Urban Addendum

City planning finds its validation in the intuitive recognition that a burgeoning market society can not be trusted to produce spontaneously a habitable, sanitary, or even efficient city, much less a beautiful one. - Murray Bookchin, The Limits of the City (1986).

Thursday, April 25, 2013

NIMBY and the vulnerable....

NIMBY (not in my back yard) is the opposition by residents to a proposal for a new infrastructure or development, that will be located near to their houses and it will influence their value. These kind of developments a lot of times are related to environmental issues and can have a negative impact in the quality of the environment (for example: landfills, desalination plants, power plants, industrial parks or even toxic waste dumps). And as the elite can easily influence decisions and protect their interests, the poor are receiving the biggest impact of these infrastructures in their everyday life, incapable to resist and with no political voice.

In Athens, Greece there are two big landfills that are located in the Phili and in Ano Liossia, two areas that are constantly downgraded and the ground water and soil pollution is such, that epidemiological studies are top-secret. In 2010, the Greek Government tried to proceed another program of complementary landfills for Athens at Grammatiko and Keratea, two other areas that a large percentage of low income residents of Athens are living in. On the paper it seems that - supported with environmental studies - modern technologies and recycling plants will be implemented on these sites. However, there is a unanimous lack of trust from the population of Grammatiko and Keratea towards the Greek Government’s plans. They believe that the decision of locating the landfills there is unfair and that it has been chosen because of the poor populations that dwell in the area, as they are are vulnerable and unable to influence government's plans. They support that according to the law, the construction of landfills in these regions is illegal, as they are close to declared archaeological sites and a landscape of great natural beauty. The plans of construction of the landfill had as result the beginning of a great movement of protests and demonstrations from the residents for 3 months. A significant number of riot police had been sent to the area to protect the constructions and there were incidences of violence against the local population followed by excessive use of tear gas and the construction had to stop as the case is going to the court .

Demonstrations of the residents of Keratea.

Cities nowadays are increasingly using culture as an economic base. In the U.S. and Western Europe there is a tendency to return to the city center with focus on the processes of consumption and leisure accompanied by the appearance of new residents and users of the space. The use of culture and the development of cultural industries has created spaces that are either a result of organic growth (for example the movement of artists or small usually art related companies in abandoned industrial areas - Markusen(2006) argues that artists are not responsible for gentrification phenomena as usually are also victims of the displacement) or have been reformed based on urban regeneration programs and large culture based development projects (for example the Guggenheim museum at Bilbao,Spain or the Sony Center in Potsdamer Platz in Berlin). Governments use the place branding of cities to emphasize their special knowledge-based products and services. This regional economic geography provided the perfect storm for the collision of the local with the global. Competition between cities became intense and cities try to attract economic investments, tourists  and talented labor pools. These labor pools are mainly connected with Florida's theory of the creative class or the generation of "Yuppies" consisting of young professionals working in the corporate sector (white collars), high education with sophisticated consumption patterns.

So the planners try to provide amenities necessary for happy and productive creative workers. However, these kind of strategies contribute to 'social displacement' of the lower socio-economic classes by higher socio-economic classes that are characterized by relative wealth and distinguished tastes, and are attracted by the diverse cultural scene, and the historic urban form. These groups move to the center of the cities promoting the creation of clusters of culture and recreation, accompanied with "alternative" high-standard residential areas (like lofts that are often converted for residential use from industrial use). They are typical drivers of later stage gentrification and as they occupy the space, they use the cultural power of fear,  to implement high surveillance and high security measures that leads to the privatization of the space.

The "gentrified" Greenwich Village" in NY, is the most heavily surveilled neighborhood in Manhattan. The residential area had more cameras (371) than any other area (even the business districts). There are, many more cameras in West Village than there are in Midtown Manhattan (284), Times Square (258), or the United Nations (179).

Markusen, Ann. (2006). Urban Development and Politics of a Creative Class: Evidence from the Study of Artists. Environment and Planning A, 38 (10), pp.1921- 1940.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Who has the right to the city?

History is repeated, as the right to the city is protected only for the rich, that take over the cities' centers, and the poor continue to lose theirs. A good example is the foreclosure crisis in USA, initiated by large banks and other lenders. These financial institutions, in order to augment the capital surplus, lent to the property developers, to develop large areas of the city. These big investments would have been fruitless if the same institutions hadn't introduce the working class to the new home loans. More and more low-income people were bought into the debt environment and became capable to buy the new houses and to create a demand based on debt. Of course after a while the property bubble burst and the property prices started to come down. A foreclosure wave hit the American cities and the people that were " in the eye of the tornado", were the low-income communities in many of the older cities in the United States. The sensitive group of the low-income populations lost their assets and their homes and the financial institutions became much richer and accumulated more and more wealth under their possession.

The foreclosures in the city of Cleveland (2007) -first map- are highly concentrated in the African American population majority areas - second map-. 


