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The Open University


Social Sciences



More than half the world’s population now lives in cities and by 2050 over 70 per cent of the world will be urban dwellers. ‘Cities,’ says Professor Doreen Massey, ‘are probably the greatest challenge to democracy that we could possibly face.’ By using case studies drawn from the USA, the UK and France, the learning pathway explores the idea of a city – the place, its spaces, and people – and the challenges it represents. It also explores more abstract ideas. How can we tell is a city is successful, and in an increasingly globalised world, how do cities survive? (Note that many of the learning resources in this pathway are audio or video sequences). Glasgow, Scotland, is a city that was founded on the heavy industries of engineering, shipbuilding and coal mining, and as a port was a centre of international trade. As the industrial base of the city declined the city was forced to reinvent itself. In Los Angeles, California, the re-imagining of the LA River, long considered as just an urban drainage channel, offers another perspective on planning interventions. Areas of cities where social housing predominates can be seen as the centre of ‘urban problems’. Riots in a large urban housing project on the outskirts of Paris, France in 2005 were described as the ‘rebellion of France’s underclass’, while in 2007 a keynote report on the UK’s urban social housing programme stated that ‘ is not British civilisation that ails …it is British council estates. …We made them. Now we need to unmake them, doing whatever it takes…’. The pathway also looks at the controversies that emerged in New Orleans, USA, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and explores this theme in the context of ongoing debates around poverty, inequality and social justice.