Tag Archives: Built Environment

We’re Number 1! We’re Number 1! Tampa Has the Highest Homelessness Rates in Mid-Sized Cities in the United States of America

This is the third of six blogs written as part of the assessment for North American Cities, a second year undergraduate course in Geography at the University of Manchester. Required to write a blog of 1500 words on an issue of their choosing, Joshua Hall chose to write about Tampa …

Homelessness is a problem which affects cities on many different levels. It tugs at the heartstrings of those people fortunate enough to have a stable home and livelihood whilst it also costs the local government, and therefore the tax paying citizens, in attempts to rectify the problem.

However, shock horror; the local government in Tampa doesn’t always try to solve the problem through correct channels. Instead scandal has reared its ugly head as social services director Sam Walthour has been sacked for paying Port Authority Chairman William Brown around $600000 to fund his bug-infested, unfit for purpose trailer park for homeless people to squat in. If this wasn’t shady enough, the money came directly out of the Tampa homeless recovery project fund!

Now, with the pitiful pair of Walthour and Brown out of the picture, things are potentially looking brighter as Mayor Bob Buckhorn has pledged to set aside 2 million dollars for helping the homeless in 2014. The mayor also stated that he hoped to abandon the woeful homeless recovery project and focus instead on distributing the money to various NGOs, which aim to provide both food and shelter for the homeless people of Tampa.

This silver lining of course does not eradicate all problems for the poor souls in Tampa who are left homeless. In fact the pledge made by Mayor Buckhorn was made in September 2013 but only two months earlier  the city  passed an  ordinance  allowing police officers to arrest homeless people if they were seen sleeping in public. The ordinance further stated that ‘storing personal property in public’ was also worth criminalizing.

Police in New York have been seen to provide shoes for homeless people out of their own generosity whereas in Tampa they are instructed to arrest them.

Police in New York have been seen to provide shoes for homeless people out of their own generosity whereas in Tampa they are instructed to arrest them.

Luckily in every area of the world people will stand up for justice; this is the same in Tampa. When the key protests come from elementary school children, you begin to realise the severity of the situation. . These school children handed out flyers and paraded banners stating ‘homelessness is not a choice’ and ‘sleeping is not a crime’. I love the juxtaposition between those two statements. The first symbolises the harsh reality of the situation, telling the government that these people are already being punished enough by society.  Punishing  them further is just ludicrous; the second has a reinforcing impact. The children are, quite simply telling it how it is, which is why it is almost laughable to think that the homeless face being  imprisoned for something as basic as sleeping.

Standing up for justice; young children protest against the 4-3 vote passing the ordinance to imprison homeless people.

Standing up for justice; young children protest against the 4-3 vote passing the ordinance to imprison homeless people.

Just imagine for a moment you’ve decided to run 5km on a on a warm, sunny Sunday in the summer. You stop in the park, tired at the end of your run and decide to have a few moments of shuteye to recover. You then wake up in prison. Ridiculous but possible in Tampa!

There comes a time when human compassion is needed in tough decision making and I feel this should be the time. In mid-2012 a study by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development found that Tampa, of all mid-sized cities in the US, had the highest number of homeless individuals at 7419. Now picture all those people being put in prison. Some might enjoy prison – after all a warm bed, a roof and regular meals might be the answer to their dreams yet in the grand scheme of things it is not the answer. But what are the alternatives for the government?

It is all very well to criticise the laws but if there is not an obvious solution then what can be done? If we look at the facts regarding homeless shelters in Tampa, it makes the problem seem even bleaker. Although there are plenty of shelters available in Tampa across the various counties, the nightly stay averages between $10 and $42. This is too expensive for most homeless people. Think back to any time a homeless person has asked you for money when walking past. The vast majority of the time the only money in their cups will be loose change, a galaxy away from $42. I understand the need to charge those staying in the facilities in order to keep the shelters running, but it is likely that many of the previously mentioned 7419 people could not afford to access them. So where does the government turn if the NGOs can’t help.

Across the United States there are many initiatives in place to tackle homelessness. A lot of these efforts rely on the principles involved in rescue missions, which aim to get people off the street. For example, the rescue missions in Nashville have an 11 million dollar budget each year but ultimately this project tries to get people off the street only if they undertake rehabilitation programs lasting as long as a year. Even then, that doesn’t guarantee they will  stay  off the streets.

Similar models for lesser amounts of money, such as ‘Housing First’, remove people from the streets immediately, working on the belief that a person is best equipped to reintegrate themselves into society if they are housed first. This framework was first introduced in New York in the 1990s and studies revealed that most that completed ‘Housing First’ pathways programmes remained in housing  5 years after they were initially taken in. Therefore you can see how homelessness can begin to be eradicated and in areas with more homeless people than in Tampa, so it begs the question: why are these ideologies not being implemented here? To me it seems that investing in a project such as ‘Housing First’ would make a lot more sense, especially from an ethical point of view, than passing laws to put homeless people in jail. However what I see as right and wrong is not always logistically feasible.

A simple model of how Housing First aims to get people off the street through a series of progressive steps.

A simple model of how Housing First aims to get people off the street through a series of progressive steps.

The local government of Tampa are not ignoring these measures and the fact that Mayor Buckhorn has pledged to invest is a sign of wanting to change the fortunes of the homeless. Really, the problem is that Tampa does not have the necessary resources in place to undertake a large scale operation to get their citizens off the street. If Tampa had the funds for an 11 million dollar a year rescue mission they would surely implement it. No area wants to be renowned as being top of the negative impact charts for rates such as homelessness especially with the state pride that occurs in the United States.

