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Cities have long functioned as primary drivers for trade, investment and regional economic development, as well as sites where individuals emerge from their private spaces, connect with each other, form solidarities, politicize themselves and begin to think as a group with distinctive interconnected interests (Hytrek, 2020), to create what Mouffe (1996) calls chains of equivalence. Particularly in the US, cities manage a broad array of offloaded regulatory responsibilities and socio-economic risks and are important geographical targets and institutional laboratories for a variety of neoliberal market-based policy experiments (Peck et al, 2009: 58). These range from place marketing, enterprise zones, property redevelopment schemes and local tax abatements to workfare policies and new strategies of social control, along with a host of other institutional modifications within the local governmental apparatus. Even as US cities increasingly function as sites for neoliberal strategies and for securing order and control of marginalized populations, they remain incubators of and platforms for counterhegemonic movements. Yet the politicizing effects of cities are not uniform across space, with new movements emerging in some unlikely cities, those without histories of progressive activism.

In this chapter, I analyse one such case, Long Beach, CA, where a long history of conservative politics was dramatically and quickly reversed by the unexpected gelling of a historically fragmented labour and community sector into a viable progressive movement. To understand the rapid turnaround, the analysis draws upon the secondary city literature that examines the mechanisms through which smaller regional (secondary) cities are able to ‘punch above their weight’ and achieve economic performance unique for their size.

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The varied contributions to this book confirm the value of employing a relational analysis to understand the conditions and prospects of secondary cities across a wide range of urban contexts. While a welcome and growing body of research has moved beyond ‘global winners’ to focus on ‘small cities’, ‘shrinking cities’ and ‘legacy cities’, it is essential to highlight the connections between different cities if we are to avoid an overly fragmented accounting of contemporary urban conditions. In Ward’s (2010: 477) terms, following Tilly (1984), this work constitutes a form of ‘individualizing comparison’ focused on exploring the relationship between ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ cities within the context of post-crisis urban redevelopment in the Global North. In line with Massey’s (2007) insights (and, we hope, avoiding the essentializing tendencies that Ward (2010) critiques), we suggest that taking a relational approach to this investigation of multiple cases can help us to see how the ‘failings’, struggles and policy dilemmas faced by secondary cities are often intimately tied to the ‘successes’ of larger, dominant cities. Such cities have often been construed (especially in the US) as ‘left-behind’ places (Hendrickson et al, 2018) that should look to superstar cities to identify their own paths forward. Conversely, more dynamic secondary cities have at times been celebrated for their niche identities and associated economic success. Counter to this kind of decontextualized emphasis on the policy choices and internal strengths or shortcomings of particular secondary cities, the approach taken here highlights instead the extent to which the trajectories of these cities need to be understood as already reflecting a history of interactions with their more dominant neighbours.

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The Australian urban system has been shaped by its historical origins: separate periods of colonization and dependent development within the British Empire (Arnold et al, 1993; Schreuder and Ward, 2010). Six very separate colonial centres were established over the course of the 19th century as England occupied the country – Sydney as the capital of New South Wales (NSW) was created as a convict camp in 1788, as was Hobart on the southern island of Van Diemen’s Land in 1804 and Moreton Bay-Brisbane in 1824 in south-eastern Queensland. In contrast, other colonies in the west – King George Sound (later Perth, 1826) – and south – Melbourne anchoring the Port Phillip colony (1835) and Adelaide, South Australia (1836) – were established as ‘free’ colonies based on commercial land uses. Limited by an arid interior and boosted by their roles as administration hubs, these ports and points of initial settlement in turn became the major centres of their 19th-century export-oriented economies: wheat from South and Western Australia, wool and meat from the remainder.

While large and dominant economically and politically, with all but Brisbane and Hobart becoming primate cities, the presence of these colonial capitals did not preclude the existence of other townships, servicing their inland pastoral, agricultural and later mining economies. Some of these centres saw themselves as successfully rivalling the first-order cities and, in the 20th century, grew on the basis of particular industries; examples include the steel cities of Newcastle and Wollongong adjacent to Sydney, Whyalla north of Adelaide and Kwinana near Perth (Rich, 1987).

