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“A Disaster for Ordinary People”: Exclusive interviews with Ken Loach and Aditya Chakrabortty on The UK Housing and Planning Act (2016)

KenAdityaCoverPhoto by Debbie Humphry (c) _

                              All photos and copy by Debbie Humphry

CITY’s web-editor Debbie Humphry talks to Ken Loach and Aditya Chakrabortty about the UK Housing and Planning Act, which was passed into law in May 2016 despite widespread opposition.

Ken Loach, renowned British film-maker, directed the critically acclaimed Cathy Come Home (1966) , changing perceptions about homelessness. So what does he think about the Housing and Planning Act, 5o years on?

Aditya Chakrobortty, Chief Economics leader writer for the Guardian, brings us his insights into the underlying political intent of the recent Housing and Planning Act (2016)

The Chartered Institute of Housing predicts the Act will cause the loss of 350,000 social rented homes by 2020.

Thousands of council and social housing tenants face massive rent rises.

Council tenants are denied permanent secure tenancies.

Local councils and housing associations say implementing the Act is an expensive nightmare.

Debbie Humphry in conversation with Ken Loach

Debbie: What do you think of the new Housing and Planning Act?Ken Loach COL Photo by Debbie Humphry (c) _

Ken: The Housing and Planning Act is getting us further and further away from the possibility of providing decent housing for everyone. There are two conflicting visions of housing. One is the right-wing view that housing is a market and the market will provide. The other is a people’s view, which is that housing is something that everyone is entitled to and that we can provide by using our collective endeavours. The Tory view is that the market will satisfy the need. But in fact the needs of people are disregarded because of the ideological commitment to the market. Everything is seen as a commodity: ‘if a commodity is valuable people will invest in it, and commodities will be made to satisfy needs’. Well homelessness is an absolutely prime example of how the market has failed to provide housing. So the Housing and Planning Act is getting us further away from seeing housing as a social need, and moving us farther towards the market view, and that is a disaster for ordinary people.

Debbie: Is there any particularly aspect of the Housing and Planning Act that stands out for you?

Ken: One of the major points of the Housing and Planning Act is the selling off of social housing, which will mean more people will rent privately. Social housing could be sold to private landlords, and already the number of private renters is increasing, with the number of home-owners decreasing. The Tory propaganda of a home-owning democracy where everyone owns their house and their plot of land is now no more than a fantasy. The reality is that people are becoming private renters, with landlords making a profit out of them. So the sale of social housing is disastrous.

Debbie: You lived in London for a long time. What impact do you think the Housing and Planning Act will have in London?

Ken: We’re already seeing how London is going to look with Boris Johnson’s tower blocks, sold off-plan as investments across the world. The market is destroying housing in London by building luxury flats, which are attracting wealthy buyers as investments. We’re getting these monstrous buildings disfiguring the architectural face of the capital, and driving ordinary people out. But with a capitalist economy nothing is stable so who knows what will happen. The housing market is a bubble and will collapse, and the anarchy of the market will just create mess after mess. The one thing we can be certain of, London will not be a well-planned integrated city where people can live and work in the same area, where everyone has somewhere decent to live, and there’s a balance between employment, social services like schools and medical centres, green spaces and sustainable living. We need to plan for all those things, or we’ll end up with a chaotic mess of buildings that are not suitable for what we need. The Housing and Planning Act will mean people who do necessary work in the city will be unable to live here.

Debbie: Do you think we can we do anything about this situation?

Ken: I think we need to campaign for the opposite of the market: for publicly-funded housing, sustainable housing, controlled and owned by local authorities, where the labour is employed directly, architects are employed directly, and the planning takes into account sustainability, green spaces, social needs and, above all, employment.

Overhanging all this is the issue of the environment and climate and that is part of the housing problem. We need sustainable planned housing, and the only way we can do that is through local authorities who can plan their area, and build houses that people can sustain economically.

Debbie: Can you compare what is happening now with what was happening when you made your film ‘Cathy Come Home’ about the terrible housing conditions?

Ken: ‘Cathy Come Home’ came out 50 years ago in 1966 and showed how easy it was to become homeless. But it’s worse now because the economy has gone through several changes driving the idea of housing as a private business. The consequence is ever-rising numbers of homeless people, including homeless children, and rising numbers rough sleeping. The percentage of people who are now renting privately has massively increased, and the latest figures are that 60 per cent of people in London will be renting privately in a few years. That’s a mark of how disastrously things have gone wrong. I’ve got grandchildren now who are just about to leave school and it is difficult to see how they will find a decent home.

Debbie: How do you see the future?

Ken: At some point there will be a crash. House prices can’t go on escalating into infinity. We need to make demands on the Labour party‘s new progressive leadership to re-assert Bevan’s plans for council housing: planned council housing with all the services, environmental issues and work taken into account. And that’s a fundamental shift from housing as a private matter for money. We must change our priorities. We’ve got a chance here with Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. We should demand that the Labour party stands up for a new policy on housing based on public finance, public ownership and planning.

Debbie Humphry in conversation with Aditya Chakrabortty

Debbie: What does the Housing and Planning Act mean to you?1. Aditya

Aditya: To me the Housing and Planning Bill isn’t about providing more housing to those who need it, nor is it about providing more planning for local authorities that need more planning powers. What it’s really about is a full-throttle upwards redistribution of wealth from the poor and middle classes to those right at the very top. And property developers in particular, with huge subsidies to build these starter homes, which are meant to be affordable but are unaffordable to all but the very richest. And that’s the thing that really galls me about it.

Debbie: Is there any particular aspect of the Act that you’d like to mention?

Aditya: For instance, a household on a modest income being forced to pay not social rents but market rents, the so-called Pay to Stay clause, I just thought that was absolutely shocking. And what really troubles me is it’s dreamt up by people who plainly have an agenda against social housing, and even more so against having cities with mixed communities. The big brain behind the Conservative housing policy is Alex Morton who used to be at Policy Exchange where he came up with various papers about how basically we ought to get people whose faces didn’t fit out of London. He supports forcing people to move from ‘expensive’ social properties. So it’s him that came up with the idea that social housing in places like Westminster, Camden or Tower Hamlets is so valuable because of the land they’re on that they ought to be sold, and the people who live in them ought to move to the perimeters of London. I mean when you’re getting to the stage where you’re handing to big property developers ten of billions in tax payers money for building supposedly affordable housing that most British people simply can’t afford, well then I think you’ve got to say it’s pretty transparent that what you’re up to is taking the money from the poor and giving it to the rich. We are paying people huge sums to rip us off and the Housing and Planning Act fits exactly into that pattern.

Debbie: How does the Housing and Planning Act fit into a wider political picture?

Aditya: What we’ve seen in Britain is the private sector infiltrating the public sector.

Britain’s increasingly run by the private sector, and housing is another example of that because we’re handing over public land to property developers who’ll then charge us a whacking great sum to build houses. The Housing and Planning Act is the last part of that, it’s the latest part of that game, and that’s what I find so abhorrent about it. There are certain places that are valuable because they’ve had public money poured into them, which then allows speculators to come in. Everything from the big property speculator building that new tower to the middle-class person who’s got a bit of money left in their pension pot and thinks they’ll get into the Buy-to-Let game. So then the people whose faces don’t fit it get kicked out, that’s what you’re really seeing with the Housing and Planning Act, the drive to do that. So the people who used to be productive and are dispossessed from their labour are now being dispossessed from their homes.

Debbie: You were brought up in London, so what changes have you seen regarding housing?

4. AdityaAditya: I was born and raised in a place called Edmonton, on the perimeter of North London. There you see the Housing Crisis. You see people who have been dumped in Edmonton into temporary housing by other local authorities, so that the local council hasn’t got enough housing itself to house its own residents. You see people living in beds and sheds, you hear all sorts of things going on right at the bottom range of the rental market. This is where you see the real sharks going on, in Edmonton in the rental market there.

But most of what you see is how this idea of trickle-down economics never really reached a place like Edmonton, Croydon, Hainault, those sorts of places. Part of Edmonton has got some of the worst economic statistics in Britain, yet it’s ten miles from Westminster, in one of the richest and most powerful cities on the planet. A city that can raise billions for a stock flotation if it wants, a city that can send people off to war, and yet ten miles from parliament you get people who are fighting with each other discounts in Tesco’s.

Debbie Humphry is web editor for CITY, visiting research fellow at The University of East London, and Director of LivingMaps Network. She is an academic, writer and photographer whose research interests include housing, neighbourhood, social justice and social mobility.

  • Many local Cabinet Members for Housing have requested the Minister of State pause the Act.
  • Many MPs and Peers, from all parties, objected to the legislation.
  • The Act returns to parliament after the summer to debate secondary regulations.
  • Axe the Housing Act campaign continues the fight http://www.axethehousingact.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/atha_briefing1_june2016_2nd-1.pdf

Axe the Housing Act A full campaign briefing on the Act from Axe the Housing Act campaign is available http://www.axethehousingact.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/atha_briefing1_june2016_2nd-1.pdf

And a Planning briefing http://www.axethehousingact.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/atha_planning_briefing_june2016-367622.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rapid response to The London’s Housing Crisis and its Activisms Conference, associated with CITY’s Special Feature (issue 20.2)

Rapid response to The London’s Housing Crisis and its Activisms Conference, associated with CITY’s Special Feature (issue 20.2)

Text and photographs by Debbie Humphry www.debbiehumphry.com

A conference review is in CITY, Humphry, D, 2016, 20 (3): 495-506, and online and online at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13604813.2016.1196063

1. Audience participation

1. Audience participation

The conference was organised by Paul Watt (Birkbeck University of London) and Anna Minton (University of East London) as a launch event for their CITY special feature London’s Housing Crisis and its Activisms (Watt and Minton 2016) and a celebration of CITY’s 20th anniversary. Like many of the best conferences, both speakers and audience came from a range of positions, adding activist, political, journalistic and tenant perspectives to the usual academic crowds (Fig. 1). People were brought together by a common passion to fight housing inequality. The fact that the mothers were there with their children was testament to the conference’s inclusivity (Fig. 2). This is not to say there were no differences or conflicts, but overall the mood of the conference was captured by Luna Glucksberg (Goldsmiths University of London) who said, “it was understandable to non specialists, debate was encouraged and everyone who wanted to contribute was able to and listened to. It was passionate and intense but polite enough for contrary opinions to be heard and not shouted down”.

2. Mothers and children attended the conference.

2. Mothers and children attended the conference.

3. Bob Catterall

3. Bob Catterall

The morning plenary, chaired by journalist Dawn Foster of The Guardian, focused on a structural analysis of London’s housing crisis. Bob Catterall (Editor-in-Chief, CITY) drew on the term “domicide” (Shin 2014) to articulate the destruction in London (Catterall 2016) and beyond of homes and communities, and capture the extremity of the current housing crisis and its devastating human impact (Fig 3).

 

 

4. Michael Edwards

4. Michael Edwards

 

 

Michael Edwards’ (UCL) framed London’s extreme housing crisis within the context of financialisation and the privileging of rent as a means of wealth accumulation by dispossession (Harvey 2003; Edwards 2016) (Fig 4).

 

 

 

 

5. Stuart Hodkinson

5. Stuart Hodkinson

 

Stuart Hodkinson (University of Leeds) gave a sobering yet rousing presentation on the rise of private equity firms as global corporate landlords (GCLs), termed ‘vulture capitalists’ because of their exploitative accumulation of wealth (Beswick et al. 2016) (Fig 5).

 

 

 

Luna Glucksberg (Goldsmiths University of London) provided an accessible insight into capital flows and foreign investment, making the prime market for housing comprehensible for the non-expert as relayed through an ethnographic lens (Glucksberg 2016).

Aditya Chakrabortty, the Senior Economics Commentator on The Guardian and keynote speaker delivered a scorching critique of a political structural process of ‘definining down’ the UK economy that is cutting out particular industries, regions and people via the construction of London as a global and financial centre, including people losing their homes as they become globally-traded assets (Fig. 6).

