labor in the place of production,
is discouraged by means of praedatorianism, i.e., flexism may require little or no labor at all from a
the forceful interdiction by a praedatorian guard given locale. Simultaneously, local down-waging
with varying degrees of legitimacy. and capital concentration operate synergistically
The global latifundia, holsteinization, and to supplant locally owned enterprises with na-
praedatorianism are, in one form or another, as tional and supranational chains, thereby transfer-
old as the global political economy, but the over-ring consumer capital and inventory selection
arching dynamic signaling a break with previous ever farther away from direct local control.



memetic contagion memetic contagion

Figure 2. Elements of a postmodern urbanism - 1.

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62 Dear and Flusty

From these exchange asymmetries emerges a lapping in both membership and space, resulting
new world bi-polar disorder. This is a globally bi- in a class of marginalized indigenous populations
furcated social order, many times more compli- and peripheral immigrants who are relatively less
cated than conventional class structures, in holsteinized.
which those overseeing the global latifundia en- The sociocultural collisions and intermeshings
joy concentrated power. Those who are depend- of protosurp affinity groups, generated by flexist-
ent upon their command-and-control decisions induced immigration and severe social differen-
find themselves in progressively weaker positions, tiation, serves to produce wild memetic
pitted against each other globally, and forced to contagion. 13This is a process by which cultural
accept shrinking compensation for their efforts elements of one individual or group exert cross-
(assuming that compensation is offered in the first over influences upon the culture of another, pre-
place). Of the two groups, the cybergeoisie reside viously unexposed individual/group. Memetic
in the "big house" of the global latifundia, provid- contagion is evidenced in Los Angeles by such
ing indispensable, presently unautomatable com- hybridized agents and intercultural conflicts as
mand-and-control functions. They are Mexican and Central American practitioners of
predominantly stockholders, the core employees Afro-Caribbean religion (McGuire and
of thinned-down corporations, and write-your- Scrymgeour forthcoming), blue-bandanna'd
own-ticket freelancers (e.g., CEOs, subcontract Thai Crips, or the adjustments prompted by poor
entrepreneurs, and celebrities). They may also African-Americans' offense at Korean mer-
shelter members of marginal creative professions, chants' disinclination to smile casually. Memetic
who comprise a kind of paracybergeoisie. The contagion should not be taken for a mere epiphe-
cybergoisie enjoy perceived socioeconomic secu- nomenon of an underlying political economic
rity and comparatively long-term horizons in de- order, generating colorfully chaotic ornamenta-
cision making; consequently their anxieties tend tions for a flexist regime. Rather, it entails the
toward unforeseen social disruptions such as mar- assemblage of novel ways of seeing and being,
ket fluctuations and crime. Commanding, con- from whence new identities, cultures, and politi-
trolling, and prodigiously enjoying the fruits of a cal alignments emerge. These new social configu-
shared global exchange of goods and information, rations, in turn, may act to force change in
the cybergoisie exercise global coordination func- existing institutions and structures, and to spawn
tions that predispose them to a similar ideology cognitive conceptions that are incommensurable
and, thus, they are relatively heavily holsteinized. with, though not necessarily any less valid than,
Protosurps, on the other hand, are the share- existing models. The inevitable tensions between
croppers of the global latifundia. They are in- the anarchic diversification born of memetic con-
creasingly marginalized "surplus" labor providing tagion and the manipulations of the holsteiniza-
just-in-time services when called upon by flexist tion process may yet prove to be the central
production processes, but otherwise alienated cultural contradiction of flexism.
from global systems of production (though not of With the flexist imposition of global impera-
consumption). Protosurps include temporary or tives on local economies and cultures, the spatial
day laborers, fire-at-will service workers, a bur- logic of Fordism has given way to a new, more
geoning class of intra- and international itinerant dissonant international geographical order. In the
laborers specializing in pursuing the migrations of absence of conventional communication and
fluid investment. True surpdom is a state of super- transportation imperatives mandating propin-
fluity beyond peonage-a vagrancy that is in- quity, the once-standard Chicago School logic
creasingly criminalized through antihomeless has given way to a seemingly haphazard juxtapo-
ordinances, welfare-state erosion, and wide- sition of land uses scattered over the landscape.
spread community intolerance (of, for instance, Worldwide, agricultural lands sprout monocul-
all forms of panhandling). Protosurps are called tures of exportable strawberry or broccoli in lieu
upon to provide as yet unautomated service func- of diverse staple crops grown for local consump-
tions designed to be performed by anyone. Sub- tion. Sitting amid these fields, identical assembly
jected to high degrees of uncertainty by the lines produce the same brand of automobile, sup-
omnipresent threat of instant unemployment, plied with parts and managed from distant conti-
protosurps are prone to clustering into affinity nents. Expensive condominiums appear among
groups for support in the face of adversity. These squatter slums, indistinguishable in form and oc-
affinity groups, however, are not exclusive, over- cupancy from (and often in direct communica-

