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-.