Chapter Two: Understanding
(draft version: all comments welcome. please do not cite)
Berlin belongs to the easily defined but poorly understood class of capital cities. It is a far more straightforward task to identify capital cities as a group ˇ the starred city on political maps ˇ than other classes of cities, such as global cities, information cities, megacities, financial cities, manufacturing cities or regional cities. Capital cities are recited in rote by grade school students, while the classification of other city types is an endless source of debate among geographers and planners.
This simplicity of identification, unfortunately, does not translate into an easy understanding of the function and structure of capital cities. The variation between capital cities is too great: as a class of cities, capitals are far more heterogeneous than other types of cities. More than other cities, capitals cross many analytic boundaries: they can also be global cities, information cities, megacities, financial cities, manufacturing cities or regional cities. Capital cities share in common a function ˇ hosting the government ˇ that is often only one of many economic roles of the city. This is particularly true in larger capital cities that are also large industrial, cultural, commercial and shipping centers. For example, London has far more in common with fellow global city New York than it does with fellow capital Brasilia.
As a consequence, the study of capital cities is not a theoretically precise academic tradition that can concisely explain capital city urbanization. The various themes in capitals have been fragmented and absorbed by other disciplines. The resulting literature on capital cities consists of a diverse collection of writings by architects, historians, political scientists, urban planners and sociologists ˇ each addressing different aspects of capital cities, without creating a single, explicit theory of capital city development. Though there is understandably a wealth of writings on the description, history and architecture of individual capital cities (the books on London or Paris alone would fill small libraries), a bibliographic search for theoretical writings explicitly on capital cities leads to a surprisingly short set of readings (Clark and Lepetit 1996; Cornish 1971; Eldredge 1975; Gottmann 1977; Gottmann 1983; Gottmann 1985; Taylor, Lengellé, and Andrew 1993; Vale 1992). As Rapoport notes, "...little has been written about capitals as a type, as opposed to specific capitals..." (Rapoport 1993, 31).
To expand this limited repertoire of capital city writings, I draw upon a broad range of ideas and observations from case studies of individual capital cities, writings on the nation-state and the political symbolism of national architecture. I also rely heavily on the massive literature on Berlin to address what are often very peculiar issues unique to the German capital.
From these readings, I define seven basic questions on capital cities that that are central for Berlin. First, how do capital cities as a group differ from non-capitals? Second, how do individual capital cities differ from one another (e.g., based on city size, year of origin, function, national government structure)? Third, how has the role of capital cities changed over time in response to the historical transformation of the nation-state? Fourth, how does the nation-state express its identity through the capital city (in particular through its architecture)? Fifth, what is the local political structure of national capitals (and how does the call for municipal autonomy conflict with national interests)? Sixth, what is the impact of the location of capital cities and of political efforts to relocate capital cities (such as in Brazil, Australia, Germany and Japan)? Seventh, is there a unique local economy of capital cities?
I illustrate how the recent capital city debate over Berlin elevates the scholarly discussion on the role of capital cities in these seven areas. Berlin's bizarre history offers the unusual opportunity to observe the impact of first losing and then recovering the seat of the national government. The city's peculiar place among capital cities, and the resulting difficulty of neatly classifying Berlin, challenges standard capital city typology scheme. Berlin's rapid, 20th Century transformation as the capital of an imperial, then a republican, then a fascist, and finally to a decentralized democratic government, demonstrates how capital cities change to keep up with broader historical revolutions. I also examine how the post-unification capital city debate between Berlin and Bonn ˇ as well as subsequent controversies over renovation of historic buildings and architectural plans for new government buildings ˇ has also been a debate over the identity and structure of the reunified German nation-state. The power struggles between local and national political interests in Berlin, both contemporary and centuries-old, demonstrate the alternately collaborative and conflicting relationship between the local residents and the national power-brokers of the capital. The relocation of the capital to Bonn in 1949, and its return to Berlin fifty years later, provides contemporary data on both the political and economic impacts of capital city relocation. Finally, the current debate over the political-economic future of Berlin demonstrates the contested economic role of capital cities, especially the interaction of capital city and global city functions.
In this chapter I address these seven theory questions regarding capital
cities. The coverage is necessarily broad, citing various capital
cities as examples. I use these questions to provide a more general
conceptual context to the specific history of Berlin told in Chapters 3-8.
Seen in this larger group of capital cities, the case of Berlin illustrates
not only the distinctiveness of capital cities, but also the distinctiveness
of Berlin among this particular class of cities. This is particularly
true because of Berlin's odd history as a late-emerging national capital
(1871), as a destroyed and occupied capital (1945), as a half-communist
capital/half-capitalist cold war front city (1945-89), and now as a capital
city in waiting (1990s). Berlin shares with other capital cities
a strong reliance on government funding, a mixture of old and new government
buildings, and a subsidized cultural sphere. Yet, given its peculiar
historic legacy and the simultaneous transition of Germany and of Berlin
after 1989, Berlin will likely develop into an unusual capital city that
will neither be an unassuming administrative center like Bonn nor a global
economic center like London. The city's development trajectory is
contradictory, pointing towards a hybrid metropolis both culturally cosmopolitan
and economically vulnerable, as unsure of its new urban identity as Germany
is of its new role in Europe.
1. The Uniqueness of Capital Cities: How are capital
cities different from non-capitals?
"The capital is by definition a seat of power and a place of decision-making
processes that affect the lives and the future of the nation ruled, and
that may influence trends and events beyond its borders. Capitals
differ from other cities: the capital function secures strong and
lasting centrality; it calls for a special hosting environment
to provide what is required for the safe and efficient performance of the
functions of government and decision-making characteristics of the place."
(Gottmann and Harper 1990, 63)
By simple definition, national capital cities are the seat of the national government within the country. This role can vary widely across different capital cities (as is discussed in Section 2 below), but in general capitals are unique from other cities because they provide a special site for the concentration, administration and representation of political power. Which of these three roles is preeminent for the capital depends on the observer. For the political scientist, the capital is the seat of power and administration. For the economist, it is the location of a disproportionate share of public sector employment. (For the macro-economist, it is often where trade, industrial and monetary policy is made.) For the architect, it is the lucrative site of representative buildings, monuments and parks.
If the consequence of being a capital was limited to housing a disproportionately large concentration of government employees, then one would be tempted to see a capital city as simply a typical city with a lot of public sector administrative buildings. A capital would therefore be no more different from a manufacturing city as the latter is different from a commercial city, and so on. However, this specific function of capital cities not only leads to a distinctive labor market, but also to dramatically different municipal structures, land use patterns, local economic base, architectures, tourism, local cultures and political identities.
One sees these complex differences, for example, in the very different material and cultural experience of New York City and Washington. These differences extend far beyond the obvious functional contrast between Wall Street and Capitol Hill to shape different municipal politics, high and low cultures, and the residential neighborhoods (compare Greenwich Village to Georgetown). Capitals are thus both directly and indirectly different from other cities.
One manifestation is that the capital city is usually larger, more subsidized, or more bombastic than the rest of the nation's cities. National governments treat capital cities differently, wanting the capital to look and act differently than other cities in the nation. Under the old German Reich, residential hallways were to be at least 1.1 meter wide in the capital city, but need only be one meter wide in the rest of the nation. One sees this distinction in the rebuilding of Rome as the new capital of a unified Italy during the rapid industrialization-urbanization period of the 1870s, in which heavy industry was kept away from the city (Antoniou 1994, 24). The new capital, apparently, was not to be just another Italian industrial city. German urbanists therefore have traditionally distinguished between the sleepy, elegantly built city that held the royal residence (die Residenzstadt ) and the more culturally dynamic, class-struggling industrial city (die Industriestadt). Were the differences between capital cities and industrial/commercial cities merely administrative, the study of capital cities would be far less interesting.
The unique role of a capital city is not absolute. Just as New York City is termed a "global city" even though not all of the city functions on a global scale, so too are the activities of "capital cities" clearly not limited to governmental functions. Despite their large public sectors, capital cities still must struggle within the national economy, and thus "there is every reason to first study the functioning of capital cities as cities, even if they are viewed as cities sui generis, because their future also depends on their functioning regularly ..." (Drewe 1993, 344). Capital cities are both ordinary and unique, "doubly bound to be good physical environments where real people live out ordinary lives, as well as symbolically rich cities that capture the qualities a state wishes to portray to the larger world" (Milroy 1993, 86).
Several factors determine the relative importance of the political versus the administrative roles of the capital city: the size of government employment vs. private sector employment, the amount of city land devoted to government buildings, the form of the national government, its level of centralization, the economic-regulatory links between the public and private sectors, and the years that the city has hosted the national government. Differences in these factors lead to very different public-private roles of capital cities (discuss in the following section). For example, the national government's share of total employment and income dominates the younger, federal capital cities of Washington and Bonn far more than in Paris and London ˇ even if on the world stage Paris and London are no less viewed as capital cities than Washington or Bonn.
The significance of the capital city thus extends far beyond the large presence of government employees. Nations ˇ especially federal states ˇ often have large centers of national government employees outside the capital city. The United States has located federal courts, military offices and bases, mints, and many agency offices in various cities throughout the nation. This is increasingly the case in Germany as well. This decentralized pattern creates local dependencies in these towns on national government employment and contracts, especially in the defense sector (Markusen et al. 1991). When the local share of national government-dependent employment is high enough, one might call these centers, such as Los Angeles and Colorado Springs, "government cities." Yet a government city is to a capital city what a branch plant is to a corporate headquarters: the result of the spatial division of labor, with the primary decision-making in a single, central location, and the implementation/production in many locations. The capital city, despite the globalization and decentralization of economic activity, remains the center of national government affairs.
Overall, a capital city is a specific form of an "information city":
not just in its late 20th Century incarnation as a high-tech, financial
and media center (Castells 1990), but also in its older role as a center
of governmental and military information processing, of political decision-making,
of power-brokering, of census and tax gathering. "A capital is a
transactional crossroads catering to the problems and needs of vast areas
from where transients come to the capital, in more or less regular and
recurrent fashion, to transact diversified business or gather information"
(Gottmann and Harper 1990, 81). The capital has become the
huge processing center of the modern bureaucratic state ˇ with high-profile,
front-office leaders and low-paid back-office government clerical workers
ˇ analogous to the insurance, financial and legal processing found in the
private sector of contemporary "information cities." As the boundaries
between the public and private sector increasing blur, the data of this
public information city extends far beyond the traditional documents of
diplomatic treaties, military strategy and tax records to be remarkably
similar to private-sector information used by the insurance, financial
and legal businesses (such as the processing of medical, unemployment and
retirement payments, loans, interest rates and repayment schedules).
