Category Archives: urban

The time-space economics of renting location assets

“The location of individuals determines their job opportunities, living amenities, and housing costs.”

According to Esteban Rossi-Hansberg and Adrien Bilal, an economics professor at Princeton University and PhD student, rather than buying accommodation, possibly to sell at a profit in a few years,  tenants can be thought of as investing in a location asset.  And like any asset, you need to ask “what are you getting out of it?”  According to Lifehacker,

Many people rent in places with a high cost of living for the job opportunities, good schools, cultural offerings, etc. (On a personal note… living in New York not only puts me at the epicenter of the media world, but in close proximity to any number of classes and workshops hosted by experts in every profession imaginable.)

“Buying more of the asset involves moving to better locations that cost more today but give better returns tomorrow, while selling the asset implies moving to cheaper locations with little opportunities,” the authors write.

CityLab breaks down the paper’s argument:

[W]hen you choose to move to a pricier and amenity-laden city, you’re transferring resources into the future—i.e., saving!—by establishing yourself near opportunities for higher pay and human capital, Rossi-Hansberg and Bilal argue. On the flipside, when you relocate to a community with a lower cost of living but fewer economic advantages, you’re pulling resources into the present that you might have gained in the future—i.e., borrowing.

I am an unusual case: I rent an apartment and I own a house so I see both sides of this equation.  Our critique of this comfortable view from the American Ivy League, parroted not too critically by a planning website, is that that not everyone can afford to “save” in this sense.  Also being forced to rent rather than buy is reflection of reduced choice and means in general.  It is more likely, in most North American cities, that renting places one amongst other disadvantaged people.  They may be artists on the cusp of a great break, or you might be a founding member of an activist group of the economically excluded, but they are unlikely to be successful entrepreneurs who are looking for workers. (Anecdotally, it is harder to create social bonds amongst residents in large rental apartment buildings, and easier to interact with neighbours on the street, possibly because children and pets add to the density of the web of social interactions and act as social lubricants between households).

Statistically it is much  more likely that tenants have less quality living environments, particularly in relation to childrens’ amenities, are more stressed by conflicts with landlords and unpredictable rent increases, and do not have a major asset that they can borrow against or lever as a means of responding to unexpected expenses and emergencies, opportunity costs such as tuition or even entrepreneurial initiatives.

The strategic question remains unanswered: how to make the situation work for rather than against you.  And, how would this argument fair in the case of suburban locations with long commutes, rural dwellers or urban squatters?  Turning this into an economic geography argument distracts us from other non-market decision factors such as quality of life, the ethnic makeup of the community or aesthetic factors that affect ones’ everyday sense of wellbeing.

This is a practical example of a debate that is both temporal and spatial.  It involves not only the geography of where one lives but of land speculation and rent trends into the future.  We call this elastic 4D field of rental rates, time, location and land price a topology because it combines space and time in more than 3D (non-Euclidean geometry) fluid space where these trends may move against each other to affect an outcome .

Rob Shields (University of Alberta)

 

 

What is Strategy? The Topological Exercise of Power

Topology of Power

What does it mean to say that power operates ‘topologically’ in politics, economics and everyday life?  Topology concerns non-Euclidean geometries – the kinds one might observe if one stretched a drawing of a triangle. Another example of a topological transformation is if one added dimensions to the drawing, extending the triangle into a 3 dimensional pyramid or developing and imagining it even further in more dimensions.

The topological character of power is that it exceeds ‘action on bodies’ or ‘action on others’ actions’ (cf. Foucault). Using techniques and administrative apparatuses, power can be projected as ‘action at a distance’. ‘Reach’ is a keyword that describes this extension of power to actualize it and put it into action despite intervening distances and mediations . For example, we talk of ‘the long arm of the law’.

The powers of a topological sensibility

Powers are multiple, subtle and include influence. ‘Reach’ describes the influence an actor may have on other actors.

Powers exists in and as ‘power relations’, whether the parties are aware that power is a factor. That is, power doesn’t have to be exercised as much as it simply has to have an effect. As such it is not a concrete thing but a virtual or intangible thing. It is real but not actual, ideal but not abstract. It has a multiple quality. There is no single ‘power.’

Sovereignty’ designates the aggregate powers exercised by the state. History is the time of this power-exercise. Territory is the space of the exercise of sovereignty.

However, States can no longer pretend to guarantee their citizens’ safety from other threats that are themselves powerful. These might include the threats of drone strikes and collateral damage and death (Pakistan, Somalia), of chemical poisoning by nerve agents (UK Skripal nerve agent poisoning), from drifting radiation particles (Scandinavia after the Chernobyl disaster), or from pandemics (SARS in Toronto Canada).

The polis, now often associated with cities, is the space of the demos, the people and democratic opinion.  It is a distinct space-time of assembly and belonging and as such a distinct topological entity.  It is not just a different scale.

Strategy

Strategy’ is a political technology that aims to persuade by establishing the spatiotemporal and other background conditions of a debate. A common strategy is public ‘consultation’ which aims to establish a ‘pubic will’ extracted from a population that legitimates a political course of action and/or the exercise of power. Power is not always exercised strategically, but even whimsical applications of power, if consistent, can be described as part of a strategy.