6. Aditya Chakrabortty

6. Aditya Chakrabortty

 

7. Axe the Housing Act workshop

7. Axe the Housing Act workshop

The workshops focused on activisms, with various groups explaining and dialoguing about their campaigns, which raised challenging questions and heated debate. This included Kill the Housing Bill Campaign (now Axe the Housing Act since the bill was made law on 12th May 2016), who emphasised the importance of building wide activist networks (Fig 7). They contextualized the Housing and Planning Act within the shift from public to private housing provision, explaining how this created a housing crisis for everyone with the inexorable pushing up of house prices and rents, impacting on social renters, private renters and would-be home-owners alike (Axe the Housing Act 2016; Kill the Housing Bill 2016). Focus E15 spoke of their campaign against social cleansing in Newham and beyond, presenting with Tom Gillespie (University of Sheffield), Kate Hardy (University of Leeds) and Penny Bernstock (UEL), eliciting to impassioned debate.

8. Jerry Flynn.

8. Jerry Flynn.

Several workshops focused on the  ‘regeneration’ of council estates in Labour-controlled London boroughs. Jerry Flynn (35percent campaign) with Bob Colenutt (University of Northampton) and Nick Perry (The Hackney Society) explained how private developers evade local authority’s planning requirements for affordable housing by use of ‘viability assessments’, secret financial reports that prioritise developer profit over residents needs (Flynn 2016) (Fig 8).

The Save Cressingham Gardens campaign presented what is so special about their estate (Cressingham Gardens) and why they were fighting to preserve it.  Designed by Lambeth’s leading 1970s architect, Ted Holamby, the estate is a stunning example of light-filled properties with a community-centred design (Kolan 2014). They related their experiences as campaigners, including how they took their Lambeth landlords to Court, in which the consultation regarding demolishing up to 300 of their homes was judged unfair and unlawful (Douglas and Parkes 2016). They also discussed their ‘People’s Plan’  (Cress

9. Pam Douglas, Save Cressingham Gardens, with Paul Watt

9. Pam Douglas, Save Cressingham Gardens, with Paul Watt

ingham Gardens Campaign 2016; ASH 2015), which they submitted to the Labour-controlled Lambeth Council on 4th March 2016 in an effort to get them to consider a viable alternative to demolition. However the council barely considered it and dismissed it on March 11th, yet again voting on 21st March 2016 to demolish the estate. (Fig. 9).

 

Architects for Social Housing (ASH), who had worked with Cressingham Gardens to produce their People’s Plan, also held a workshop in which they discussed their work with residents who lived on the two adjacent West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, also under threat of demolition by yet another Labour-controlled Council, this time in in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham (Elmer and Dening 2016). This exemplified the central principle of their manifesto that infill, build-over and refurbishment are more sustainable solutions to London’s housing needs than the demolition of the city’s council estates, enabling the continued existence of the communities they house (ASH 2016).

The afternoon plenary session, chaired by Loretta Lees (University of Leicester), combined academic and activist approaches to London’s housing crisis, encapsulated in Paul Watt’s presentation (Birkbeck University of London, Conference organiser, editor of CITY Special Feature) in which he drew on his grounded involvement with housing activism and cerebral engagement with academic theory to deliver an impassioned analysis of the distinctive and inspirational Focus E15 housing campaign (Watt 2016) (Fig 1o).

12. FocusE15 - Social Housing not Social Cleansing

12. FocusE15 – Social Housing not Social Cleansing

  • Stuart Hodkinson argued activist to make London toxic in order to scare investor away.
  • Aditya Chakrabortty called for a ‘taming of finance’ by cutting back its power and redirecting assets to re-include the people and places currently shut out.
  • Jasmin Stone of FocusE15  called on the audience to empower themselves and fight;
  • Luna Glucksberg urged for government intervention to turn this situation around, including repeal of the Housing and Planning Act 2016.
  • Kill the Housing Bill campaign – now Axe the Housing Act since the Housing and Planning Act became law on May 12th 2016 – affirmed its commitment to making the Act unworkable, fighting all evictions, continuing to build wide national support, fighting for best outcomes when affirmative regulations are debated in parliament,  and ultimately fighting for repeal of the Act. (Fig.12).
  • Jerry Flynn described how some local communities are starting to challenge ‘viability assessments’
  • Bob Catterall lauded a new spirit of thoughtful action amongst younger activists who were gathering their own knowledge and research and contributing to a fresh type of social movement and alternative kind of information society. (Fig 13)

Bibliography
ASH (Architects for Social Housing). 2015. ‘Category: Save Cressingham Gardens’, https://architectsforsocialhousing.wordpress.com/category/save-cressingham-gardens/
ASH (Architects for Social Housing). 2015. ‘Manifesto’, https://architectsforsocialhousing.wordpress.com/about-2/
Axe the Housing Act. 2016. ‘Axe the Housing Act: secure homes for all’, https://www.facebook.com/Kill-the-Housing-Bill-secure-homes-for-all-1535565046764103/
Beswick, J., Alexandri, G., Byrne, M, Vives-Miró ,S., Fields, D., Hodkinson, S. and M. Janoschka. 2016 “Speculating on London’s housing future: The rise of global corporate landlords in ‘post-crisis’ urban landscapes.” City 20 (2): 321-34
Catterall, B. 2016 “Editorial: ‘This place is pre-something…’” City 20 (2): 175-179
Cressingham Gardens Campaign. 2016. ‘The People’s Plan’, http://cressinghampeoplesplan.org.uk/

Douglas, P and J. Parkes. 2016 “’Regeneration’ and ‘consultation’ at Lambeth council estate: The case of Cressingham Gardens.” City 20 (2): 287-291
Edwards, M. 2016 “The Housing Crisis and London.” City 20 (2): 222-237
Elmer, S. and G. Dening. 2016 “The London Clearances.” City 20 (2): 271-277
Flynn, J. 2016. “Complete control: Developers, financial viability and regeneration at the Elephant and Castle.” City 20 (2): 278-286
Glucksberg, L. 2016 “A View from the top: Unpacking capital flows and foreign investment in prime London.” City 20 (2): 238-255
Harvey, D. 2003 The New Imperialism. New York: Oxford University Press.
Humphry, D (2016) “Report: The London’s Housing Crisis and its Activisms Conference, associated with CITY’s Special Feature (issue 20.2).” City 20 (3): 495-506. DOI: 10.1080/13604813.2016.1196063.
Kill the Housing Bill 2016. ‘Axe the Housing Act: Secure Homes for All’ website, https://killthehousingbill.wordpress.com/ accessed 22nd May 2016.
Kolan, S. 2014. “Cressingham Gardens: Homes under the Sledgehammer’. Film directed by  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGRf-SENyPk

Minton, A., Pace, M. and H. Williams. 2016 “The housing crisis: A visual essay.” City 20 (2): 256-270
Shin, HB. 2014. “Contesting speculative urbanisation and strategising discontents” City 16 (4-5): 509-516
Watt, P. 2016 “A nomadic war machine in the metropolis: En/countering London’s 21st-century housing crisis with Focus E15.” City 20 (2): 297-320
Watt, P and A. Minton. 2016.  “London’s Housing crisis and its activisms: Introduction City 20 (2): 204-221
Watt, P and A. Minton (eds). 2016.  Special Feature: London’s Housing Crisis and its Activisms. City 20 (2): 204-34

 

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London’s Housing Crisis and its Activisms Conference, Saturday 23rd April 2016

This one day conference launches a forthcoming CITY Special Feature on ‘London’s Housing Crisis and its Activisms’, co-edited by Paul Watt (Birkbeck) and Anna Minton (UEL).

Speakers at the conference include contributors to the Special Feature, alongside Aditya Chakrabortty, Senior Economics Commentator at The Guardian, and Sian Berry, Green Party Mayoral candidate.

When Saturday, 23 April 2016 from 10:00 to 18:00 (BST)

Where University Square Stratford – 1 Salway Road, London E15 1NF, United Kingdom – View Map


The conference is also a way of celebrating the 20th anniversary of CITY, a journal which has consistently been at the forefront of radical urban scholarship under the editorship of Bob Catterall:

http://www.tandfonline.com/action/journalInformation?show=aimsScope&journalCode=ccit20#.VvAIb03cu70

Conferences Fees

Payable on the day at registration:

  • Waged – £5

  • Student – £3

  • Unwaged – Free

Conference Programme

10.00 – 10.30 am: Registration, tea/coffee

10.30 am: Introductions

Anna Minton (UEL), Paul Watt (Birkbeck), Bob Catterall (Editor-in-Chief, CITY)

11.00 am: Keynote: Aditya Chakrabortty, Senior Economics Commentator, The Guardian

11.30 am – 1.00 pm:

Panel 1 – The Financialisation of Housing,

Chaired by Dawn Foster, The Guardian

  • Michael Edwards (UCL) – The housing crisis and London
  • Luna Glucksberg (Goldsmiths) – A view from the top: unpacking capital flows and foreign investment in prime London
  • Stuart Hodkinson (University of Leeds) – Global corporate landlords in ‘post-crisis’ urban landscapes in North America and Europe: speculating on London’s housing future



Followed by Q&A

1.00 -2.00 pm: Lunch

2.00-3.30 pm: Workshops

1. Linking housing campaigns and the Kill the Housing Bill Campaign – Katya Nasim (Radical Housing Network) and Eileen Short (Defend Council Housing and Radical Housing Network)

2. Viability assessments: how developers build what they want to build – Jerry Flynn (Elephant Amenity Network/35percent campaign), Bob Colenutt (University of Northampton) and Nick Perry (The Hackney Society)

3. Estate regeneration: lessons from Cressingham Gardens – Pam Douglas and Tom Keene (Save Cressingham Gardens)

4. Architects for Social Housing – Simon Elmer and Geraldine Dening (ASH)

5. Academia, activism and social cleansing – Tom Gillespie (University of Sheffield), Penny Bernstock (UEL) and Focus E15

6. Beyond The Margins: Squatting and Homelessness – A workshop facilitated by the Advisory Service for Squatters (ASS) and the Beehive Housing Project

3.30– 4.00 pm: tea/coffee

4.00 – 6.00 p.m:

Panel 2 – Is London Being Socially Cleansed?

Chaired by Loretta Lees (University of Leicester)

Anna Minton (author of Ground Control, UEL)

Guy Nicholson (Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Hackney Council)

Sian Berry (Green Party Mayoral candidate)

Paul Watt (Birkbeck) – A nomadic war machine in the Metropolis: en/countering London’s 21st century housing crisis with Focus E15

Speaker from Focus E15

See event also on: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/londons-housing-crisis-and-its-activisms-conference-tickets-23821570960

Editorial: ‘This place is pre-something … ’

‘[B]uffeted by economic catastrophe, vastly reconfigured by a sporting jamboree of militarised corporate banality, jostling with social unrest, still reeling from riots. Apocalypse is less a cliche than a truism. This place is pre-something.’

This place could be Rio, was/is Athens/Greece, the Balkans and beyond, now Istanbul, perhaps could come to be true of Singapore? This could be, to take an apocalyptic view, so many places in the world. But surely not London?

Economic catastrophe? No, not as yet, anyhow. A militarised, corporate and banal sporting jamboree that has reconfigured the place? Some such claims have been made about the Olympised fate of London and other similarly endowed and beset cities. Some truths here, then? Jostling with social unrest? A not too uncommon phenomenon, world-wide. Still reeling from riots? Apocalypse? Surely not?

Can it be, taking the lack of precision of the term ‘pre-something’ as an invitation, rather than a windy nothing, in fact a challenge, to look for and into, critically nevertheless, unfamiliar phenomena, so as to defamiliarise such places/situations in London, and other such places, we shall discover signs of apocalypse as a truism rather than a cliché? But in different proportions, ambiences and totalities, in some cases perhaps with, signs of becomings, of ‘pre-something’, even of hope as well as disaster.

The provocation, the invitation to observe, imagine, rethink, is there in the agoras as much as academe, in the streets and homes (where still, permitted) as much as their so often blocked dialogue. Is it in the antagonisms and occasionally unblocked openings between agora and academe, or in the labours of transdisciplinary knowledge or, of what Andy Merrifield calls amateurism, that we will find glimmerings of a de-scientised paradigm for science, for knowledge of the contradictory, shifting realities unearthed and emplaced in the local and global fantasies and realities of ‘the twenty-first century’.

On this occasion we turn, then, to three places/situations, always with activists and activisms in mind, to ‘Singaporean “spaces of hope”’, to refugees and ‘Europe’s Last Frontier’, and back/forwards to London’s housing crisis itself.

Re-housed, de-housed London

The fact that the epigraph here, is taken from an essay(1) by a writer with the, to some, unlikely name of China Miéville, London-based, though Norwich-born, multi-prizewinning novelist, also a Marxist, a formidable intellectual, a writer of science fiction/fantasy, of ‘the new weird’(2) is itself a challenge. One or the other, of these facts, particularly the combination, might explain his verdict away? But no enshrined disciplinarities can explain such places and this characterisation away.