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Postmodern Urbanism 63

tion with) luxury housing built atop homeless habitat preferences of the well-recompensed cy-
encampments elsewhere in the world. Yet what in bergeoisie. They commonly consist of carefully
close-up appears to be a fragmentary, collaged manicured residential and commercial ecologies
polyculture is, from a longer perspective, a geo- managed through privatopian self-administra-
graphically disjointed but hyperspatially inte- tion, and maintained against internal and exter-
grated monoculture, that is, shuffled sames set nal outlaws by a repertoire of interdictory
amid adaptive and persistent local variations. prohibitions. Increasingly, these prepackaged en-
The result is a landscape not unlike that formed vironments jockey with one another for clientele
by a keno gamecard. The card itself appears as a on the basis of recreational, cultural, security, and
numbered grid, with some squares being marked educational amenities. Commonly located on dif-
during the course of the game and others not, ficult-to-access sites like hilltops or urban edges,
according to some random draw. The process far from restless populations undergoing conver-
governing this marking ultimately determines sion to protosurpdom, individual commudities
which player will achieve a jackpot-winning pat- are increasingly teleintegrated to form cyburbia
tern; it is, however, determined by a rationalized (Dewey 1994), the interactive tollways compris-
set of procedures beyond the territory of the card ing the high-rent district of Citistat's hyperspatial
itself. Similarly, the apparently random develop- electronic shadow. (This process may soon find a
ment and redevelopment of urban land may be geographical analog in the conversion of automo-
regarded as the outcome of exogenous invest-
tive freeways linking commudities via exclusive
ment processes inherent to flexism, thus creating
tollways.) Teleintegration is already complete
the landscapes of keno capitalism.
(and de rigeur) for the citidels, which are commer-
Keno capitalism's contingent mosaic of vari-
cial commodities consisting of highrise corporate
egated monocultures renders discussion of "the
towers from which the control and coordination
city" increasingly reductionist. More holistically,
of production and distribution in the global lati-
the dispersed net of megalopoles may be viewed
fundia is exercised.
as a single integrated urban system, or Citistat
Citista-t's internal periphery and repository of
(Figure 3). Citistat, the collective world city, has
cheap on-call labor lies at the in-beyond, com-
emerged from competing urban webs of colonial
prised of a shifting matrix of protosurp affinity
and postcolonial eras to become a geographically
clusters. The in-beyond may be envisioned as a
diffuse hub of an omnipresent periphery, drawing
patchwork quilt of variously defined interest
labor and materials from readily substitutable lo-
groups (with differing levels of economic, cul-
cations throughout that periphery. Citistat is both
tural, and street influence), none of which pos-
geographically corporeal, in the sense that urban
sesses the wherewithal to achieve hegemonic
places exist, and yet ageographically ethereal in
status or to secede. Secession may occur locally
the sense that communication systems create a
to some degree, as in the cases of the publicly
virtual space, permitting coordination across
subsidized reconfiguration of L.A.'s Little Tokyo,
physical space. Both realms reinforce each an-
and the consolidation of Koreatown through the
other while (re) producing the new world bipolar
disorder. import, adjacent extraction, and community re-
Materially, Citistat consists of commudities circulation of capital. The piecemeal diversity of
(centers of command and control), and the in-be- the in-beyond makes it a hotbed of wild memetic
yond (internal peripheries simultaneously under- contagion. The global connectivity of the in-be-
going but resisting instrumentalization in myriad yond is considerably less glamorous than that of
ways). Virtually, Citistat consists of cyburbia, the the cybergeoisie's commodities, but it is no less
collection of state-of-the-art data-transmission, extensive. Intermittent phone contact and wire-
premium pay-per-use, and interactive services service remittances occur throughout cyberia
generally reliant upon costly and technologically (Rushkoff 1995; also see Knox and Taylor 1995).
complex interfaces; and cyberia, an electronic The pot-holed public streets of Citista-t's virtual
outland of rudimentary communications includ- twin are augmented by extensive networks of
ing basic phone service and telegraphy, inter- snail mail, personal migration, and the hand-to-
woven with and preceptorally conditioned by the hand passage of mediated communications (e.g.,
disinformation superhighway (DSH). cassette tapes). Such contacts occasionally dif-
Commudities are commodified communities fuse into commodities, as with the conversion of
created expressly to satisfy (and profit from) the cybergeosie youth to wannabe gangstas.