Tactic’ is the deflection of strategies, in the absence of control over the spatiotemporal and other dimensions of the context of a situation or of the exercise of power (cf. DeCerteau).

Influence,’ the multiplicity of powers, means that strategy is not closed off from the public or subaltern groups, or even individuals that act through social media as ‘influencers’.

Social media technologies and platforms have created new manifolds or spaces of power that exceed the reach of sovereign territories. These technologies are political and their strategic use for disinformation, persuasion has reconfigured the terrain of politics and the reach of these social media actors in general. For example, influencing the US election, extended Russia’s reach into the processes of the US sovereign state as well as into American territory.

Why? The reach of a topological sensibility

All this is more quickly grasped if one has a topological sensibility, looking to dimensions and influences rather than fixed actors such as “the State”.  This approach allows us to move from understanding positions of strength in a debate, project or struggle toward how to actualize that position as effects, to understand its reach; or to put it simply, to understand the power of the position explicitly.

Bearing the topological qualities of power in mind allows us to compare in one plane, so to speak, between power-geometries that are fixed, and to see the operation of power-topologies that stretch or bring new dimensions to the exercise of power. It allows a point-to-point comparison that pinpoints the effectiveness of the transformation that has occured despite the differences in appearances or the complexity of any resulting folded, stretched, involuted or flattened topologies.

Rob Shields (University of Alberta)

Addendum

Comparison with Michel DeCerteau’s notion of tactics and strategy from The Practice of Everyday Life (translated from French 1984)

Strategy: “the calculus of force-relationships which becomes possible when a subject of will and power (a proprietor, an enterprise, a city, a scientific institution) can be isolated from an ‘environment.’  A strategy assumes a place that can be circumscribed as proper (propre) and thus serve as the basis for generating relations with an exterior distinct from it (competitors, adversaries, ‘clienteles,’ ‘targets,’ or ‘objects’ of research). Political, economic, and scientific rationality has been constructed on this strategic model”(Certeau xix);
Tactic: “a calculus which cannot count on a ‘proper’ (spatial or institutional localization ),nor thus on a borderline distinguishing the other as a visible totality. The place of a tacticbelongs to the other.  A tactic insinuates itself into the other’s place, fragmentarily, without  taking  it over in its entirety, without being able to keep it at a distance…”(Certeau xix).
Operations: goes along with tactics as actions that form a “network of an antidiscipline”(Certeau xiv-xv).
Trajectory: “suggests a movement, but it also involves a plane  projection; a flattening out… a graph… a line that can be reversed” (Certeau xviii).

Works cited:

de Certeau, M. (1984). The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press.

de Certeau, M. (1985). Practices of Space. In M.Blonsky (Ed.), On Signs (p. 134ff.). Oxford U.K.: Basil Blackwell.

Review: Creative Urbanity

Guano, Emanuela. (2017). Creative Urbanity: An Italian Middle Class in the Shade of Revitalization. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 9780812248784. 242 pages + notes, bibliography, index, acknowledgements.

To a casual visitor, any city usually appears to be a monolithic collection of buildings, people and open spaces, all somehow connected by a hidden code of conduct that eludes outsiders. Emanuela Guano’s nuanced Creative Urbanity: An Italian Middle Class in the Shade of Revitalization allows the reader to steal a few furtive glances at Genoa’s subtle inner workings hidden beneath the superficial exterior of an Italian port city. This is what polyvocality looks like at its finest, supported by distinct voices of its actors in six main chapters, bookended by a thorough introduction and poignant conclusions, followed by notes, bibliography, index and acknowledgements; maps and photography by the author and other contributors constitute another valuable dimension of this project.

From the effective opening vignette of Beatrice, a tour guide in Genoa’s centro storico, who informs her walking audience about mysteries of the city long-gone while “conjuring the hidden out of the familiar” (2), Guano commands her readers’ attention with ethnographic case studies viewed through a fresh gaze as she offers “a few glimpses into the city’s nature as a fluid assemblage” (18). While the supporting ethnographic field research is impressive, the motivations behind Guano’s project constitute a solid case study in and of itself. A diasporic Genoese flaneuse, Guano walked the streets of the city in a Baudelairean style, watching, taking notes, drawing conclusions and exploring the urban everyday shaped by the corporate capital. While her methodology and concept are well explained, Guano saw her project as a labor of love grown on the genesis of her own nostalgia for the city where she would have been precluded from pursuing an academic career.

The well-edited monograph contains a healthy balance of opposing views on the role of the middle classes in the production of urban space. At its very core, the book is an exploration of “the lives and experiences of those middle-class Genoese who, seeking to escape consistently high unemployment rates, invented self-employment venues for themselves” (15).  The book does not “represent the city as a bounded and stable entity” (23), and it leaves room for investigating other creative practices informed by revitalization. Commandeered by blue- and white-collar workers in the 1960s, the parading life on display, passegiata, or an urban stroll, with the underlying air of aristocracy, is symbolized by the quirky cover photo with a quintessentially Italian Fiat 500 painted with a colorful cityscape of nearly uniform buildings—a combination of sloping roofs and high-rises.