It could be suggested that the 2 million dollars pledged to fight the problems of homelessness in Tampa in 2014 should be invested in a project model such as ‘Housing First’ but it is unlikely to make a huge difference, as the budget required for that sort of operation is far grander than is available. As a result, the problem with homelessness is likely to rage on in Tampa, with more harm than good done given current policies. It remains to be seen whether the 2 million dollar investment will be utilised effectively as no full template for its application has yet evolved. With the very penal laws putting homeless people in jail simply for sleeping in public and thus criminalising them, many homeless will find it hard ever to turn their lives around, particularly when applying for jobs or housing in the future. Until the policymakers change the laws, and try instead to help those in need rather than punish them, the homeless people of Tampa are set to keep suffering until promises made are delivered within a cohesive and sustainable plan.

Endnotes and sources in order of use:

http://tbo.com/news/politics/social-services-director-fired-20130919/

http://tbo.com/news/tampa-council-wants-city-to-spend-more-on-homeless-20130919/

http://moorbey.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/11881/

http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/lookout/nypd-boots-homeless-man-photo-145219581.html

http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2013/07/22/2335261/tampa-criminalize-homelessness/

http://abtassociates.com/AbtAssociates/files/77/77fdb6fa-6e6b-4524-8b5a-8e68c68caca9.pdf

http://www.examiner.com/article/tampa-passes-new-ordinances-on-homeless-despite-protests

http://thehomelessguy.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/solutions-for-homelessness.html

http://www.homelesshub.ca/Resource/Frame.aspx?url=http%3a%2f%2fps.psychiatryonline.org%2farticle.aspx%3farticleID%3d84342&id=25399&title=Pathways+to+Housing%3a+Supported+Housing+for+Street-Dwelling+Homeless+Individuals+with+Psychiatric+Disabilities&owner=48

Detroiters: Back in the Driving Seat

This is the first of six blogs written as part of the assessment for North American Cities, a second year undergraduate course in Geography at the University of Manchester. Required to write a blog of 1500 words on an issue of their choosing, Amy Barron chose to write about Detroit …

Detroit is the focus of a stereotype. After years of decline, together with the repetitious drip feed of negative media attention; riots, white flight, dereliction and deserted neighbourhoods have become emblematic of the city. Today as the city faces rejection from government and global press, Detroiters have taken matters into their own hands, nurturing innovation, initiative and creativity.

Detroit; the city that put the world on wheels; the throbbing heart of American culture, soul and industry; the sprawling metropolis; the epitome of the American Dream. During its 1950s heyday, the ‘motorcity’ thrived, providing an accommodating, dynamic and cohesive urban hub; a centrifugal force for the global automobile trade whilst functioning as a magnet attracting social and economic capital that saw the population rocket. So, what went wrong? I hear you cry.

Well listen up America, there’s a lesson to be learnt. After the initial auto-industrial success, it was the failure of the American government to recognise that the Asian auto-manufacturing expansion was upon them and America was effectually bitten on the ass by its competitor. This ultimately caused the start of the cardio-collapse of the heart of American auto-industries, unable to stay ahead of their efficient Asian opponents. This slow death of the motor giants eventually caused the inner-city commuter highway vestals to become clogged with poverty as the rich fled and suburban arteries were drained of talent as the skilled relocated elsewhere. The eventual outcome was a population plummet, leading to a lower tax base. Crime rates spiked and public service networks crumbled. The rust belt of the American mid-west was rapidly corroding and Detroit was the ‘buckle’. The media willingly jumped on the bandwagon and the drip feed of negativity began to infest the city. Events reached their pinnacle when Detroit hit the headlines as it became the largest city in the US to file for bankruptcy. Investment was deterred and the endless cycle of decline had seemingly begun.

So, how do you remake a city and perhaps see it prosper once more? Seemingly an impossible task? Well, providing there is more to life than generalised statistics and headline-grabbing  quotes, I-and Detroit-argue ‘hope is not lost’. Believe it or not media, through the dereliction and destitution; human nature prevails, inter-connections are materialising, and community clusters are beginning to form. Whilst the data presented may well hold elements of truth, surely daily community interaction, cohesion and a dense urban texture are equally important qualities which define urban life. The Detroiters are innovating their way out of this problem, so why should the very real, happening, positive efforts be brushed under the carpet?

All too often the city is portrayed in a negative light. Rarely reported is the surviving stock; the green sprouts of hope emerging at grass roots level. The winds of change are blowing through the streets of Detroit with more force than ever as ‘a neighbour helping neighbour’ ethos is spreading generating a strong ‘shared responsibility for a shared place’ attitude. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes; revitalised and ready for flight, young maverick entrepreneurs are surfacing, thrusting forth new innovative ideas which will regenerate, renew and rejuvenate.

Although Detroit may, in some respects be teetering on the precipice, it still has the safety harness of ‘community strength’ to hold onto, pulling it back from the brink. Realising the difficulties they are facing, many residents are calling on inner resources and imagination, taking issues into their own hands. All sectors of society-young, old, groups, and individuals-are pioneering positivity impacting across the social, economic and environmental spectrum. Could Detroit be a leading beacon in showing the rest of the urban world the path to overcoming these universally experienced problems? With progress in green transportation, sustainability, business incubation and community cohesion; the future looks promising. Detroit is moving forward, starting where it matters; at the heart and with the people.

Sixty four year old John Ratov is only one of the thousands of people across Detroit who have become self-appointed community activists. A former inmate, Ratov now spends his time serving others by giving rides, delivering lunches and visiting the pitiably lonely. Not only is Ratov actively improving the lives of his fellow citizens but his ‘community spirit’ is rubbing off onto others such as 52 year old Renee Miler who met Ratov at a local soup kitchen and now also helps saying; ‘’it’s just the right thing to do’’. Together they continue building an ever expanding human life support machine for the city.

Not only is this ingenuity occurring on an individual level, but also at a collective level. Organised by several local charities, with ‘booming dance music, flaming BBQ grills, and a stocked food tent for thousands of homeless’ Detroit hosted it’s ‘Red carpet backyard surprise BBQ!’ The idea was simply to give struggling Detroiters a holiday meal like the rest of America would be eating that day. The party was a huge success with the food line snaking through the park as far as the eye could see. Instead of the streets feeling bare and cold, they were full of life, laughter and love with thousands of homeless folk uniting in celebration as the festive mood set in and spread through the crowd with a shared sense of place and belonging. This is the precise way a community should unite, by helping one another. It engenders the reconnection of the fragmented city scape and improves Detroit for the greater good.