It is through the prism of housing that the editors of our multifold special feature, Anna Minton and Paul Watt, observe what London is becoming. It is in a contribution by a perhaps partly deviant academic, Paul Watt, a contribution topped and tailed by the paragraph from China Miéville that now also adorns with some necessary additional provocations this editorial.

Watt takes us on a critical and sensually empirical (thereby not ‘taking us for a ride’) ride on a deleuzoguattarian ‘nomadic war machine’ through the now bilaterally embattled war zones of contemporary East and London. A prospect begins to emerge of a possible urban social movement against systematic de-housing and grossly unsuitable re-housing, as the latest desperate twist of late capitalism largely supported by, if often reluctantly, ‘mediations’ of the state. That movement involves, for example, the march of young mothers aided by the technical skills and international perspectives of a groupescule (see our cover photo, Figure 2), the life-affirming occupation by them and their children of a model home in a Housing Association (Figure 2), and of a stall as a campaigning, information and support-gathering point in a busy high street (Figure 3).

Figure 1. Mother's protest housing crisis, London. (Photo: © Focus E15).

Figure 1 Occupation at East Thames Housing Association, 21 January 2014 (Photo: © Focus E15).

Figure 2 Occupation at East Thames Housing Association, 21 January 2014 (Photo: © Focus E15).

Figure 2 Focus E15 stall in Stratford Broadway, November 2014 (Photo: © Paul Watt).

Figure 3 Focus E15 stall in Stratford Broadway, November 2014 (Photo: © Paul Watt).

All the contributions, without exception, to this remarkable special feature demand attention. Particularly notable is the combination of journalistic and academic perspectives—another aspect of the new paradigm—that co-editor, Anna Minton, brings to it.

From Singaporean ‘spaces of hope’ to ‘the spatialities of the refugee crisis’ on ‘Europe’s last frontier’

We continue the turn to the signs of becomings, of ‘pre-something’, of hope but also to the acute ambiguities, socio-economic and authoritarian obstacles to homes, jobs and even life that we see in London further afield in Singapore and on Europe’s last frontier, and the implications for activists and activisms.

Building out, from David Harvey’s ‘spaces of hope’, Jason Luger’s approach is to emphasise the value of cultural activism to urban social movements in Singapore, guided by ‘new geographies’, seeking to evade the quasi-authoritarian controls imposed in the advanced digitalised context of the city-state . He considers the need to no longer take for granted that the West is necessarily its appropriate context:

‘considering the size and breadth of states such as China, Russia and (increasingly) parts of the African continent …  the debate should continue to expand in a cosmopolitan manner, broadening and worlding conceptions of culture, cultural activism and urban space’

It is a much larger European and an extra-European context that Dimitris Dalakoglou introduces in his paper ‘Europe’s last frontier: The Spatialities of the Refugee Crisis’. It is an introduction to a Europe that has been infiltrated, but not by outsiders, homeless refugees, but by upsiders, footloose economic elites, inside as well as outside, whose activity is transforming both the skyline (the upside) and the streetscape (the downside), working-class estates into ‘estate’, no longer primarily involved in the activity once dignified by the now largely obsolete term ‘gentrification’, but now involved in a re-building spree, accurately classified as domicide(3) (in plain English, the murder of homes), and in the as yet to be reclassified complex combination downsizing, de-skilling and outsourcing, the murder of jobs.

Pre-something?

What Dalakoglou is describing in his profound essay (the product of the transdisciplinarity of social anthropology at its best) are the post-cold war ‘new conditions for the dominant European spatialities’, transforming the momentary victory of the end of the Cold War, the downing of the Berlin wall that is to be succeeded, unless resisted, not by the liberation of a ‘brave new world’ but by the gleaming glass and steel symbol of London’s Shard—the product of the cooption and capture of a gentle and creative talents of a distinguished architect despite its lofty fascination for Londoners and tourists—for a new tyranny of domicide and of jobs emptied of meaning. What stands against the new tyranny could include the combined effect of, on one hand, ethical challenge from the incoming refugees(4) and, on the other, the playful and constructive challenge of the mothers, children and their allies. That would be ‘something’.

Bob Catterall, Chief Editor of CITY

Editorial to CITY, Vol. 20 Issue 2; see contents list below.

Contents list for Issue 20.1

Editorial: ‘This place is pre-something … ’ Bob Catterall, pages 175-179

Europe’s last frontier: The spatialities of the refugee crisis Dimitris Dalakoglou, pages 180-185

Singaporean ‘spaces of hope?’ Activist geographies in the city-state Jason Luger, pages 186-203

Special Feature: London’s Housing Crisis and its Activisms

London’s housing crisis and its activisms: Introduction Paul Watt & Anna Minton, pages 204-221

The housing crisis and London Michael Edwards, pages 222-237

A view from the top Unpacking capital flows and foreign investment in prime London Luna Glucksberg, pages 238-255

The housing crisis: A visual essay Anna Minton, Michela Pace & Henrietta Williams, pages 256-270

The London clearances Simon Elmer & Geraldine Dening, pages 271-277

Complete control: Developers, financial viability and regeneration at the Elephant and Castle Jerry Flynn, pages 278-286

‘Regeneration’ and ‘consultation’ at a Lambeth council estate: The case of Cressingham Gardens Pam Douglas & Joanne Parkes, pages 287-291

Building urban power from housing crisis: London’s Radical Housing Network Jacob Wills, pages 292-296

A nomadic war machine in the metropolis: En/countering London’s 21st-century housing crisis with Focus E15 Paul Watt, pages 297-320

Speculating on London’s housing future: The rise of global corporate landlords in ‘post-crisis’ urban landscapes Joe Beswick, Georgia Alexandri, Michael Byrne, Sònia Vives-Miró, Desiree Fields, Stuart Hodkinson & Michael Janoschka, pages 321-341

Notes

  1. China Miéville, London’s Overthrow, 2012.
  2. See the collection, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, The New Weird, 2008.
  3. For domicide see Hyun Bang Shin’s ‘Contesting Speculative Urbanisation and Strategising Discontents,’ City, 16.4–5, 2014.
  4. See the very challenging epigraph to Andreea Deciu Ritivoi; Intimate Strangers – Arendt, Marcuse, Solzhenitsyn and Said – in American Political Discourse, 2014.

Editorial: ‘Planetary’ urbanisation: insecure foundations, the commodification of knowledge, and paradigm shift

‘We’ve received an update this morning to say that Chennai is still being seriously affected by flooding due to further torrential rain. This has resulted in widespread disruption, there is no power, mobile communication is very badly affected with systems down and people unable to charge their phones and, internet connectivity is also very badly affected. Staff have not been able to come to the office, and given the conditions we have asked them not to try, when we have been able to contact them at all.’ (1) (Internal memorandum, 3.12.15)

That was the situation as reported that morning in Chennai, India, in, December 2015 as the just completed issue of CITY, 19.6, awaited publication. In one sense there had been a breakdown in communications under adverse weather conditions – that was all. But in another sense, looking at what was to be and eventually was transmitted, the breakdown can also be regarded as more than that, as, on the one hand, an example of the fragility of our technological condition, an intricate array of communication systems and work patterns, at a time of increasing globalisation and acute climatic change, but also, on the other, of the fragility of our knowledge and understanding of our condition, and underlying this, despite easy talk (how easy will be shown later) about contestation, of reform versus revolution (now safely evaded through resilience?), the creation/destruction opposition (now safely amalgamated?), of ‘urban’ versus the rural and ‘the city’, of commodities and commodification, paradigms, and epistemologies … These are insecure foundations. There was and is a failure, almost a will not to, to engage with the fundamentals (including communication processes) of our disciplines and, indeed of the planet itself (that is when mainstream urbanists can admit to the possibility of its existence, of such a fluid association of living entities, a para-structure rather than an infrastructure).

The title of that issue (19.6, see Figure 1) of the journal -momentarily lodged in Chennai through the apparent agency of a cyclone, rain, water, floods, deaths (nearing twice as many as those rightly mourned in Paris – the actual title extracted from one of the papers, ‘Where is the world at and where is it headed?’) signalled a further episode in the long-term commitment, over two decades, of this journal to grappling with such problems. The cover photo shows ‘a living ad’, a man struggling against the wind and rain, trying to stay on his feet and to hold on to his billboard. The film scene is a re-enactment of what the director, Tsai Ming-liang, had first seen ten years previously in Taipei, and then seen it ‘mushroom into an industry’ of homeless men advertising real estate. ‘It was’, he said, ‘as if their time had become worthless.’ It is the development of many such scenes coupled with the rising wealth and corruption of the estate industry and its clients that led former architect turned planning consultant and activist, Adrian Atkinson, after a generation of work in Vietnam and elsewhere to raise the question ‘Where is the world at and where is it heading?’

Where is the world heading? What is happening? Insofar as the theoretical and empirical basis of understanding such happenings is concerned there are signs of an absolutely crucial revival and development in red-green theory, a necessary part of a fundamental paradigm shift beyond (but not excluding) critical urban theory’s deliberate concentration on the social as distinct from the ‘natural’ environment. The bridging work here was particularly the still largely aborted discovery of late Marx (‘Russian Marx’ but not only that) by Teodor Shanin in the 1980s, and again by John Bellamy Foster at the turn of the century still, in a sense, struggling against the ‘critical’ zeitgeist. There are also signs of the potential in taking up the late work of Herbert Marcuse (to be considered in CITY later this year) as part of an equally crucial deepening understanding of culture/nature in Doreen Massey’s work and in some of the work associated with the Badiou-Zizek new communist/commonist movement (see section 4 below) and in Kate Shaw’s recent CITY roll/role-call (and also recent work by Hyun Bang Shin, Marcelo Lopes de Souza, Elvin Wyly, Mark Davidson and Sharon Meagher).

The analytical moves here, drawing in part on readings of East Asian experience and on critical urban and ‘green’ theory, towards answering the posed questions, had been preceded only a week and a half earlier by ‘the Paris attacks’, and (traced in earlier issues) only weeks earlier by the journeys of Syrian and other refugees across Europe, ‘To “the city of refuge”’ (19.5, see Figure 2), and earlier, in the summer, by the stilling and reversal of the great Greek revolt, with its focus (perhaps an excessive focus) on Syriza, ‘We are here’ (19.4, see Figure 3), by ‘the troika’.

Figure 1 ‘Where is the world at and where is it headed?’ Lee Kang-sheng as a living ad in Taipei, Stray Dogs, dir. Tsai Ming-liang (Photo: William Laxton).

Figure 1 ‘Where is the world at and where is it headed?’ Lee Kang-sheng as a living ad in Taipei, Stray Dogs, dir. Tsai Ming-liang (Photo: William Laxton).

1 ‘You’re surrounded … ’

These quasi-narratives of recent times were preceded by a double issue (19.2-3, see Figure 4), (‘You’re surrounded … ’, part of the title of an included paper by AbdouMaliq Simone) in which Neil Brenner and Christian Schmid’s ‘Towards a new epistemology of the urban?’ followed by Richard Walker’s ‘Building a better theory of the urban: A response to “Towards a new epistemology of the urban?”’ was published.

The two papers were indeed surrounded, followed by a wealth of other papers, and preceded by a long editorial (as is a distinctive practice in this journal, defined of late as a transdisciplinary, rather than a multidisciplinary, reading of its contents), both to an interpretive editorial reading of its various papers and related to what was seen as an image central to the issues’ major overlapping themes, a photograph, taken and deployed in his paper on African urban environments by David Simon, of Greenmarket Square, Cape Town.

Some implications of Simon’s photograph and text are discussed (in that issue, p. 148), also quoting from correspondence with him. The discussion concludes, linking that reference to an aspect of Walker’s paper, that a key absence from Brenner and Schmid’s paper, current rural/urban developments that Walker and Simon address, ‘predetermines the difficulties Brenner and Schmid encounter with “the rural”’ (not even addressing the deeper problem of ‘nature’).

The two contrasting papers were indeed surrounded. But the practice of selective downloading (so modern, so convenient, so taken-for-granted but so destructive of meanings and meaning) from an electronic version of what was and, though marginalised to some extent, still is, the fully edited hard copy of the journal, is no respecter of such contexts. This tendency coupled with the occasional preference of some authors to publish their work without adjacent critical commentary (which would, of course, not be added in the case of a relatively inexperienced and ‘unknown’ author) led on this occasion in some quarters to a furore of moral (academic) panic, scapegoating and a general sense that the fire had come this time.