(Guano, 2016)

The introduction, grounded in anthropology and urban theory, addresses students of neoliberalism while promising to present a cross-section of urbanity and its transformations, with a particular focus on the residual creative class. Following the outstanding literature review, Chapter 1, Chronotopes of Hope, is moderately autoethnographic as it traces the recent developments in Genoa’s rise to and fall from the level of Florence, Venice or Rome as an object of a tourist gaze, something in which the port city’s residents took great pride; this chapter provides chronotopic perspectives on the urban everyday starting with the 1970s and tracing the city’s ups and downs through the 2010s. The first major case study, Chapter 2, Genoa’s Magic Circle, narrates the dramatic events of the 2001 G8 Summit that cut short much hope for the city’s entrance to the global stage; the corollary of violence and state repression informs the discussion of local middle-class urbanity to present a different kind of aestheticization of the city stemming from its reimagining as a stage for the performance of a global political drama. Written as an ethnographic analysis of the gentrification that has unfolded in Genoa’s centro storico since the early 1990s, Chapter 3, Gentrification without Teleologies, presents a fascinating example in the study on spatial relations of solids vs. voids in an urban environment—the vertical stratification based on access to daylight; the chapter tackles gentrification as an assemblage of people, logics and materialities: one whereby a nexus of neoliberal rationality, the built environment and old and new neighborhood residents and users contribute to making a world whose emergent dynamics may, at times, unfold along the lines of the well-researched template of the capitalist “spatial fix”—and yet, at other times, they are considerably more complex. The discussion of how women eke out their living while being accused of stealing a man’s job serves as the framework for Chapter 4, Cultural Bricoleuses, with antique fairs and dealers as the subject against the backdrop of the transformation that has unfolded not just through the regeneration of the built environment, but also through spatial practices that are part of the urban everyday within an economy of consumable heritage based on the marketing of cultural and symbolic goods, services and experiences. Genoa’s walking tour guides who tread the tenuous line that separates academic knowledge from cultural consumption feature in Chapter 5, Touring the Hidden City, which contrasts the high vs. popular culture in the tourist vocation enmeshed in the aristocratic rejection of urban ostentation. The ethnography of the annual Suq, a multicultural festival—informed by its intentional hybrid spatiality—held annually in Genoa under the supervision of two women on a mission to further the cause of diversity in the city comprises Chapter 6, Utopia with No Guarantees, followed by a cautiously optimistic final research section of the monograph, Conclusion, that offers hope through a combination of empathy and sympathy Guano has for the city of her formative years where the never ending revolving door of businesses dying out, born, improved and declining points to a luminous future (195). The additional notes to various sections dispel any possible lack of clarity while framing the discussion in a much broader cultural event or a series of events, e.g., the Chinese migration to Italy.

The brevity of the monograph makes the work a victim of its author’s skill and expertise combined with the engaging and heartfelt narratives. As with any ethnography, a few elements of this one might have seemed outdated already at the time of press, and Guano realized that some of the realities she was analyzing were no longer quite as current. Any superficial deficiencies aside, Creative Urbanity: An Italian Middle Class in the Shade of Revitalization constitutes a solid contribution to the areas of anthropology, urban studies, aesthetics, political economy, labor studies, ethnography and gender studies—one could only wish to read more of such intricately and exquisitely crafted ethnographic portraits of cities in the 21st century.

Caesar Perkowski (Gordon State College)

Review: Urban Spaces and Cultural Imaginations in Contemporary Chinese Literature and Films of Beijing

Zheng, Yiran. (2016). Writing Beijing: Urban Spaces and Cultural Imaginations in Contemporary Chinese Literature and Films. Lanham MD: Lexington Books.

In recent years, the dialectic relationship between tradition and globalization has become even more visible in the urban spaces of Beijing. In the majority of news reports highlighting economic and cultural attractiveness of Beijing, we may find seemingly disconnected expressions, such as ‘greatness of imperial history’ and ‘rising center of global economy.’ This implies that there is a significant temporal gap taking place, and thereby, and points to the drastic urban transformation of the nation. Yiran Zheng’s recent book, Writing Beijing: Urban Spaces and Cultural Imaginations in Contemporary Chinese Literature and Films (2016), also acknowledges this presentation of Beijing. The conceptualization of Beijing as “the fusion of “traditional” Chinese city and a modern international metropolis” is one of the central themes that is constantly brought up in the book.

Writing Beijing (Zheng, 2016)

By this point, it is also important to note where all those urban spaces are located in the spatial structure of Beijing. According to the author, the area showing a concentration of typical Beijing buildings or courtyard houses is geographically located near the center of the city. Then, the next layer of architecture that loops outside the center is dominated by three to four story military compounds constructed under the guidance of Soviet experts. Thereafter, in the outer layer loop, there is new architecture and urban spaces that were built in the global era. Based on the three types of urban spaces identified above, the book largely consists of three parts: the first part focusing on military compounds (chapter 1,2,3), the second part concentrating on the typical building or courtyard house (chapter 4,5,6), and the third part exploring some examples of Beijing’s new architecture and urban spaces (chapter 7,8,9).