Have you too been fooled into believing Detroit has being deserted by the young? Well, think again. ‘I am Young Detroit’ is a social venture initiative promoting and publishing positive change occurring in Detroit. Social entrepreneur, Andy Didorosi is one of many who are determined to make a difference.  After reading ‘Detroit’s light rail is dead’ Andy bought a bunch of buses and founded ‘The Detroit Bus Company’. This was a huge success. Not only are the buses environmentally sustainable hybrids but Andy added his quirky artistic edge making them ‘public party buses ‘reinforcing the young imaginative flair so many Detroiters possess. With service hours rapidly expanding, cool areas in the downtown are valuably reconnecting. I am captivated and amused by Andy and found myself continually impressed by his ambitious nature when reading more. The world could really use a few more Andys ready to give it a shot!

Where is Amsterdam?

Professor Erik Swyngedouw at the University of Manchester reflects on how the current city of Amsterdam is different from the one he used to visit in the late 1970s and early 1980s and what that might say about the new geographical co-ordinates of political possibilities.

Amsterdam takes a very special and privileged position in my intellectual trajectory. As a young and radical planning student in Belgium in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the stale, dogmatic, antiquated and plainly stifling intellectual and cultural environment that characterized much of academic and urban life in my native Belgium at the time contrasted sharply with the exuberantly liberating, exhilarating and radical thought and associated urban practices that came in as a whirlwind from the Netherlands and, in particular, from Amsterdam.

street-jordaan

Je kan er boeken kopen You can buy books there
Die je hier heel zelden vindt that you rarely find here
Je kan er langs de grachten lopen You can stroll along the canals
Je haar los in de wind Hair loose in the wind
…. ….
Je bent er vogelvrij You are free as a bird there
Omdat er alles kan Because everything is possible there
Zo dichtbij en toch zo ver is Amsterdam So near and yet so far is Amsterdam

(Amsterdam by Kris De Bruyne – 1975)

As Kris De Bruyne sung in his ode to Amsterdam, it is a place where you can buy books you rarely find here (in Belgium at the time), where one could set thought free. And he was absolutely right. Amsterdam in those exiting times was for me a place worthy of an odyssey. Many a times, I ventured onto the Brussels-Amsterdam train to scout out the new ideas, to browse the censored thoughts freely available on Amsterdam’s bookshelves, to feel the winds of change, to touch the freewheeling and radical air in which Amsterdam bathed. Provo had staged its early situationist urban performances in Amsterdam, later the ‘Kabouters’ marched into the city-government, white bikes roamed the street, new lifestyles were experimented with, squatters questioned capitalist housing politics and budding neoliberal forms of urban renovation. A truly emancipatory and progressive political movement was engulfing the urban world, and Amsterdam was its cradle. Many of the thoughts and perspectives that would mature in my later academic work found their early hesitant and embryonic formulations in the cafes, bookstores and intellectual engagement with Amsterdam’s young left intellectuals and activists.

Thirty odd years later, and after many returns to my beloved Amsterdam, I feel increasingly alienated by the city, a whiff of nostalgia to a lost dream and a melancholic dread permeates my body and mind when drifting along Amsterdam’s streets and canals. Sure, it still is a great city, a global cosmopolitan urbanity that feels like a village. The quirky sites and unexpected corners are still there, but the city’s soul, its mojo seems to have decamped. Amsterdam today is boring, uninspiring. Creative and progressive intellectual thought – although still brewing in some of the remaining interstices –  stifled, xenophobia rising, neoliberal austerity visibly present, new forms of uninspiring urbanity – like Amsterdam Zuidas –  became stale ruins even before their completion. Urban life seems cosy (at least for most), insular, self-referential, inward-looking. The sense of exuberance, of endless possibilities, of nurturing egalitarian freedom sustained by a solidarity-enhancing mode of being-in-common seems to have been replaced by technocratic management, the bio-political dominance of accountancy spreadsheets, the tyranny of the commodity-form, and a sense of collective impotence. Nothing seems possible anymore other than, at best, the humanitarian management of the excesses of the neoliberal nightmare. It does not take great foresight to see that the tensions, conflicts and spiralling inequalities that brew beneath the cobbled surface will soon and possibly violently explode again. Rarely do I hear Amsterdam’s urban intellectuals prefigure such dystopian futures. The few who do signal the unsustainability of today’s neoliberal political-economic hegemony, like Ewald Engelen’s relentless and incisive insistence on the perverse politics of neoliberalism, are shouts in the wind as much as Paul Krugman’s continuous lament of the American variant of the elite’s pursuit of neoliberal recipes. Unfortunately, on both sides of the Atlantic, the elite’s ears remain deaf for the warnings of such eminent scholars whose alarm signals they do not wish to register.

gebouwengrachtenamsterdam2-hboogertfeb2008

I wonder where my Amsterdam is. I wonder whether the civic democratizing urbanity that has characterized Amsterdam’s urbanity throughout the centuries still slumbers underneath the elegant cobbled streets, in the after-rooms of the grand bourgeois houses and their neatly gentrified facades, in the immigrant neighbourhoods, or whether the spirit of Amsterdam has now forever decamped to the more exciting urbanities of Berlin, Barcelona, Istanbul, Madrid, Cairo, Sao Paulo, Sofia, Athens, or Thessaloniki, names that stand for me today for the cities that animate emancipatory desires, that ooze a spirit of possibility, where creative progressive thought and practice is actively experimented in. These are the names today of the places where citizens, city-dwellers, have become insurgent architects, where new forms of urban being-in-common are experimented with, where the powers-that-be shiver as the multitude takes to the streets and squares and stages performing new egalitarian modes of being-in-common. The city as a political polis, where insurgent citizens demand and stage the right to urbanity, the right to co-produce the city, seems to be alive and kicking in those places, but sadly moribund in Amsterdam.

