Reclaim the city and the planet

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Virtual Special Issue of CITY: ‘Reversing Urbanization?’

Editorial to the special issue: Introducing and resituating a debate about ‘planetary urbanisation’

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CITY Panel at the Annual International Conference of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS-IBG) 2014

Sponsored by CITY: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action.

Planetary urbanisation has assumed significance in recent urban studies debates, given its provocative questioning of the precise nature of the city and the urban, especially the neat demarcations separating urban, suburban and rural zones. While the questions raised by this discourse pose a fundamental challenge to basic epistemological assumptions, categories of analysis, and object of investigation, is it holistic enough to rethink the urban (and the non-urban) as a planetary condition, and more importantly, is it radical enough to provide adequate solutions, making sense of what is happening on the ground in the process? The objective of this panel discussion is to draw on the recent debates in the CITY Journal where by rethinking the urban, one is able to reclaim the city and the planet. But in order to do so, the journal recognises the need for a commitment to follow it out in the universities and on the ground. Thus, following this year’s theme of co-production, this session explores theoretical and empirical encounters across the global to reveal not just a comparative analysis but a disruption of prominent conceptual innovations. In arguing for a radical ‘post-urban’ analysis, it considers the kind of planning movement that will be necessary to facilitate this.

Number 395
Friday 29 August 2014, Session 4
Convenors: Bob Catterall (CITY Journal) and Pushpa Arabindoo (University College London)

Panel Contributors:

Gray space and the new urban regime

Oren Yiftachel (Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel)

Using the concept of ‘gray space’ as both an analytical tool, and a description of an undeclared planning strategy, Yiftachel’s discussion will use examples from Europe, Africa and Asia (with a special focus on Israel/Palestine) to outline the emergence of new urban regimes across the globe. These accommodate and institutionalize late-capitalist, liberal, collective identity and legal forces to condemn vulnerable populations to a semi-permanent position between the ‘lightness’ of membership, approval and legality and the ‘darkness’ of criminalization, punishment and eviction. Gray spaces have become the hallmark of urbanization in the early 21st Century. The ‘gray spacing’ of contemporary cities forces us to rethink our traditional understandings of urbanizing societies, in the context of a ‘creeping urban apartheid’, and its social and political implications.

Back to the land

Melissa Wilson (CITY Journal)

Melissa Wilson will share from her experience as a scholar-activist working with ‘City’ on the transition from urban life to off-grid ecological living. In the context of contemporary urban struggles for autonomy and health, her work explores the bridge between urban and rural, including the potential of permaculture and ecological knowledge for living harmoniously and co-productively with nature. Given the current alarming developments in climate change and ecological degradation, a biological perspective on the industrial and centralised form of modern urban survival – and especially its implications for the agrarian world out of which it is reproduced – urges us to seek alternative forms of everyday living that restore content to active participation, especially in the realm of food production, localised economic development, reduced dependence on fossil fuels and building community resilience to systemic shocks. There is a growing agrarian and food movement worldwide (discussed by Adrian Atkinson in ‘City’) that acknowledges this challenge in practical terms, but challenges still remain on how to bridge the cultural and political communication mainly located in urban centers, and the ecologically restorative agrarian work to urban communities as well.

Reclaiming the city from the state: Race and activism in post-Duggan Britain

Adam Elliott-Cooper (University of Oxford)

As deindustrialisation tears apart industrial labour, it becomes replaced, and controlled, by securitisation. While G4S herald themselves as the world’s largest employer, state security, namely the police and prisons, intensify their control over both the unemployed, and the never-employed. It is Britain’s black communities face that the brunt of both labour-market exclusion and police repression.

Both capital and the state see black communities, still occupying potentially profitable urban neighbourhoods, as sections of a surplus population. As police stops, searches, strip-searches, ASBO’s, detentions and dispersal orders are a regular feature for black youth on Britain’s city streets, the police taser, charge and plan to water canon those who dare to revolt in signifiant numbers. While deaths in the hands of police continue to face organised resistance, the state sanctions spying, infiltration and smearing of black community campaigns. This paper looks not only at how London and Birmingham’s black inner-cities are policed, but how resistance is organised to defend and reclaim the cities these black communities once helped to build.

A planet of Asians

Pushpa Arabindoo (University College London)

Twenty-first century is not only ‘urban’ but it is also Asian if we go by the demographic claims of international financial institutions such as the UN and the World Bank. While more than fifty percent or nearly two billion will be Asian (with a billion plus living in Asia’s teeming cities), there isn’t much beyond this statistical construct that enquires critically about the nature of this urbanisation. This paper in reviewing the current theorisations within urban studies about the ‘Asian city’ also draws on the opportunities as well as constraints of a discourse such as planetary urbanisation, emphasising the need to, first of all, consider conceptually what is the urban in an Asian context, specifically the epistemological challenges posed by countries like India and China. Secondly, we will also need to consider more carefully struggles of the elite and marginalised groups to reclaim the urban, as such encounters tend to defy our empirical understandings of the urban.

Conference details:

Location: Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) and Imperial College London RGS-IBG: 1 Kensington Gore, London, SW7 2AR (Registration & helpdesk) Imperial College London: Exhibition Road, London, SW7 2AZ
Dates: Opening event and pre-conference workshops on Tuesday 26 August, then sessions running Wednesday 27 to Friday 29 August 2014
Theme: Geographies of co-production Conference chair: Wendy Larner (University of Bristol)

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