However, when considering the geographical map of Beijing and the structure of the chapters in the book together, Zheng does not fully explain why she organizes the three parts in such an order; namely, starting from military compounds to typical traditional Beijing housing, and ending with contemporary buildings. In the introduction, Zheng notes, “Beijing has been transformed from a traditional imperial capital city to a political center of communist China, then into a cosmopolitan metropolis (p. x).” The structure of the book does not seem to illuminate this transitional and changing character or flow of the city, but captures the configurations of the city in specific moments framed within the specific literary works. In that sense, to meet the author’s aim of this book, it is more persuasive to organize the parts and chapters in a geo-temporal order, moving from the central area of traditional housing to the outer area of contemporary buildings developed in present day China.

Each part of this book has three sections (chapters). In every first section, Zheng explores the architectural and spatial qualities of specific urban spaces. Then, Zheng discusses some representative writers and filmmakers in every second section, and finally in the third section, the author analyzes the configuration of the city in the literary works. Throughout the parts and chapters, Zheng uses different sources from different disciplines, such as urban studies, architecture, literature, cultural studies, history studies, and sociology. And Zheng also makes a balanced use of sources between foreign and Chinese authors. Zheng’s cross-disciplinary and cross-national use of sources is what makes this book interdisciplinary and allows it to retain a more balanced point of view.

In this study, the methodological framework is inspired by Lefebvre’s theorization of space. Lefebvre (1991), in his book The Production of Space (1991), proposed the spatial triad to understand the production of space and its embedded power relations. The triad divides space as: spatial practice (producing physical space), representations of space (conceived space), and representational space (lived space). According to Lefebvre, our spatial experience in space consists of these three interrelated elements (Lefebvre, 1991). Zheng specifically points to two of the spaces in this triad, representations of space and representational space, to formulate her methodology.

Within this framework, she emphasizes the intermediary role of artists (writers and filmmakers) between these two spaces. To be more specific, writers are influenced by urban spaces and architectures that are the “representations of space”, reflecting the ideology and expectations of designers. At the same time, writers and filmmakers respond to and reflect on those “representations of spaces” through their use of symbols, signs, and images in their literary productions. Thus, they create literary and filmic texts that refer to the space lived in by artists, “representational spaces”. However, except for brief explanations about the framework in the introduction and conclusion, the author actually does not conduct an extensive engagement with spatial theory, which she bases her work upon. It would have been more helpful if Zheng had continued to connect her discussion to her framework while discussing different type of urban spaces. By doing so, it would have been more apparent how the dialectic relationship between the three moments shown in Lefebvre’s spatial triad can be manifested and applied in this study as well.

Most interestingly, as noted in the beginning of the book, the concept of the coexistence of local and global in Beijing is an important issue for Zheng. This is clearly addressed when the author says that “the “ideal building” should be both modern and Chinese.” (p. 99). Zheng’s personal voice and position towards the relationship between the local and global in cityscape becomes especially prominent in Chapter 7, where Zheng discusses modern and postmodern architecture in the global era. These include the “three new symbolic architecture” in Beijing—National Centre for the Performing Arts (the Giant Egg), National Stadium (the Bird’s Nest), and CCTV New Main Building (the Gate).

In Chapter 7, Zheng is concerned about Beijing becoming “a common metropolis with no distinct cultures” (p. 91). According to Lefebvre, the urban spaces of Beijing produced within the context of global capital are Abstract Spaces, which are homogeneous and transparent, showing the orders and power hierarchies of capitalism (Lefebvre, 1991, pp. 50-51). The Abstract Spaces of these new contemporary buildings of Beijing are shown in their symbolic architecture marked with the dominant activities of the cities (Castells, 2005). The three new buildings mentioned above are examples of the symbolic architecture that Zheng criticizes for its disconnection from the surrounding local context and environment. In that sense, Zheng also demonstrates that these designs are not “Chinese” because they were built by “non-Chinese” designers, which I thought was a bit difficult to understand (p. 102). Although this may be partially true, the concern should not lie in the nationality of designers, but with the strategies used in incorporating this symbolic architecture within the local city at large.

The book is, in general, interdisciplinary in its approach and provides a broad socio-cultural and political context on urban issues of Beijing. In addition, the book is approachable because it does not use discipline-specific academic jargons and is written in an illustrative and descriptive manner. It is clear that Zheng wishes this book to be read by broad range of students and scholars who are interested in the city of Beijing. Zheng also achieves this by consistently and systematically reiterating the important points throughout the introduction, the beginning and at the end of each chapter, and the conclusion; the structure of the writing is easy to comprehend. Finally, the book is very narrative and poetic in that it smoothly introduces us to the artists’ world of imagination. Thus this book creates another “representational space” that is lived by its readers, who have or have not been to Beijing, and encourages them to engage with the mode of imagination of the urban spaces of Beijing.

Jeongwon Gim (University of Alberta)

 

Additional References

Lefebvre, H. (1991). The Production of Space. Oxford, Basil Blackwell.

Castells, M. (2005). Space of Flows, Space of Places: Materials for a Theory of Urbanism in the Information Age. In B. Sanyal (Ed.), Comparative Planning Cultures (pp. 45–63). New York: Routledge.

Part 2 of 2 – W.E.B. Du Bois and race in Brazil

From a Brazilian perspective, Du Bois work is of particular interest.  It’s interesting to find out that Du Bois was so attentive to science as a way to fight racism. Black movements (and many other minorities) sometimes are too attached to emotional sides of the process, such as pride and identity, but less attached to studies that would possibly promote dialogue and systemic changes.

