Rescaling Modernity:
Rebuilding the Modern City in
Toronto and Berlin

Douglas Young

York University


This paper attempts to link the dialectic between modernism and modernization to the ongoing rescaling that is part of present day urbanization in globalizing urban regions. It is based on case study investigations of two representative Modern Cities – the Marzahn district in former East Berlin, and the Jane-Finch district in Toronto. Each is representative of the modernism of a particular time and place: in the case of Marzahn, the state socialism of the German Democratic Republic in the 1970s and 80s; in the case of Jane-Finch, the social welfare capitalism of post-WWII Canada (1945 – 1970s). The modern vision behind each place and the modernization processes that created them required a radical multi-dimensional rescaling (of the economy, of state institutions, of the culture of city-living, of the idea of community, of societal relationships with nature). Similarly, their rebuilding (i.e. their present-day multi-dimensional reshaping) also entails multi-dimensional rescaling – of economy, of social institutions and social regulation, of urban space.

I am interested in what the unfolding fate of the post-WWII Modern City can tell us about urbanization in globalizing post-Fordist urban regions in the early years of the twenty-first century. The general terrain of urbanization (considered here as “one of the material dimensions” (Keil, 1998: 13) of a multi-dimensional set of dynamic processes summarily referred to as globalization) and of city-building (considered here as the constellation of actors and processes, politics, planning and policies that shape urban space and everyday urban living) in the early years of the twenty-first century are similar, in some respects, in urban regions around the globe. Yet at the same time it can be argued that globalization is produced locally and the material reality of urbanization and urban living is geo-temporally contingent and particular: Toronto is not Berlin; Jane- Finch is not Marzahn. Exploring these two case studies will highlight the dimensions of similarity and of difference in globalizing urban regions.

My research seeks to identify the actors and the processes involved in the rebuilding of these two representative Modern Cities in our present neo-liberal, after-modern and post- fordist era, and to contemplate the possible future trajectories of their rebuilding. Perhaps their utopian pasts will play a role in shaping their futures, and in turn the future of their respective urban regions. Perhaps this will occur in a negative way whereby their egalitarian and modernist pasts will be used against them – i.e. to mark them as being at the margins in increasingly polarized and unevenly developed urban regions. A different possibility is that elements of those utopian pasts will stand as bulwarks of a more progressive urbanity. Perhaps, in the contradictions to be found in their past and present, lies the possibility of a more hopeful and utopian future

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Rescaling Modernity:
Rebuilding the Modern City in Toronto and Berlin

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