2. Theme and Variation: the Range of Capital Cities
There is a tremendous range of capital city types. At one end of the spectrum are the classic capital cities of London and Paris: long-standing centers of powerful national governments, former centers of colonial power, with strong representative architecture, and dominating the urban hierarchies of their respective nations. At the other end is a more heterogeneous set of capitals, both dominant cities of weaker nations (such as Montevideo or Djakarta), or modest, administrative-oriented capitals of powerful nations (e.g., Bonn, Ottawa, Canberra). Then there are the hybrid capitals with contradictory characteristics ˇ capital cities that are peculiar to their nation's specific history and development, such as Berlin and Washington.
A broad survey of capital cities reveals numerous defining characteristics, of which I have counted at least fifteen. Size can be a useful characteristic: the demographic size of the capital (modest Bonn versus massive Mexico City); the demographic size of the nation (Beijing versus Dublin); and the geographic size of the nation (Ottawa versus Singapore).
Then there are political characteristics: the form of national government (e.g., democratic Stockholm versus imperial Riyadh versus communist Pyongyang); and the size of the national government (e.g., Paris in highly centralized France versus Bern in decentralized Switzerland).
History plays a role: the era in which the city was created as the capital (e.g., the historical imperial capital of London versus the modern-day capital of Brasilia); relatedly, original capitals (e.g., London, Paris) versus relocated capitals (e.g., Bonn, Canberra, Brasilia, New Delhi, Ankara) versus former capitals (Constantinople, Petersburg, Calcutta, Philadelphia, Rio de Janeiro).
Capitals can be distinguished by economic features: the wealth of the nation (e.g., rich Bonn, Tokyo and Washington versus poor Mogadishu, Maputo and Dhaka); the capital as dominant economic city in the nation (e.g., Montevideo, Paris, London, Copenhagen, Mexico City and Bangkok) versus the capital as secondary city (Ottawa, Bonn, Canberra, Ankara, Bern, Pretoria, Brasilia); and the economic base of the capital city (global finance and information in London and Tokyo) versus government employment (in Ottawa and Bonn).
Geography also is a defining feature: split capitals (Amsterdam and The Hague in Holland; Pretoria and Cape Town in South Africa; La Paz and Sucre in Bolivia) versus single capitals; capitals located in the geographic center of the nation (e.g., Rome, Madrid) versus on the geographic periphery (e.g., Berlin, Moscow, Beijing, Washington); and more importantly, capitals located near central population centers and transportation corridors (e.g., London, Washington and Tokyo) vs. those that are not (e.g., Brasilia, Riyadh);
Finally, there is culture: capitals of multilingual countries (e.g., Ottawa, Bern, New Delhi and Moscow in the former USSR) versus monolingual countries (e.g., Paris); ; and relatedly, ; and capitals as historical religious centers (e.g., Rome, Jerusalem) vs. secular cities (e.g., Washington, Ottawa, Bonn). One could go on.
With so many variables, one runs the risk of developing as many factors as cases ˇ a predicament undermining useful statistical analysis because each case becomes unique. Sutcliffe warns that "[t]his search ...will be largely fruitless, for capitals vary just as much as other towns and cities" (Sutcliffe 1993, 195). The term "capital city" may itself suggest a precisely defined and standardized function, though one doesn't expect the same for the word government or state. The task of classifying all capitals might be as problematic as categorizing the nations that they govern.
Despite these variations, three crucial factors differentiate the development of capitals: the size and structure of the national government; the local and national economies; and the timing of the capital city's establishment relative to the political formation and economic development of the nation-state. In particular, cities that were capitals at the beginning of the nation-state's consolidation and urban-industrialization both built and rode this wave of national economic development. By contrast, cities that became capitals at later stages of the nation's political and economic development ("late capitals") ˇ due either to late nation-state formation or a capital relocation ˇ faced the challenge of establishing their political-economic role amidst a pre-existing network of established economic cities.
The timing here is relative: at what stage of the nation's economic development (Rostow 1963) did the capital city emerge? An older, imperial capital of a centralized nation (e.g., Paris or London) is more likely to be the dominant economic city than the relocated capital of a federated country (e.g., Ottawa, Canberra, Bonn). Capitals of late forming nation-states (e.g., Germany and Italy) tend to be less dominant in their nation's urban hierarchy than capitals of older nation-states (e.g., France or England). Early timing is not a guarantee for a capital becoming the dominant economic city, however. The case of Washington, D.C., a capital since the earliest days of industrialization in the United States in 1800 yet never a powerful industrial or commercial center, illustrates that the national political-economic structure must also be sympathetic to a dominant capital city. Likewise, "late capitals" can still be powerful economic centers. Capitals of recent European colonies, continuing their pre-independence roles as entrepots connecting hinterland to imperial markets, tend to be economically dominant, primate cities in their countries. This is also a common characteristic of South American capitals, such as Caracas (Violich 1975).
The classification of Berlin is unusually tricky, since it is hard to
unambiguously define its "timing" as capital given the city's discontinuous
history. Though an early royal seat of Brandenburg and Prussia, Berlin
can also be seen as a "late capital" (in contrast to London or Paris) because
it only became the capital of a unified nation-state in 1871 ˇ and thus
faced the challenge of establishing its political-economic dominance in
a Germany already already well on its way toward a decentralized network
of industrial and commercial cities. However, Berlin did emerge by
the early 20th Century as the largest city and economic center of the nation,
despite its late start and its geographical isolation in the northeast,
only to have its capital city role obliterated in 1945. With the
return of the capital in the year 1999, Berlin now becomes the youngest
of "late capitals." One could even create a whole new category for
Berlin: the "born-again" capital.
3. The Changing Role of Capital Cities Past, Present and Future: or, why Second German Unification in 1990 will Lead to a Fundamentally Different Berlin than the First Unification in 1871
"Capital cities are largely, if not entirely, the product of the era of nation states. .... it is the demise of great empires and the rise of the nation state which we would acknowledge as the driving force behind the proliferation of capital cities. It is worth reminding ourselves how very recent, in the longer historical term, this process is." (King 1993, 251)
"Capital cities are a product of recent times. Even the exemplary
capital Paris, which can trace its relatively unchallenged role back to
the Merowingern, only became a capital, in the sense of a concentration
of all important functions, in the modern era. The differentiation
of the political-administrative system in the early modern era, as the
old societas civilis dissolved and morality, politics, economics
and art became relatively autonomous subsystems of society, created for
the first time the need for a fixed capital city. The medieval need
for representation was still tied to persons and political positions.
Where the rulers happened to be, the land also appeared to be represented."
(Beyme 1991, 13-4)
If the modern nation-state is a relatively recent construction, so too is the capital city that administers the modern nation-state. The capital city is the spatial concentration of this modern national power in single, specific location. It reinforces the spatial division of labor between the governing (in the city) and the governed (in the hinterland). The result is a hierarchy of power among cities, with the capital city at the top. This institutional division and concentration of political power is a prerequisite to the very idea of a modern capital city. And this division continues to evolve: just as the modern capital city is fundamentally different from the pre-modern city-state, I expect that capital cities in the 21st Century ˇ including Berlin ˇ will again transform and adapt to changes in national governments, economic networks, and military strength and vulnerability.
What are the implications of this parallel development of nation states and their capitals? As nations changed their size and boundaries, their structure and tasks of government, their internal communication and transportation networks, their control over their own citizenry, and their links to the outside world, the capital city has changed in response. For European capitals, this has meant constantly changing its local urban structure to reflect the transformations of national political power: from medieval to absolutism, industrial revolution, democracy, and late 20th Century modern. World-wide, however, the developmental histories of capital cities are as varied as the development of their nations. Some capitals were early royal seats, while others were the product of modern administrative decisions. Some were power centers of colonializing imperiums, while others began as port and/or administrative cities for their colonies. The former may have peaked in population, while the latter may be booming as a post-colonial megacity (such as Mexico City). The Asian capitals, in turn, present a qualitatively different story.
The implications of this parallel development of nation state and capital
are critical for Berlin: the second German unification of 1990 will
lead to a fundamentally different capital city than the first unification
did in 1871. Critical historical moments redefine and
reconstruct a capital city's role, be it after a war, the acquisition or
loss of national territory, a revolution, a foreign occupation, a relocation
of the government seat, a technological transformation, an economic restructuring,
or a cultural shift. Capital cities are the fabrications of a specific
time and place, be it of Bismarck's German Reich or Helmut Kohl's modern-day
German Federal Republic. If the first German unification led to a
rapidly industrializing and growing metropolis with central control over
a militaristic empire in a politically unstable Europe, then the second
unification will likely lead to a deindustrializing, demilitarized capital
city with stagnant economic growth, acting as the new administrative center
over a decentralized German federation within a unified Europe.
The Rise of the Modern Capital City
Berlin boosters, arguing for a return to the glory days of Berlin's prewar past, may well lack the historical appreciation of how brief and transitory those golden days really were. To emphasize this point, it is useful to look at several transitions of capital cities in the past to see how impermanent the Berlin model of the 19th Century model really is.
The shift from city-states to nation-states illustrates this dramatic urban transformation that gave rise to the modern capital. A city-state's status was based on its military strength and economic wealth relative to other city-states; it was a self-contained and fortified entity (Burke 1986; Taylor 1995). The emerging nation-state redefined this fortified space, and the city became only part of a more complex whole. The nation-state forced a sharp distinction between the city and the state. The strength of the new capital derived not just from the wealth and military strength inside the city's ramparts, but also from its land and resources in the national hinterlands outside the city fortifications. If a city-state's strategic task was to defend its own boundaries, the capital city had to administer the larger territories far beyond the city boundaries. The rise of the absolutist nation-state therefore transformed the military role of the the capital city from a fortified military location to a broader demonstration of the political power and symbolic centrality of the capital (Beyme 1991, 25). In Berlin this was the transition from its brief membership in the Hanseatic League of trading cities to its role as the seat of the Mark Brandenburg, then Prussia, and finally the German Reich ˇ each larger than the previous. The shift from city-state to nation-state also forced a shift in the loyalty of citizens: "the state rules and commands personal 'citizen' identity, the city has minimal political power and its 'citizens' having first loyalty to state not city" (Taylor 1995, 55).
With this territorial expansion came a growing political hierarchy of cities, with the capital city at its apex. This expansion also transformed the geopolitical power of a capital city from the concrete to the abstract: the city's wealth and military might were not simply a concrete source of power, but also a symbolic representation of the larger power of the nation. The size of buildings, monuments and streets not only demonstrated the specific size and wealth of the city, but also served as a proxy, suggesting the size and wealth of the nation as a whole. This allowed for the citizen and the visitor alike to grasp the size and wealth of the growing nation simply through a tour of the capital, its museums, libraries, barracks, parks and prisons. This representation was not always accurate: national leaders could often build false facades to cover the real workings of the national government (such as the image Hitler cast to the world at the 1936 summer Olympics in Berlin that didn't reveal the uglier side of Nazism). Or leaders may build preposterously large buildings, avenues and monuments in the capital city to exaggerate the sense of importance of the nation and hide poverty in the hinterlands (such as in communist Eastern Europe or in poor African countries such as Zaire). The capital-as-façade is analogous to a puffadder snake or a pufferfish, each swelling their bodies to ward off predators.