Capitalism is a system based not only on inequalities but segregation.

Continue reading Part 2 of 2 – W.E.B. Du Bois and race in Brazil

DuBois: The Scholar Denied – a review in 2 parts

Morris, Aldon. 2015. The Scholar Denied: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Birth of Modern Sociology. University of California Press.  ISBN: 9780520960480

Aldon Morris’ book The Scholar Denied: W.E.B. Du Bois and the birth of Modern Sociology demonstrates how Du Bois 1890s empirical and statistical research on black communities and classes in the United States was suppressed by a version of sociology developed by Robert Park and others of the Chicago School. Du Bois was the first black PhD graduate of Harvard University and went on to study history at Humboldt University, Berlin (1892-4) and followed the lectures of Max Weber and Gustav von Schmoller. He some of the conducted the first empirical and statistical social studies, notably his pioneering urban sociology, The Philadelphia Negro (1899). As Chair of the Department of Sociology (1897-1910) and organizer of the Atlanta University Conference for the Study of the Negro Problems, he edited annual volumes from 1902.  Du Bois hypothesized that sociological and economic factors were the main causes of racial inequality in the United States, anchored in white racial oppression not black inferiority. Du Bois argued that social analysis would reveal the truth of race dynamics and education of talented blacks would allow them to succeed and to articulate this truth across many fields as leaders in business, the media and politics. Du Bois’ sociology was a weapon of liberation.

Continue reading DuBois: The Scholar Denied – a review in 2 parts

Book Review: Simone on Jakarta, between near and far

AbdouMaliq Simone, Jakarta: Drawing the City Near, University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 2014; 320 pp.: ISBN 9780816693351 (hbk), 9780816693368 (pbk)

In Jakarta: Drawing the city near, AbdouMaliq Simone offers imagean inside-out perspective to understand the unknown realities of conventionally known urbanization process and everyday life of urban common in cities. Based on his meticulous ethnographic field study in three districts in Jakarta, Simone has produced a new spatial language from ‘within’ the city to read the distinctive trajectories of urbanization of the metropolis in the global South.

The book is structured around four inventive concepts: Near South, Urban Majority, Devising Relations and Endurance. Near South is introduced as a provisional devise to indicate how major metropolises of the non-West are moving toward or away from each other. In that sense ‘near South’ is an ‘interstitial space’ that is neither of the North nor of the South. Simone locates most metropolises in the near South to critique the binary opposition between the ‘developed’ North and the ‘underdeveloped’ South. He stretches ‘nearness’ beyond the comparison between cities and highlights that ‘certain residents have the opportunity to build specific ways of life (p. 35).’

Among the proliferation of mega-developments and emerging middle class in contemporary Jakarta, Simone draws attention to the ‘urban majority’, the residents who really bring the ‘nearness’ and shape the city by occupying and changing its spaces in their everyday practices. The urban majority is not a demographic fact or a political identity but refers to the residents who live in between strictly poor and middle class (p. 85-86). Instead of pursuing the aspirations of middle-class status, Simone shows that how the urban majority transforms urban spaces through ‘incremental’ initiatives, the actions of the residents that do not aim definitive results, but to make ‘something’ happen such as expanding a house to rent out rooms or construct a mosque in the neighborhood. Although such efforts seem simple or mostly negligible in mainstream urban theory, they are, Simone convincingly demonstrates as the ‘machines of support’. That generates not only income and opportunities but also multifaceted social, cultural, and economic networks and negotiations among residents in the city (p. 111 -114).

Yet, the close proximity or increasing density of buildings, objects, and bodies in cities do not necessarily guarantee relations. Simone thus brings the concept of ‘devising relations’ to examine the dynamic relations between inhabitants, materials, and particular spaces in Jakarta. Then he introduces metaphors such as ‘the hinge’ and ‘the hodgepodge landscape’ to emphasize how these relations allow the city to follow global urbanization trajectories when the heterogeneity of their urban spaces remain same in terms of their social composition and use.

The concept of ‘endurance,’ denotes the way in which the majority of residents continue their lives while dealing with extreme uncertainties – both dangers and opportunities – in their everyday urban life in Jakarta. Instead of being very conscious on their identities, residents focus on the possible opportunities of their daily routines and employs deception as a method of endurance in everyday urban life.

Ultimately, Simone connects his learning from an inside-out perspective in Jakarta with contemporary urban theory and policy. He necessitates the integration and enrollment of residents’ views, aspirations, and the way in which they shape spaces, in urban policy making to ensure the long run of cities. Instead of relying upon the contemporary urban theory, Simone has theorized Jakarta. His work profoundly validates the residents’ life and their contribution to continue the heterogeneous urban life of the city.

Pradeep Sangapala (Urban and Regional Planning Program, University of Alberta)

Pokémon Go – The Peoples’ Republic

Pokemon Go
Pokemon Go – Photo: Deng Ziru (CC 2016)

With the slicker interface and better users’ experience of Pokémon Go, the game is very popular in China as well. A great deal of students are getting over the wall so that they could have access to play Pokémon Go. Many young people, especially those who watched Pokémon and Digimon when they were young,are becoming addicted to it. They collect Pokémon eggs on their way to school, work, gym and so on. What’s more interesting is, since it’s now summer holiday,  many youth walk up and down at home to catch Pokémon eggs and they can rank top among all their friends on Werun (a step counting ap in Wechat) due to the steps at home.