Isn’t the most eloquent manifestation of this death of the urban the fact that the most radical recent guerrilla intervention in Amsterdam was the unauthorized placement of a copy of the Wall Street Bull by artist Arturo DiModica on Amsterdam’s Beursplein (Exchange Square), just a little while after the site was cleared off a small coterie of Occupy! activists, too small in numbers to even itch the powers that be or attract international attention. Is the Charging Bull’s presence – the triumphant symbol a victorious capital-financial order – not one of the most tell-tale signs of the symbolic re-appropriation of urban space by the 1%. While the square was cleared of its protesters, the unauthorized intrusion of the Bull was quickly legitimized and approved by the city administrators. Amsterdam’s elite made quite clear to all what the Beursplein and city politics stand for. Poor Amsterdam. I do long for the Amsterdam that helped me think and act as young and budding progressive intellectual, and which is undoubtedly still lurking somewhere. In the meantime, I think I shall keep going to Madrid, Istanbul, or Athens. See you there.

This blog was initially posed at the Centre for Urban Studies, University of Amsterdam (http://urbanstudies.uva.nl/blog/urban-studies-blog-series/urban-studies-blog-series/content/folder/where-is-amsterdam.html)

 

 

 

A peak beyond the seamlessly integrated municipal energy networks in Europe

Ralitsa Hiteva, Research Fellow,SPRU, University of Sussex and PhD student, School of Environment, Education and Development, University of Manchester

Urban spaces in the EU, especially within their municipal forms, where low-carbon transition agendas at multiple scales are abundant have become sought after and crowded policy spaces. Municipalities are perceived as having become stronger units of governance due to their increasing number of managerial roles and EU support, particularly in the shape of transnational municipal networks for climate change and energy policy. In fact, municipalities have seemingly become increasingly good in negotiating responses to various policy agendas, succeeding in integrating and reconciling approaches to energy efficiency improvements, decarbonisation and climate change adaptation and mitigation within the framework of concepts such as Smart Cities and programmes such as BioRegions. Such pioneer municipalities have been hailed as achieving so much, in areas where nation states have struggled (for example in integrating strategic low-carbon transition infrastructure and services such as transportation and energy). In doing so, they are seen as isolated ‘islands’ of low-carbon living, plugged into wider policy and stakeholder networks, whose “lights” are multiplying across the EU, flickering stronger and brighter in patterns spreading beyond and despite national borders.

Although a range of transnational municipal networks work in countries like Bulgaria, where the number of pioneer municipalities could be probably capped at less than 15, the lights might never come on. There are spaces where low-carbon policy tends to whirl around its intended target, without quite getting there. This is a quick peak in one such space in Europe. The interest of Bulgarian municipalities in energy efficiency can be traced to the mid 1990s when in the midst of fiscal and political instability responsibility for public lighting was transferred from the national electricity distribution company to municipalities. In the winter of 1997 fast growing inflation meant that municipalities struggled to keep the lights and heating on for public buildings like schools and hospitals. That’s when 23 municipalities set up a ‘self-help’ municipal network called EcoEnergy whose objective was to develop municipal capacity to increase energy efficiency in public buildings in order to reduce utility costs. Ever since, for the majority of Bulgarian municipalities, energy efficiency at municipal level has been equated with reducing the cost of energy. The membership in the municipal network quickly grew and in 2003 it represented 2/3 of the total population of the country.

Although the municipal network has actively worked for over 15 years at national, regional and international level, and is integrated within a thick web of key transnational networks and programmes such as EnergyCities, Intelligent Energy Europe, ManagEnergy and the Covenant of Mayors, it struggles to develop the energy efficiency agenda of Bulgarian municipalities beyond its utility reduction focus. Although many stakeholders maintain that Bulgarian municipalities are in fact reducing carbon emissions even with their rudimentary energy efficiency projects, the extent to which this is happening needs to be explored further.

In contrast to the Bulgarian agenda of energy efficiency as a means of cutting cost, in most EU countries the energy crisis of the 1970s prompted the interest in improving energy efficiency as a means of reducing energy consumption (i.e. energy conservation). Since then interest in energy efficiency and conservation has been maintained and elevated as the most cost-effective and fastest way to meet (substantial part of the) climate change mitigation targets. Energy saved – ‘negajoules’- compared to no improvements in energy efficiency is considered a key energy source in Europe. Thus, energy efficiency projects and programmes are often implemented under the headings ‘climate action’, ‘carbon neutral’, ‘sustainable energy’ or ‘green’. However, if we look deeper than the glossy new facades of public buildings and the happy endings of the before and after comparisons, we can see that in many cases the energy saving and carbon reduction agendas continue to simply circle around these spaces.

Images of buildings before and after retrofitting in Bulgaria in 2010 (Project Obnoven Dom).

Images of buildings before and after retrofitting in Bulgaria in 2010 (Project Obnoven Dom).

picture 2

Not all energy efficiency improvements result in a decrease in associated carbon emissions. Calculations of possible carbon dioxide reductions often present a skewed picture of the actual energy savings because they are based on a standardised baseline. The majority of municipal buildings in Bulgaria, such as schools, have been chronically under-heated and under-cooled, with levels of thermal comfort significantly below the EU average of 20C (even below the recommended minimum of16C) since the early 1990s. It is still a common practice for badly insulated buildings to have low annual thermal levels.

When such public buildings are retrofitted the associated carbon reduction is calculated based on a normalised baseline of 20C, rather than the actual which could vary between 11C and 16C. The calculations do not take into account that once the building is retrofitted and heated at the normalised levels it will end up not only not making any actual energy savings, but often will result in more energy being consumed. This illustrates a rebound effect, where some of the energy savings from efficiency improvements are used up in the form of higher energy consumption. In this case energy efficiency improvements serve as a means of achieving higher thermal comfort. Considering that more than 60% of municipal buildings in Bulgaria are in such condition, the gap between projected carbon savings and actual savings will grow with the number of retrofitted buildings if unchecked.