The path towards the modern capital city also led to an increasingly complex and differentiated city and state apparatus. While in the late Middle Ages there was a relatively simple state apparatus with the royal palace and its courts, by the 17th Century capital cities became the center of absolute royal authority (Sutcliffe 1993, 198), and even more complexity in the modern era. Eventually, four institutions emerged in the capital city to threaten the monopoly of power exercised by the royal leaders: the state bureaucracy, the capital city's municipal government, organized religion, and the emerging business elite.
The first was the bureaucracy. The rise of a semi-autonomous bureaucracy (later examined by Max Weber) transformed the capital city by creating a counterbalance to the absolute, centralized power residing in the palace. The emerging separation of the royal court from the government administrators meant that the various elements of the nation-state ˇ leadership, administration, wealth, military command, political legitimacy, symbolism ˇ were no longer synonymous, but were increasingly separated and dispersed throughout the various buildings of the capital city. Buildings housing parliament, their staff, ministries, and other state bureaucratic agencies would now stand along side the palace as centers and symbols of national power. Whereas one once spoke of the palace grounds, with the rise of the modern capital city one now spoke of the "government district" as the definitive landscape of the 20th Century capital city.
A second element of the capital city's growing complexity was the increased differentiation between local and national interests. Municipal and national institutions competed for space at the city center and for control over political and economic affairs. While the nation-state constructed additional bureaucratic, parliamentary and symbolic buildings, the municipal government also expanded its role and physical presence in the capital city's built environment. In Berlin and other capitals, the palace and the city hall sat juxtaposed, representing the sometimes conflicting relationship between local and national power (discussed later in this chapter).
A third division in the capital city, one with a long history, emerged out of the competition between religion and the state. This relationship evolved into various forms, from coexistence and collaboration to competition, hostility and repression, and often expressed itself through spatial separation of the two power centers. As far back as ancient Athens, the Acropolis and the Agora stood juxtaposed as the spiritual center removed from the political, social and cultural center (Antoniou 1994, 12). The spatial arrangement of church and state in Rome is the wholly separate enclave of Vatican City, a country of only 109 acres, within the capital city to house the nation's dominant religion. In medieval London, Henry VIII altered the state-religion relationship by creating the Church of England and thereby granting more autonomy to the state. In Moscow, the Soviet Union appropriated the Kremlin, the citadel for the church, and redefined it as the seat of government. The case of Jerusalem is likely the most problematic juxtaposition of religion and politics, in which the city's disputed status as capital of Israel is largely due to its role as a sacred place for three religions. Though organized religion plays a distinctly marginal role in Berlin's contemporary power structure, in the past the state's approach toward religion has defined the extremes of tolerance and terror, from welcoming thousands of Huguenot refugees from France in 1685 to planning the genocide of European Jews in the 1930s and 1940s.
The fourth division was the growing separation of political and economic power. As capital cities developed more autonomous economic bases generated by massive urbanization, industrialization and commercial trading, the emerging capital and middle classes became an increasingly influential power base in capital cities. This was accompanied by the rise of personal and property rights (Sutcliffe 1993, 198). The result was that the national government no longer held a monopoly of influence over the city's development. The new factories, banks and corporate headquarters rose up to compete with the architectural symbols of the nation-state. The capital city now not only represented the military and political power of the nation, but increasingly the economic development power of the nation (Beyme 1991, 25). (In some cases, this growing influence of commercial activities in the capital would eventually lead some national leaders, such as in 20th Century Brazil, to relocate the government to a new, less threatening location.) Government intervention was increasingly oriented towards directing the dynamism of private enterprise and development, creating a new relationship between the government and the private sector. In Berlin, the increasing importance and autonomy of the middle class outside the Prussian (and later German imperial) government transformed the capital city in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Berlin's emerging reputation as a Weltstadt (world city) by the 20th Century had as much to do with its newly dominant economic and cultural status as with its political function as capital city.
These various transformations led to a twentieth century capital city
that was as different from its medieval counterpart as the modern nation-state
was to its predecessors of kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities and empires.
The movements towards democracy, decentralization, federalism, late capitalism
and internationalism have left their mark on the seats of government.
Whereas once the palace dome and the church spire dominated the capital
city skyline, later came the tower of the town hall, the industrial smokestack,
the waterfront warehouses, commercial skyscrapers and television towers.
With the growth of the modern nation-state capital also came a new and
enlarged built environment for the capital.
The Transformation of Capitals in the 20th Century
If the path to the modern, 20th Century capital city was one of tremendous expansion, differentiation and complexity, it also has led to the decline of the capital's traditional centrality and dominance. Though contemporary capital cities are still often symbolic, political and economic centers, much of the writing on capitals suggest a past heyday that corresponded to a perceived peak in the nation-state (Sutcliffe 1993, 199). One break point was certainly the aftermath of the First World War, which toppled three monarchies in Europe (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia), eliminating the identity of the capitals of Berlin, Vienna and Petersburg as absolutist royal seats. The crisis of doubt and stability in European nation-states after the war was reflected in their capitals, even as dictators perversely deployed neoclassical architectural symbols to reinforce militaristic nationalism. Postwar Vienna would never regain its Fin-de-siecle status as a vibrant modern metropolis (Schorske 1981). The Hapsburg capital on the Danube would further cede its historical status as the leading Germanic city to the German capital on the Spree. Yet Berlin's explosive emergence as a definitive modern capital city would fall to calamity before achieving any stable maturity. Though post-World War One Berlin has been glorified for its cultural and industrial innovations, it too could not escape the crisis of the post-1918 period: its last 26 years as capital were of a fragile, tenuous democracy that fell in 1933 to the National Socialists (Friedrich 1972).
For many, Paris would remain the quintessential model of this peak capital
city era. "Napoleon III and Haussmann rebuilt Paris exactly at the
moment when Paris could readily be seen as the epitome of the modern capital.
Railways made it more accessible, and the international exhibitions, beginning
in 1855, showed that the French government wanted to take full advantage
of its potential. From the 1860s, other capitals began to copy Paris,
or at least covet its features. .... Paris would
remain the exemplar until after the Second World War, when the physical
example of New York, and the largely theoretical ideal of the Modern Movement,
displaced Haussmann's Paris in favour of a capital city of towers and autoroutes."
(Sutcliffe 1993, 207). This suggests a certain incompatibility between
modernism and the traditional capital city ideal. One could view
Le Corbusier's urban renewal plan to replace the 19th Century Paris cityscape
with modernist high-rise boxes not just as a rejection of the traditional
for the modern (Fishman 1977; Hall 1988), but also as a rejection of the
old form of the monumental capital for an emerging, secular model of capital
city. If Corbusier's towers in the park were "machines for modern
living," then his plan for Paris could be seen as machines for modern governing,
where power was expressed through a belief in the centralized authority
of technological and administrative rationality. In the end, Corbusier's
vision for the French capital may have been no more accurate than Jules
Verne's science fiction vision of 1960 Paris, written a century before
(Verne 1996). The failure of Corbusier's ambitious plans suggests
that if the classical capital city ideal was to be replaced, it would be
by something other than the modernist grid and box.
Capitals at the end of the 20th Century
"The present era is characterized by a rapid evolution of technology, of economic and social circumstances, which is bound to cause substantial changes in capital cities in most cases." (Gottmann and Harper 1990, 79)
Capital cities have evolved into very different cities than they were a century ago. The old monopoly of power and authority of capital cities is threatened on two fronts. From below, federal systems of government decentralized power from the national capital to regional centers. This has also taken the form of population decentralization efforts in many nations after 1945 (Hall 1993, 79). From above, the rise of supranational institutions (the European Union, the United Nations, NATO, etc.) has added a level of political power above that of nation-states, and thus above capital cities. The current anti-government mood in some countries also threatens the dominance of capital cities: "Capital cities thrive on dirigisme [economic planning and control by the state]: when decision making by policy makers is replaced by that of scattered consumer choices, the sites of the former planners and allocators lose influence and become less relevant. ...'the new pluralism' may impinge on the place of capital cities in the lives of communities" (Meisel 1993, 4). In addition, capital cities have been affected by the more general decentralization of urban populations to suburban areas.
Economic changes also threaten the traditional role of capital cities. International economic markets now make global cities a command-and-control center for a kind of empire building that both supplements and undermines the traditional role of capital cities in national empire building. The shift from manufacturing to services as the foundation of urban economies has also affected capital cities and their relationship to other cities in the nation. This economic restructuring has transformed the traditional distinction between industrial cities and capital cities (in German, between the Industriestadt and the Residenzstadt). If the castle was the symbolic center of the feudal system and the factory was the center of the industrial era, then the new centers of late modern cities are the banks, corporate headquarters and other urban towers. The contrast now is between the global city and the capital city. In some cases these functions are served by two distinct cities (such as New York and Washington), but elsewhere these functions have converged in one city (Tokyo, London, Paris).
For Berlin, both this globalization and deindustrialization are troubling: Frankfurt has surpassed Berlin as the international financial center of Germany, while Berlin continues to suffer from massive job loss in its antiquated manufacturing base. Furthermore, the decentralization and downsizing of German federal employment means that growth in public sector employment in Berlin after the year 1999 will not be able to make up for the loss of manufacturing jobs.
The future of capital cities is therefore a mixed picture. The advanced service orientation of post-industrial nations undermines capitals with strong manufacturing dependencies, yet it may actually benefit other capitals with strong private sector advanced services (such as London and Tokyo). The administrative functions and skills of a capital city overlap with the work of the advanced services in the private sector, making for potentially useful public-private synergies in capital cities ˇ just as there were symbiotic relationships between private manufacturing and the military, infrastructure and consumer needs of the state in the 19th Century capital city.
But there is also a footlooseness to private-sector services that may
also foreshadow the future geography of government administration as well.
If, as some have argued, we are coming into a space of flows rather than
a space of places (Castells 1996), and if the network is more important
than the node, then the geography of political power could shift from a
nodal center (the fortress, the palace, the Baroque capital city) to the
network (the institutional and infrastructural connections between a decentralized
The End of Capital Cities?
At the extreme, is a single point capital really necessary anymore? One could imagine a new political geography beyond the very traditional notion of political power being physically concentrated in one urban center. Echoing the rise of the virtual office and the virtual corporation, a government could maintain its institutional centralization yet be spatially ubiquitous. The "virtual capital" would have an electronic parliament or congress, with direct representation from the localities. The scenario is a non-place capital city: a nation without a capital city, but rather with a spatially decentralized network of political administration and control. The logical conclusion would be direct democracy through the Internet, leading not to the Marxian notion of the state withering away, but rather to the withering away of the capital city. The World Wide Web would replace the World City.
