Tag Archives: Community

Identity and Difference in the City: working with The National-Coalition Building Institute

Helen Wilson, Geography, School of Environment, Education and Development writes about her current research …

This month saw the AGM of the National Coalition-Building Institute (NCBI London), at the House of Lords. As a non-profit organisation founded in 1984 by Cherie Brown to tackle inter-ethnic violence on college campuses in Washington DC, NCBI now has over 50 city chapters across North America, Latin America and Europe. Each of these chapters was founded by volunteers to train local community leaders in effective bridge-building skills focused on tackling discrimination, prejudice and conflict in different cultural and urban contexts.

Since its inception, the range of projects undertaken by NCBI International has been extensive. This includes (to name only a few), school violence prevention projects across Switzerland, work on racism and racial profiling with police forces in the US, community work following riots in the UK, anti-Islamophobia workshops, dialogue work with refugees and asylum seekers, inter-faith community projects and LGBT awareness days (for more information see NCBI International, NCBI UK and NCBI CH). These programs have won NCBI international acclaim for its work on prejudice, which includes the Nelson Mandela Award for ‘outstanding international work on fighting racism’, a Gabriel Award for excellence in youth programming and numerous British Diversity Awards for Best Diversity Practice.

I started working with NCBI as part of two linked projects funded by the Royal Geographical Society and the British Academy/Leverhulme in 2013. My research asks how difference is negotiated in the everyday city. More specifically, it concerns the spaces, people and organisations that facilitate learning and dialogue across difference in such a way as to challenge and disrupt normative accounts of belonging, both on a day-to-day basis and in response to particular moments of crisis. Both of these projects concern international networks of community-led intervention programmes that broadly seek to address discrimination, prejudice and violence in its many guises. As such, over the past year, I have been attending key NCBI events, workshops and projects, which to this point have taken me to London, Bristol, Birmingham and Annapolis, MD to take part in training events and to speak with participants, facilitators, trustees and collaborators.

Whilst the projects undertaken by NCBI are wide-ranging and are carried out across an international network, one thing that remains consistent across all of its chapters – and is at the core of its work – is a one-day identity and difference workshop that focuses on the circulation of prejudice. The workshop, which utilises incremental learning exercises, includes an in-depth examination of prejudice and stereotypes, a reflection on their roots and harmful effects, discussions on structural inequalities and an account of how community leaders might better interrupt, challenge and prevent prejudice and violence on a day-to-day basis.

In the media, it is often the more spectacular, or extreme accounts of prejudice that make the headlines – the arson attacks on mosques, the ‘go-home’ billboards driven around London, or the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida. The Boston bombings in April of last year and the killing of Lee Rigby in London in May, were followed by a substantial spike in reported incidents of Islamophobia. At the same time, pressures on resources have seen a resurgence of xenophobia, anti-immigration campaigns, more punitive responses to asylum seekers and a considerable shift in attitudes towards welfare recipients. Behind these events, are stories of the ways in which xenophobia and racism continue to inflect the everyday lives of people in ways that often go unnoticed, unchallenged and unreported. At a time of increased pressure on the capacity to live with difference in contemporary cities across both North America and Europe, the role of voluntary and non-profit organisations like NCBI should not be overlooked and a better understanding of their impacts, practices and mobility is critical to understanding the social challenges facing contemporary cities.

For research interested in how community intervention programmes are learnt and mobilised, organisations such as NCBI pose a significant methodological challenge. On the one hand, my research is focused on the idea of replication. It asks how a leadership training model that was originally developed to address inter-ethnic conflict on college campuses in the US, has been successfully mobilised to address a wide spectrum of diversity-related issues in many different cultural contexts and settings worldwide – in communities, workplaces and institutions. At the same time, whilst interested in the mobility of this work, the research is also focused on the local programmes that city chapters undertake. This includes the motivations that sustain them and the forms of learning that they encourage, encompassing a vast research site, 50 cities and thousands of participants and projects.

