In 2015 Saskia Sassen published an article in ‘The Guardian’, meant for the general reader, on the relationship between the implementation of large – or gigantic – urban transformation projects and city’s de-urbanisation. In this article Saskia Sassen outlines her ‘de-urbanisation theory’ and contributes to the ongoing public debate on globalisation and its impact on cities.

In presenting to the class Saskia Sassen’s article I made some critical remarks on the methodological framework on which her de-urbanisation theory seems to be based. In particular, I suggested that one should distinguish the effects over time of a specific urban transformation project from the overall evolution that city undergoes in the same span of time, driven by other structural changes.

I argued that Saskia Sassen’s de-urbanisation theory is a ‘focusing device’ rather than a proper theory of cities’ evolution. As a ‘focusing device’ it is useful; but if it is taken as a theory it obscures the state and evolution of contemporary cities.

The short- and long-term impacts of urban redevelopment projects of the kind Saskia Sassen focuses may have – and very often have – effects that are very negative from various assessment perspectives. Yet, to affirm that they will definitely exert a ‘de-urbanisation effect’ on the city – engendering even a ‘weakening of its democracy’ – is unfounded in most cases. Whether the implementation of gigantic urban redevelopment processes de-urbanises cities is an empirical hypothesis to be tested case by case, by focusing on the changes taking place in historical time in the whole city.

I discussed the case of Milan (Italy) to show that while some parts of the city are ‘de-urbanising’, in Saskia Sassen’s sense, as a consequence of large urban transformation projects, other parts of the city are becoming more ‘complex’ and ‘incomplete’.

‘Saskia Sassen’s De-urbanisation Theory’ | text: 3,500 words | summary | pdf (2 MB)