It seems that cities and public spaces are essential components of the evolving form of participatory cities and are the main space of manifestation of movements such as the "Occupy" or "Indignados". In Spain, Greece, Britain, Mexico, USA and many other countries, a large amount of protesters gathered in public spaces, to protest. The protests took place in spaces where people did not used to gather, taking place in front of the Wall Street (New York), the Parliament (Greece), church steps (London), or shopping malls (Madrid) where protesters had no right to assemble. The Occupy movements emerged many questions about why these movements are manifested in cities? how we perceive public space and who owns it? and who and how can use it? The answer to the first question is easy. The density, diversity and function of cities combined with the fact that serve as strategic points in the global economic system make them ideal sites for social movements and protests. Moreover, the financial crisis struck the population of the cities and as most of them are related more with the third sector of economy (services).

The questions about the public space are even more interesting. Even if the nation gives through constitution rights to the citizens, nowadays we see cities to have the power to take them away. In New York City, for instance, you need permission from the local authorities if more than 20 people gather in a park or if more than 50 bicycles parade on a street. Little parks and open spaces turn to be controlled by  private interests and have their own private police. Benches are being designed in a way that controls how people sit and new strategies are being created to prevent people from using a public space for long periods of time. In order to "re-occupy" the space the protesters used tents and sleeping bags to test the city’s limits on freedom of assembly. Unfortunately, after a while cities began evicting protestors in a coordinated effort between the local government and the police.

The Greek "Indignados" movement (3 June 2011)

Syntagma Square - The Parliament

 People Occupying the square with tents and sleeping bags

(source: personal files)

According to the theory of Urban Life Circles, cities development dynamics can be described as a circle procedure. In 1982 van den Berg et al. developed a four-stages model of city development, distinguishing the phases of urbanisation, suburbanisation, disurbanisation and reurbanisation. During the first stage of urbanisation mainly because of the loss of jobs in the agricultural sector at the rural areas there are migration flows towards the city, especially to the core. In the next stage, the evolution of land prices and the economic restructuring of the city leads to a shift of population and jobs from the core to the ring followed by growth and sprawl, known as suburbanisation period. In the Western societies these two faces are mainly connected with the industrialization and modernity, the subsequent lower quality in the inner cities because of repletion, social trends and the improvements of transportation.

The next phase is known as disurbanisation, and appears when the total population of an functional urban region (core and ring) declines -shrinking cities- followed by a redistribution of inhabitants and jobs in favour of small and medium cities (a procedure that is connected with the deindustrialization and the globalization). The last circle describes an urban regeneration, marked by an absolute concentration of population in the city’s core. This reurbanisation trend may be due to successful regeneration measures within the city centers, to a selective migration of usually young households in search of urban lifestyles (gentrification/back-to-the-cities movement) or to the newly arising importance of global cities. But how well can this model describe the different cities development models through the world? Is it just a deterministic model for the European cities or it can be applied for all the cities? Moreover, does it take into consideration the political and planning decisions and the various (global and local) social and economic forces or it is a model that leads to extremely generalized conclusions? 

(Source: http://www.uta.fi/FAST/US2/NOTES/urban.html)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Megacities and poverty

The concentration of the world’s population in urban areas is growing at an enormously rapid rate, and although there are numerous examples in the developed world, megacities are primarily a phenomenon of the developing world. Mike Davis in the "Planet of Slums"  refers to the urbanization of poverty and he talks about the expansion of the slums and the urban inequality explosion.  A good example of the vicious circle of the development of a megacity n the developing world, that can be described in 3 stages: attraction, growth, disattraction, is Bangalore. Bangalore is a prosperous ground for growth as it offers characteristics that attract investments such as a skilled population and a satisfactory transportation system.  That has led to a strong migration wave into Bangalore that has as a result negative externalities for the city such as the creation and expansion of slums,  high real estate costs, environmental and health care problems, and problems with water and energy shortages. When these problems can be compared with the problems in the descriptions of Engels for Industrial Manchester  in 1844, or Dickens Vision in 1850 with urbanization being a result of industrialization, today's global south is in an even worse situation. Because of the neoliberal globalization tactics since1978 (with the  incorporation to the global market of the developing world), these countries enter into an uneven race which cause a lot of losses.

Slum in Bangalore India

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Global cities and economic polarization...

The global city represents a strategic location at a local-regional level where global processes are taking part within national territories and the global dynamic is organized through national institutional arrangements. This is a highly specialized and diversified institutional process, a very different process than the type homogenisation or convergence that exists in consumer markets and the global entertainment industry (Brenner, 1998).
While some cities are upgraded, a large number of other major cities have lost their role as the main export center for industrial production (e.g  Detroit, Manchester). The "world production line" - the production and collection of goods from factories and warehouses around the world - takes place and creates the need for increasing concentration and complexity of management and programming. The massive expansion of international trade, integration of stock markets in a global network and develop international markets for productive services have become part of the economic base of many major cities. Moreover, local mega-projects product of para-state agencies and public-private partnerships, such as the London Docklands and La Defense in Paris represent the local state's capacity to mobilize and coordinate transnational capital investment. In that way cities like New York, London, Tokyo or Sao Paulo concentrate a disproportionate share of these transactions and markets and contribute to the economic and spatial polarization.  But if in the globalization era, cities are more important than the countries and we play in the global economical chess in the terms of the "competition of the cities", do we end to just reinforce the regional  inequalities inside these cities or between the different cities of the same country? 

Tuca Vieira, Paraisópolis Favela in Sao Paulo, Brazil 2005