Over the next two weeks, Next City will unroll short profiles of 77 people, places and ideas that have changed cities this year. Together, they make up our 2012 Disruption Index. Forefront subscribers can download the Index in full as a PDF, complete with beautiful designs and graphics by Danni Sinisi. Readers who make a $75 donation to Next City will have a full-color printed copy of the Index mailed to them.
If the end of the 20th century was characterized by globalization and the increasing interconnectedness of powerful global cities, the beginning of the 21st is shaping up to be an era indebted to the global street. For our understanding of both, we have urban theorist and sociologist Saskia Sassen to thank. The global street, Sassen writes, is “a space where new forms of the social and the political can be made, rather than a space for enacting ritualized routines.” The Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, the ongoing rebellion in Syria, the crowds of jobless youth in Spain — all of these embody Sassen’s notion. With these movements, the city serves as both a center of power and of powerlessness, and in this urban space, Sassen says, “the powerless can make history.” Understanding these movements as specifically urban phenomena, Sassen is building on a consistently groundbreaking career of challenging the way we think about the social ramifications of city structures. A decade ago, urban thinkers and doers were figuring out how to adapt to a global economy. Now they must embrace the global street.
Nate Berg is a writer and journalist covering cities, architecture and urban planning. Nate’s work has been published in a wide variety of publications, including the New York Times, NPR, Wired, Metropolis, Fast Company, Dwell, Architect, the Christian Science Monitor, LA Weekly and many others. He is a former staff writer at The Atlantic Cities and was previously an assistant editor at Planetizen.