Powerful City Networks: More than Connections, Less than Domination and Control

Allen, John (2010). Powerful City Networks: More than Connections, Less than Domination and Control. Urban Studies, 47(13) pp. 2895–2911.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0042098010377364


Powerful cities are often distinguished from others by the concentration and mix of resources at their disposal. The right mix, the right people and skills, along with the ability to do something with them marks off the more powerful from the less powerful cities. In that respect, far reaching influence and control are the hallmarks of a powerful city. Often implicit in this view, however, is an understanding of power as something which a city possesses, a capacity for domination and control embedded in the city itself which gives it a ranking above others. This paper sets out an alternative way of thinking about how power ‘works’ for cities that is not based upon hierarchical domination or a zero sum game. The first part outlines a view of power as a means to an end, a medium that enables cities to hold networks together and bridge connections. Following that, the ‘power to’ run the networks, to exercise power with rather than over others, is illustrated through the example of the international division of labour that holds between the London and Frankfurt financial centres. In particular, the key role of intermediate elites as brokers is highlighted. This analysis is developed further in the final section by taking the example of Sydney as a powerful ‘switching point’, but one where intermediaries broker and bridge global networks to gain advantage — not through practices of domination and control, but more subtle modes of power such as manipulation and inducement, which operate at the expense of others. In so doing, the ‘power to’ make things happen folds over into power over others.

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