It is argued that the process of globalisation undermines the nation-state. From the perspective of the rescaling theory, however, the argument would rather be that the spatial dimensions of the state are being reorganized, leading to an upscaling as well as a downscaling of political steering capacities. With global cities becoming more important as nodes of capital accumulation, this results in a greater significance of locational politics for these cities. Although it has been researched how the neoliberal agenda has trickled down from the national level to the scale of the city, literature on rescaling has widely ignored the role of the sub-local scale. We argue that the neighbourhood scale has gained importance in scale politics because city governments increasingly shift neoliberal projects to the sub-local scale.
We present empirical evidence on these neighbourhood politics with a detailed case analysis of the city of Zurich. Based on qualitative expert interviews and an in-depth document analysis, we show that the cities’ policy to increase the quality of life in distressed neighbourhoods is closely related to Zurich’s overall economic strategy to promote the attractiveness of the city as a whole. Zurich’s neighbourhood policy primarily focuses on improving the image, rather than the quality of life in these areas by means of physical renewal policy or increasing social service. A negative image of certain areas is seen as hindering the overall competitiveness of the city. The neighbourhood policy is thereby part of the new urban neoliberal paradigm. We also show that the city delegates social policies to the neighbourhood scale where the sometimes just fade away. We conclude our paper by pleading for a scalarly open analysis of the neoliberal turn, which has to include the sub-local scale.