What Role do Small Cities Play in Shaping Global Events?

Deen Sharp asserts that inattention to smaller and less-central cities in the Arab world has obstructed urban theorists from understanding the roll such places have played in changing the course of history.
August 1, 2012, 9am PDT | Akemi Leung
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The world has watched as citizens of Arab countries have demonstrated, protested, rebelled, and even overthrown their governments. The media, dictators, and urban theorists have given much attention to larger cities, such as Cairo, Tripoli, and Sana'a, but Deen Sharp believes that they should also focus on the smaller cities that are "away from the central metropolis."

Sharp believes that the smaller, peripheral cities, such as Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia and Dara'a, Syria - which have been the starting points of these massive revolts - have gone largely unnoticed. He writes, "We have little theory on the specific social, economic, political, cultural and spatial formations of small cities, and this is especially so for the small cities of the global south."

Even though some of the cities that he lists have populations over 1 million, Sharp argues that inattention from the political, economic, and security apparatus of dictatorial regimes to these more detached cities is what allows them to trigger movements on such a large scale.

Of course, history is full of what Sharp considers the central narrative of the Arab uprisings: "the ability of small events to spark big change" (think Rosa Parks and the civil rights movement). Ultimately, though, he argues that studying the cities on the outskirts will "greatly enhance not only our understanding of the Arab uprisings but also of the story of urbanism more broadly in the Arab region and beyond."

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Published on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 in The Global Urbanist
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