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64 Dear and Flusty




< ~~memetic contagionX

Figure 3. Elements of a postmodern urbanism - 2.

Political relations in Citistat tend toward poly- bolic value of commodities. At the same time, it
anarchy, a politics of grudging tolerance of differ- serves as the highly filtered sensory organ through
ence that emerges from interactions and which commodities and the in-beyond perceive
accommodations within the in-beyond and be- the world outside their unmediated daily experi-
tween commodities, and less frequently, between ences. The DSH is Citistat's "consent factory"
in-beyond and commudity. Its more pervasive (Chomsky and Herman 1988), engineering me-
form is pollyannarchy, an exaggerated, manufac- metic contagion to encourage participation in a
tured optimism that promotes a self-congratula- global latifundia that is represented as both inevi-
tory awareness and respect for difference and the table and desirable. But since the DSH is a broad-
asymmetries of power. Pollyannarchy is thus a band distributor of information designed
pathological form of polyanarchy, disempowering primarily to attract and deliver consumers to
those who would challenge the controlling bene- advertisers, the ultimate reception of messages
ficiaries of the new world bipolar disorder. Polly- carried by the DSH is difficult to target and
annarchy is evident in the continuing spectacle predetermine. Thus the DSH also serves inadver-
of electoral politics, or in the citywide unity cam- tently as a vector for memetic contagion, e.g., the
paign run by corporate sponsors following the conversion of cybergeoisie youth to wannabe
1992 uprising in Los Angeles. gangstas via the dissemination of hip-hop culture
Wired throughout the body of the Citistat is over commudity boundaries. The DSH serves as
the disinformation superhighway (or DSH), a mass a network of preceptoral control, and is thus
info-tain-mercial media owned by roughly two distinct from the coercive mechanisms of the
dozen cybergeoisie institutions. The DSH dis- praedatorian guard. Overlap between the two is
seminates holsteinizing ideologies and incentives, increasingly common, however, as in the case of
creates wants and dreams, and inflates the sym- televised disinfotainment programs like Amer-