Others saw little or nothing in the way of incendiary practices, just an impassioned but well-informed debate primed by an editor’s right to decide what/when/where to publish an item that had just arrived (encouraged in principle by our much-valued colleague, Brenner, himself) for the journal, and to do so with some celerity as real fires, floods and other disasters seem to be accumulating and devastating at an accelerating rate.

Responses need to be recorded, analysed and discussed with some sense of urgency so that appropriate actions can be taken in good time. For those who prefer to proceed in a more seemly, stately or ‘scientific’ (but see below) pace, there are other journals – though there is, of course, the danger that by the time that such leisurely alarm has been spread and action authorised, loss will have been maximised rather than minimised.

If this imbroglio was just a matter of hurt pride on both sides there would be no point in returning to it. But there is a point. There lies much behind the sound, fury (and tears) that is significant both for the disciplines associated with the currently elusive ‘urban’ and beyond it. As editor of another urban journal, in hiding, playfully perhaps, under a pseudonym as the missives and missiles flew and the tears had not yet dried, put it:

‘I am in love with Brenner and Schmid’s intentions “to ignite and advance further debate on the epistemological foundations for critical urban theory and practice,” and also with Walker’s goal of engaging Brenner and Schmid “in a spirit of friendly combat.” The key issue is that urbanization concentrates everything — economic productivity and innovation, technological change, rates of change of political alliances, the evolutionary dynamics of human cultures, traditions, and institutions — and also present-day conflict and disagreement.’ (2)

The writer concluded:

‘But “productivity” can, in certain circumstances, be measured in terms of the magnitude of the audience willing to reconsider the epistemological foundations of urbanism as a way of life—or of those engaging with friendly combat over which assumptions we should in this abandon and which intergenerational achievements should be preserved or extended. What is most crucial is that we all acknowledge and engage our disagreements in the urban agora, in City … ’

CITY has gone on to further conceptualise and demonstrate the value of considering its work across the academe/agora divide.

2. Commodified knowledge?

Returning, then, to one of the distinctive features of the journal, the central image on the cover of each issue and adjacent to the editorial, and usually selected from that issue, the image – in this case (20.1) taken from 19.6 but with updated comment here – is of floods in Vietnam suggesting perhaps relations (the function of such images in CITY is exploratory rather than literally illustrative) to foundational/fundamental tendencies presented here through six, to some extent discrete, areas of knowledge, some of them deployed with reference to mounting catastrophe. They are (in order of appearance): ‘justice and urban public space’, ‘the sanitary city’, ‘migration and diversity’, ‘resilience’, ‘the slum’ and ‘relational urbanism’.

Setha Low and Kurt Iveson’s propositions do offer experienced guidance for those for whom praxis refer to actual liberatory actions and practices. Sophie Schramm’s deployment of urban political ecology does illuminate the problems and the fragility of planning for the ‘modern’ sanitary city in riverrun Hanoi. The contributors to the special feature do provide—drawing on research on Athens, Milan’s Chinatown, on immigrants from Turkey and former Yugoslavia in Vienna, on transitory migration in Singapore, and Afro-Colombian integration in Bogota—some insights and their implications for understanding diversity in urban spaces. The contributors to the debate on resilience do cast light on the redemption of the concept and on the potential of practices guided by it. Sukriti Issor reviewing Liza Weinstein’s book on Dharavi in Mumbai, The Durable Slum, does set out its paradoxes without the acute dissatisfaction with the term displayed in an earlier special feature in this journal. And Colin McFarlane’s review of Ola Soderstrumm’s edited collection on urban development in Hanoi and Ouagadougou does in his references to ‘global’ rather than ‘planetary’, urbanisation, indicate that a field more limited than that implied by the uncritical use of ‘planetary’ is being studied.

These papers convey valuable information, but they are also as vulnerable as the technology that carries them, not only in relation to the occasionally threatened existence of the entities and knowledge to which they refer but also in relation to their overall potentially holistic and even cumulative value and meaning.

Probing deeper, the fragility or even the mystificatory potential of much mainstream academic work can be seen to arise from some aspects of this situation, one of the production of knowledge itself within ‘planetary urbanisation’, the global economy/society, late capitalism or the Anthropocene era – to take some of the currently available labels on offer by the specialist fields of legitimised commodified knowledge, the socio-spatial ‘sciences’ of the early twenty-first century.

On this occasion we have returned, principally, to the ‘surroundings’ and supposed core of 19.2-3 in order to further clarify the procedures we adopt, and their import. We question – on this occasion there is enough space only to question – two particularly prevalent and omnivorous (of space, time and attention) projects, labelled as ‘planetary urbanisation’ and powered by some apparently well-mannered notion of ‘science’, and conclude with further reference to one of our accelerating dangers.

3. Paradigm shift: ‘normal’ to ‘revolutionary’ science?

‘The new view of reality was by no means easy to accept … The exploration of … [that] reality brought them in contact with a strange and unexpected reality. In their struggle to grasp this new reality, [they] became painfully aware that their basic concepts, their language, and their whole way of thinking were inadequate … Their problems were not merely intellectual but amounted to an intense emotional and, one could say, even existential crisis.’

This description of what may at some level have been going on recently underneath the posturing about shocking improprieties, these references to painful awareness (though rarely declared) of the inadequacy of basic concepts, a shared language, a ‘whole way of thinking’, to something that was not just intellectual (or merely academic), to ‘an intense emotional and, one could say, even existential crisis’. This may have the ring of truth for those with some experience of people and ideas excluded from seminars, platforms, publication (the background talk behind such decisions sometimes slips out) when earthed paradigms and epistemologies—i.e., acknowledging the planet’s biocultural nature otherwise regarded as its inert, lifeless quality—are introduced.

This description refers in fact to the new physics of the early twentieth century.(3) A few references to physicists and subatomic reality have been edited out here to encourage a questioning of what is going on in the social and sociospatial ‘sciences’ now where strangely enough the old physics still, to a large extent, lives or staggers on in a recourse to somewhat limiting forms of empiricism as a partially legitimate reaction to excessive doses of Theory. This is not the place to argue this out but to suggest to readers that they will find it argued out in CITY since its inception twenty years ago in 1996 (a review of physicist Fritjof Capra’s popular but not populist work by Oxford University theoretical physicist, C.V. Sukumar, (4) was important), the second episode by Melissa Wilson, a biologist, of a chronicle of CITY’s project (5) begins to follow out the path of what Thomas Kuhn’s account of paradigm shifts refers to as ‘revolutionary’ science. Insofar as such shifts involve barricades some ‘planetary’ urbanisation specialists seem, sadly, to have positioned themselves on the wrong side of this one.(6)

4. The water this time?

‘[F]looding … further torrential rain … widespread disruption … no power, mobile communication very badly affected with systems down … people unable to charge their phones … internet connectivity is very badly affected. Staff not able to come to the office … we have asked them not to try, when we have been able to contact them at all.’

The scene in Chennai with which we started. Perhaps a modest beginning to the age of drowning settlements and cities were it not for the fact that the West/North seemed not to notice that nearly twice as many people died in Chennai, to repeat the ugly fact, as died in Paris and that the New Orleans disaster ‘happened’ over ten years ago (2005). As to what’s happening, the necessary communicative (rather than merely academic/professional) part of paradigm shift), Susan Buck-Morss, in her ‘commonist ethics’, offers that question for the starting point of a grounded ‘crude thinking’ re-think of action strategy:

‘What’s happening?’(The pragmatic alternative to ‘historical ontology’)’ (7)

She argues (differing from Lacan and Badiou), ‘it is not “truth” that punches a hole in knowledge’, it is a truth of engaged action, a ‘pragmatics of the suddenly possible… not a bad definition of what a commonist ethics would imply.’

The photo of a flooded street in Ho Chi Minh City with which this editorial opens is modest. It is a frequent sight in the rainy season but Adrian Atkinson, whose earlier report from there we published in our previous issue, writes now (19 January, 2016):

‘Laur (our town) that was spared only by a dyke that is now badly eroded – first a raging torrent forming a lake and then the agricultural land eroded and now a sea of gravel. Next time the town is liable to be swept away unless substantial engineering works are implemented. I had lunch today in Cabanatuan (the largest city in the province with about 300,000 population) with friends who said in the December event the water in their house was up to their knees. Earlier Julie’s niece, who also lives in the city, said in the October event ‘only’ knee high but in the December event the water was almost up to her arm pits.’

‘The fact is that we, here, are getting the first of the severe climate change. It is expected, however, that Pacific typhoons will be swinging further south in future and that is when Ho Chi Minh City can expect increasing problems.’

Putting Chennai, Ho Chi Minh City and Paris together do we get an old African-American (8) prophetic sequence?

‘God gave Noah the rainbow sign,

No more water, the fire next time.’

African Americans have, to some extent, though at massive cost, survived the water ‘attacks’ but as James Baldwin asserted in 1993 it is The Fire Next Time.

‘Spared only by a dyke that is now badly eroded…’

An approach to urbanisation that marginalises the earthy riverrun planet, the commodification of knowledge that supports such marginalisation, such are the insecure foundations that sanitised new epistemologies hide and that a genuine paradigm shift needs to secure.

Acknowledgements

Particular acknowledgement goes on this occasion to those who have put their minds to finding the positive potential that lies behind current discussions of, and silences about ‘planetary urbanisation’ aired of late in and around CITY. It has always been the policy of the journal to act as a forum, sometimes bordering on an arena or as an academe often bordering on the agora. The commitment to a struggle for truth about the full range of these phenomena and descriptions is in our view essential, as is a willingness to consider at times to what extent that struggle has turned into one for power rather than truth.

At one point these struggles surfaced between the editor of CITY and one of its finest contributors, Neil Brenner, who has made massive contributions to the work of the journal. We have throughout these debates made clear our continuing commitment to exploring the work of Neil Brenner, Christian Schmid and his associates (some of whom are also our associates).

Many thanks to colleagues who have spared time to make comments on various drafts of this editorial with a positive outcome in mind. It is to be hoped that the struggles have reached that point of mutual exploration and all are ready to begin to surpass its most difficult moments. If so, that may take the form—and there are signs that it is already taking that form—of the acknowledgement of significant differences mediated by what we have come to define as a policy of ‘critical pluralism’.

The stakes are high. The CITY project is committed not just to scholarship, policy and action but to forms of praxis that we have at times expressed through the deliberately provocative slogan of ‘Reclaim the City and the Planet!’

Bob Catterall, Chief Editor of CITY

Editorial to CITY, Vol. 20 Issue 1; see contents list below.

