The scalar transformation of the U.S commercial property-development industry: A cautionary note on the limits of globalization

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Economic geographers have commonly interpreted globalization in terms of a scalar transformation of economic activities in which the dominant form of economic organization progressively shifts from local to more global scales. This article critically examines this thesis in the context of a study of the U.S. commercial property-development industry. The first section argues that the literature on commercial property development tends to highlight globalizing sectors and activities. This focus generates a partial understanding of the industry that has important ramifications, not the least for examining the relationship between local economic and political elites in U.S. cities. A more cultural reading of economic actors and practices allows for an alternative approach that emphasizes the cultural embeddedness of economic and political practices and the local networks through which knowledge and influence are mobilized. The second section introduces the study area-Columbus, Ohio-and the research methods, and the third section presents the empirical results. These results fail to demonstrate any simple and linear process of scalar transformation. Indeed, a brief comparison with other cities points to the continuing dominance of a localized and fragmented organizational form. The fourth section draws on interviews with property developers to interpret this local structure of social relations. Three conclusions are drawn regarding the extent and nature of scalar transformation in the property-development industry. The most significant is the need for a more circumspect account of globalization and scalar transformation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-140
Number of pages22
JournalEconomic Geography
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2004


  • Globalization
  • Property development
  • Scalar transformation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Economics and Econometrics


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