The phenomenon of economic globalization, which took off in the last four decades, has come to define this period in world history. The trading relations between the developed and developing countries reached unprecedented heights during this period. While this boosted the Gross Domestic Products of the involved countries, the distribution of wealth within nations has been highly disproportional. Evidence shows that globalization has not reduced the percentage of human beings living below the poverty line. Such poverty has forced most rural communities to seek job opportunities in nearby cities, which has made the cities over populated, polluted and losing their cultural heritage. The critical assessment of whether or not cities are increasingly becoming more like one another should be made in this context. This essay purports to do the same by perusing relevant scholarly sources to support the claims.
There is copious evidence to support the contrarian view that neo-liberal globalization has made major industrial cities across the world look and feel the same. What is at work is the concept referred to as McDonaldization of the world. That is, the traditional cultural markers that distinguish one city from another gets subsumed under the hoardings, displays and product outlets of multinational brands. For example, the McDonald’s restaurant chain, which was started in the United States, is now ubiquitous in all major cities of the world. The same could be said about other major consumer brands such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Nike, Reebok, KFC, etc (Rogers, 2003, p.1184). The unique architectural style that is associated with different regions of the world is covered or replaced by displays of above mentioned brands, making the city lose its uniqueness and visual identity. This trend could be observed in capital cities of countries such as India, China, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, Bolivia, Venezuela, Chile and others (Rogers, 2003, p.1184). These developing countries also seem to have benefited from globalization in certain other ways. For example,
“During the early 1970s, more than half its population was defined as poor; average life expectancy was 48 years, and only 40 per cent of the adult population was literate. Today, the percentage of the poor has decreased to about one fourth of the population, life expectancy has increased to 65 years, and about 70 per cent of adults are literate. This unprecedented decline in poverty in Asia and the Pacific has been described as one of the largest decreases in mass poverty in human history. Of all the world’s regions, according to report, Asia also ranks lowest in almost all types of crime.” (Foreign Policy, 2008, 70)
If certain aspects of the neo-liberal globalization project have had benign consequences, there has also been a fair share of criticisms. The economic globalization process also coincided with the boom in cable and satellite broadcast television and the Internet, which has indeed made the world a smaller place. A consequence of these developments is the exposure and adoption of Western cultural practices that manifests in the form of fashion, clothing, lifestyle patterns, changing nature of interpersonal relationships, conspicuous consumption, etc. Some critics point out that what is at play is a type of cultural imperialism, which constantly competes and replaces native, indigenous cultural practices in the developing world. Again, there is plenty of scholarly evidence to support the validity of this claim, beyond what is common knowledge. (Knox & Pinch, 2000)
There are two different ways in which the increasing resemblance between cities is interpreted. While some see it in terms of weakening of local culture and tradition, others see it as a progressive development. The United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN-HABITAT), which undertakes extensive studies on subjects such as globalization, population displacement, economic immigration, etc, released in 2004 a report titled The State of the World’s Cities. This report takes cognizance of both the positive and negative consequences of globalization on world’s prominent cities. While acknowledging the intrusion of Western culture into those of developing nations, it asserts that