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Postmodern Urbanism 65

ica's Most Wanted, in which crimes are dramati- guide to contemporary urbanism. In this first
cally reenacted and viewers invited to call in and sense, our investigation has uncovered an episte-
betray alleged perpetrators. mological radical break with past practices,
As the cybergeoisie increasingly withdraw from which in itself is sufficient justification for
the Fordist redistributive triad of big government, something called a Los Angeles School. The
big business, and big labor to establish their own concentric ring structure of the Chicago School
micronations, the social support functions of the was essentially a concept of the city as an or-
state disintegrate, along with the survivability of ganic accretion around a central, organizing
less affluent citizens. The global migrations of core. Instead, we have identified a postmodern
work to the lowest-wage locations of the in-be- urban process in which the urban periphery
yond, and of consumer capital to the citidels, organizes the center within the context of a
result in power asymmetries that become so pro- globalizing capitalism.
nounced that even the DSH is at times incapable The postmodern urban process remains reso-
of obscuring them, leaving protosurps increas- lutely capitalist, but the nature of that enter-
ingly disinclined to adhere to the remnants of a prise is changing in very significant ways,
tattered social contract. This instability in turn especially through (for instance) the telecom-
creates the potential for violence, pitting Citistat munications revolution, the changing nature of
and cybergeoisie against the protosurp in-beyond, work, and globalization. Thus, in this second
and leading inevitably to a demand for the sup- sense also, we understand that a radical break is
pression of protosurp intractibility. The praeda- occurring, this time in the conditions of our
torian guard thus emerges as the principal material world. Contemporary urbanism is a
remaining vestige of the police powers of the consequence of how local and interlocal flows
state. This increasingly privatized public/private of material and information (including sym-
partnership of mercenary sentries, police expedi- bols) intersect in a rapidly converging globally
tionary forces, and their technological extensions integrated economy driven by the imperatives
(e.g., video cameras, helicopters, criminological of flexism. Landscapes and peoples are homoge-
data uplinks, etc.) watches over the commudities nized to facilitate large-scale production and
and minimizes disruptiveness by acting as a force consumption. Highly mobile capital and com-
of occupation within the in-beyond. The praeda- modity flows outmaneuver geographically fixed
torian guard achieves control through coercion, labor markets, communities, and nation-states,
even at the international level where asymmetri- and cause a globally bifurcated polarization.
cal trade relations are reinforced by the militaryThe beneficiaries of this system are the cyber-
and its clientele. It may only be a matter of timegoisie, even as the numbers of permanently
before the local and national praedatorians are marginalized protosurps grow. In the new
administratively and functionally merged, as ex- global order, socioeconomic polarization and
massive, sudden population migrations spawn
emplified by proposals to deploy military units for
policing inner-city streets or the U.S.-Mexico cultural hybrids through the process of me-
border. metic contagion. Cities no longer develop as
concentrated loci of population and economic
activity, but as fragmented parcels within Citi-
An Alternative Model of Urban Structure stat, the collective world city. Materially, the
Citistat consists of commodities (commodified
We have begun the process of interrogating communities) and the in-beyond (the perma-
prior models of urban structure with an alter- nently marginalized). Virtually, the Citistat is
native model based upon the recent experi- composed of cyburbia (those hooked into the
ences of Los Angeles. We do not pretend to electronic world) and cyberia (those who are
have completed this project, nor claim that the not). Social order is maintained by the ideologi-
Southern Californian experience is necessarily cal apparatus of the DSH, the Citistat's consent
typical of other metropolitan regions in the U.S. factory, and by the praedatorian guard, the
or the world. Still less would we advocate re- privatized vestiges of the nation-state's police
placing the old models with a new hegemony. powers.
But discourse has to start somewhere, and by Keno capitalism is the synoptic term that we
now it is clear that the most influential of have adopted to describe the spatial manifesta-
existing urban models is no longer tenable as a tions of the postmodern urban condition (Figure

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66 Dear and Flusty

DSH/Interdictory Spaces Ethnoburb

P Edge Cities Containment Centers

WTheme Parks
RI Gated Communities ~ Consumption
D Opportunities
>%q Street Warfare Command & Control Centers

hA Corporate Citadels Spectacle

Figure 4. Keno Capitalism: a model of postmodern urban structure.