Contents list for Issue 20.1

Editorial: ‘Planetary’ urbanisation: insecure foundations, the commodification of knowledge, and paradigm shift Bob Catterall, pages 1-9

Propositions for more just urban public spaces Setha Low & Kurt Iveson, pages 10-31

Flooding the sanitary city: Planning discourse and the materiality of urban sanitation in Hanoi Sophie Schramm, pages 32-51

Special Feature: Migration and the City: Diversity, Migrant Economies and Urban Space

Migration and the city Diversity, migrant economies and urban space: Introduction Panos Hatziprokopiou, Yannis Frangopoulos & Nicola Montagna, pages 52-60

Migrant economies and everyday spaces in Athens in times of crisis Panos Hatziprokopiou & Yannis Frangopoulos, pages 61-74

Migrants’ settlement in two central neighborhoods of Athens: An analytical framework for urban transformations and interethnic coexistence Dimitris Balampanidis & Iris Polyzos, pages 75-90

The contestation of space in Milan’s Chinatown Nicola Montagna, pages 91-100

Business activities of immigrants from Turkey and the former Yugoslavia in Vienna: Group-specific branch concentrations versus locally determined variations Josef Kohlbacher & Ursula Reeger, pages 101-115

Transitory community hubs: How temporary migration transforms a neighbourhood in Singapore Edda Ostertag, pages 116-129

Afro-Colombian integration in mestizo cities: The case of Bogotá Jorge Ivan Bula Escobar, pages 130-141

Debates

Can resilience be redeemed? Introduction Zac Taylor & Alex Schafran, page 142

Can resilience be redeemed? Resilience as a metaphor for change, not against change Geoff DeVerteuil & Oleg Golubchikov, pages 143-151

Rethinking resilience as capacity to endure: Automobility and the city Tim Schwanen, pages 152-160

Resilience is not enough Kate Driscoll Derickson, pages 161-166

Reviews

The paradoxical slum Sukriti Issar, pages 167-170

Comparing relational urbanism Colin McFarlane, pages 171-173

Notes

  1. Internal memo (3.12.15 update on the position of our publisher’s typesetters in Chennai as CITY awaited publication).
  2. “Academe or Agora? Re-situating the Urban Epistemology Debate,” by CITYzen.
  3. Capra, F., The Web of Life: A New Synthesis of Mind and Matter. Harper Collins, 1996; London: Flamingo, 1997, p. 5.
  4. See C.V. Sukumar (1996) “A New Paradigm for Science and Architecture.” City 1 (1–2): 181–183; (1997) “Towards a New Paradigm for Sustainability – A Holistic Approach to Biology.” City 2 (8): 154–160. My thanks to Professor Sukumar for a recent (January, 2016) discussion of these matters.
  5. See Wilson, M. (2015) “CITY’s Holistic and Cumulative Project (1996–2016): (2) Towards Millennium?” City 19 (4): 585–612.
  6. Not so perhaps in Brenner’s edited volume Implosions/Explosions … (2014)? We shall see.
  7. Buck-Morss, S. (2013) “A Commonist Ethics.” In The Idea of Communism 2, edited by S. Zizek, 57–75. London: Verso.
  8. The deep and universal significance of African- American culture has been a persistent preoccupation in City, most recently in the reference to ‘cities of refuge’ in the editorial on the current European refugee crisis (19.5). The lack of interest in that culture and in those lives displayed in so much socio-spatial ‘science’, except as a specialist preserve, suggests that current mainstream talk of a new paradigm or a new epistemology is perhaps a little premature?

CITY at the AAG 2016, San Francisco, March 29 – April 2

Supported by twenty years of the study of urban, urban-rural, global/planetary trends and action/inaction, CITY has turned increasingly to a holistic but also various and detailed series of accounts of ‘where the world is at’ and to where it is and might/could/should be heading.

Its panel sessions for this year’s AAG and the current issue of the journal (20.1) take up these and related themes: Download flyer for more info >>

See also the editorial from our latest issue, 20.1 ‘Planetary’ urbanisation: insecure foundations, the commodification of knowledge, and paradigm shift

City sponsored panels at the 2016 AAG:

The Urban Process under Planetary Accumulation by Dispossession 1.

Session no. 2571

Wed, 30 March at 3:20 PM – 5:00 PM in Golden Gate Room, Hotel Nikko, 25th Floor

What does the never-ending crisis of globalisation tell us about the spatial nature of capitalist accumulation and dispossession? Is there a limit to the ways in which global capitalism mutates to escape its own contradictions? If capitalism only displaces problems rather than solving them, who bears the brunt and who decides their fate? What will be the outlook of planetary urbanisation of capital without China-sponsored capitalism? How can the left use socio-spatial processes to produce radical alternatives to residual, dominant and emerging forms of power?

David Harvey’s theory of uneven geographical development continues to provoke such questions as well as provide invaluable insights into the way the urban process is not only central to the economic accumulation of capital, but also the terrain in which capitalists seek to liberate themselves from democratic control. Harvey’s major lesson is that any project to overcome capitalism’s legitimacy, is tied to our ability to confront the way capital transforms daily life to compound its own growth rate.

CITY had the pleasure of publishing Harvey’s reflection on urbanisation in its first ever issue. On this occasion to commemorate its 20th anniversary, CITY is pulling together a series of panels to explore how Harvey’s critique of urban accumulation maps the deterritorializing terrain of crisis, tracking new spaces of dispossession, and expressions of revolt and revolution.

The aim isn’t simply to highlight the legacy of a celebrated intellectual, instead we want to explore how Harvey’s work connects with a growing but also contentious field, in which CITY has played a significant part, of theoretical analysis, empirical research and political activism, one which helps expose strategic weaknesses in contemporary capitalism, fights the consolidation of political economic power, and gives us the intellectual tools to avoid blind alleys and help in the construct ion of liberatory ways forward.

'El Immigrante' - mural by Joel Bergner in San Francisco's Mission District

'El Inmigrante' - mural by Joel Bergner in San Francisco's Mission District

Hyun Bang Shin
Bob Catterall

Chair:

Bob Catterall

Participants:

Elvin K. Wyly
Ilse Helbrecht
Ayona Datta
Miguel Robles-Duran
Hyun Bang Shin

Sponsorships:

Urban Geography Specialty Group
Political Geography Specialty Group
Socialist and Critical Geography Specialty Group

The Urban Process under Planetary Accumulation by Dispossession 2.

Session no. 2671

Wed, 30 March at 5:20 PM – 7:00 PM, in Golden Gate Room, Hotel Nikko, 25th Floor

Mural in San Francisco, Photo: Elvin Wyley.Chair:

Hyun Bang Shin

Participants:

Nasser Abourahme
Bob Catterall
Alex Loftus
Matthew Gandy

Sponsorship:

Urban Geography Specialty Group
Political Geography Specialty Group
Socialist and Critical Geography Specialty Group



The Practical Person’s Guide to the city, urbanisation, and the planet

Session no. 3465

Thur, 31 March at 1:20 PM – 3:00 PM, in Nikko Ballroom II, Hotel Nikko, 3rd Floor

Some recent debates on, variously, ‘the city’, the urban (or urban-rural), urbanisation, and the planet in relation to their theoretical, empirical and/or political bases and implications have  surfaced, without  fully addressing each other. We  invite a full discussion of these in relation to aspects of four papers: “Beyond city limits: a conceptual and political defense of ‘the city’ as an anchoring concept..’.(Mark Davidson and Kurt Iveson); “Urbanizing Urban Political Ecology: A Critique of Methodological Cityism.”(Hillary Angelo and David Wachsmuth); “Towards the Great Transformation: Where/what is culture in ‘Planetary Urbanisation’? Towards a new paradigm” (Bob Catterall); and ‘The intelligent woman’s guide to the urban question'(Kate Shaw).

Mural in San Francisco, Photo: Elvin Wyley.Organiser:

Mark Davidson

Chair:

Nasser Abourahme

Participants:

Hillary Angelo
Richard A. Walker
Mark Davidson
Kate Shaw
Bob Catterall

Sponsorship:

Urban Geography Specialty Group

Amateur Urbanism

Session no. 3565

Thur, 31 March at 3:20 PM – 5:00 PM in Nikko Ballroom II, Hotel Nikko, 3rd Floor

In this lecture sponsored by CITY, Andy Merrifield will present his current work on Amateur Urbanism. Professionals and wannabe professionals are everywhere in urban studies today, everywhere in the exclusive running and ruining of cities, everywhere in the control of urban economies, everywhere in austerity drives, everywhere in think tanks and institutions who study cities, everywhere mass media have a say about cities, everywhere the grant money flows, the payroll beckons and the spotlight shines. The biggest problem this professionalism poses for any urban dissenter—for people I shall call amateurs—is representation. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation, into a representation done for and by professionals. And professionals brook no dissent. Professionals are realists; everybody else lives in cloud-cuckoo-land. This paper stakes out its terrain in cloud-cuckoo-land and explores the nemesis of professionalised urbanism: amateur urbanism, an urban knowledge and practice not on anybody’s payroll, a passionate labour of love.

Organiser:

Kurt Iveson

Chair:

Bob Catterall

Participants:

Andy Merrifield
Kurt Iveson


CITY LIGHTS bookstore, San Francisco

Hard copies of the journal CITY – analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action, are available in San Francisco from the City Lights bookstore:

City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco.San Francisco Landmark #228
City Lights Bookstore
261 Columbus Avenue
Between Broadway and Pacific North Beach, Built 1907

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by  madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn  looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient
heavenly  connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat
up smoking in the supernatural darkness of  cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities
contemplating jazz…. “
(Beginning of Howl by Allen Ginsberg.)

Howl was first performed at the Six Gallery in San Francisco on October 7, 1955, by Ginsberg’s friends and fellow poets Gary Snyder, Philip Lamantia, Philip Whalen, Michael McClure and Kenneth Rexroth. Soon afterwards, it was published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who ran City Lights Bookstore and the City Lights Press.

City Lights was founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin. Although it has been more than fifty years since tour buses with passengers eager to sight “beatniks” began pulling up in front of City Lights, the Beats’ legacy of anti-authoritarian politics and insurgent thinking continues to be a strong influence in the store, most evident in the selection of titles.

See City Lights website for the complete Short History of City Lights >>

San Francisco Landmark #228
City Lights Bookstore
261 Columbus Avenue Between Broadway and Pacific
North Beach
Built 1907

Anti-consumption in crisis

In Greece the transition from discontented European consumer society to deprived, post-crisis and austerity-laden, has had huge impacts on the people; but it has also prompted socially oriented alternative movements to adjust their identities in the face of shifting priorities: in the example explored below, for example, from cultural resistance to meeting basic needs. In doing so, one collective’s demonstration proved to offer a highly relevant model for alternative, sustainable, inclusive and affirmative forms of exchange and encounter, with multiple positive social effects. With the intensification of the refugee crisis in Europe – this model’s relevance is only like to grow; indeed there are already many such examples of solidarity and autonomy emerging; as the state-led social support fabric of cities is stripped bare by austerity policies, new inclusive forms of urbanism appear.

Investigating consumer-oriented activism, Andreas Chatzidakis and Pauline Maclaran present below this ethnographic film about Skoros, the anti-consumerist collective in Exarcheia, Athens that was established in 2008, right before the beginning of the Crisis. It runs a space where people can come and give, take, or give and take goods and exchange services without any expectations of reciprocity, and without using money. A series of interviews with members of the Skoros collective and its customers, show how the ‘free shop’ came into being on the margins of consumer culture offering an inherent critique of competition and scarcity, turning ‘one man’s waste’ into ‘another man’s treasure’. The video offers us insight into the collective’s experience of self organisation in the everyday realm of exchange, transforming a formerly negative experience of consumerism into one of community building and solidarity, from a worldview based on scarcity to one of abundance.

by Andreas Chatzidakis and Pauline Maclaran

Originally, Skoros emerged as a response to an increasingly commercialized and consumerist (Athenian) society. It represented an experimentation with doing things differently: by gifting, sharing, and exchanging; and by foregrounding the values of communality, degrowth, solidarity and social justice.

A few months after Skoros’ opening I was in Athens for my sabbatical research on forms of consumer-oriented activism and I enthusiastically joined the collective. Back then, it was rather easier to apply conventional critiques of consumerism, not least because Athens appeared conspicuously wealthier, a world-class consumer city. Shopping in super-sized malls and fredoccino-fuelled encounters became cultural norms, not searching for second-hand items or socialising with strangers in grotty-looking places. I remember, for example, observing people that would reluctantly enter, take an item and then insist on donating whatever they considered to be the equivalent market value. Skoros’ idea was too radical for them to grasp.

Of course there were also other visitors that refused to entertain the idea of Skoros. As Heracles explains in the documentary, they were those who brought and those who took too many things. Both were a “problem”, the former because they simply wanted to alleviate their middle-class guilt (as is the case in many charity shops); and the latter because they in effect promoted alternative over-consumption. “Limits” soon had to be imposed in respect to the maximum number of items one could both bring and/or take, a containing – yet somewhat contentious – solution.

Despite its problems, Skoros proved to be a very popular, and in this sense successful, place. As Nancy puts it, “this is something important that Skoros has achieved. Perhaps because it found itself in this area, in this location, as a neighbourhood shop and not within a squat or a social centre. It opened its doors to the neighbourhood, people walked in. In fact, many of those who came were people who had never done something like this before”.

But then came the Crisis, as Zoe explains: “It suddenly dawned upon us: “Resistance? To what exactly? Things are different now”. Put differently, the Crisis imposed a different kind of “here and now”, one focused less on trying to do things differently and more on urgency, a need to provide solidarity to an increasing number of people who were approaching and falling below the poverty line. Skoros’s critique of consumer needs became somewhat redundant. As a leaflet back in December 2011 wrote “…How can we insist that ‘we are not a charity’ when poverty is next to us, around and above us and it is growing massively? How to counterpropose solidarity and community when the crisis isolates individuals and makes them turn against each other?…” More recently, solidarity has also had to be channelled to the thousands of Syrian refugees who have reached the ports of Athens.