Ironically, this could signal a return to the Alexandrian model of the capital city, as opposed to the Platonic model that stressed the need for a single location. Alexander the Great, when asked where he wanted the capital of his empire to be, "is reported to have spread his hand on a map and used his fingers to point to a variety of directions..." indicating that he did not want a single location (Gottmann and Harper 1990, 29; Laponce 1993, 412). If the Platonic model defines the modern capital, then the Alexandrian could define the postmodern.
Despite the theoretical appeal of this provocative hypothesis, however, the virtual capital will not likely replace Washington, London, Berlin or Tokyo anytime soon. History reminds us that enthusiastic postwar predictions of technologically-driven radical decentralization were eventually countered by forces of recentralization. Centrality is reconstituted, even if in a dramatically different spatial arrangement. The more likely scenario for the capital city of the twenty-first century is a hybrid of a single pole of centralized functions and decentralized administrative networks: that is, a hybrid governmental space of central place and flows. Patterns of this can already be seen in federal countries such as Germany and the United States, where district courts, regional offices, decentralized research centers and agencies conduct government work outside the capital city.
This hybrid space is even more pronounced in the private sector. Large firms no longer need to be completely housed under one roof in one community, but rather may have sites world-wide (Massey 1984). However, despite multiple locations with multiple plants and research and distribution centers, there is still usually a single headquarters. Similarly, the rise of technoburbs, edge cities, greenfield sites in remote locations, and international out-sourcing has not eliminated the need for centralization of administration and ready access to business services, often located in major metropolitan centers (including global cities).
By analogy, one can imagine continued decentralization of certain government functions (such as the current effort to shift authority from the federal to the state level in the United States). Yet the capital city will still be the center of power and administration. Networking will not likely eliminate the need for a single, permanent meeting point (e.g., a parliament house) for elected representatives, just as the rise of electronic trading and NASDAQ has not eliminated the need for the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street. As two variants of "information cities," both capital cities and global cities retain powerful centripetal forces that reinforce the persistent clustering of political and economic power in single locations.
In fact, the benefits of agglomeration are arguably more powerful in the government sector than in any private sector. The reasons are many: face-to-face contact, the human element of special-interest lobbying, the non-standardized process innovation of political work, and the fear that geographic isolation leads to loss of political influence. All these centripetal forces of political power would all undermine efforts to create a virtual capital. One is far more likely to witness the rise of the virtual market, the virtual corporation or the virtual university than the virtual government.
ŢThese trends lead back to the historical challenge facing Berlin:
Is the city's legacy as a centralized imperial capital following the first
German unification in 1871 still a relevant model for the capital after
the second German unification of 1990? The short answer is no.
(Chapter 8 provides a longer answer.) One hundred years ago,
Berlin's power base was built upon a centralized state, massive government-mandated
transportation infrastructure (canal, rail, auto, air), a large military
presence, massive immigration-fed urbanization, military victories against
its European neighbors, and dominance in manufacturing (e.g., Siemens electronics),
finance and culture. The new Germany is a decentralized federation
with a pronounced dispersal of economic power throughout many German cities
(Frankfurt, Munich, Hamburg, Cologne, Stuttgart, Düsseldorf,
and so on). Though Berlin will not be threatened any time soon by
the establishment of a "virtual German capital," the postwar model of Bonn
as a "modest administrative capital" is as relevant for Berlin as its own
19th Century model of the "imperial capital".
4. The Capital City as Expression and Symbol of the Nation-State
"Clan and tribal groups have existed since the earth was inhabited by
human beings; nations have existed for only 200 years or so.
It is not difficult to see the difference. Ethnic groups come into
being semi-spontaneously, or 'of their own accord'; nations are consciously
created, and are often quite artificial entities, which cannot cohere without
a specific ideology. This ideological foundation, together with its
rituals and emblems (flags, anthems), originated in the nineteenth century.
From Europe to North America, it has spread over the whole world.
.... A country that wants to succeed as a nation needs a well-coded
self-consciousness, its own system of institutions (army , customs and
excise, diplomatic corps) and numerous legal means of demarcating its boundaries
(sovereignty, citizenship, passports). It is rarely managed without
historical legends. If necessary, proof of a glorious past is forged,
venerable traditions dreamed up. Usually the more artificial a nation's
genesis, the more precarious and hysterical its national feeling.
That holds true for the 'overdue nations' of Europe ˇŢthe new states
which emerged from the colonial system ˇ as well as for forced unions like
the former USSR and Yugoslavia, which have a tendency towards disintegration
and civil war." (Enzensberger 1992, 18)
"...the modern nation, either as a state or as a body of people aspiring
to form such a state, differs in size, scale and nature from the actual
communities with which human beings have identified over most of history,
and makes quite different demands on them. It is, in Benedict Anderson's
useful phrase, an 'imagined community," and no doubt this can be made to
fill the emotional void left by the retreat of disintegration, or the unavailability
of real human communities and networks, but the question still remains
why, having lost real communities, people should wish to imagine this particular
type of replacement." (Hobsbawn 1990, 46)
Capital cities: the tangible location of the national "imagined community"
Capital cities serve complex symbolic functions. They make the large nation-state more readily accessible by translating the vast state structure that lies beyond immediate human comprehension into the more tangible community-scale of the capital city. Though capitals may not be typical of the average city in the nation, they do serve as a link between the nation-state as an abstraction and the local experiences of the nation's citizens. Capital cities arise as the replacement for the lost city-state community. And for the actual residents of the capital city, this role creates particularly complex identities; capital city dwellers are most acutely reminded of their "dual citizenship" to both city and nation.
Before the modern nation-state, one could not envision a capital city in tribal culture; one could only distinguish between the village and the outlying areas (or between the tribal leader's house and other houses). Only with the expansion of the lands controlled by one individual or group does the idea of a central location of power arise. The shift from tribal/clan to nation-state gives birth to the idea of a capital city. Paradoxically, the greater expansion of lands leads to the greater need for a centralized place of control, just as the greater globalization of the economy leads to the increased importance of concentrated urban centers (global cities) to manage (and exploit) this global network. Just as in the economic sphere, patterns of diffusion and concentration develop simultaneously in political networks.
Benedict Anderson's influential concept of the "imagined community" identifies the challenge for nation-states: the nation is too large to allow for direct human ties to create a sense of a coherent group identity and belonging; as a replacement, national allegiance derives from a collective imagination of the nation. National institutions, rituals and symbols facilitate and enforce this imagined community (Anderson 1983).
We can extend this analysis to include the capital city as a central element to reinforce this imagined community. It is the one city that is to represent all cities of the nation. The capital is simultaneously the location of innovation (ideology), production (politics) and presentation (the stage) of this national identity. This role has many facets: representatives from the hinterland come to the capital to represent their localities, but they also come back to their localities to represent the nation-state. National museums gather the symbols of each region and bring them together in the capital to create a common, though often simply conglomerate, image of the nation. National universities attract the best and the brightest students. (Though, significantly, the best universities in the U.S. and some other countries are outside the capital, emphasizing instead the seclusion of the "city on the hill".) With the rise of mass media, the capital increasingly has served as the backdrop for broadcasts to the nation ˇ regardless of whether, like Walter Benjamin, one sees this new technology as aiding democracy, or instead, like Horkheimer and Adorno, as undermining it through mass deception.
The capital not only represents a common identity, but also represents
the apex of the nation-state: in being the central city, rather than
just one city among many equals, it thus stresses the power hierarchy and
centrality of the nation-state. In some countries this hierarchy
extends to the lifestyles of capital city residents: Parisians and
Londoners are seen as the trend-setters of their national cultures in fashion,
residential architecture, culture, and professional lives. That most
Americans do not look to Washington for the same cultural and intellectual
leadership is telling of the peculiar link between urban life and national
identity in the United States.
The capital city as a manipulated image of the nation-state
"In democratic communities the imagination is compressed when men consider
themselves; it expands indefinitely when they think of the state.
Hence it is that the same men who live on a small scale in cramped dwellings
frequently aspire to gigantic splendor in the erection of their public
monuments." Alexis de Tocqueville, 1840
It would be quite convenient for the scholar were the capital city a simple, direct extension of the nation: as goes the nation, so too goes the capital. One would conveniently read the national character in the architecture and culture of its capital.
But the actual relationship between capital and nation is undoubtedly not so simple. One would be misled if one tried to use a capital city as a proxy of national character, if there is even such a measurable concept as national identity. As Sutcliffe warns, "[t]his perception is largely a product of journalism or foreigners' tittle-tattle, and is neither scientific nor objective" (Sutcliffe 1993, 195). There is no direct-drive mechanism that couples the structure of the nation-state to the functioning of the capital. They are intentionally manipulated places that either demonstrate the best of the nation or put forth an inaccurate, opportunistic façade. Capitals are representations of the nation, but not necessarily representative.
This messy relationship, however, makes for a more interesting story. The capital-nation relationship is complex and contested, ever the more so in large capital cities like London, Berlin and Rome where the national government is only one of many forces shaping the city. The state cannot always control completely the culture, local politics and urban identity of its capital, for as we saw in the previous section, competing institutions of the state bureaucracy, local business elites, religion, local government and local social movements also shape the city. Even in supposedly planned, controlled capital cities, the government often cannot fully contain the inevitably willful forces of urbanism that take the city in a different direction. Architects and national leaders may have big, pure plans for their capital cities, realized in government buildings, streets and monuments arranged in an idealized geometry. Yet the citizenry moves in with their very different concepts of city living and transform the place to fit their material and social needs. This was seen in Brasilia, , far from the urban pressures of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, where even the best modernist plans could not shun out the "unplanned": the rise of persistent squatter settlements on the margins of the capital. Despite the most vigorous efforts, capital cities cannot completely escape the economic and social realities of the nation.
The capital, in turn, is not always an accurate reflection or proxy of the politics and beliefs of the nation, its rulers or its citizens. Instead, the capital can in effect be a façade, a Hollywood set that intentionally presents an altered view of the nation: be it distorted, sanitized, exaggerated or overly grandiose. The capital city can even intentionally present an overly modest view, such as in the case of postwar Bonn (to calm Allied fears of German imperial strength) or Bern (to be more tolerant of Switzerland's multinational state) (Laponce 1993, 408-9). Intentional government image-making creates this discrepancy between national identity and the capital city. The capital is as much an ideological, normative representation of the nation-state as it is an objective one. Just as one cannot trust a temporary national pavilion at a world's fair to be an accurate cross-section of the nation, one cannot trust a permanent capital city to be so.