For Bulgarian municipalities implementing energy efficiency measures makes sense only if there are financial gains to be made (i.e. cutting the cost of utilities), while carbon dioxide reduction measures can mean having to choose a more expensive option. In fact, in a string of 11 interviews conducted in Bulgarian in 2011 all interviewed municipalities ranked reduction in carbon dioxide emissions as least important in implementing energy projects. The question then is not only How such spaces could be engaged with the network of pioneer municipalities which exists across Europe, but also To what extent is their context of spatial variations truly understood at EU level?

Enacting equality through insurgent housing practices in Spain

By Melissa García Lamarca, PhD candidate in Geography

 

Spain’s growth has always been intimately connected to the expansion of the built environment. (1) During the country’s third and most extensive real estate boom from 1997 to 2007, over five million units of housing were built – more than the UK, France, Italy and Germany combined – as housing prices increased over 200%. Even though real average wages fell 10% during this period, financial entities granted over 800,000 mortgages each year as the public administration, real estate sector and media actively promoted housing as a sound investment whose value would never decrease. Homeownership rates reached almost 85% of the Spanish population during this period, one of the highest rates in Europe.

 

Real estate cycles 1970-2007 Naredo et al 2008

Real estate cycles 1970-2007 Naredo et al 2008

 

Image 1. Spanish real estate cycles, 1970-2007. Source: Naredo et. al. (2008:184) from National Statistics Institute (INE), Ministry of Development and Ministry of Housing

 

But since the bust of Spain’s boom, unemployment has skyrocketed to over 26% and more and more people are unable to pay their mortgages. A critical situation exists as the country’s Mortgage Act does not cancel the entire debt of a mortgaged household if the confiscation and sale of their house by the bank does not cover all outstanding costs. As banks are unable to sell the foreclosed houses they repossess, those evicted find themselves hugely in debt; including late payment interest and legal costs this can total up to hundreds of thousands of euros. As over 325,000 foreclosures and 200,000 evictions have occurred between 2007 and 2012 according to Spain’s justice department, hundreds of thousands are left with no place to live and a debt to pay for life. This is happening, paradoxically, as millions of homes stand empty, unsold or repossessed by banks upon developers’ bankruptcy, and banks have been bailed out with hundreds of billions of euros from public purses.

 

A vocal and highly mobilised anti-eviction platform has emerged in response to these dynamics. The Platform for Mortgage Affected People (PAH) was formed in Barcelona in 2009 to defend the constitutional right to housing, specifically focusing on three struggles: stopping evictions, retroactively forgiving the debt of evicted households through reforming the Mortgage Act and enacting social rent. (2) Now with over 160 branches in cities across Spain, the PAH has successfully blocked over 700 evictions through their Stop Evictions campaign and are constantly in the public eye through street protests, occupying banks to demand debt forgiveness for affected households as well as lobbying for legislative change. As the latter, culminating in a Popular Legislative Initiative with almost 1.5 million signatures presented to Congress in February 2013, has led to no substantive change, the PAH is enacting equality through its most controversial campaign: occupying vacant, unsold buildings owned by banks to house evicted families.

 

Terrassa bloc Unnim

Terrassa bloc Unnim

 

Image 2: A housing block owned by UNNIM occupied by the PAH and evicted households since mid 2011. Source: PAH.

 

Driven by the motto “no people without houses, no houses without people” and “we rescue people, not banks”, this campaign seeks to recuperate the right to housing through first rehousing evicted families in empty flats owned by banks that have been bailed out by public funds and then entering into negotiating with them for families to pay social rent. The campaign was founded in November 2010 and occupations have slowly but surely increased since, particularly in the Barcelona Metropolitan Region where there are close to a dozen buildings occupied by the PAH to date. One of the first buildings occupied, in Terrassa in December 2011, recently won a victory at the end of May 2013: after one and a half years of negotiations, Caixa Cataluyna – one of several financial entities bailed out with billions of euros through the Spanish Fund for Orderly Bank Restructuring (FROB) in 2009 and merged into Cataluyna Banc – agreed to rehouse those occupying the building under a 150 euro per month social rent. Perhaps in part spurred by this success, a handful of building occupations have followed in the Barcelona Metropolitan Region and in early July the PAH released a how-to manual laying out different phases plus legal and other considerations when organising individual and collective occupations of buildings, in an attempt to roll the campaign out across Spain.

 

Occupied housing block PAH Barcelona city centre source público.es

Occupied housing block PAH Barcelona city centre source público.es

 

Image 3: Housing block owned by Valencia Bank in Barcelona city centre occupied on 11 July, 2013 by the PAH to rehouse four evicted families. Source: Público.es

 

The PAH’s building occupation and recovery strategy is an insurgent practice that exemplifies a powerful enactment of equality. As lobbying for legislative change – in an attempt to create equality through government institutions – has failed, equality is instead being actively taken or enacted by the subjects of equality. (3) These insurgent practices are deeply political acts and, arguably, are the types that constitute politics; as Ranciére (1999: 11) would say, “politics exists when the natural order of domination is interrupted by the institution of a part of those who have no part.” (4) Those who constitute the anti-eviction platforms in Spain were people who allegedly “had a part”, who obtained the credential of “first-class citizens” through being property owners (5), but are now the part with no part as they have been evicted and indebted for life. Their building occupations rupture the police order – the structure, justification and legitimacy of a socio-economic hierarchy, or what we normally call politics – into a space for the appearance of a subject, making visible that which had no reason to be seen. (6) Such actions question and break with the current system, filling a critical gap left by the state, private sector and other institutions.