4). Urbanization is occurring onglobal a quasi-random

city (not to mention geopolitical transi-
field of opportunities. Capital touches down as
tions, as nation-states if
give way to micro-nation-
by chance on a parcel of land, ignoring the oppor-
alisms and transnational mafias), the city as
tunities on intervening lots, thus gamingsparking
board seems thean especially appropriate
development process. The relationship twenty-firstbetween
century successor to the concentri-
development of one parcel and cally nondevelopment
ringed city of the early twentieth.
of another is a disjointed, seemingly unrelated
affair. While not truly a random process, it is
evident that the traditional, center-driven Conclusion: Invitation ag- to a
glomeration economies that have guided urban
development in the past no longer Postmodern
ventional city form, Chicago-style, is sacrificed in
Tell me, they'll say to me. So we will understand and
favor of a noncontiguous collage of parcelized,
be able to resolve things. They'll be mistaken. It's
consumption-oriented landscapes devoid of con-
only things you don't understand that you can re-
ventional centers yet wired into electronic pro-
solve. There will be no resolution. (Peter Hoeg,
pinquity and nominally unified by the 1993:453).
mythologies of the disinformation superhighway.
Los Angeles may be a mature form of this post- Our notion of keno capitalism is necessarily
modern metropolis; Las Vegas comes to mindpartial as and positional, not a metanarrative but
a youthful example. The consequent urban aggre- more a micronarrative awaiting dialogical en-
gate is characterized by acute fragmentation and gagement with alternative conceptions of the
specialization a partitioned gaming board sub- urban, both from within Los Angeles and else-
ject to perverse laws and peculiarly discrete, dis-where. Although it is impossible for us to begin
jointed urban outcomes. Given the pervasive an exercise in comparative urban analysis at this
presence of crime, corruption, and violence in the point, we conclude with some general observa-

