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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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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 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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