Radical Urbanism & Right to the City voices from 2008

I’m interested in the connections between Urbanism and the public space occupation movements that have come to prominence in 2011 amidst the environment of our new Media Ecology that’s infused with fast flowing ICT networks.

This post and my last three posts mark a little exploration into these threads.

Below I’m just sharing my notes on this talk from Winter 2008 on how The Right to the City weaves together many approaches in a new way. It’s insightful in the face of Occupy Wall Street today in the cool Fall of 2011. Scan my notes below or watch the 58 min video, or both!

Peter Marcuse

There are 5 points of distinction Radical Urbanism has from your typical communitarian world view:

  1. It connects issues and developments together and sees them as interrelated.
  2. It exposes the current system of disconnection between work and profit, this system can be named: capitalism.
  3. It acknowledges that there are alternative systems to explore, and asks for more than mere regulation of the existing system.
  4. It has a view of Democracy that is not about consensus, but about changes in power relations where there are winners and losers.
  5. It points out that rational persuasion alone will not change the relations of power if addressed only to the state. Rather it advocates for mobilization and use of human agency and power to make the changes we want to see.

Magrit Mayer

(begins at min 19)

  • min 24:25 hilarious. “…zombie neoliberalism, because it’s still dominant, even though it’s dead.” [Also, zombieneoliberalism.com domain just purchased, may come in handy someday ;-) ]
  • min 27:25 “of course the media has it all wrong… that these [Greek & European protests] are mere anarchist troublemakers… my inbox is exploding over the last week w/ email messages [from various urbanist organizations] that are networked with each other and that are coordinating these, not independently, with each other… there are connections between the different local movements even though there is no top down Obama-like machine telling the grassroots where to go. But still it is now a question of are these networks and various organizations even though they are somewhat connected are they going to be able to push this further?”

David Harvey

(begins at min 35)

  •  Citing William Tab’s book The Long Default: New York City and the Urban Fiscal Crisis, Harvey locates the origin of the current neoliberal ecomonic crisis in the urban fiscal crisis of New York City in the 1970s, “which was resolved through massive layoffs and cuts to public services”, and the rise of similar fiscal policies of “structural adjustment” carried out by the IMF in the developing world after this period.
  • The current fiscal crisis is following the same pattern, only bigger than ever since it’s being applied to entire industrialized countries.
  • Since the 70s labor costs questions were answered by three tactics: immigration changes to allow cheaper labor into industrialized countries, outsourcing, attacks to dismantle labor unions. Mostly in effect by the early 80s profits soared while real wages for most people remained stagnant. Trickle down investments aren’t in people but in assets, property values have gone up since then. [Leading to affordable housing shortages, sprawl, etc.] This was alleviated by loosening of consumer credit and huge shift into borrowing… leading to subprime debt crisis.
  • Since the 1970s there have been 40 to 50 financial crises, about half of them are property-based. This is why the subprime mortgage crisis should be renamed as an urban crisis, e.g. in Baltimore it’s been a financial Katrina destroying huge neighborhoods.
  • To enable a Right to the City what do we need? Improve anti-eviction laws, get beyond rights only tied to property ownership. Talk about socializing housing, education, health care (there are many ways to deal with this centralized or decentralized)
  • The resolution of this urban crisis is coming to a head. The elite have a legitimacy problem.
  • The role of Radical Urbanism is to expose the truth, that this is about a battle of class power, that there *are* alternative systems that need to be explored.

Update, Oct 21, 2011.
For more on David Harvey’s lucid analysis see his talk “The Urban Roots of the Fiscal Crisis” at the American University of Beirut, hosted by their Masters in Urban Planning and Policy and Urban Design Department, on May 29, 2009.