1: Secondary Cities: Introduction to a Research Agenda

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The concept of ‘secondary cities’ is both intuitively obvious and empirically slippery. Everyone seems to know what secondary cities are; they are the other cities, the less recognized, less celebrated cities you haven’t heard of, located just next to the famous cities that gather all the attention. Secondary cities aren’t suburbs, or edge cities or the storied hinterlands that nurture the metropolitan hordes. They don’t fit neatly into established categories of urban scholarship. Consequently, they are also difficult to define empirically; they are increasingly collapsed into broader metropolitan statistical areas or otherwise interpolated into the ‘city-region’ defined by their dominant neighbours. The contributions assembled in this book aim to bring some light to the secondary city experience and open some space for thinking of these cities as distinct and worthy of attention. By definition, the idea of ‘secondary’ involves a relationship, a comparison with a dominant other, and along with simply calling more attention to the distinct experiences of such places we want to expressly argue that understanding these cities – as well as their dominant neighbours – requires a relational perspective. This book explores the secondary city concept in order to emphasize the significance of intra-regional relationality to contemporary urban conditions and to the development possibilities facing many cities. Particularly in a moment when there is a welcome turn to greater attention on ‘ordinary’ cities (Amin and Graham, 1997; Robinson, 2002, 2008), small cities (Bell and Jayne, 2006), shrinking cities (Fol, 2012; Wiechmann and Pallagst, 2012; Mallach, 2017), legacy cities (Mallach, 2012; Hollingsworth and Goebel, 2017) ‘left behind places’ (Hendrickson et al, 2018), ‘places that don’t matter’ (Rodríguez-Pose, 2017), and cities otherwise understood to fall outside the usual emphasis on global winners, we evoke the secondary city concept as way to highlight the importance of relationality to understanding contemporary urban conditions.

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