 

In Spain, as well as in many places across Europe and the world, the crisis has shown that the state and market have failed in their claim to provide a secure reproduction of our lives (7) – that is, a framework for us to provide ourselves with shelter, food and other basic needs fundamental to human life and flourishing. Yet the Platform for Mortgage Affected People’s anti-eviction struggles, in particular occupying buildings with/for evicted families, give hope for actively claiming equality in cities across Spain. The outcomes and larger transformative potential of these acts, of course, remain to be unfolded.

(1) Daniel Coq-Huelva. 2013. Urbanisation and Financialisation in the Context of a Rescaling State: The Case of Spain. Antipode, (April): 1-19.

David Harvey. 1978. The urban process under capitalism: a framework for analysis. International Journal for Urban and Regional Research, 2(1-4): 101-131.

David Harvey. 1985. The Urbanisation of Capital. Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd.

(2) Social rent is proposed by the PAH as a rent constituting no more than 30% of a family’s income.

(3) Todd May, 2008. The Political Thought of Jacques Rancière: Creating Equality. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

(4) Jacques Ranciére. 1999. Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press.

(5) Ada Colau & Adrià Alemany. 2012. Vidas hipotecadas: De la burbuja inmobilaria al derecho de la vivienda. Barcelona: Cuadrilátero de Libros.

(6) Jacques Rancière. 2001. Ten Theses on Politics. Theory and Event, 5(3): 1-11.

(7) Midnight Notes Collective. 2009. Promissory Notes: From Crisis to Commons.

 

Melissa García Lamarca is a second year Geography PhD student investigating the insurgent practices and forms of being-in-common of anti-eviction platforms within the context of the financialisation of housing in Spain. She is attempting to understand the role of these practices and forms in creating urban commons in Barcelona. Melissa is also a contributor to Polis, a collaborative blog on cit

The Whitworth Park Community Archaeology and History Project

by Siân Jones, Hannah Cobb, Ruth Colton and Melanie Giles.

Whitworth Park was opened in 1890 towards the tail end of the most prolific park building period the country has ever known. It cost £69,000, and was filled with features designed for the recreation and health of the surrounding neighbourhood. The park became extremely popular on its opening, ‘abundantly visited’ by the local population (Manchester Courier, 5th July, 1890), with some ‘six to eight thousand’ people present on a Sunday afternoon in April 1893 (Manchester Courier, 15th April, 1893). In its Victorian and Edwardian hey-day, Whitworth Park boasted many typical features, such as a bandstand, a large boating lake, an observatory, various shelters, extensive formal flowerbeds, statues, and a covered walkway. However, many of these were removed in the post-war period; a common fate reflecting changes in urban park management and funding cuts.

An Edwardian postcard of Whitworth Park (Source: private collection of S. Jones)

An Edwardian postcard of Whitworth Park (Source: private collection of S. Jones)

The origins of public parks like Whitworth lie in the nineteenth century park movement, which was a response to the immense changes associated with industrialisation and urbanisation. Parks were designed to address many of the problems with this new urban environment, by providing access to nature, healthy pursuits, clean air, beauty and a sober venue for recreation (Conroy 1991). Indeed the public park was seen as a panacea to the ills of the urban condition and in its idealised form it embodied many of the social concerns of the Victorian period. As a specific kind of urban space, parks embodied a number of philanthropic and ‘improving’ ideals, as well as providing an arena for social control and the inculcation of middle class values (Wyborn 1994). Once part of the urban landscape, they quickly became sites of social encounter, tension and exclusion through which class, gender, civic, national and imperial identities were negotiated (Brück 2013). And despite significant changes, they remain important sites for the negotiation of memory, identity and place, as well as a focus for ideas associated with health, improved air quality, and other environmental concerns.

 

The Whitworth Park Community Archaeology and History Project aims to investigate the long-term social, material and natural histories of the park alongside its changing meaning for local communities. It also aims to use archaeology as a way of engaging contemporary residents with their heritage and to increase the social value of the Park. The project involves archival research, a small-scale oral history programme, and two seasons of excavation, with a wide-ranging volunteer programme and a series of school workshops. There are also public outreach events during the excavation seasons, and other forms of engagement such as newspaper articles, public talks and a project blog. Towards the end of the project we will produce a public leaflet about the Park’s history, a new display board in the Park, and a temporary exhibition in Manchester Museum.

Hannah uncovering the foundations of the bandstand 4th July 2012 (Photograph: S. Jones)

Hannah uncovering the foundations of the bandstand 4th July 2012 (Photograph: S. Jones)

 

Some of the Whitworth Park finds (Photograph: University of Manchester)

Some of the Whitworth Park finds (Photograph: University of Manchester)

The success of the project depends on a number of partnerships. It is led by the Archaeology Department at the University of Manchester and involves postgraduate and undergraduate students as well as academic staff. We hope to connect University-led research with the future of the local community: breaking down the barriers of ‘us’ and ‘them’, to link the hopes and aspirations of local people with those of the University. Our main community partner is the Friends of Whitworth Park, a group formed in 2005, with the aim of promoting the revival of the park for the benefit of the public, especially children, as well as updating ‘the historical infrastructure to make it relevant to contemporary life within a multicultural city’ (Shone 2005). Our other project partners, the Manchester Museum, the Whitworth Art Gallery and the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre have forms of expertise and skill that support the public and school components, as well as established community relationships that we can draw on. A close relationship with Manchester City Council is also a key component both in terms of providing resources, and facilitating and promoting our work in the Park.

 

Volunteers participating in the Whitworth Park excavations in 2011 (Photograph: M. Giles)

Volunteers participating in the Whitworth Park excavations in 2011 (Photograph: M. Giles)

The excavations provide a remarkable catalyst, drawing the interest of park users. The physical remains of former park features such as the lake and the bandstand stimulate people’s imaginations and memories. Objects like marbles and other children’s gaming pieces, the remains of clay pipes, items of personal attire, like jewellery and buttons, all offer a powerful means of engagement. They connect people viscerally and emotively to the lives of previous generations of Mancunians and tell us about the unspoken aspects of daily life: the unwritten history of working and middle class lives. This gets to the heart of why the project provides such a rich context for combining research and community engagement. It also underlines why participation in the process of investigating Whitworth Park’s past creates enormous social value in the present. By exploring the park’s past, we hope to raise aspirations for its future, and to engage people in caring for their urban green spaces.

