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).

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