This discrepancy between capital and nation also arises from a basic
cultural clash between the cosmopolitan and the provincial: the capital
is often the largest city and has an aberrant culture that is both appealing
and unsavory to the rest of the nation. The capital city, due to
its international position as a center of economic and cultural activity,
is often exceptional and unrepresentative of the nation's cities.
One would gain a revealing though statistically inaccurate portrait of
Holland by simply extrapolating ones experience of Amsterdam. The
same would apply to Washington, Mexico City, Berlin, and the majority of
The capital facing inward and outward
This representation grows even more complicated due to conflicting priorities of domestic and international interests. Hans-Magnus Enzensberger warned that "[e]xternal and self-ascription can never be made to coincide" (Enzensberger 1992, 19). If a capital city has the dual function of representing the nation to itself and to the outside world, these two images can be quite different. The Nazi government faced this dual challenge of domestic and international image-making during the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. After the wall fell in 1989, one could sense a chasm between the view from inside and outside: Germans viewed the capital city debate quite differently than the Americans, British and other outside observers. Many of the fears expressed about a return to Berlin, especially by western Germans, were simply not seen as an issue by those outside Germany.
This double-message of the capital can reflect the tension between an open and closed international stance: the capital city needs to promote domestic nationalism, but it also has to reach out internationally, both in economic and diplomatic circles. This is especially important in capital cities with powerful roles in the global economy (such as London, Paris and Tokyo, and historically Berlin), where there are two competing forces: the force of globalization that cuts across nations, and the force of the national government preserving the nation.
The result is that a capital city faces an increasingly complex challenge
of negotiating internal and international forces. Analogous to the
thorny challenge of a country attempting at the same time to promote
international free-trade and yet still protect domestic capital, labor
markets and wages, a capital city is faced with the task of both preserving
and defending the national identity to its citizens and presenting an open,
internationalist face to the rest of the world. This tension shows
in the ambivalent way a capital ˇ and the nation at large ˇŢhandles foreigners.
Berlin, Washington and many other large capitals are hosts to at least
three classes of foreigners: the feted diplomat, the credit-card
carrying tourist and the lowly immigrant worker. The differential
treatment these groups receive illustrates the tension between the capital's
two roles: an open "world city" versus the defender of national
citizenship and its privileges. Anthony King argues that the
most successful capital city will be one that can balance these national
and international forces, combining "the symbols of its national past with
representations of the rapidly emerging conditions of contemporary globality"
(King 1993, 276).
The Capital as the Best (and the Worst) of the Nation
Capitals not only represent the best of the nation, but sometimes symbolize the worst. Buildings, monuments and institutions in the capital city can be the target of hate, fear, and oppression, such as the Bastille in imperial Paris, the Gestapo Headquarters in Nazi Berlin, the KGB Headquarters in Soviet Moscow, and the wall in communist East Berlin. The capital can alienate the citizens, who turn their back to the capital, or protest the capital. "Capitals are prizes, but they can also be the objects of distrust. When people are estranged from the capital that is its symbol. If this is the case, urban planning, wide vistas and impressive buildings are not a solution. On the contrary, they serve as symbols and rallying places for the antisystem protesters" (Covell 1993, 191). This protest is not limited to capitals of undemocratic nations. Many Americans have turned their mistrust of the federal government, urban life, minority groups and the social welfare state into a paternalistic neglect or criticism of their capital in Washington. Likewise, many western Germans turned their unease with cosmopolitan culture, East Germans, and their nation's past into an opposition to Berlin regaining the role of capital during the 1990s . Berlin is an extreme case of a capital that alternates between glorification and vilification.
The citizens' stance towards the capital can go even beyond alienation
to open hostility. At this extreme, the capital must defend the nation
against internal threats of rebellion, revolution and civil wars ˇ in addition
to external threat of war, invasion and occupation. The capital city
is contested symbolic terrain, for it both sends images out as the state
tries to idealize itself, and it is a place where organized and disparate
groups come and demonstrate to shape their image of the capital.
Baron Haussmann's planned his street designs for Paris in the 19th Century
both to represent the political-economic power of the national government
and to hinder rebellions in the capital city. If the capital is an
ideological stage of the nation-state, then the national government does
not have complete choreographic control over the actors, and oftentimes
the audience tries to rush the stage. The goal of complete control
over the projected image the capital city is therefore both elusive and
dangerous. Though in a democratic state this communication is supposed
to go both ways, often states have tried to limit it to outgoing communication.
Beyme sees the palace balcony as the symbol of this one-way communication:
"Dictators have always preferred to use the balcony, especially when they
were great orators, such as Mussolini at Palazzo Venezia in Rome.
An Ecuadorian president, four times overthrown by the military, was apparently
to have said laconically after the fourth time, 'Give me a balcony, and
I will win the next election.'" (Beyme 1991, 37).
The gap between architecture and social planning in capital cities
"The capital supposedly represents the nation, yet the nation is not
represented by the social and ethnic composition of the capital:
ethnic minorities, single women, the elderly, the poor, single parents
and the disadvantaged. The monuments and images of the capital are
consumed by the tourist gaze." (King 1993, 266)
If one role of the capital city is to be a façade for the ideological
projections of the nation-state, then urban planning for the capital often
overemphasizes architectural representation rather than needed, substantive
social planning (Eldredge 1975, 512). This shortcoming parallels
the criticism of the City Beautiful movement of the turn-of-the-century,
which stressed the role of aesthetics, neoclassical architecture and civic
pride in cities while neglecting social issues of housing and poverty
(Foglesong 1986; Wilson 1989). It is no coincidence that the City
Beautiful Movement originated in European imperial capitals such as Paris
and Vienna, or that some elements of this movement were used by Albert
Speer and other totalitarian architects in Europe of the 1930s (Hall 1988,
Ch. 6). This periodic fixation with architecture over social planning
in capital cities has also afflicted some of the contemporary capital planning
for Berlin: often the debate over the relocation of the capital to
Berlin has paid more attention to obscure symbolic interpretations of architectural
designs for government buildings than to the substance of policies that
will be made within those same buildings. This arguably reflects
an antiquated, absolutist notion of the capital city, in which the
priority of capital city planning is to architecturally visualize the idea
of national power. The architectural debate in contemporary Berlin
is in part whether the city's buildings should be a massive monument to
the power of the state (Conradi 1997). An alternative is to see capital
city planning as merely the means to facilitate democracy and pluralism
in the workings of the national government (Beyme 1991, 23). The
role of capital city planning is therefore not simply to impress and intimidate
through monumental buildings, but rather to build an accessible capital
that serves as an effective forum for democratic political debate.
5. The local political structure of national capitals
A capital is the seat of the national government and a representation
of national power and culture. But it is also a city in its own right,
with a local culture and municipal political structure. This local
government typically operates in the shadow of the national government,
with more restricted powers and resources than those enjoyed by other cities.
Sometimes collaborating with the larger and more powerful national government
when interests coincide, the municipality usually loses battles when local
and national interests conflict. This local-national tension leads
to two common disputes in capital cities. First, how much power and
autonomy should the local government have in capital cities?
Second, how should conflicts between local and national interests be resolved
How much local autonomy? the territorial-administrative status of the capital city
The territorial administration of capital cities varies across countries, with at least three arrangements: (1) a separate, special administrative district; (2) dual status as city and province (or federal state); and (3) equal status with other cities in the nation.
The first model is the American approach toward Washington, D.C., established in 1800 as a separate administrative district outside the regular territorial organization of the nation. This arrangement, based on the belief two centuries ago that the new national government, rather than any single state, should have direct control over the capital, would have debilitating consequences for the 20th Century city. As a separate district, Washington has drastically limited fiscal powers and national political representation, which is exacerbated by the small size of the district (69 square miles) ˇ more than adequate to house most government buildings (though not the Pentagon), but certainly too small to contain a large capital metropolis. (By contrast, Berlin is ca. 347 square miles large.) Home rule is currently restricted; even without these restrictions, home rule has been ineffectual without adequate local control over resources and access to power. One solution to the district's plight would be its reincorporation into either neighboring Maryland or Virginia, though each would likely oppose this absorption, fearing that such an annexation would bring more problems than benefits, more government expenses than revenues, and more headaches than prestige.
The second model is the capital as both a city and a province of the federation. This is the current situation of Berlin, which is both a Stadt (city) and a Bundesland (federal province). This is a hybrid arrangement, in which the capital both is integrated into the federal allocation of power (as a province of its own), and receives the elevated status of a city-state (though in Germany there are two other city-states, Hamburg and Bremen, both legacies of the Hanseatic League). Such an arrangement gives the capital city residents a voice in the national political process through their federal-state system, though such city-states can also suffer the fiscal problems of a city politically separate from its larger economic hinterland.
The third model is for the capital to be treated like any other city and be part of a larger province. This is the arrangement for the current capital of Bonn, which is both a city and part of the larger BundeslandŢ(province) of Nordrhein-Westfalen. This arrangement avoids the political and fiscal isolation suffered by capitals that are separate federal districts. It also aligns the fate of the capital city directly to the surrounding province, making the funding of the capital as much a regional as a national issue. This capital city-region alliance was seen in the 1991 capital city debate in the German Parliament, in which politicians from Nordrhein-Westfalen, including its minister Johannes Rau, strongly lobbied for Bonn (Herles 1991, 82-6).
What determines which of these three models a nation will pursue? The internal political structure of the nation (including the level of centralization) certainly plays a central role. But a capital city's territorial-administrative arrangement, like the location of the capital city itself, is also the product of chance, historical legacies, the relative political and economic power of the capital city, and the balance of power between regional and national political force. Efforts to shift this balance of power between the local, regional and national levels often lead to changes in the administrative structure of the capital city. In 1995, leaders in Berlin and the surrounding province of Brandenburg attempted to unite the two provinces ˇ and thus shift from the second to the third model of capital cities. This union would have brought greater scale economies and coordination between the capital city and its hinterland in areas of transportation planning, open space preservation, recreation, education, social policy and other areas. The voters of the larger but less populated and poorer Brandenburg vetoed this proposal, fearing that their interests would be lost in the union with the wealthier and more powerful Berlin (Heiser 1996; The Economist 1995).
No one arrangement is inherently better than the other two. Rowat argues that "... federal districts are particularly appropriate in decentralized federations, where the sharp division of powers between the central and state governments would otherwise prevent the central government from having adequate control over its own capital" (Rowat 1993, 166-7). Yet the case of Washington shows the shortcomings of separate federal districts when government support for the capital is weak ˇ especially for a highly segregated capital city with a large underclass. By contrast, West Germany was able to exert adequate control over its capital in Bonn even though the city was part of the Nordrhein-Westfalen province. In addition, the current German government has been able to assert its interests in the design of the new government district in the heart of Berlin over the interests of the Berlin city-state and its neighborhood districts.