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This chapter considers the implications of Pendras and Williams’s emphasis on ‘intra-regional relationality’ for work in city-regionalism (Moisio and Jonas, 2018), particularly where this work involves planning, growth and urban development practices around global climate action and the new politics of ‘carbon control’ (While et al, 2010; Granqvist et al, 2020). Selective empirical examples derived from my own past and forthcoming work (and the work of others) within the US, Canada, South Africa, Australia and Europe are briefly referenced throughout the chapter to emphasize how ‘intra-regional relationality’ sheds a different theoretical light on the politics, policies and practices of green urban and metropolitan action. ‘Greater’ Vancouver and ‘Greater’ Seattle, including Surrey and Tacoma, respectively, receive special consideration at the end of the chapter. Ultimately, the discussion explores how the central concept of ‘intra-regional relationality’ helps urban and regional scholars to place the alternately complementary and contradictory roles of regional secondary cities in multi-scalar urban development regimes now struggling to balance economic competitiveness with ecological resiliency and social cohesion, that is, urban sustainability. As more such cities – for example, Tacoma, Geelong, Long Beach, Malmo, Porto, Stellenbosch – adopt and implement green policies and also pursue global carbon control politics, the discussion considers how the concept of intra-regional relationality shifts our interpretation of these developments in urban studies and global affairs.

The analytical focus on urban green policy adoption and global carbon geopolitics – or what I have elsewhere called ‘variegated urbanizations of green internationalism’ (Dierwechter, 2019: 50) – may seem arbitrary; but this empirical focus represents a useful way to explore the theoretical relevance of intra-regional relationality in studies of the ‘greening’ of city-regions, whether mapped through the piecemeal adoption of ‘local’ sustainability policies or, more recently, through transnational carbon mitigation efforts.

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The attention given to secondary cities by scholars, policy-makers and businesses has been steadily increasing in recent years (OECD, 2012; Dijkstra, 2013; Camagni et al, 2015; Parkinson et al, 2015; Cardoso and Meijers, 2017; Meili and Mayer, 2017). This is a welcome development that expands debates beyond the dominant interest in the spectacular successes and failures of the largest cities, popularized by ideas about how we now live in an ‘urban age’. Secondary cities can be defined both at national and regional scales. In Europe, national secondary cities are those lacking the economic weight, political voice and attractive pull of primate cities (generally capitals) but still important enough to play a relevant role in national and international contexts (ESPON, 2012). Regional secondary cities, the focus of this chapter, are small and medium-sized cities that are part of an interdependent urban region and often lie in the sphere of influence of a larger core city, fuelling its economy, cooperating and competing with it for population, activities and resources, and interacting with it through various flows (Chapter 1, this volume).

While both types of city may share similar problems – policy neglect in comparison with more ‘successful’ cities, emptying out of functions, population or activities due to the dominance of a larger competitor, incapacity to profit from synergies with other cities nearby (Hodos, 2011; Cardoso, 2016a) – the existing literature on regional secondary cities is thinner on the ground. Although urban regions are recognized as relevant arenas of economic activity, institutional cooperation and functional interaction, the small and medium-sized cities that constitute them are often seen as a rather indistinct, semi-dependent hinterland of the core city (Servillo et al, 2017).

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Exploring Uneven Development in Dynamic Urban Regions of the Global North

This book explores cities and the intra-regional relational dynamics often overlooked by urban scholars, and it challenges common representations of urban development successes and failures.

Gathering leading international scholars from Europe, Australia and North America, it explores the secondary city concept in urban development theory and practice and advances a research agenda that highlights uneven development concerns.

By emphasising the subordinate status of secondary cities relative to their dominant neighbours the book raises new questions about regional development in the Global North. It considers alternative relations and development strategies that innovatively reimagine the subordinate status of secondary cities and showcase their full potential.