Some of the Chinese players consider this game as a time killer and a way for recreation, some of them just play for networking, which means they can catch up with peer culture via this game. Some of them are aware of the game is boring but they just cannot stop because once they get into the game, they would be eager to collect all the Pokémon eggs. As a result, from many players’ perspective, Pokémon Go is more like a kind of collection game and social network game than a battle game.

Admittedly, with the fast pace of globalization and the transmission of information, there are lots of fans of Pokémon Go from all over the world and the share price of Nintendo increased dramatically these days. However, many people hold skeptical views of this game. First is the information security. The game needs our GPS location and other private information, which may cause the players’ personal data to leak out. Some traditional Chinese people even hold the opinion that the game as a Japanese martial plot, which may harm national interests. Secondly, what’s the meaning of the game? Some players feel it boring and have unloaded the game already. The trend changes everyday. How long can the popularity of Pokémon Go last?Let’s wait and see.

Ziru Deng (East China Normal University / University of Alberta)

Dictatorship by Cartography

Naypyidaw, capital of Burma. Guardian Cities March 2015

In 2007, writing for Himal Southasian magazine, Siddharth Varadarajan called Naypyidaw, the underpopulated capital of Burma, built by the military regime, “dictatorship by cartography, geometry”:

Vast and empty, Burma’s new capital will not fall to an urban upheaval easily. It has no city centre, no confined public space where even a crowd of several thousand people could make a visual – let alone political – impression.

The building of cities is a massive infrastructural undertaking, a spasm that reflects and requires the concentration of political, economic and affective power.   Are cities where there is no “right to the city” by the people cities at all?  Materially perhaps but not in intangible, virtual terms: While constructed like cities, they lack urbanity, the quality of the urban.

Rob Shields (University of Alberta)

The Promise of Urban Agriculture

IMG_9125Allmende Kontor at the Templehof airport in Berlin

Once the center of the global automotive industry, Detroit has become the archetype of the modern ruin, attracting artists and writers interested in exploring the poetics of ruins and the dystopian sublime. The ruins of Detroit are, in one sense, a critique of modernity – an allegory for the myth of unending accumulation, prosperity and progress (Benjamin, 2000). But the post-industrial city is also a place of possibility. Tim Edensor (2005) argues that ruins constitute subversive counter-spaces that “contain the promise of the unexpected” (p. 4). In post-2008 Detroit this promise bloomed in abandoned lots throughout the city as residents began producing their own food outside the circuits of the local state.

But how unexpected was this sudden turn to urban food growing? As Laura Lawson (2005) reminds us, urban food production and economic crisis have long gone hand in hand, and this history has deep roots in Detroit. During the depression of 1893, Mayor Hazen Pingree famously implemented the potato patch plan. Faced with economic upheaval and mass unemployment, Pingree encouraged the residents of Detroit to farm vacant lots to feed the city, setting an example that was copied and adapted across the US and Canada.

Continue reading The Promise of Urban Agriculture

Monumental Controversies

Check out Tonya Davidson’s assessment of the Canadian conservative government’s controversial proposal for a monument to the Victims of Communism.  This builds on her extensive research on memory, monuments and identity, including the National War Memorial in Canada and migrants memories of their homelands and villages in Croatia.

Memorial to the Victims of Communism, Ottawa Canada
Memorial to the Victims of Communism, Ottawa Canada (from The Toronto Star)

Spatialization and Revolution

A recent study of urban conflict and politics in Sincan, Turkey shows the importance of the secularisation and sacralisation of places in the city and the importance of rivals spatialisations in instituting political alternatives as practical realities:

https://gasmekan.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/sincan-a-town-on-the-verge-of-civic-breakdown-the-spatialization-of-identity-politics-and-resistance/

-Rob Shields  University of Alberta

David Harvey: The Crisis of Planetary Urbanisms

A essay by David Harvey from the catalogue for Uneven Growth – Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities – MoMA Exhibition 2014

http://post.at.moma.org/content_items/520-the-crisis-of-planetary-urbanization

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In this June 26, 2013 file photo, demonstrators march toward the Mineirão stadium where a Confederations Cup semifinal soccer match will be played between Brazil and Uruguay in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Public approval of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s government has suffered a steep drop since protesters calling for a wide-range of reforms took to the streets all over Brazil in the past two weeks, according to Brazil’s first nationwide poll released since the unrest began. (AP Images/Felipe Dana)

On the night of June 20, 2013, more than a million people in some 388 Brazilian cities took to the streets in a massive protest movement. The largest of these protests, comprising more than 100,000 people, occurred in Rio de Janeiro and was met with significant police violence. For more than a year prior to this, sporadic protests had been occurring in various Brazilian cities. Led by a “Free Pass” movement that had long been agitating for free public transportation for students, the earlier protests were largely ignored. But by early June 2013, fare increases for public transportation sparked more widespread protests. Many other groups, including the black block anarchists, sprang to the defense of the “Free Pass” protestors and others who came under police attack. By June 13 the movement had morphed into a general protest against police repression, the failure of public services to match social needs, and the deteriorating quality of urban life. The huge expenditures of public resources to host mega-events such as the World Cup and the Olympic Games—to the detriment of the public interest but to the great benefit, it was widely understood, of corrupt construction and urban development interests—added to the discontent

The protests in Brazil came less than a month after thousands of people turned out on the streets of Turkey’s major cities, as anger over the redevelopment of the precious green space of Gezi Park in Istanbul as a shopping center, spread into a broader protest against the increasingly autocratic style of the government and the violence of the police response. Long-simmering discontent over the pace and style of urban transformation, including the wholesale eviction of populations from high-value land in inner-city locations added fuel to the protests. Diminished quality of life in Istanbul and other cities for all but the most affluent classes was clearly an important issue.