In the end, capital cities administered as unique, separate national districts (such as Mexico City, D.F.) do best if there is strong national support for the capital, if the city has a strong, revenue-generating local economy, if the capital can build a solid middle/upper-middle class base of highly skilled people, and if the city can tap into the resources of the surrounding suburban hinterlands. The lesson from the American case demonstrates the dangers when these conditions are not present. The main sources of Washington's woes are not the lack of statehood or its inability to fiscally benefit from its Maryland and Virginia commuter hinterlands; these are as much byproduct as cause. Rather, the capital suffers from federal neglect, an American anti-urbanism, and persistent urban-suburban racism: that is, from a fundamental lack of national commitment to the nation's capital. To be more precise: though there is a national commitment to Washington in the narrow sense of maintaining the necessary conditions for a functioning national government center, there is not a broader national commitment to adequately supporting the city, its struggling municipal institutions, and its more vulnerable residents.
The implication for Berlin's future is that the specific territorial-administrative
arrangement and boundaries of the capital city, including renewed efforts
to merge with Brandenburg, will affect the city's economic viability and
political autonomy. More importantly, however, is for Berlin to gain
and sustain broad political and economic support ˇ no small challenge in
this difficult period of chronic deindustrialization, persistently high
unemployment, fiscal shortfalls and the continued costs of modernizing
The local and the national: a conflict of interests in the capital city
"In the medieval West, towns developed not just as ecologically distinctive
settings, as dense settlements of people attending to specifically urban
productive and commercial pursuits, but also as politically autonomous
entities. Their autonomy was often gained against the expressed opposition
and visible resistance either of the territorial ruler and his representatives
(frequently bishops in Italy and Germany), or of the feudal element, or
of both. .... Thus the ascent of the towns marked the entrance
of a new political force into a system of rule thus far dominated, at whatever
level, by the two partners in the lord-vassal relation.
... the towns typically asserted themselves ˇ or reasserted themselves,
after centuries of decay and abandon ˇ in a way that was novel, if not
utterly unprecedented, in that it involved the creation or political reactivation
of centers of solitary action by singly powerless individuals.
The towns thus claimed rights that were corporate in nature, i.e., that
attached to individuals only by virtue of their membership in a constituted
collectivity capable of operating as a unitary entity." (Poggi
Municipal governments of capital cities typically must struggle to gain legitimacy, resources and autonomy in a city where the national government is so dominant. The national government not only asserts its power when its interests directly conflict with the local government, but it often intervenes in local issues even when there is no clear national interest (Rowat 1993, 152-3). "Capital city governments appeared to chafe under inadequate power to manage their own affairs and despite national government interest ... they have had to battle against other national priorities for the muscle to get physical things of local import actually carried out" (Eldredge 1975, 510).
Even in a city such as Paris, seen as the prototype of a dominant, supremely centralized capital city with enormous power, the city government still often acts in opposition to its national rulers (Gottmann and Harper 1990, 69). This conflict crosses ideological boundaries, and affected the former communist capitals such as Moscow, where the city competed with the military, industry and other priorities (Eldredge 1975, 510).
This local-national conflict is not new. "To be a capital was only a partial gain for its citizens. In the conflict between local autonomy and royal power, the cities usually came up short. Only in bishops seats was it more common that the bishop could not prevail over the rebellious citizens and relocated his residence to the countryside: from Cologne to Bonn, from Augsburg to Dillingen, from Speyer to Bruchsal." (Beyme 1991, 15-6). Even before the modern nation-state, cities and towns evolved into an increasingly powerful and autonomous economic force that competed with the strength of other centers of power. City walls and an urban militia sustained the town's growing economic strength. Hobsbawn notes that "Frederick the Great indignantly refused the offer of his loyal Berliners to help him defeat the Russians who were about to occupy his capital, on the ground that wars were the business of soldiers, not civilians" (Hobsbawn 1990, 75).
This relationship also shapes a distinctly different local identity of the capital's residents, who experience locally the national government on a daily basis. They see the working of the government from the back stage as well as from the perspective of the national audience, giving the capital city residents not only a more intimate view of the national government, but also a closer look at the discrepancies between government structure and government façade. For residents of the capital, it requires no great imaginative powers to envision the "imagined community" of the nation-state, as these residents encounter the national monuments, buildings, statues, parks and sculpture avenues in the daily lifes. However, capital city residents may paradoxically also experience the greatest disparity between this imagined community and their own daily community of neighborhood and municipality, especially when the residents sense that these national façades are intended for outside consumption rather than their own.
One should, however, be careful not to simply view the relationship between the city and the national government as simply a case of the local David and the national Goliath. The capital can be both victim and beneficiary of its position in the nation. Each capital city would require its own cost-benefit analysis to determine whether there is a fair distribution of costs between the national government and the local government. Even if such a cost-benefit analysis were possible to calculate, the resulting balance would likely only measure fiscal and economic impacts, and not address the larger social and political impacts of hosting the national government. The result is that it is very hard to either measure or achieve "a just balance between the interests of the local residents and the interests of the nation" (Rowat 1993, 165). As noted by Paquet, "[t]he locals complain about the national and international constraints imposed on the development of the city, while raking in the tangible benefits in terms of quality of life; the nationals complain about the excessive costs of the pomp and circumstance that surround national celebrations, while boasting with national pride as soon as they leave the national territory..." (Paquet 1993, 273-4).
For our purposes, it is important to view the local-national relationship
in capital cities as a complex, symbiotic relationship, which varies tremendously
from nation to nation, and from one era to the next. This relationship
is both of dependence and synergy, exploitation and opportunism.
Berliners both decry the loss of autonomy due to becoming a capital while
at the same time having a sense of entitlement for subsidies, extra services
and protection from the harshness of economic competition. This is
ironically similar to the situation during the cold war, in which the post-1968
generation of West Berlin lefties took rebellious pride in rejecting the
values of the bourgeois West German "economic miracle," and at the same
time took full advantage of West Berlin subsidies paid for by the West
German economy to support their alternative lifestyles. This is not
to undermine the harsh and sometimes even heroic conditions that West Berliners
have endured since the days of the Blockade and Airlift of 1948-49, but
rather to remember that the Berliners have learned how to take good advantage
of their "victim status" both as capital city and as front city.
6. Location and Relocation
The location of capital cities ˇ especially of an existing capital within
a stable nation ˇ is not generally a topic of great excitement. Perhaps
the generally descriptive, textbook-like approach to capitals is the culprit.
However, the controversial 1991 decision to return the German capital to
Berlin generated considerable public controversy and intellectual debate.
The return to Berlin raises three larger questions: First, is there
a logical pattern to the location of capital cities? Second,
why do countries relocate their capital cities? Third, what is the
impact of the location of a capital city?
A Locational Logic for Capital Cities?
It is difficult to answer the first question, for there is no uniform pattern to the location of capital cities or to the logic of their placement. Three examples alone demonstrate three different locational logics. Berlin was for centuries a modest, isolated city compared to the more powerful Germanic cities to the south and west, yet was able to become capital through the military victories of Prussia and Prussia's resulting upper hand in German unification in 1871. Ottawa became the capital in 1858 as a midway-point compromise between upper (Quebec) and lower (Ontario) Canada. Washington, far south of the more powerful northern U.S. cities of Philadelphia, New York and Boston, won the capital seat as a direct political trade: the southern states wrote off huge Northern state wartime debts in exchange for the government seat.
Capital cities do not follow the simpler locational logic of private enterprise. The latter are often located to balance the priorities of being near raw materials, markets, labor and transportation routes. Though the location of private firms is also shaped by politics, chance and irrational decisions, one can theoretically model the rational location of specific types of businesses and find at least a loose correlation to the actual locational concentrations of businesses in the real world. By contrast, capital city locations are typically the result of political struggle and compromise, military conquest and destruction, territorial annexation and fragmentation, historical accidents, imperial impetuousness, and the volatile interaction of economic and political power.
If it is difficult to theoretically explain the existing location of
capitals, it would be even harder to normatively model the optimal geographic
location of national capitals. One could not agree on the basic criteria:
there is no consensus as to whether the best location is at the geographic
center of the nation, at its demographic center, in a secular or religious
city, in the largest economic city, at an international port, or instead
in a remote, militarily defensible location, or in a peripheral location
(to promote regional economic development). The inability of the
German Parliament in 1991 to agree upon a set of criteria for an ideal
capital city location, and instead their reliance on a parliamentary vote
to decide its new capital, emphasized that the selection of a capital city
site has more to do with politics than logical optimization.
Though one cannot identify a simple locational logic, the placement of capitals is not random. Nor is it neutral: countries have spent massive sums ˇ and endured heated political conflict ˇ to relocate their capitals. Sometimes nature itself instigates a relocation. Natural disasters of the capital city usually lead to its eventual rebuilding, but it can also lead to relocation: After an earthquake destroyed the city of Antiqua in 1773, the Spanish moved the Guatemalan capital to Guatemala City.
More often, this destruction is man-made: wars, revolutions, invasions, annexations, partitions, and other political crises. Since a capital city is a political construction, the decision to relocate the capital is arguably always political. A very early example was the move of China's Zhou capital to Luoyang near the Huanghe River after barbarians destroyed the capital at Hao on the Wei River in 771 B.C. Clovis established Paris (Lutetia) as the Frankish capital in 508 after his victory over the Visigoths. Miguel Lopez de Legazpe moved the Philippine capital from Cebu to the new city of Manila to be used as a base for colonization efforts. Berlin became the capital of the new German Reich in 1871 after three victorious Prussian wars. Bolsheviks moved the capital of the new Soviet Socialist Republic from Petersburg to Moscow following the Russian Revolution (after Peter the Great had moved it out of Moscow two centuries before). The moves from Kyoto to Edo (renamed Tokyo, or "eastern capital") in 1868, Florence to Rome (ca. 1870), Calcutta to New Delhi (1931), and from Istanbul/Constantinople to Ankara (1923) also parallel the establishment of new regimes in their respective nations. These relocations are sometimes temporary, such as the short-term relocation of the French government to Vichy under Nazi occupation during World War Two, or the long-term relocation of Berlin to Bonn following the war.
A relatively modern motivation to relocate the capital is to relieve congestion in an overcrowded metropolis, to decentralize population, or to decentralize economic development within the nation. In some cases, national governments "are under national pressures not to let the capital become top heavy..." (Eldredge 1975, 512). Relocating the capital in a lesser developed region of the country can act as a new metropolitan hub that counterbalances the dominant metropolitan region, and thus links back to the larger idea of growth poles (Friedmann 1966; Hansen 1972; Moseley 1974; Perroux 1971). Tokyo, for example, has been the subject of discussion regarding possible relocation (Heazle 1992). These decentralization efforts sometimes involve a partial rather than a complete relocation. In the past, rulers often set up second seats outside the larger metropolis, such as in Versailles and Potsdam. The modern equivalent is to decentralize national offices throughout the country, which one sees in Germany, the United States, Switzerland and elsewhere. (Though similar efforts have not been as successful in capital-centric nations such as France.)