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Postmodern Urbanism 67

tions about a research agenda. Our knowledge of Each of these themes (globalization, polariza-
the literature suggests at least four broad themes tion, fragmentation and cultural hybrids, and cy-
that overlap with the substance of this essay. bercities) holds a place in our postmodern
(1) World City: In its contemporary manifesta- urbanism. But (as we hope is by now clear) none
tion, the emphasis on a system of world cities can of them individually provide a sufficient explana-
be traced back to Peter Hall's The World Cities tion for the urban outcomes we are currently
(1966). The concept was updated by Friedmann observing. A proper accounting of contemporary
and Wolff (1982) to emphasize the emergence of pattern and process will require a much more
a relatively few centers of command and control strenuous effort directed toward comparative ur-
in a globalizing economy. Extensions and apprais- ban analysis. Unfortunately, the empirical, meth-
als of the concept have been offered in, for exam- odological, and theoretical bases for such analysis
ple, Knox and Taylor (1995) and special issues of are weak. We lack, for instance, adequate infor-
Urban Geography (1996) and the Annals of the mation on a full sample of national and interna-
American Academy of Political and Social Science tional cities, although valuable current syntheses
("Globalization and the Changing U.S. City" are available in Urban Geography (1996) and the
1997). A significant emphasis in the more recent Annals of the American Academy of Political and
work has been on the global-local connection, Social Sciences ("Globalization and the U.S. City"
and on the implications of the sheer size of the 1997). There are a number of explicit compara-
emergent megacities (Dogan and Kasarda 1988;
tive studies, but these tend to focus on already
Sudjic 1992).
well, documented centers such as London, Tokyo,
(2) Dual City: One of the most persistent
and New York City (e.g., Fainstein 1994; Sassen
themes in contemporary urban analysis is social
1991). In contrast, the vibrancy and potential of
polarization, i.e., the increasing gap between rich
important centers such as Miami still remain
and poor; between the powerful and powerless;
closeted (Nijman 1996, 1997; Portes and Stepick
between different ethnic, racial, and religious
1993). Our methodological and theoretical appa-
groupings; and between genders (O'Loughlin and
ratuses for cross-cultural urban analyses are also
Friedrichs 1996; Mollenkopf and Castells 1991).
underdeveloped. Castells (1996, 1997) offers an
Too few analyses have traced how this broad class
insightful engagement with global urban condi-
of polarizations is translated into the spatial struc-
tions, and the theoretical insights of Ellin (1996),
ture of cities (e.g., Ley 1996; Sassen 1991, 1994).
King (1996), and Soja (1996b) on a putative
(3) Altered spaces: Another prevalent condi-
postmodern urbanism are much needed excur-
tion of contemporary urban existence is fragmen-
sions into a neglected field.14 In addition,
tation, both in material and cognitive life. It has
Chauncy Harris's (1997) recent reworking of his
been noted by observers who place themselves
multiple nuclei model into what he terms a pe-
both within and beyond the postmodern ethos
ripheral model of urban areas reveals an acute
(see, for instance, Watson and Gibson 1995, and
the essays in the City journal ["It All Comes sensitivity to the contemporary urban condition,
Together in Los Angeles" 1996]). Their concerns but engages theoretical precepts quite different
often focus on the collapse of conventional com- from ours. Finally, work on cities of the develop-
munities and the rise of new cultural categories ing, postcolonial, and non-Western worlds re-
and spaces, including especially cultural hybrids mains sparse and unsustained, as well as being
(Canclini 1996; Olalquiaga 1992; Morley and stubbornly immune from the broader lessons of
Robins 1995; Zukin 1994). Western-based theory-even though the empiri-
(4) Cybercity: No one can ignore the chal- cal parallels between, for example, Seabrook's
lenges of the information age, which promises to (1996) subtitle, "Scenes from a Developing
unseat many of our cherished notions about so- World" and our construction of postmodern ur-
ciospatial structuring. Castells (1996, 1997) has banism are striking.
undertaken an ambitious three-volume account We intend this essay as an invitation to exam-
of this social revolution, but as yet relatively few ine the concept of a postmodern urbanism. We
people (beyond science-fiction authors such as recognize that we have only begun to sketch its
William Gibson and Neal Stephenson) have ex- potential, that its validity will only be properly
plored what this revolution portends for cities. assessed if researchers elsewhere in the world are
One pioneering exception is William J. Mitchell's willing to examine its precepts. We urge others to
City of Bits (1995). share in this enterprise because, even though our

