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Urban Financialization: Towards a Typology

Authors: Manuel Aalbers*, KU Leuven
Topics: Urban Geography, Political Geography, Economic Geography
Keywords: financialization, urban geography, neoliberalism, urban governance, finance, risk
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In his seminal 1989 paper David Harvey argued that an entrepreneurial form had replaced the post-war managerial approach of urban governance. In recent years the literature has introduced financialization to the analysis of urban governance and urban development. Evidence of financialized urbanism to date is scattered, contested and not always well connected to other theorizations of urban development. In this paper I review a range a case studies of financialization in European and American (Brazil and US) cities, and present a typology of urban financialization, ranging from financialization-as-management, via laissez-faire financialization, to predatory financialization. The argument is that financialization can both be a form of urban managerialism and of urban entrepreneurialism or neoliberalism. Notwithstanding these important urban variegations in financialization and the possibilities of contestation at the urban scale, it is difficult to completely escape pressures to financialize the city. Whereas cities that consciously implement financialized urban governance instruments (the first two types) may face both positive and negative outcomes, the other two types experience little or no advantages from financialization. Yet, even where and when financialized urban instruments are implemented purposefully, the mid- and long-term consequences are often poorly understood. Finally, the adaptation of such instruments is not only the result of a changing governance mode but also furthers a progressive change in urban governance. This is largely a result of finance’s fictitious nature in which risks are shifted to the future and push cities towards increased financial risk management.

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