One result of these relocations is to transform the relationship between the capital and the nation. For powerful older capital cities that were the royal seat of power during the period of nation-building, the nation developed from the center out. The capital pulled together the nation, gave it legitimacy, and remains the historical-symbolic center of national power. This seems especially true in cases where a city-state formed the core of an emerging nation-state. By contrast, the relocated capital, established after the period of nation-building (such as Brasilia or Canberra), is merely an administrative extension and product of the nation-state. Simply stated, the powerful older capital cities built the nation, while the nation in turn built the newer, relocated capitals.
The decentralization-relocation efforts can also arise from anti-big city motivations: planners and governments often disdain the messy uncontrolled metropolis of historic capital cities, preferring a relocation to a more planned, controlled location. This can reflect a mistrust of the large merchant cities with foreign influence. For example, the Brazilian President Kubitschek's mistrust of Rio was a powerful influence in the relocation to Brasilia in 1960 (Gottmann and Harper 1990, 70-6). Brazil's interest in relocating the capital out of Rio, not realized until the 1950s, was first expressed as far back as 1789, by a group of political revolutionaries who wanted to distance themselves from the symbolic association with the colonial regime (Evenson 1975, 472). Such a move can also reflect the symbolic effort to start fresh: distancing the new government from the old capital represents distancing the country from the old government (such as Bonn's selection in 1949, representing a break with the Nazi-Prussian past in Berlin).
These relocation efforts arise from the struggle between the well-controlled city and the metropolis, between political stability and dynamic urban growth. This struggle echoes a much larger ideological divide among planners and architects, with the lovers of big, messy, diversified urban life (such as Jane Jacobs) on one side and the modernist advocates of sanitized, single-use, efficient urban systems (such as Le Corbusier) on the other. Supporters of relocation, such as the backers of Brasilia, see much promise in a new capital that has the sole functional role of hosting the national government, and is free of the multiple functions of a metropolis. There may even be an element of utopian thought in the new, relocated capital, as if the perfect city can in turn govern the perfect state. "In the background of all such moves either recent or ancient, one discerns, repeatedly, a flight from large metropolises, from well-established seats of power, from bustling centers of business. The belief seems well entrenched in the human mind that it may be safer, more virtuous, and more efficient in a well-planned sort of political ivory tower" (Gottmann and Harper 1990, 69).
This conflict played itself out quite dramatically in the 1991 battle
between Berlin and Bonn. It was as if Gottmann anticipated the Berlin-Bonn
debate by raising the question: "Does the political governmental
process operate better, in a safer and more stable fashion, in an ivory
tower specially conceived for the purpose or in close contact with a lively
metropolis?" (Gottmann and Harper 1990, 74). Or it may simply
be that Gottmann recognized an age-old battle over the location of the
capital (which he traced back to Plato's favoring of politics conducted
in isolation), and that the Berlin-Bonn debate was the latest manifestation
of this historical pattern. Either way, one sees that the Berlin-Bonn
debate ˇ though in part a particular fall-out of the German legacy of Nazism,
Allied division and reunification ˇ was also part of a more universal conflict
between small, planned capitals and large metropolises. This conflict
had once played itself out in the political-economic geography of the imperial-industrial
19th Century, when the vibrant, densely-diverse, chaotic industrial city
(Industriestadt) and the sleepy, well-designed royal seat (Residenzstadt)
defined two opposite models of cities. In this post-industrial democratic
era at the end of the 20th Century, the specific urban types defining the
two poles have dramatically changed, but the basic conflict remains:
between the global economic city (with its informal sectors, diversified
sectors, immigrant communities, decaying industries and active street life)
and the sleepy, administrative capital (with its similarities to the single-purpose
pristineness found on isolated campuses of universities and corporate headquarters).
The impact of the capital's location on the nation
Does the location of the capital city influence the functioning of the national government? This is a poorly researched topic. Yet both proponents and opponents of relocation argue vehemently that it is so. During the capital city debate in the German parliament in 1991, Berlin supporters argued that a government located in the big urban city would be more sympathetic to big urban problems (especially of eastern Germany) than a government located in modest-sized Bonn. Perhaps. But the example of Washington D.C. demonstrates that a government located in a large city with an impoverished underclass can in fact be quite unsympathetic to the needs of cities and the poor. In Washington and elsewhere, government officials can effectively isolate themselves (and their field of vision) from the unsavory elements and neighborhoods of the host capital city. Private cars (and a regional rail system geared toward middle-class neighborhoods), housing in gentrified neighborhoods and suburbs, and offices in cloistered government districts all create a government city within ˇ and outside ˇ the larger capital city. The constituency and power base of elected representatives lies in their home districts and in the government institutions themselves, not in the residents of the capital city. Furthermore, because their incomes are less tied to the local economy (than their private sector counterparts in commercial and manufacturing cities), government officials have arguably less self-interest in promoting local economic development. The German government parliamentarians and bureaucrats may in fact experience a very different quality of life in gritty, expensive, urban Berlin than they did in the smaller, sleepier Bonn; but this does not necessarily translate to these officials incorporating their surrounding environment into their work. (Bureaucrats processing administrative paperwork in Berlin will likely not perform their work much differently than they did in Bonn.)
If a capital's location does not always directly influence the political tone and ideology of national policy, does the capital's location instead influence national economic development? Both theory and evidence would suggest that the capital's geographic centrality or marginality now plays a decreasingly important role. As transportation and telecommunications improve, the raw physical distance between capital city and hinterland poses less and less political isolation. Non-spatial factors are now of increasing importance in shaping a region's access to power in the national capital: the number and power of its elected representatives; the political clout of the region and its lobbyists; its economic strength; its strategic significance; and the national importance of the region's natural resources. Furthermore, the traditional emphasis on military fortifications and strategic location of the capital city have diminished in the post-World War Two era of intercontinental bombing and global warfare (despite the persistence of political terrorist bombings). Thus, in a modern nation, one could imagine that the politicians and bureaucrats could plausibly meet in almost any location, given the proper infrastructure. This differs from industrial location, where many types of economic activity do require specific locations (seaports require a water location; international banks may require a global city location; etc.). There is no specific prior site requirement for a capital city: what the site lacks can be retrofitted afterwards (with an airport, buildings, telecommunications, security, etc.).
Finally, the economic success of nations with capital cities of modest
economic significance (e.g., Bonn, Washington, Ottawa, Canberra, Bern)
demonstrates that a capital need not lead the nation's economic dynamo.
(Though the counter-examples of London and Paris remind us that many capitals
still play this leading role.) In earlier eras, the capital ˇ with
its royal wealth and consumer power, military bases, armories and weapons
factories, banks, and bureaucratic wage bills ˇ was the catalyst for larger
industrial development and international trade. In the modern era
where urban centers of economic and political power need not be side-by-side,
the spatial separation of economic and political power is both possible
and sometimes intentional (as in Brazil and the United States).
In the end, the location and relocation of capitals are often highly
contested, politicized matters. However, the case of both Washington
and Berlin arguably demonstrate that the capital's location often has more
symbolic than concrete influence on the form and direction of the national
government. The exception is when relocation efforts are part
of a larger national effort to decentralize population, create new growth
poles, or change the institutional structure of government. In addition,
the impact of the capital's location is predominantly local rather than
national. Germany's relocation of the capital from Bonn to Berlin
will primarily impact these two cities rather than the nation as a whole,
whose political life has been far more influenced by the larger political
battles over national unification, European integration, immigration policy,
persistently high unemployment, and the high cost of the social welfare
7. The economy of capital cities
"...the economic center did not necessarily also have to be the political
center. Based on economics, Lyon had a better chance than Paris to
develop into a future metropolis. Capital cities were economically
often parasitic ˇ above all Paris. All attempts to attract manufacturing
had only marginal success. The economy served above all the consumption
and support of the court and the courtiers. Only London, as the trading
center of a growing empire, did not burden..." (Beyme 1991,
Capital cities have a double existence: they are unique creatures
of the national government with a guaranteed public-sector economic base,
seemingly outside the normal economic network of a nation's cities.
Yet at the same time they are local economies subject to the vicissitudes
of economic restructuring, global competition and fiscal constraints like
all other cities. Overall, capital cities have seemingly contradictory
economic development histories. Some capital cities have developed
a powerful public-private economic dynamism from this dual identity, while
others have suffered under the burdens of hosting the national government.
This section addresses three aspects: the economic benefits of being
the capital; the economic downside of being the capital; and
the local economy's impact on the functioning of the national government.
How does being a national capital benefit the local economy?
The most obvious benefit is the high concentration of national government employment in a capital, along with the generated indirect employment that follows. In many cases, the national government also directly contributes to the local municipal budget. Construction of government offices, monuments, museums, embassies, theaters and other facilities brings in additional economic activity. These facilities in turn attract outsiders for both business and tourism. Firms seek proximity and access to government offices and bring in more jobs, construction, and tax revenues. Other firms set up in the capital to serve government offices with legal, financial, communication, and administrative services. Lobbyists for corporations, trade unions, non-profits and other interest groups cluster in the capital. The communication and transportation infrastructure built to service government activity also attracts users from the private sector. The cumulative result is that the most successful capitals act as powerful growth poles.
Given their political construction, capital cities have not had to rely nearly as much on "natural" locational advantages (access to raw materials, natural harbors, etc.) to achieve a comparative advantage in urban development. Athens is an example of a capital whose growth and wealth was not merely due to the city's geographic location or industrial base, but rather due to political will, being "artificially recreated in 1835 by a foreigner-king, eager to establish his prestige and authority on a historic site, Athens is a Brasilia that has succeeded." (Gottmann and Harper 1990, 78). Berlin's history also demonstrates how politically mandated, subsidized development can overcome a capital city's originally modest locational virtues.
The most powerful capital cities (e.g., London, Paris, or prewar Berlin) were locations where the public and the private sectors synergistically combined: the government attracted economic activity, which in turn strengthened the government sector, and so forth. Sometimes these political and economic forces are so effectively intertwined that their boundaries blur. "[C]apital cities tend to combine, especially in their physical forms, the power that accompanies administrative functions with the power linked to the bourgeoisie and capital. This duality makes it very difficult to distinguish local and national forces affecting urban form" (Sutcliffe 1993, 196).