Throughout the crisis anti-consumption, as originally understood, was no longer relevant; it had to be re-evaluated and redefined. This film is produced and directed almost entirely by members of the collective, in an attempt to narrate the evolution of what seemed to be a rather simple idea.

The film is also about the power of people to exercise agency in the face of formidable socio-economic circumstances, it is about solidarity/ies, and the collective joys of doing things differently.

Written by Andreas Chatzidakis & Pauline Maclaran

Andreas Chatzidakis is Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the School of Management, Marketing and Centre for Research into Sustainability, Royal Holloway University of London. Pauline Maclaran is Professor of Marketing & Consumer Research in the School of Management at Royal Holloway University of London.

Research: Andreas Chatzidakis, Pauline Maclaran, Alexandros Korpas Prelorentzos

Project Supervision: Andreas Chatzidakis

Shot and directed by Athina Souli

Produced by Zoe Kanelopoulou

Executive producers: Andreas Chatzidakis & Pauline Maclaran

Sound operator: Giorgos Politakis

Edited by Stavros Symeonidis

Music Supervision: Elena Fornaro

Graphics: Lito Valiatza

Intervieweees (in order of appearance): Nancy Palta, Dora Kotsaka, Zoe Kanelopoulou, Elena Fornaro, Vanda Davetta, Heidi Zotika, visitor from Ghana, Lito Valiatza, Lila Kaniari, Babis Kavouras, Iraklis Panagoulis, Alexandros Korpas Prelorentz.

Editorial: To ‘the city of refuge’

Budapest, 4 September, 2015, the scene at the Keleti station. With historic buildings in the background, the most prominent part of the photograph(1) is of the camps of refugees in the brightly illuminated ‘transit zone’. Considering the accents through light, there is a strong juxtaposition/connection between ‘city’ and ‘camp’.

During the night large groups of the refugees had been brought to the Austrian border in buses. Their hopes were centered on and in Germany. Not quite two weeks later, the situation here and elsewhere in Europe had changed abruptly. The Guardian, viewing this from the shorelines of Western Europe, provided a neat and moderate characterisation:

‘Europe has moved from a moment of compassion and empathy with Syrian and other migrants striving to reach our shores back toward a reassertion of the fortress mentality that aims to stop them, sort them and return them, save for a proportion deemed to have a real claim to our hospitality.’(2)

Camps have, of course, long been emerging, short-stay ones, here and elsewhere in Europe and across the globe, some having already become, some long ago, others becoming now ‘durable’ perhaps, others declining or eliminated. At this moment, elites and/or residents of cities have been churning with no marked preference for unison with refugees and camps. ‘City’ and ‘camp’ are both, it seems, juxtaposed in opposition and connected through sympathy and/or solidarity at different moments. What lies beneath and beyond these moments?

In search of answers, drawing on and supplementing material in this and the previous issue, we make six moves. We turn, first, back to assertions investigated in our preceding editorial—‘We are here’ and ‘We say no’ with particular reference to Jerusalem in 2014 and this year in Greece—and to the territories staked out in Souza’s ‘From the Right to the City to the Right to the Planet’.

Second, with the Special Feature in this issue, we turn to camps, ‘Durable Camps’, in Europe, the USA and the Middle East, with some attention to Germany. Third, to ‘cities’ globally, to Chinese ‘small cities’ and to big cities with ‘Luxified skies: how vertical housing became an elite preserve’.

We turn, fourth and fifth, to epistemological questions, to the theoretical and practical question of whether ‘the city’ can and should be saved from the apparent stranglehold of ‘the new urban epistemology’; and to the question of epistemology itself, to the multi-disciplinary approach of the special feature, and to some indication of supplementary material that would contribute to a more trans-disciplinary approach, using, in this case, mainly literary accounts of the refugee crisis.

Finally, we turn to futures, as implied by scholarly questionings, or to simultaneously apocalyptic and utopian insights as combined in the image of ‘the city of refuge’.


Journeys, camps, cities, the planet

If we return, first, to journeys and assertions made, stories told and investigated in the editorial to our previous issue—‘We are here’ and ‘We say no’ with particular reference to the Greek Euro-crisis this summer and, also to the move made in Souza’s ‘From the Right to the City to the Right to the Planet’—we have a setting for our analytical narrative now. Germany at that stage appeared as the major threat within the troika to Athens and Greece. The drama plays out within the systemic struggle of capitalism to reverse social gains made in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, subsequently with reclamation and extension in the form of popular struggles such as that of Occupy and the Right to the City and an emerging one, not just to the Right but also to a Duty to the Planet.

Our preliminary exploration of these two assertions and claims, ‘We are here’ and ‘We say no’, included two distinctions, first, between the exclusionary unilateral mainstream version of planetary urbanisation (touching occasionally on the actual existence of ‘the rural’, otherwise excluded by ‘the new epistemology’ in a less than beneficent revival of Magoovianism)3 as opposed to the full bi-lateral model. The material included now on camps and cities in this issue supplements and challenges even the sophisticated multi-disciplinary rather than transdisciplinary(3) approach (to use a second distinction previously set out above and explored in the next section below, on ‘Epistemologies…and refugees’), of the special feature, ‘Durable camps: the state, the urban, the everyday’, edited by Giovanni Picker and Silvia Pasquetti.

The camps reviewed by Picker, Pasquetti and colleagues are in Europe, including particularly Germany and the ‘gypsy camps of the UK and Italy, in the USA, the tent cities, and in the Middle East, in and around Israel with Palestinians, Bedouin and some Israeli settlements(4). Included among its six papers, is Elena Fontanari’s ‘Confined to the threshold: The experiences of asylum seekers in Germany’ which points to the established institutional machinery that will, unless challenged and disabled, together with racist and right-wing movements, undermine generous intentions towards refugees.(5)

We turn, third, from camps to ‘cities’. Could it be, that, despite some negative tendencies, camps nevertheless become, in some situations, relatively safe havens, acceptable to the residents and to already entrenched citizens? Or, at the other extreme, could it be that the non-camp settlements, the normative ‘city’, the more conventionally established urbanised forms, are heading, despite apparent legitimacy, in a non-emancipatory, possibly terminal direction? What Paul Kendall sees in his ‘Between big city and authentic village: Branding the small Chinese city’, a study of Kaili in south-west-China, is its contradictions

‘as it defines itself against the village while utilizing rural imagery for branding purposes, and as it defines itself against the big city while attempting to climb China’s urban hierarchy … ’

He finds, though, nothing too threatening; whereas this is not what Stephen Graham finds in his powerful and deeply disturbing critique, drawing on case studies from Vancouver, New York, London, Mumbai and Guatemala City, of ‘Luxified skies: How vertical urban housing became an elite preserve’. Graham refers to

‘the wholesale dismantling of the mass social housing movements— movements whose often dilapidated legacies of vertical housing are either being erased and rebuilt as upmarket towers for the rich or demonised—the last few decades have seen a striking colonisation of the urban skies by the world’s super-rich. The construction of the myth that stacked and vertical housing can never work for people on low incomes has directly worked to clear the way for the elite takeover of the urban skies’

What epistemologies could see rather than occlude such a process? Certainly not those that uncritically deploy, often without quotation marks or qualification, Schumpeter’s once relatively critical term of ‘creative destruction’. Does a contemporary reminder of Walter Benjamin’s reading of Paul Klee’s ‘Angelus Novus’ bring us nearer to grasping what is happening?

Epistemologies … and refugees

‘In one of his essays the German Jewish philosopher and literary critic Walter Benjamin writes compellingly about the Paul Klee painting known as Angelus Novus. The eponymous angel stares out from the canvas in something akin to shock: unable to move, his eyes widened, his mouth open, refusing to believe what he sees … All alone and defenceless, he watches an impending storm that will bring only chaos, confusion and cruelty.’ (Elif Shafak)(6)

Is this too extreme a characterisation of their/our situation now? What Graham has chronicled is something far, far beyond the ‘creative destruction’ in effect of the city. It is grimly ironic that this has been followed by the ‘new urban epistemology’ with the destruction of the very concept of ‘the city’. It is this act of genteel academic vandalism that Mark Davidson and Kurt Iveson gently and respectfully challenge in their ‘Beyond city limits: A conceptual and political defense of ‘the city’ as an anchoring concept for critical urban theory’. The relevance of their defence of the concept of ‘the city’ is succinctly stated in their concluding statement:’

‘Put simply, for many millions of people across the planet, the particularities of city life form the context from which planetary urbanization is experienced, understood and potentially transformed.’

But it is not just ‘the city’ and many millions of city people whose ways of life are under threat. Davidson and Iveson write:

‘We would also add that this approach to cities and the urban leaves space for ‘the rural’ to continue to matter for spatial theory and emancipatory politics in a similar manner to—and indeed, in relation to—‘the city.’

This claim also relates to many millions of people ‘on the run’ from the countryside or from planetary urbanisation or war.

Turkish novelist Elif Shafrak follows up her reference to Klee’s’ Angelus Novus with a particular contemporary contextualisation:

‘ … he watches an impending storm that will bring only chaos, confusion and cruelty. ‘In video footage from Hungary, I saw the same expression on the face of a refugee. The man can be seen running while clutching a little child and carrying the bags that have become his sole possession in life. Suddenly, a camerawoman … stretches her leg forward and deliberately trips him up … The woman keeps filming. The man lifts his head and looks with incredulous eyes at this stranger … On his face is disbelief, just like the angel in the painting.’

Shafrak continues with a discussion of what lies beneath and beyond such moments. Immediately, it is the camerawoman’s employment by a TV company ‘known for its close ties with the ultranationalist Jobbik party.’ Beyond that she pinpoints the items that characterise that ‘impending storm that will bring only chaos, confusion and cruelty.’ She talks, too, of the forces that can resist, calm, transform it, including ‘our global political and cultural discourse as agents of change.’ But are academics agents of change?

Picker and Pasquetti, in their valuable introduction to the ‘Durable Camps’ special feature seem not too sure. On the one hand, their initial epistemological section, ‘Durable Camps: an interdisciplinary debate’, points to the significance of Agamben, ‘bringing together Schmitt, Benjamin, Arendt and Foucault’s thinking’, borders on the particular interdisciplinary versus transdisciplinary debate which City is mounting. On the other hand, their final section, ‘Enduring Analyses’, though admirably ‘responsible’ in its ‘utopian stance’ seems to point to a somewhat optimistic Fabian and finicky conclusion:

‘where a truly responsible utopian stance on urban life and in general on human thinking and acting would keep on motivating enduring analyses, which would ever more effectively undermine the taken-for-granted nature of the social world.’

Can such discourse contribute to the formation and practice of ‘agents for change’? Perhaps this is a necessary counter-statement to much self- and other-deluding razzamatazz about revolution?

Andy Merrifeld has no doubts about academics/professionals as agents of change. In his debate piece, ‘Amateur urbanism’, he states

‘Professionals and wannabe professionals are everywhere in urban studies today, everywhere in the exclusive running and ruining of cities, everywhere in the control of urban economies, everywhere in austerity drives, everywhere in think tanks and institutions who study cities, everywhere mass media have a say about cities, everywhere the grant money flows, the payroll beckons and the spotlight shines.’

‘The biggest problem’, he continues,

‘that this professionalism poses for any urban dissenter—for people I shall call amateurs—is representation. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation, into a representation done for and by professionals. And professionals brook no dissent.’

From this journal’s recent experience, with a cognitive base in the agora as well as academe, of the tension between them, Merrifield’s charge has some substance: ‘professionals brook no dissent’. And there is not too much evidence of the forces that can resist, calm, transform the impending storm.

Cities of refuge

‘I’m gonna run, I’m gonna run,

I’m gonna run to the city of refuge,

I’m gonna run’

Could cities and/or the camps, become in some situations, ‘cities of refuge’ as gateways to a deeper, materially grounded, liberated, utopian and/or more spiritual way of life, that was once celebrated in a perhaps necessarily contradictory way in African-American gospel music and blues?(7) Could pioneers of such possibilities work more extensively together, testifying to their cognitive base in the agora as well as academe, extending their gaze beyond unilateral ‘planetary urbanization’, giving to that marginalised adjective its full status as an essentially non-urban entity or entities, attending not only to the juxtaposition/connection of the camp and the city but to the need for cities of refuge and their crucial dependence on and engagement with the land, the planet?