A lunchtime tour, July 2013 (Photograph: S. Jones)

A lunchtime tour, July 2013 (Photograph: S. Jones)

For more information about the Whitworth Park project visit our blog: http://whitworthparklife.wordpress.com/

The second season of excavation will take place 1st – 12th July 2013, Whitworth Park.

There will be an Open Day on 6th July in Whitworth Park.

Manchester Museum will hold a Big Saturday event on 13th July to coincide with the Festival for British Archaeology (http://festival.britarch.ac.uk/). For more information please visit Manchester Museum website: http://www.museum.manchester.ac.uk/whatson/

Acknowledgements:

The Whitworth Park Community Archaeology and History Project is funded by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, with additional funding from the University of Manchester and Manchester City Council. The Project is led by the Department of Archaeology at the University of Manchester, in association with the Friends of Whitworth Park, Manchester Museum, the Whitworth Art Gallery, and Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Centre. All of these organizations have committed considerable resources to the project. We would like to thank all of the above, alongside our volunteers, students and project staff for making the project a success. Finally, we would like to thank the residents of Manchester who have engaged with the project and shared their memories and aspirations with us.

 

References

Brück, J. 2013. Landscapes of desire: parks, colonialism, and identity in Victorian and Edwardian Ireland. International Journal of Historical Archaeology 17(1): 196-223.

Brück, J. and A. Tierney 2009. Landscapes of desire: parks, colonialism and identity in Victorian and Edwardian Ireland. UCD School of Archaeology/Heritage Council Archaeology Grant Report, Dublin. [http://www.ucd.ie/archaeology/staff/drjoannabruck/publications/]

Conroy, H. 1991. People’s Parks: The Design and Development of Victorian Parks in Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shone, K. 2005. Whitworth Park Future Planning Document.

Wyborn, T. 1994. Parks for the People: the development of public parks in Manchester, c1830-1860. Manchester: University of Manchester.

 

Newspaper sources:

The Rambler in Manchester. Manchester Courier, 15th April, 1893.

Trees and Shrubs for Town Planting. Manchester Courier, 5th July, 1890.

 

Grid, Health and Advertising: A Story of New York City 1811-2011

by Andrew Irving, Social Anthropology, University of Manchester

Weber and Heilborner - Photograph © Frank Jump

Weber and Heilborner – Photograph © Frank Jump

This piece tells two stories, that of New York City and its obsession with money, advertising and rebuilding over the last 200 years; and the story of Frank Jump, a teacher and photographer who has dedicated much of his life to documenting the gigantic, hand-painted, advertisements that line the city’s long straight avenues.

New York City was in large parts founded upon immigration, trade and the distribution of goods and its infrastructure and buildings are the outcome of a complex relationship between the vulnerability of the human body to infection and disease and the forces of money and merchandise. Throughout the 1790s and early 1800s disease was rife throughout the city, including regular outbreaks of yellow-fever caused by mosquitoes thriving in the island’s stagnant swamps and pools, and whose symptoms included skin eruptions, black vomit, incontinence, jaundice, and eventually death. After the terrible epidemics of 1794, 1795, 1798 and 1805, it became apparent that action needed to be taken. Would it be possible—the city’s commissioners thought—to combat disease and facilitate the body’s well-being by building health into the city itself through the physical alteration of its layout?

It was not known to medical science at the time that yellow-fever was caused by mosquito bites and the disease was instead attributed to the foul smelling air and odours of a population living cheek-by-jowl in dirty streets. What if a more orderly city, purposefully designed to encourage the “free and abundant circulation of air” and the regulation of physical space, could prevent disease, contagion and “promote the health of the city,” (Morris, De Witt, Rutherford 1811). Action was imperative because New York’s population was increasing at an incredible rate, having tripled in just twenty years, from the 33,111, sometimes feverish, souls registered in the first census of 1790, to 96,373 in 1810.

The commissioners engaged twenty-two year old surveyor, John Randel to survey the entire island, with the purpose of transforming its woods, swamps and grasslands into a place “composed principally of the habitations of men, and that straight-sided and right-angled houses” (Morris et al. 1811). Randel spent three years painstakingly measuring and mapping Manhattan’s entire topography, with a resulting 7 feet 8 inch-by-2 feet 1 inch map, which offered unprecedented levels of detail about the island. However, Randel’s does not simply map Manhattan’s topography, streets, and buildings of the time, but also imposes a design for the island’s future, in that a grid-system is laid over the land, determining where future streets would be built. The grid proposes that all roads should be straight and sequentially numbered rather than named. Streets ran horizontally across the island and were numbered 1 to 155, while avenues ran vertically and were numbered 1 to 12, with an additional A, B, C, and D covering the swell of land on the Lower East Side. It was decided that no consideration was to be given to natural variations in the land, existing roads or property divisions.

The map’s official ratification in 1811 marks the point at which the city council confirmed that they would try to build reason, rationality and bodily health into New York by transforming its topography and in doing so they created the city that is known today. The grid is New York’s nervous system upon which the city’s essential operations and street-life are built, and like the human nervous system is never in the exact same state twice but is in a continuous process of renewal and regeneration over time.

