30th Newsletter of the Georg-Simmel-Center for Metropolitan Studies (Berlin) 06.09.2010

The K-factor of cities:
Recent events (e.g. mass panic in Duisburg) beg the question as to what degree do city administrations actually have the ability, authority, jurisdiction and general wherewithal to govern and execute change and if so how should we try to understand it. (We may refer to this as the K-factor, from the German word “Kompetenz” which embraces all these qualities together with the English sense of competence) Authority is generally attributed to key players, be they nation states, companies or individuals. Research into national innovation systems reveals that (national) governments, it may be assumed, are more or less able to strive for their goals through control and policy-making, to steer events towards them. Attempting to transpose this approach to a city level (of administration) has, so far, never proved to be very successful. Cities lack jurisdiction in certain areas such as the ability to raise taxes and put through legislation. However, there are certainly some cases where it may be said that cities “take control of their destinies” realizing large construction projects or cultural events. Other cites are not in a position to do this. The city`s “overall competence” or K-factor consists of the expertise, skills and capabilities of its policy makers, administrators, companies and citizens. One may be tempted to compare this factor with that of a large corporation. However there are indeed decisive differences. These lie in the formal membership, managerial authority to issue directives to those in subordinate roles and the general obligation to toe the party (company) line. In towns and even more in large cities membership is voluntary and largely anonymous. Beyond a certain degree of civic responsibility it is not possible to oblige citizens to perform any particular task or activity. The K-factor can therefore not be enriched through controlled distribution of work and in no way through hiring and firing of its citizens. Regarding the city-competence question the network approach has not proved to be very successful (cooperation and resource mobilization) – its portrayal however would go beyond this Newsletter.

Literature: Mieg (2009). Kompetenz. In Lange et al. (eds.), Governance der Kreativwirtschaft (pp. 155-167). Bielefeld: Transcript. Lundvall (ed.) (1992) National Systems of Innovation. Pinter: London. Grabher & Powell (Eds.) (2004) Networks. Cheltenham, UK: Elgar.
Report on this year`s Summer School: Berlin between urbanity and fragmentation:
The GSZ and Humbolt-University „Metropolitan Studies“ summer school 2010 (16.-26.8.) concerned itself with the the question of „What makes a city a city? Berlin between urbanity, fragmentation and mirco-topias“. Individual lectures were shaped by various perspectives, intertwining with the choice of theoretical concept, guest speakers and location visits. The programme included a case study (from Leipzigerstraße via Friedrichstraße/Mehringplatz to Bergmannstraße). It was shown that social and physical phenomena are strongly interwoven. Surprisingly some of these factors could be seen as both an expression of urbanity and also as fragmentation.

Literature: BERNT & HOLM (2005): Exploring the substance and style of gentrification – Berlin’s ‘Prenzlberg’. In: Atkinson & Bridge: Gentrification in a Global Context. BUSÀ (2007): Celebrations of Urbanity. In: The Urban Reinventors Paper Series, Issue 2/2007. LANGE (2005): Sociospatial strategies of culturepreneurs. In: Zeitschrift für Wirtschaftsgeographie 49/2, 81-98. FERGUSON / URBAN DRIFT (2006) (Ed): Micro-topias. In: Talking Cities; Birkhäuser, Basel, 144-182. MILES (2008): Planning and Conflict. In: Hall, Hubbard & Short: The Sage Companion to the City; London, Sage. Simmel, Georg (2007) Philosophy of Landscape. In: Theory, Culture & Society, Vol. 24.