Bob Catterall, Chief Editor of CITY

Editorial to CITY, Vol. 19 Issue 5; see contents list below.

Contents list for Issue 19.5

Editorial: To ‘the city of refuge’ Bob Catterall, pages 613-617

Luxified skies How vertical urban housing became an elite preserve Stephen Graham, pages 618-645

Beyond city limits: A conceptual and political defense of ‘the city’ as an anchoring concept for critical urban theory Mark Davidson & Kurt Iveson, pages 646-664

Between big city and authentic village: Branding the small Chinese city Paul Kendall, pages 665-680

Special Feature: Durable Camps

Durable camps: the state, the urban, the everyday. Introduction Giovanni Picker & Silvia Pasquetti, pages 681-688

The roots and implications of the USA’s homeless tent cities Chris Herring & Manuel Lutz, pages 689-701

Negotiating control: Camps, cities and political life Silvia Pasquetti, pages 702-713

Confined to the threshold: The experiences of asylum seekers in Germany Elena Fontanari, pages 714-726

Spreading and concentrating: The camp as the space of the frontier Irit Katz, pages 727-740

Colonial refractions: the ‘Gypsy camp’ as a spatio-racial political technology Giovanni Picker, Margaret Greenfields & David Smith, pages 741-752

Amateur urbanism Andy Merrifield, pages 753-762

Reviews

Narratives of urban life Caroline Knowles, pages 763-765

Where is home? Why home is not at the same place in the USA and Europe Melissa Ley-Cervantes & Jan Willem Duyvendak, pages 766-769

Questioning integrationist policies in Berlin: the role of neighbourhood initiatives in the city of difference Elena Ostanel, pages 770-774

Notes

  1. Axel Braun, “Budapest, Keleti Pályaudvar, 2015”. © Axel Braun, www.axelbraun.org
  2. The Guardian, September 15, 2015.
  3. For a discussion of transdisciplinarity, see Catterall, B. 2013. “Towards the Great Transformation: (11) Where/What is Culture in ‘Planetary Urbanisation’? Towards a New Paradigm.” City 18 (3): 368–379.
  4. See the important Guardian feature (each piece is short but often powerful) of September 12, 2015, ‘It can no longer be ignored’, drawing on largely non-European ‘writers’ (i.e. literary rather than ‘social scientific’). Strongly recommended are Pankaj Mishra, Orhan Pamuk, and Rana Dasgupta, in general; but, also particularly for their strong visual and visceral focus, the already quoted Elif Shafak and Ahdaf Souief’s description and exploration of another Hungarian image (28 August) for its implications. The only such source deployed in the multi-disciplinary remit of ‘Durable Camps’ is a passing reference to Kafka in the paper about the German situation.
  5. Also in this issue, Elena Ostanel’s review of Turkish Berlin. Integration policy & urban space, provides another warning.
  6. “It Can No Longer Be Ignored.” The Guardian, September 12, 2015.
  7. Take particular note of Blind Willie Johnson’s and the Rev. C.J. Johnson’s (not a relative) versions of ‘run to the city of refuge’. C. J. moves on from Blind WIllie’s ‘I’m gonna run’ to ‘You better run’. An admirably comprehensive grounded account of the German situation that includes but goes well beyond warnings and conventional politics is Loren Balhorn’s ‘Don’t count on Merkel’, www.jacobinmag.com/2015/09/european-union-refugee-crisis-germany/ (accessed September 11, 2015).

Editorial: ‘We are here’

‘We, the sons and daughters of this land, are opening our doors, walking out into the streets and taking up positions in town plazas to say: We are here.’(1)

A journey and an assertion made one morning in Jerusalem after the summer of 2014: ‘We are here’. Or it could be a journey and a position taken on summer days in squares, streets, cafes outside banks in Athens and beyond in Greece in the summer of 2015, expressed in the assertion: ‘We say No’.

Universalising the steps taken above, ‘we’ can be, not just those who come from ‘this land’ but also ‘those who came … from arbitrary and despotic lands’(2). or those decimated by ‘development’ across the planet. Such people are ‘taking up positions in town plazas’ and elsewhere. Who/what did or do they encounter? What support, obstacles, fulfilment, confusions that lead to what? To further ‘arbitrary and despotic’ responses and conditions, leading to liberatory movements, terminated through oppression and/or premature death, and/or transcendence, also possibly involving acute suffering, through radical change?

Re-assembling the papers and reviews in this issue of City, in the light of recent events in Athens, Greece, Europe in the summer of 2015, in order to reflect on such journeys, testing and extending Academe(3) through explorations with multidisciplinary studies sometimes tending towards transdisciplinary ones that take in the spaces of the Agora and beyond, we construct a four-stage exploration.

The first is from Jerusalem to the planet, ‘reinterpreting our contemporary challenges for socio-spatial development’.

The second takes in two British cities and six cities classified as European and ‘in crisis’ (the latter grouping concluded with a comparison with Singapore). We move in the case of the British cities from notions of modelling urban futures in Liverpool to the unrealised semi-fiction of an abandoned comprehensive transport plan in London. In the case of the European ‘crisis’ cities the move is towards understanding affective encounter (s).

Third, taking up notions of gentrification and fascism, reconsidering London, drawing on City’s ‘holistic and cumulative project’(4) – itself a journey that has extended, in a reverse process from the Agora of its founding years in the late 1990s to its occasionally uneasy encampment on the borders of Academe from 2000 whilst seeking to retain and develop the disturbing urgency and vitality of the Agora.

Fourth, we return both to the planet and to some questions raised by the assertions ‘We are here’, made one morning in Jerusalem, and particularly by ’We say No’ made one day in Athens: who are we, where are we, how should we act, what knowledge do we need, how can we ensure that we are here to stay?

From Jerusalem to the Planet

At the first stage, one ‘here’ and now is divided, contested, Jerusalem which Haim Yacobi sees as possibly a neo-apartheid city:

‘What attracted my attention is the posters that were all over the city – in both Israeli and Palestinian parts of the city, in both Arabic and English The very performance of these languages and the woman image are not an obvious representation of Jerusalem’s politics. The woman could be either Palestinian or Israeli, her hair cover does not indicate whether she is religious or secular, and this is something that works against the logic of separation that is not just ethnic but also along gender lines.’(5)

But that moment of hopeful transcendence has not lasted. Why?

Another ‘here’ is the planet itself, referred to by the great feminist anarchist Emma Goldman in 1906, whose words are now deployed by Marcelo Lopes de Souza in the epigraph to the opening paper to this issue, (“From the ‘right to the city’ to the right to the planet: Reinterpreting our contemporary challenges for socio-spatial development”):

‘Man issued from the womb of Mother Earth, but he knew it not, nor recognized her, to whom he owed his life. In his egotism he sought an explanation of himself in the infinite, and out of his efforts there arose the dreary doctrine that he was not related to the Earth, that she was but a temporary resting place for his scornful feet … ’

Despite its (deliberate) biblical archaisms, Goldman was asserting the geo-biogical mothering, earthed nature of ‘our’ planet and our egotistical use/abuse of it with the associated dreary (and ultimately terminal) doctrines of a supposed rationality that now replicate the forms of capitalist-and-statist markets in Academe’s fundamentally unreflective but currently influential urban-inflected and urban-infected schools of ‘planetary urbanisation.’ ‘The debate on emancipatory socio-spatial change’, Souza argues, can be by no means only a matter of ‘right to the city’ − not even within the framework of the Lefebvrian concept of ‘the urban’ (l’urbain), whose scope is wider than is usual.’

From Liverpool to Athens

Retreating for a moment from such challenging physical and intellectual vistas, other heres, nows/thens, including confusions and in fact a ‘never’, are considered in our second stage with Paul Jones’ study of modelling urban futures in Liverpool Waters, and Matthew Harle’s investigation into an ambitious and abandoned transport plan, perhaps a fiction or a quasi-fiction, in the 1960s for London.

Jones’s and Harle’s studies, though valuable in themselves have a characteristic in common which, it has been argued in this series of editorials. should be regarded with caution as part of an attempted epistemological move beyond multidisciplinary studies, perhaps towards transdisciplinary ones, involving an apparently post-positivist concern with the fictional, including models, extending to ‘vision’ and the imagination which in taking ‘over the counter-positivistic notion of ‘imagination … once deployed as a critical term in the work of Romantic writers in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, re-appropriates it, without a critical edge.’(6)

Further place/times are visited by various contributors to a special feature, introduced by Ulrike Vieten and Gill Valentine, of European urban spaces ‘in crisis’ (Berlin, Padua, Athens, Pakistani Copenhagen, and Istanbul). Yet, crisis, in any fundamental sense, seems somewhat thin in these accounts, most evidently so in the case of Athens.

Yet very different accounts of Athens are available. It is, for example, in the same period that ‘the crisis-scape’ research team completed their work, focussed on Athens and Greece, organised a conference sharing and exploring their approach in Athens in 2014, and presented and further explored their findings in a special feature, both critical and imaginative, ‘Crisis-scape: Athens and beyond’ in August, 2014. What emerged is a very different account of urban crisis. One writer, Nasser Abourahme, reflecting on the documentary film, Future Suspended (2012), which embodies part of their research, asks:

‘Is the anxious, authoritarian, militarized city of self avowedly fascist police and pitched civil war our present-future? Is this the fate of urbanity itself in our millennial, post-historical times? Is Athens, the purported birthplace of those secular forms we came to so faithfully value—democracy, the polis, the public—the harbinger of their demise?’(7)

Looking not only at Athens but also at other financialised (a key notion in the research, though missing from Abourahme’s characterisation here) cities, this is a representation of the city and its future that is now more clearly accurate than it was a year ago.

Through Gentrification and Fascism to The Right/Duty to the Planet

A more generalised situating of urban and planetary processes is provided by contrasting accounts, in our Debates section, of the value of the concept of gentrification in relation to ‘much of the world’ by D. Asher Ghertner and in relation to ‘the global South’ by Ernesto Lopez-Morales. It is, in effect, continued and deepened in our reviews section, through Cheryl Gilge’s discussion of a characterisation of fascism by Deleuze that extends the notion into the realms of security, war and aesthetics.

In a second episode of our interpretive chronicle on ‘City’s Holistic and Cumulative Project’, Melissa Wilson takes us back to the late 1990’s considering reformist ‘millennial’ (= modernisation?) talk at Habitat II, within Istanbul and urban Turkey, and to the seminal ultra-marketisation of Covent Garden in particular and London as a whole, marketisation that continues to permeate and colonise contemporary ‘development’ and planning with its myopic obsession with and characterisation of ‘the urban.’

But if not even Lefebvre’s rich and complex elaboration of the notion of ‘the urban’, as Souza argues in his sympathetic but critical re-reading of the full range of Lefebvre’s work, can do justice to the planet itself, then it is hardly likely that appropriations of that work that miss that richness and complexity can be much more than a hindrance. The planet cannot meaningfully be reduced into the logically nonsensical quasi-dimension of unilateral binarism, in which a bipolar distinction is reduced to the one-pole ontology and epistemology of Lefebvre’s incurious scientistic interpreters. Urbanisation despite its accelerating imperialistic hold on the planet has to be seen within, as Emma Goldman recognised, the full context of the geo-biogical mothering, earthed(8) nature of ‘our’ planet and our egotistical use/abuse of it.

‘At the end of the day,’ Souza comments, ‘what is at stake is the right to the planet.’ This requires, he suggests, rethinking three issues:

1. ‘spatial organisation (pointing out the necessary, radical economic-spatial deconcentration and territorial decentralisation, but without degenerating into parochial localism and self-insulating economic processes)’

2. ‘the social division of labour, exploitation and alienation (in the context of which the trends of deterioration and regression such as labour precarisation and ‘hyperprecarisation’ should be highlighted)’

3. ‘ethnocentrism (in this regard its renewed facets relating to xenophobia, nationalism and racism must be vehemently denounced), the various types of oppression (class, gender, etc.) and heteronomy in general … ’

This, Souza concludes, has to be ‘ultimately examined and judged on the basis of autonomy in the strong sense as the crucial parameter of analysis and evaluation.’ But at this point Souza and indeed the fatally damaging divide within geography itself between the human and the physical cannot rise to the challenge implicit in his epigraph from Goldman. Whose autonomy? Humanity’s or the earth’s? We can perhaps solve this lacuna through the adoption of some notion of reciprocity, of reciprocal autonomies, involving not just a right but a duty to the planet. But this process has to be worked out and through not just the cities but the land. ‘Back to the blackboard’, Souza suggests, or, rather, to the interface.