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68 Dear and Flusty

6. For example,
vision is tentative, weLongstreth
are(1997) examines the role
glimpsed a new way of Los of
Angeles in the invention of the regional
shopping mall. See also Hayden (1994).
7. The claims of a "Los Angeles School" may have
already been overtaken by a burgeoning "Orange
County School." According to Mark Gottdiener
and George Kephart in Postsuburban California, it
Earlier versions of this paper have been presented at
is Orange County that is the paradigmatic window
a "Theory, Culture & Society" conference in Berlin,
on late-twentieth-century urbanism:
the University of Turku on behalf of the Finnish Acad-
We have focussed on what we consider to be a
emy of Science, the Howell Lecture in the School of
new form of settlement space-the fully urban-
Architecture, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the
ized, multinucleated, and independent county.
School of Architecture, Building and Planning, Uni-
. . formally separated from but adjacent to large
versity of Melbourne, the annual meetings of the As-
well-known metropolitan regions.... As a new
sociation of Collegiate Schools of Architecture and the
form of settlement space, they are the first such
Association of American Geographers, and the Center
occurrence in five thousand years of urban his-
for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stan-
tory (1991:51).
ford University. We are grateful to Scott Lash and Mike
Postsuburban districts, they further state, "possess
Featherstone, Harri Anderson and Jouni Hikli, Ross
relatively large populations; they are polynu-
King and Ruth Fincher, Sharon Lord Gaber, and Robert
cleated, with no single center that dominates
Harris for invitations to present papers on these occa-
development as it does in the traditional urban
sions. Thanks also to the many conference participants
model; and they possess relatively robust employ-
who provided constructive criticism. Kim Dovey, Ruth
ment bases and also serve as residential areas,
Fincher, Robert Harris, John Kaliski, Carol Levy, John
especially for the white middle class" (p. 51). Such
Levy, Claudio Minca, Jan Nijman, Kevin Robins, Mi-
districts appear to be identifiable by four charac-
chael Webber, and Jennifer Wolch were supportive of
teristics: "postsuburban spatial organization, in-
the enterprise and offered helpful comments, as did a
formation capitalism, consumerism, and
number of anonymous referees. Deanna Knicker-
cosmopolitanism" (1991:4).
bocker and Dallas Dishman prepared the figures. None
8. Rabanfs view finds echoes in the seminal work of
of these people should be blamed for anything in this
de Certeau (1984).
essay. This paper was first written while Dear was a
9. It is worth emphasizing that in the overview, we
fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behav-
focus solely on the concatenation of urban
ioral Sciences at Stanford. The support of the Center
events that are occurring in contemporary
and the National Science Foundation SES-9022192 is
Southern California. This is not to suggest that
gratefully acknowledged.
such trends are absent in other cities, nor that
a larger literature on these topics and cities is
missing. A complete review of these other
Notes places and literatures is simply beyond the
scope of this paper.
1. See, for example, Pred (1995) and Auge (1995). 10. Such sentiments find echoes in Neil Smith's
2. Some elements of this discussion may be found in assessment of the new urban frontier, where
Watson and Gibson (1995), Ellin (1996), and expansion is powered by two industries: real-
Knox and Taylor (1995). estate developers (who package and define
3. The theoretical bases for this argument are exam- value), and the manufacturers of culture (who
ined more fully in Dear (1988, 1991). For specific define taste and consumption preferences)
considerations of the rhetoric of city planning in (Smith 1992:75).
the new urbanism, see Dear (1989). 11. The list of L.A. novels and movies is endless.
4. This should not be confused with the L.A. School Typical of the dystopian cinematic vision are
of architecture, discussed by Charles Jencks "Blade Runner" (Ridley Scott 1986) and "China-
(1993). town" (Roman Polanski 1974); and of silly opti-
5. The term "school" is problematic, but we mism, "L.A. Story" (Mick Jackson 1991).
here follow Jennifer Pratt and use the term to 12. One critic accused us (quite cleverly) of "neolo-
refer to "a collection of individuals working gorrhea."
in the same environment who at the time and 13. This term is a combination of Rene Girard's "mi-
through their own retrospective construc- metic contagion" and animal ethologist Richard
tions of their identity and the impartations of Dawkin's hypothesis that cultural informations
intellectual historians are defined as repre- are gene-type units, or "memes," transmitted vi-
senting a distinct approach to a scholarly rus-like from head to head. We here employ the
endeavor" (1995:2). term "hybridized" in recognition of the recency
and novelty of the combination, not to assert

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Postmodern Urbanism 69

some prior purity to the component elements Castells, M. 1997. The Information Age: Economy, Soci-
forming the hybrid. ety, and Culture, vol. 1: The Rise of the Network
14. The collection of essays assembled in Benko and Society, and vol. 2: The Power of Identity. Cam-
Strohmayer (1997) is an excellent overview of the bridge: Blackwell.
relationship between space and postmodernism, and Hall, P 1994. Technopoles of the World: The
including the urban question. Kevin Robins's Making of the 21st Century Industrial Complexes.
valuable work on media, visual cultures, and rep- New York: Routledge.
resentational issues also deserves a wide audience Cenzatti, M. 1993. Los Angeles and the L.A. School:
(e.g., Robins 1996; Morley and Robins 1995). Postmodernism and Urban Studies. Los Angeles:
15. A much fuller treatment of this assertion is to be Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban
found in Dear (forthcoming). Design.
Chomsky, N. and Herman, E. 1988. Manufacturing
Consent. New York: Pantheon Books.
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