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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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Until recently, it was rather common to perceive the hinterland of cities as ‘rural’, directing research to the study of linkages, relations and dependencies between ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ (for example, see Hoggart, 2005). This widespread traditional conception of cities having a predominantly rural hinterland needs to be challenged, as processes of spatial upscaling and expansion have made many cities find other cities in their hinterland, suggesting that a focus on regional urban–urban relations is just as valid as a focus on urban–rural relations. Put simply: many functional urban areas or metropolitan areas – terms traditionally used to denote a city and its surrounding commuting area – are nowadays composed of multiple cities. It makes sense to address these regions as multicentric urban areas or as ‘polycentric urban regions’ when these cities do not differ widely in terms of size or overall importance.

Champion (2001) has distinguished three modes through which such multicentric urban regions arise. First, he distinguished a ‘centrifugal mode’: some smaller cities in the sphere of influence of larger cities may have risen as satellite towns of the latter, as a result of core city expansion and redistribution. Second, an ‘incorporation mode’ is discerned when a larger city extends its sphere of influence to include a formerly rather self-sustaining surrounding town or small city, or a set of several such cities. Third, the ‘fusion mode’ denotes that previously distinct and independent cities of rather similar size become integrated due to the advancement of connective infrastructure and technology, and the spatial extension of activity and travel patterns of people and firms.

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In 2017, a local reporter opened a story on the ongoing construction boom in Tacoma, Washington, with the observation that ‘Tacoma learned long ago that it will always be second to Seattle, but the city is now embracing that as a positive. The money the city is leveraging from all the action in Seattle is a vital part of Tacoma’s game plan.’ The reporter noted how local officials had for some time been preparing for the building boom with an array of public projects intended to attract developers to the city. Tacoma Economic Development Director Ricardo Noguera described the city’s enthusiasm for riding Seattle’s economic coat-tails, highlighting how residents priced out of Seattle and the surrounding suburbs were joining new arrivals to the region in moving to Tacoma. Characterizing 2017 as ‘the year of the crane’, Noguera outlined the city’s development philosophy: ‘I can’t compete with Goliath … [instead] it’s feeding off of the beast. Seattle-Bellevue is the beast’ (Sullivan, 2017).

This brief news story is telling both for the way it presents Seattle as central to the economic and policy options facing Tacoma and for how this relationship is simultaneously depicted in strongly optimistic and pessimistic terms. Behind this tension is a long history of anxiety that Tacoma has already lost out or is about to be bypassed by some new wave of regional development. Much of this history, both real and imagined, is best understood through the lens of Tacoma’s ‘secondary’ status relative to Seattle, which dates back to the late 19th century.

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The largest cities in Switzerland are not very large, at least from an international comparative perspective: in 2016, Zurich was the biggest Swiss city and was home to 402,762 residents. Geneva had 198,979 residents while Basel counted 171,017. Lausanne and Bern were about the same size, counting 137,810 and 133,115 residents respectively. Among the cities with more than 100,000 residents, there is only Winterthur (109,775) in addition to the ones already mentioned. Four more cities (Biel, Lugano, Lucerne and St. Gallen) make it onto the list of cities with more than 50,000 residents (SSV and BFS, 2018). As a result, the vast majority of Swiss cities need to be considered as small and medium-sized towns (SMSTs). There are a total of 152 SMSTs with a population up to 50,000 residents.1

In many cases, these SMSTs take on the role of secondary cities in the context of the larger urban agglomerations. Take, for example, the two case study cities that will be discussed in this chapter, Thun and Wädenswil. The city of Thun had 43,568 residents in 2016 (SSV and BFS, 2018). Because Thun is located only about 30 km south-east of the city centre of Bern, a large majority of Thun residents commute daily for work between Thun and Bern. In addition, there are numerous other close links between these two cities. Yet Thun, historically supported by tourism and military spending, has played a rather inferior role when compared to Bern. From 1384 until 1798, Thun was subordinate to Bern; during this time the latter became the most important city-state north of the Alps.

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