Planetary Apocalypse and/or Millenniary Praxis

We return to Athens, Greece, Europe and to or examination and exploration of the nature of studies that could do justice to their/our condition and dilemmas in 2015. Must our knowledge base extend from Academe towards the Agora and beyond (and back)?

In the immediate July 2015 contexts of the Troika’s starkly punitive rejection (revanchism?) of the Athens ‘No’, Antonis Vradis, a scholar activist, the editor of our special feature, ‘Crisis-scape: Athens and beyond’ finds in his article ‘A negotiation, a betrayal and an endless summer’(9), as the troika’s settlement/unsettlement and enveloping confusions were imposed, the Agora at work:

‘Myth mixed in with fact, rumour with actual developments, hope blended in with fear: even still, in-between this strangest of amalgams of information and their ensuing psychological toll, there seems to be a peculiar consensus emerging. This consensus lies in the realisation that the once beloved Eurozone – for most – is little other than a financial mafia determined to utterly destroy lives in the name of fiscal discipline. It has come down to this, the barest, most crude of orders: bank profits will always come before human lives.’

The agora extends on this occasion to a party: ‘away from commercial venues, tucked away at a remote, mountainous suburb of the city of Patras … What you would normally expect to find’, Vradis continues, ‘is a big, raucous crowd, heavy beats and frantic dancing.’ What there is, instead, is ‘a big circle of us formed by the door entrance discussing the ELA, & the privatisation fund proposed by Schäuble and the utter colonisation of the country’s national economy and politics’.

‘Anything Schäuble-involving’ Antonis adds ‘is hardly a party-lifting discussion topic.’

William Tabb, author of The Restructuring of Capitalism in Our Time (2012), adds:

‘It is Germany’s rationalizing for running surpluses against the rest of Europe and then demanding everyone else stop running deficits (both cannot happen at the same time) and fear that the others, Spain above all because of Podemos, will demand a new deal of debt forgiveness and balanced growth in Europe that drives this insane punishment.’(10)

But the Agora can find few immediate answering resonance in Academe(11) or the formal institutions of the polis or even in the heroic but sadly blinkered vision of the Syriza party, the urbanised economism of otherwise erudite Marxists, and the agonised nihilism of even the antagonist movement itself.

‘The irony did not escape us. But what is one supposed to do, we told ourselves? This is not some academic discussion concerning the evils of capitalism that can be postponed for later on, for a more appropriate time; that can squeeze itself into university auditoriums and in our platforms of political propaganda. Will fear or resignation now preside? I hardly think so. Just over a year ago, our collective produced Future Suspended, a documentary that had tried to capture the footprint of the crisis on the psyche of the Athenian population, to show how this endless financial uncertainty had put people’s lives on hold. I had never experienced this feeling as much, as vividly as I had this summer, until this morning. Our entire summer has felt more excruciatingly suspended than ever’.

Beginning to deal with that now further intensified suspension will involve intellectually a move from the dominant rather thin and exclusive notion of multi-disciplinary studies to one that includes ‘thick descriptions’, yes, but within an unorthodox and widely embracing, Agora embracing, notion of transdisciplinary studies, involving the humanities and biology and the centrality of agrarian work and experience in a way that is worthy of Goldman’s insights into the planet itself, an organic entity, or series of inter-related entities-processes, currently uncomprehendingly reduced to the status of at best an also-ran in so many of the fashionable Mr Magoo-like studies of ‘planetary urbanisation.’(12) In so doing we would be moving, melodramatic as it may sound, to Apocalypse and/or Millenniary Praxis (13) in order to answer in lived reality our initial assertions and questions:

‘We are here’. In the cities but also on the land. ‘We say No’. Not just to the troika but to the neo-capitalist division and echoing academic divisions of the cities from the agora and the land and of both from the planet.

by Bob Catterall, Chief Editor of CITY

Editorial to CITY, Vol. 19 Issue 4; see contents list below.

Contents list for Issue 19.4

Editorial: ‘We are here’ Bob Catterall, pages 401-407

From the ‘right to the city’ to the right to the planet Reinterpreting our contemporary challenges for socio-spatial development Marcelo Lopes de Souza, pages 408-443

Fictions from the underground Rerouting the abandoned urban plan Matthew Harle, pages 444-462

Modelling urban futures A study of architectural models of Liverpool Waters Paul Jones, pages 463-479

Special Feature: European Urban Spaces in Crisis: The Mapping of Affective Practices with Living with Difference

European urban spaces in crisis The mapping of affective practices with living with difference: introduction Ulrike M. Vieten & Gill Valentine, pages 480-485

Everyday urban encounters as stratification practices Analysing affects in micro-situations of power struggles Peter Dirksmeier & Ilse Helbrecht, pages 486-498

The struggle for public space The hypervisibility of migrants in the Italian urban landscape Adriano Cancellieri & Elena Ostanel, pages 499-509

Socio-spatial stigmatization and its ‘incorporation’ in the centre of Athens, Greece Penny (Panagiota) Koutrolikou, pages 510-521

Ambiguity in urban belonging Pakistani Copenhagen narratives Kirsten Simonsen & Lasse Koefoed, pages 522-533

Encountering difference and radical democratic trajectory. An analysis of Gezi Park as public space Irem Inceoglu, pages 534-544

Affective practices in the European city of encounter Reflections from a distance Brenda S. A. Yeoh, pages 545-551

Debates

Why gentrification theory fails in ‘much of the world’ D. Asher Ghertner, pages 552-563

Gentrification in the global South Ernesto López-Morales, pages 564-573

Your daily fascism: investments of desire in the modern era Cheryl Gilge, pages 574-578

Jerusalem: from a ‘divided’ to a ‘contested’ city—and next to a neo-apartheid city? Haim Yacobi, pages 579-584

Endpiece

City’s holistic and cumulative project (1996–2016) (2) Towards millennium? Melissa Wilson, pages 585-612

Notes

  1. Haim Yacobi, this issue.
  2. See Souza’s epigraph from Emma Goldman, this issue
  3. See CITYzen’s ‘Academe or Agora? Re-situating the Urban Epistemology Debate’ on our editorial website.
  4. See Melissa Wilson’s review-article (this issue). Sitting confidently in ‘the encampment on the borders of Academe’ was the work of ‘the first Green Marxist’; Alain Lipietz (see Michael Dunford (1997)). The series title emphasises the fact that the journal’s project is both holistic and cumulative. One aspect of this is the increasing importance given to the notion that the planet has to have a more than an adjectival, also-ran existence than is permitted in unilateralist ‘planetary urbanisation’. With this emphasis it extends, (retaining, though re-interpreted, the rest of its agenda) the approach to critical theory that excluded earthed and embodied biological dimensions from its concerns and the approach to urban critical theory that excludes them from its now, particularly now, outdated characterisation of planetary urbanisation.
  5.   Haim Yacobi, email, 2015-07-15.
  6. See, for example, Catterall (2014a), p. 243.
  7. Abourahme (2014), p. 578.
  8. See also, as Souza notes, Catterall (2013).
  9. Antonis Vradis, Open Democracy, 13 July 2015.
  10. Email, July 2015.
  11. The Greek sections of this editorial owe much to an intermittent email dialogue with three Greek colleagues and three non-Greek ones. The debt to Antonis Vradis is evident, that to Professors Lila Leontidou and Dimitris Dalakoglou is, because of lack of space, not evident on this occasion but has been important. The non-Greek sources, which also relate strongly but implicitly to the theme Agora v. Academe are: Andy Merrifield’s ‘Amateur Urbanism (to appear in City’ 19.5) – whose epigraph is “Our era of technicians makes abundant use of the nominalised adjective ‘professional’: it seems to believe that therein lies some kind of guarantee” –Guy Debord; and Slavoj Zizek (with great thanks to Mark Davidson who has long laboured in CITY, by himself and in conjunction with Elvin Wyly, to demonstrate the pragmatic value of some of Zizek’s work). See particularly: www.newstatesman.com/…/Slavoj-Zizek-greece-chance-europe-awaken ‘The Greeks are correct: Brussels’ denial that this is an ideological question is ideology at its purest – and symptomatic of our whole political process.’
  12. To the usual acknowledgment of the author’s sole responsibility for any mistakes of fact or interpretation, an acknowledgement undertaken in order to protect the innocent, a specific apology has to be made to Mr Magoo for placing him in the company of myopic unilateral ‘planetary urbanists’. As Professor Souza has pointed out (email) ‘while Magoo gets into many comical (and potentially tragic) situations as a result of his nearsightedness (as we know, largely due to his stubborn refusal to admit the problem … ), he is very lucky, so that the situation always seems to work itself out for him. Perhaps some people don’t deserve so much luck in comparison with our lovely character … ’
  13. The need for such a political-economic-cultural transition arises in the concluding paragraphs of two accounts of the film in the crisis-scape special feature (see Abourahme (2014) and Catterall (2014b). The latter emphasises the unexplored potential in the film of the views of Panos Totsikas, Urban Planner, Struggle Committee of Elliniko Metropolitan Park, and member, Self-organised Allotments of Elliniko – see also the long quote from him on p. 497). How, pragmatically, could and should food and other local production be sold and distributed beyond existing capitalist arrangements in the impending financial and economic ultra-crisis with or without Grexit?

Academe or Agora? Re-situating the Urban Epistemology Debate

CITYzen

The academic debate over  the irreverent but very sharp  answer by Richard Walker to Neil Brenner and  Chistian Schmid’s pioneering paper on their New  Urban Epistemology and their publication  side-by-side in CITY 19.2-3 has had its day. It is time now to move on, extending the debate from the hallowed precincts of Academe towards the more relaxed meeting, talking market-place outside, beginning to rediscover at the same time what the debate is really about. Not only might Aristotle meet up again with Socrates, they might even remark on, re-mark and  eventually join with others in re-making the ground on which they stand. Meanwhile, ducking so as to miss any  remaining masonic missiles, our contributor ventures out, assuming, just for safety’s sake the name of CITYzen.


I am in love with Brenner and Schmid’s intentions “to ignite and advance further debate on the epistemological foundations for critical urban theory and practice,” and also with Walker’s goal of engaging Brenner and Schmid “in a spirit of friendly combat.”  The key issue is that urbanization concentrates everything — economic productivity and innovation, technological change, rates of change of political alliances, the evolutionary dynamics of human cultures, traditions, and institutions — and also present-day conflict and disagreement.

Hence when we get to the point of ‘planetary urbanization’ — whether understood in social-theoretical, Lefebvrian terms or pragmatic McKinsey-Consulting-profit-potential terms — then we’ve gotten to a point of powerful diffusion and re-spatialization of the political economies of knowledge in a spatial configuration of transnational contingency: it’s getting harder to predict which events, which stories, in which cities, will shape the new course of history in {today’s media-saturated?} tomorrow’s media-connected urban world.

“The Urban” is back, and it’s a searchable (and sentient) urbanismi, with critical perspective focused on the brand names that know us:  it’s no accident that David Harvey and Ed Glaeser are shown an image of Google’s new facility in Greenwich Village in order to begin a videotaped debate on what “productivity” means in the new age of digitally surveillant creative urbanism.(1)

But “productivity” can, in certain circumstances, be measured in terms of the magnitude of the audience willing to reconsider the epistemological foundations of urbanism as a way of life — or of those engaging with friendly combat over which assumptions we should abandon and which intergenerational achievements should be preserved or extended.  What is most crucial is that we all acknowledge and engage our disagreements in the urban agora, in City …

Hence when we get to the point of ‘planetary urbanization’ — whether understood in social-theoretical, Lefebvrian terms or pragmatic McKinsey-Consulting-profit-potential terms — then we’ve gotten to a point of powerful diffusion and re-spatialization of the political economies of knowledge in a spatial configuration of transnational contingency: it’s getting harder to predict which events, which stories, in which cities, will shape the new course of history in [today’s media-saturated?] tomorrow’s media-connected urban world.

  1.  Editor’s question and author’s response: ‘Even you miss out that biocultural entity, the material planet, that is the battlefield on which the ‘contestation’ is being fought out. Do I remember you once saying that as a student you undertook only one course in physical geography?’ ‘Excellent point indeed — yep, only one fizzgeog course (but it was a great one)’
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