The broad parallel between Turkey and Brazil led Bill Keller to write an op-ed piece in the New York Times entitled “The Revolt of the Rising Class.”1 The uprisings were “not born in desperation,” he wrote. Both Brazil and Turkey had experienced remarkable economic growth in a period of global crisis. They were “the latest in a series of revolts arising from the middle class—the urban, educated haves who are in some ways the principal beneficiaries of the regimes they now reject” and who had something to lose by taking to the streets in protest. “By the time the movements reached critical mass, they were about something bigger and more inchoate, dignity, the perquisites of citizenship, the obligations of power.” The revolts signified “a new alienation, a new yearning” that had to be addressed.

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Architecture for a Change. Mamelodi POD, Pretoria, South Africa. 2013.

To be sure, the protests in Brazil and Turkey differed from the anti-austerity protests and strikes that dominated in the squares of Greece and Spain. They were different also from the eruptions of violence in London, Stockholm, and the Paris suburbs on the part of marginalized and immigrant populations. And all of these looked different from the “Occupy” movements in many Western cities and the pro-democracy uprisings that echoed from Tunis, Egypt, and Syria into Bosnia and Ukraine.

Yet there were also commonalities across the differences. They were, for example, urban centered, to some degree weakly cross-class, and even (initially at least) inter-ethnic (though that broke down as internal forces moved to divide and rule, and external powers exploited the discontents for geopolitical advantage, as in Syria and Ukraine). Urban disaffection and alienation were quite prominent among the triggers as was the universal outrage at rising social inequalities, escalating costs of living, and gratuitously violent police repressions.

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Makeshift barricades in Kiev’s Independence Square, during the demonstrations known as Euromaidan. 2013.

None of this should have been surprising. Urbanization has increasingly constituted a primary site of endless capital accumulation that visits its own forms of barbarism and violence on whole populations in the name of profit. Urbanization has become the center of overwhelming economic activity on a planetary scale never before seen in human history. The Financial Times reports, for example, that “investment in real estate is the most important driver in the Chinese economy,” which in turn has been the main driver of the global economy throughout the world-wide crisis that began in 2007. “The building, sale and outfitting of apartments accounted for 23 percent of Chinese gross domestic product in 2013.” If we add in the expenditures on massive physical infrastructures (road, rail, public works of all kinds) then close to one half of the Chinese economy is taken up with urbanization. China has consumed more than half of the global steel and cement over the last decade. “In just two years, from 2011 to 2012, China produced more cement than the United States did in the entire twentieth century.”2

While extreme, these trends are not confined to China. Concrete is everywhere being poured at an unprecedented rate over the surface of planet earth. We are, in short, in the midst of a huge crisis—ecological, social, and political—of planetary urbanization without, it seems, knowing or even marking it.

None of this new development could have occurred without massive population displacements and dispossessions, wave after wave of creative destruction that has taken not only a physical toll but destroyed social solidarities, exaggerated social inequalities, swept aside any pretences of democratic urban governance, and has increasingly looked to militarized police surveillance and terror as its primary mode of social regulation. The unrest attaching to dispossession in China is unknowable but clearly widespread. Sociologist Cihan Tugal has written, “Real estate bubbles, soaring housing prices, and the overall privatization-alienation of common urban goods constitute the common ground of protests in as diverse places as the United States, Egypt, Spain, Turkey, Brazil, Israel, and Greece.”3 The rising cost of living, particularly for food, transportation, and housing, has made daily life increasingly difficult for urban populations. Food riots in North African cities were frequent and widespread even before the uprisings in Tunisia and Tahrir Square.

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AFFECT-T. Bamboo micro-housing, Hong Kong. 2013.

This urbanization boom has had very little to do with meeting the needs of people. It has been all about absorbing surplus capital, sustaining profit levels, and maximizing the return on exchange values no matter what the use value demands might be. The consequences have often been irrational in the extreme. While there is a chronic shortage of affordable housing in almost every major city, their skylines are littered with empty condominiums for the ultra-rich whose main interest is in speculating in property values rather than constructing a settled life. In New York City, where half of the population has to live on less than $30,000 per year (as contrasted with the top 1 percent, who had an average annual income of $3.57 million per year according to tax records for 2012), there is an affordable housing crisis because nowhere is it possible to find a two-bedroom apartment for the $1,500 per month that a family of four should be spending on housing given an income of $30,000. In almost all the major cities in the U.S. the average expenditure on housing is way over the thirty percent of disposable income that is considered reasonable.4 The same applies to London, where there are whole streets of unoccupied mansions being held for purely speculative purposes. Meanwhile, the British government attempts to increase the supply of affordable housing by putting a bedroom tax on social housing for the most vulnerable sector of the population, resulting in, for example, the eviction of a widow living alone in a two bedroom council house. The empty bedroom tax has plainly been put on the wrong class, but governments these days appear to be singularly dedicated to feathering the nests of the wealthy at the expense of the poor and the disadvantaged. The same irrationality of empty dwellings in the midst of shortages of affordable housing can be found in Brazil, Turkey, Dubai, and Chile as well all the global cities of high finance such as London and New York. Meanwhile, budget austerities and reluctance to tax the wealthy given the overwhelming power of a now triumphant oligarchy means declining public services for the masses and further astonishing accumulation of wealth for the few.