Manhattan’s population expanded beyond all expectations of Randel or the city commissioners from a mere 33,111 in 1790 to 2,284,103 in the 1920 census. As such a new sense of industrial scale and materiality emerged, against which individuals, born when farmland still covered the island, could compare their muddy agricultural practices and desires. Construction expanded rapidly northwards and the thousands of buildings constructed along the grid’s long straight lines began to form a set of highly visible canvasses for businesses and advertisers to sell their goods, services and dreams. A new industry emerged that used size, scale, and colour to convey its message to the people below. Huge, hand-painted, advertisements were painted in bold attention-seeking colours on the sides of many buildings, up to fifty feet tall and twenty feet wide, and designed to stir New York’s citizens from their reverie and make them lift their eyes from the grid. The majority of advertisements have now disappeared: they either perished when the building they were painted upon was knocked down or were covered over by the endless procession of bigger, newer buildings being built as part of New York’s restless desire to reinvent and remake itself.  However, the destiny of some advertisements was more gradual and much less dramatic. For regardless of the thickness of their original paint or intensity of their colours, their fate has been to slowly fade out of existence while exposed to the city’s scorching summers and freezing winters: remaining open to the relentless cycles of sun, rain, snow and ice in a dense urban climate of pollution and humidity. What remains are the faded remnants of the these gigantic advertisements.

For the last twenty years, New York teacher and photographer Frank Jump has spent his evenings and weekends roaming the city’s streets capturing and archiving these disappearing giants before they completely fade into oblivion. Jump has photographed and archived, somewhere in the region of 5000 signs across New York’s five boroughs, of which perhaps only 1000 can still be seen today. Mostly they advertise products that can no longer be bought, made by companies that no longer exist, painted on buildings whose original occupants are forgotten, by men long since departed and were often considered eyesores in their day.

Zaccaro Real Estate, Bendix Home Laundry Kenmare & Elizabeth Streets.Photograph © Frank Jump

Zaccaro Real Estate / Bendix Home Laundry, Kenmare & Elizabeth Streets. Photograph © Frank Jump

Radway’s Ready Relief-Delancey St (painted circa 1890) Photograph © Frank Jump

Radway’s Ready Relief-Delancey St (painted circa 1890) Photograph © Frank Jump

Omega Oil: West 147st (painted circa 1910) Photograph © Frank Jump

Omega Oil: West 147st (painted circa 1910) Photograph © Frank Jump

When Radway’s Ready Relief (1890) and Omega Oil (1910) were first painted, tens of feet high in bright marine blues, they suggested to the aching bones of the commuters walking below, that the solution to their discomfort could be found in the simple purchase of their magic elixir. At the time, the world was a very different kind of place: many people did not travel at more than the speed of horse drawn cart and the average life expectancy at birth was around 43. Medicine, as we know it, had not been developed, women were unable to vote and colonialism was still in the process of subjugating vast swathes of the world’s population. It is no exaggeration, therefore, to claim that the course of a single advertisement’s lifespan, was not just an extraordinary period in New York’s history but also the world’s.  Some of the advertisements Jump has documented were painted in the 1860s and in the time they have stood there proudly advertising their goods and services to successive generations of New Yorkers, the world has undergone unprecedented social, cultural and technological changes. Indeed a single advert may have witnessed the invention of the film camera, the automobile, the first airplanes, two world wars and the great depression, television, the jazz age, the jet engine, the rise and fall of Nazism and the Soviet Union, McCarthyism, JFK, the discovery of DNA, The Beatles, nuclear fusion, the civil rights movement, space travel, Picasso, the first men on the moon, punk and hip-hop, post-modern architecture, portable computers, the Internet, 9/11, the gentrification of Times Square, Obama and much else besides. Who would have thought a simple advertisement would endure the rise and fall of empires and nations as the world changed beyond recognition. Certainly not the men who painted it, whose livelihoods depended upon their ability to make citizens look up and desire the goods and services on show to the extent that they became convinced that their lives would be a better place with that particular soap powder, those particular shoes, these particular garden shears.

In the mid-1980s, some two centuries after the city’s yellow fever outbreaks, New York once more found itself throes of a citywide epidemic. This time it was called, in a terrible and macabre coincidence, GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency) later to be renamed HIV/AIDS. By the 1990 census, exactly two hundred years after the city’s first census, people with HIV/AIDS filled 8.5% of all New York hospital beds and there had been 72,207 known deaths from AIDS in the city (including almost 10,000 infants) out of 116,316 people diagnosed: a figure nearly four times the entire population in the city’s first census.

In the summer of 1986, when Frank jump was twenty-six years old, he too found out he was one of the many New Yorkers diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and was told he had “a couple of good years left.” Consequently, the long commerce-lined streets built on the grid, shouting out their assorted messages of pensions, retirement homes, medicines and other aspects of a long healthy life, ceased to have any meaning for Frank and many others.  Ordinarily, the grid enables New Yorkers to look far into the distance and guides the eye toward a vanishing point on the horizon: a destiny distant in time and space that seemingly provides an effective metaphor for the promises of capitalism: look to the future, work hard and save for your pension your retirement awaits.

In New York alone, many thousands of men and women were thrown out of the straight lines of capitalism by HIV/AIDS and instead confronted a destiny of impending death. Frank took himself out of the workforce and filled in all the offers for new credit cards and bank accounts that came through his door, thinking “I’ve never got to pay any of this back.”  But Frank was lucky and did not die and instead lived to see the advent of anti-retroviral medications in the late 1990s that re-opened time and space for thousands and thousands of New York men and women living with HIV/AIDS: triggering a massive shift of mind, body and emotion away from death and back toward life.

Bankrupt Frank re-enrolled in college, became a school-teacher and got back on the straight lines of capitalism. He remained acutely aware of the fragility of the human body in an urban landscape. A body which, like the painted advertisements that surround was fading and not supposed to last long but somehow remained part of the city. Accordingly, Frank sees his reflection not in the mirror but in the fading advertisements that line the vast surfaces produced by New York’s grid. They continually provide him with evidence of his existence and provide us with a visual record of the ongoing effects of time on the city and the body. To date, Frank has been living with the disease for half of his life and still hasn’t documented every fading advertisement in New York.

To see more of Frank Jump’s work and archives see his book

Jump, F 2011. The Fading Ads of New York City. History Press.

While his Fading Ad Campaign can be found here:

http://www.frankjump.com/