The resulting two-dimensional synergy ˇbetween the public and private sectors, and between local and national forces ˇ is typically the most successful in countries where the capital city and the nation grew up together. In these long-standing capitals, the government seat often emerged as the center of industrialization, trade and financial capital. Even if Manchester was an early national center of manufacturing in England, London would assertedly combine its imperial and industrial strengths to emerge as the dominant economic city (Fishman 1987). These "early" capitals, continuously serving as the center of early nation-states, were generally able to both act as catalyst to the nation's industrialization and use this new-found wealth to reinforce their dominance among the nation's cities. Taylor argues that the 19th Century was an era where capital cities could use their political power to gain advantage over "purely industrial cities," creating a structure where "the importance of a world city was measured by the power of its state" (Taylor 1995, 55).
Capital cities can deviate from this Paris/London model in several ways: either by the late date of nation-state consolidation (e.g., in Germany and Italy), and/or the late relocation of the capital city. For example, Berlin, Rome and other "late capitals" of nation-states, established late in the 19th Century after the process of urban-industrialization was well under way, had to compete economically with other powerful national centers of industry, finance and trade (e.g., Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg; and Milan, Turin, Venice, Florence). However, there are capitals that were established long after Berlin and Rome. These are commonly the "modern relocated" capitals. Established in the 20th Century, Bonn, Canberra and Brasilia have had the least historical economic benefit from their government role. The result is three types of capital cities ˇ "early," "late," and "even later" (20th Century relocations) ˇ based on the timing of their establishment relative to nation-state formation and national industrialization.
Washington again is the curious exception: though the young American
government moved there in 1800 during the earliest days of American industrialization,
the city never economically competed with the eastern commercial and industrial
centers in New York, Philadelphia and Boston or the newer industrial cities
further west. This demonstrates that timing alone is not enough
for a capital to also emerge as the nation's industrial and commercial
center; one also requires a national political-economy that has adequately
tight links (both institutional and spatial) between the national government
and the leading private sectors, political will to mandate that the capital
city's geographic isolation be overcome through massive infrastructural
projects, and a pro-urban national political culture that strongly endorses
a powerful, prominent capital city as the symbolic and material center
of the nation.
The down-side of being a capital city
"...the future of capital cities ... depends at least as much on their functioning regularly as cities as on their being capitals" (Drewe 1993, 368).
Hosting the national government is therefore no guarantee of a successful, dynamic local economy. Though somewhat protected, a capital city is not wholly immune to the vagaries and dangers of the marketplace. In the eyes of the national government, its priority in the capital city is to run an effective administration, not to build the foundation of a healthy local economy. As such, the number of government jobs in a capital is driven essentially by government demand and fiscal constraints, not by the local labor supply. This local reliance on national government payroll and subsidies leads to a unequal relationship of dependence between capital and nation. If the local economy is not adequately diversified, a capital city can resemble a company town, where a single industry dominates the labor, capital and property markets, and in turn retards the healthy diversification of entrepreneurship, labor skills and capital availability in other sectors (Chinitz 1961). The national government does not have a direct incentive to promote the economic diversification of its host city. In extreme cases, the loss of the capital city due to relocation (e.g., Rio de Janeiro, Berlin, Petersburg, and now Bonn) bluntly reveals the downside of this dependence on the government sector, just as a plant closure or plant relocation reveals the vulnerable economic foundations of a company town.
In larger capitals such as Berlin, there is not the same danger of the monopolistic company town dependency as in smaller capitals such as Bonn or Brasilia. However, this in turn means that the government sector alone cannot be the engine of growth. Current prognoses of Berlin's economic future reflect this inability of being a capital city to necessarily overcome deeper structural problems in the local economy: despite the arrival of the capital in the year 1999, total employment in the city is forecast to decline by over 30,000 jobs between 1995 and 2010, including not only a loss of 60,000 manufacturing jobs, but also a loss over 30,000 government jobs due to downsizing and decentralization (Eickelpasch and Pfeiffer 1996). The contrast to the 19th Century is telling: after Berlin became the capital of a unified Germany in 1871, the city's population soared from 826,000 in 1871 to over 2,000,000 by 1910. The powerful synergy of urbanization, industrialization, and nation-state building that led to Berlin's phenomenal growth a century ago simply is no longer present.
For some cities, being capital leads to a healthy, though modest economy in the shadow of larger economic cities in the nation (e.g., Ottawa, Bern, Bonn, Canberra). Yet in some cases being a capital city can actively undermine the economic development of a city. High investments in nondirect income-producing costly public works, such as large public spaces, parks, monuments and palace grounds, can drain local coffers (Eldredge 1975, 510-1). The symbolic capital city ˇ often lacking a healthy industrial or commercial base ˇ does not generate enough taxes to cover the substantial costs of operating the real city.
Capital cities often produce inert, non-competitive local economies that are dependent on national subsidies. A persistent complaint heard in West Berlin during the cold war was that the huge subsidies from Bonn created a "subsidy mentality" that undermined the development of a local economy that could successfully compete in the national and international economies on its own feet. In addition, these subsidies can often distort the structure of the local economy, inflating antiquated sectors while neglecting the emerging ones (see Chapter 5).
Another symptom of this inertia is the lack of a viable public-private growth coalitions in Washington D.C. and other capitals. Coalitions that in other cities strategically promote the interests of urban development, housing construction, job generation, local philanthropy and urban renewal. This lack of a powerful growth coalition is likely due to the subordination of the local private sector to the interests of the national government. What emerges is a reversal of a common unequal partnership in which the private sector benefits more than the public (Squires 1989): in the capital, national public interests gain more than local private interests. The result is a public-sector failure analogous to the traditional market failure. This sentiment is shared by Jane Jacobs, who sees the work of capitals as transactions of decline, and that behind the "'busyness at ruling, a capital city of a nation or an empire, vivacious to the last, at length reveals itself as being surprisingly inert, backward and pitiable place'" (Paquet 1993, 280).
This ability of the national government's presence to both promote and undermine the local economic development of a capital city leads to two conclusions: First, there is no uniform economic relationship between a national government and its capital city. Second, this relationship can alternate between cooperation and conflict, not only across capital cities, but also over time for the same capital city. One cannot simply conclude that the presence of the national government is good or bad for city's economy, for the government has simultaneously created and distorted the city's economy.
This echoes the some times cooperative/sometimes conflicting relationship
between local and national power in the capital (discussed in Section 5
above). The capital city's special administrative status within the
nation can be both an advantage and a barrier to economic development.
When the city benefits, it is because of the symbiotic, mutually beneficial
relationship between the public and private sector. Public activity
in turn attracts private enterprise, and each feeds off the other.
When the city economy suffers, it is because the national government's
activities crowd out private activities. The government takes the
best real estate, crowding out room in the downtown for private development
while removing the land from local property tax roles. The government
takes the best-skilled people for government jobs, crowding out the private
sector in the labor market. The basic question is, which is more
powerful in a capital city, the synergy or crowding out? The answer
is, to a great extend, dependent on the factors discussed above:
the timing of the capital's establishment relative to the nation-state's
formation and industrialization; the political structure of the national
government; the institutional and spatial links between the public
and private sectors; the pro- or anti-urban national political culture;
and the national commitment to politically construct the capital as the
undisputed center of the nation.
What kind of local economy makes for an effective capital city?
One might judge the success of a capital city based on its economic size and wealth. However, if the primary function of a capital city is to host the national government, then the primary criterion for a capital's success is how well it facilitates this role, and not how large the city itself becomes. For the nation as a whole, the economy of the capital city is therefore primarily important to the extent that it assists or hinders these national administrative functions (even if it in the process the local residents of the capital suffer.) Perhaps in the earlier period of nation-state building the size of the imperial capital was a good proxy of the size of the nation as a whole, since the royal seat was typically the center of wealth, commerce, military power and education. This big capital-big nation link may also have applied to the early stages of industrialization in developing nations, where a high concentration of people, wealth, industry and capital in the primate capital city has been seen as an unfortunate but necessary stage of spatial-industrial development, which will eventually evolve into a more equal, decentralized national industrial geography as adequate transportation and communication networks spread throughout the country.
However, in most advanced industrial nations, there is no intrinsic
link between the size of the capital city and the size of the national
economy. True, there is still a curious pride involved in demonstrating
national wealth and economic strength in capital cities, and this pride
fueled some of the resistance to keeping the capital of a world economic
powerhouse in unassuming Bonn. Yet the postwar economic success of
France is no more tied to its maintenance of a dominant capital city in
Paris than West Germany's success is tied to its selection of an intentionally
modest capital city in Bonn. This is not to say that the relative
size of the capital city is random or that the nature of the capital city
has no influence on the functioning of the national government. It
also does not reject the possibility that a nation still needs a large,
powerful city (but not necessarily a capital) to compete in the global
markets: it is certainly not coincidental that the three leading
global cities, London, New York and Tokyo, are located in three leading
economic nations. It is to say, however, that nations with both dominant
capital cities (France, United Kingdom, Japan) and modest capital cities
(United States, Canada, Australia, West Germany) have been able to be economically
successful in the postwar era.
On Balance: the Mixed Blessing of Being a Capital
As this chapter has argued, capital cities are more complex, heterogeneous ˇ and hopefully relevant ˇ than their general reputation in urban literature suggests. Capital cities are politically constructed places, and yet are subject to many of the same economic and fiscal pressures of all other cities. They are simultaneously a municipality representing local interests, a capital representing national power, and a host of international embassies. They are home to both the symbolic "imagined community" of national monuments and the bureaucratic apparatus of the national governmental offices. Capital cities also lie at the intersection of political and economic interests in the nation. Though all cities experience the interaction ˇ both cooperative and conflicting ˇ of government and private interests, nowhere do these interests intersect with such power as in a capital: the government-market interactions are more complicated in a capital, and the national government has greater influence over the local economy, labor markets, and land markets. This creates a distinctive political economy of capital cities.
It is therefore not completely surprising that it was not just Bonners and other West Germans who resisted moving the capital back to Berlin; many Berliners themselves were very wary. Berliners correctly recognized the ambivalent virtues of hosting the national government. The benefits of economic boom, massive federal spending, as well as the excitement and status of being the national capital, will likely come with a price: a tighter and more expensive housing market, congestion on the roads and subways.
West Berliners also face the unique situation of the transition from cold war front city back to capital city. Some West Berliners already ironically miss what they perceived as an easier West Berlin lifestyle during the latter days of the cold war: despite the wall and the isolation, rents were cheap, jobs and culture were subsidized, crime was lower, and they were buffered from many of the economic pressures of the rest of West Germany. As for East Berliners, the arrival of the Bonn bureaucrats in 1999 is no less unsettling. East Berlin had in fact been a national capital throughout the cold war until German unification in 1990. Yet this legacy as the capital of a delegitimized, "bankrupt" country has been as more a burden than an advantage for East Berlin following unification.
Both east and west Berliners face the ambiguous prospects of a friendly
"occupation" by the national government, and the resulting loss of local
autonomy that citizens of capital cities suffer. But Berliners will
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