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Anti-government protesters behind barricades and on an excavator clash with riot police as they try to march to the office of Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul early June 3, 2013. Turkish protesters clashed with riot police into the early hours of Monday with some setting fire to offices of the ruling AK Party as the fiercest anti-government demonstrations in years entered their fourth day. Turkey’s streets were calm in the morning after a night of noisy protests and violence in major cities. (REUTERS)

It is in conditions of this sort that the propensity to political revolt begins to fester. Universal alienation from a burdensome daily life in the city is everywhere in evidence.5 But so are the innumerable attempts on the part of individuals, social groups, and political movements to find ways to construct a decent life in a decent living environment. The theme that there must be an alternative takes many forms and produces many quasi-solutions in seemingly infinite guises.

It is in this context that concerned groups of thinkers and practitioners are exploring alternatives, sometimes at small scales but in other instances, in the wake of urban revolts, to encourage the search for better forms of urban living. The do-it-yourself ethos of many social groups cast adrift from the prevailing dynamic of capital accumulation creates possibilities for alliances of urban thinkers and technicians with nascent social movements searching for a good or at least a better life. In Andean nations the ideal of “buen vivir” is implanted in national constitutions even as it conflicts with neoliberalizing practices on the ground.6 With massive populations deemed surplus and disposable in a context of perpetual land grabbing by developers and financiers, aided all too often by a corrupted state apparatus, many situations arise in which political battles take shape well before some fuse is lit to turn the growing propensity for street revolts into an active reality.

There are popular possibilities and potentialities emerging out of the crisis of planetary urbanization and its multiple discontents. This is so even in the face of the seemingly overwhelming force of endless capital accumulation growing at an unsustainable compound rate and in spite of the power across social classes being wielded by an increasingly visible and intransigent global oligarchy.7

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Architecture and Vision. WarkaWater Tower, Ethiopia. 2012.

So what is it that might emerge from the popular revolts? There are confusing signs and signals but also some important clues. In Gezi Park, for example, it was not only the park that mattered. The “rising class” constructed instantaneous social solidarities, an economy of sharing and of collective social provision (food, health care, clothing), of caring for others (particularly the wounded and the frightened). The participants took evident delight in debating their common interests through democratic assemblies, launched into discussions that went on late into the night, and above all found a possible world of collective humor and cultural liberation that had previously seemed foreclosed. They opened alternative spaces, constructed a commons out of public spaces, and released the power of space to an alternative social and environmental purpose. They found each other as well as the park8; They identified a nascent social order in waiting.

This provides a clue as to what an alternative might look like. The spirit of many (though not all) of these protests and the spirit within the pro-democracy and Occupy movements is to go beyond “the new alienation” that Keller senses is so important to construct a less-alienating urban experience. Visceral resistance to the proposal to pour concrete over Gezi Park to build an imitation of an Ottoman barracks that would function as yet another shopping mall is in this sense emblematic of what the crisis of planetary urbanization is all about. Pouring more and more concrete in a mindless quest for endless growth is obviously no answer to current ills.

But the “rising class” is not all there is. In Turkey the mass of the Islamic working classes did not join in the revolt. They already possessed their own cultural (often anti-modernist) solidarities and hardened social relations (particularly regarding gender). They were not drawn into the emancipatory rhetoric of the protest movement because that movement did not address effectively its condition of massive material deprivation. They liked the combination of shopping malls and mosques that the ruling AKP party was building and did not care about the evident corruption surrounding the building boom as long as it was a source of jobs. The protest movement of Gezi was, as the subsequent municipal elections showed, not cross-class enough to last.

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Csutoras & Liando. Kineforum Misbar Monas, temporary open-air theater in Jakarta. 2013.

There is no one answer to our predicaments. The urban experience under capitalism is turning barbaric as well as repressive. If the roots of this alienating experience lie in endless capital accumulation, then those roots must ultimately be severed. Lives and well-being must be rerooted in other modes of producing and consuming, while new forms of sociality must be constructed. The neoliberal ethos of isolated individualism and personal rather than social responsibility has to be overcome. The material needs of the masses must be met and combined with cultural emancipation. Taking back the streets in acts of collective protest can be a beginning. But it is only a beginning and cannot be an end in itself.9 Maximizing buen vivir for all in the city rather than the value of Gross Domestic Product for the benefit of the few is a great idea. It needs to be grounded in urban practices everywhere.

(With acknowledgements to Museum of Modern Art)

Pedro Gadanho’s  curatorial comments: http://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2013/11/06/uneven-growth-tactical-urbanisms-for-expanding-megacities