Despite harsh funding conditions and public cuts, NCBI London has experienced a notable revival of activities in the last year having worked with campaigners and local government for the last 14 years on a variety of community based projects. At the AGM, a new advisory committee and board of trustees was announced, along with its projects for the coming year. A new three year Young Ambassadors Program was launched, the first cohort of which was at the event to mark its beginning. Four community listening workshops were announced in Bristol, the first of which will take place next month and will provide a space for the exchange of stories and experiences of mental health in the community. This will be followed by a meet your neighbour event, to address the lack of communication across different community groups in Bristol, whilst a number of workshops in London will be working with women to explore what it means to be a woman today. These workshops will address pertinent questions about the persistence of sexism, a project that will see NCBI collaborate with the Peabody Trust – a London based housing provider and community generation programme that has a long history of community work in the capital. All of these individual projects will occur alongside NCBI’s regular community workshops on identity and difference adding to a varied portfolio of projects that highlights both the breadth of the charity’s focus and the variability of funding priority and availability.

Whilst funding might be hard to come by, this month’s AGM was positive, although as Baroness Young of Hornsey, pointed out – there is substantial work to be done. Standing in the House of Lords we were reminded that London is a city of extreme inequality. Indeed, we only need to look at the demographic of Parliament to recognise the size of the challenge. This was a point that was not lost on the people gathered in the Cholmondeley Room – representatives from local institutions, councils, charities, the NHS, community centres, businesses, parliament and the City – and indeed was the very thing that brought them together.

Beyond the AGM, NCBI London’s annual report and its outline of projects to come, offers up some important lines of inquiry for cities research. Perhaps the biggest is how we go about evaluating and attributing the impact of such work when so much of it is based on incremental forms of learning and stretches across multiple different sites and cities. More importantly however, is the question of how academic institutions might better support and collaborate with such organisations to secure funding, support local projects and exchange knowledge. By working with NCBI over the next couple of years these are just two of the questions that I hope to address.

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On Manchester Chinatown

Elena Barabantseva, School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester, write about Manchester’s chinatown …

Yet again this year Manchester’s city centre was a stage for Chinese New Year Celebrations, making it a perfect occasion for a family day out to experience a different culture. Manchester Chinatown is one of the major tourist attractions in the city and is considered to be the most vibrant Chinese quarter in the country, but how did it become part of the city’s architectural and cultural fabrics?

With the seedcorn funding from cities@manchester I was able to conduct an archival study on the origins of Chinatown and a series of interviews with the members of Manchester’s Chinese community organisations. What emerged from this pilot research is that the origins of Manchester Chinatown are somewhat paradoxical. From the first wave of migration in the early twentieth century, the Chinese have been the most geographically dispersed migrant group in the UK due to the nature of their occupations, first in laundries and then in take-away restaurants. Yet, the dominant social perception of the Chinese as a closely-knit and inward-looking community has persisted until the present day.

The early Chinese residents in Manchester were far from an insular community. They actively integrated into the city. An article in the Manchester Guardian in February 1912 estimates the total number of Chinese immigrants in Manchester to be around one hundred and comments on their life in the following way:  ‘They are mainly Cantonese, and when they land at Liverpool they can speak little or no English. The Manchester Wesleyan Mission (8 Cable street), under the direction of the Rev. S. F. Collier, has carried on work amongst them. A New Year’s party was held last evening at the Albert Hall’ (Manchester Guardian, ‘Chinese in Manchester’, 20 Feb 1912). In the pre-Second World War period, the local community efforts to interact with the newly arrived immigrants were paralleled by the furnishing links between Manchester and China at the national level. The pre-war textile boom in Manchester prompted strengthening links with China, and for the first time in 1933 the Chinese Kuomintang government appointed a consular representative to Manchester to oversee the day-to-day trade links with China with an office in Spring Gardens in Central Manchester (Manchester Guardian, ‘China comes North’, 11 February 1933). In 1942 The Universities China Committee in London, with the funds from the Boxer rebellion (1898-1901) indemnity, established Manchester China Institute on George street to ‘provide a place where British people could meet Chinese people and learn from them in various ways’ (Manchester Guardian, ‘China Institutes: A new one for Manchester, 11 May 1942). These facts testify to the vibrant official and community-based links which existed between China and Manchester in the early twentieth century.

In the post-World War Two period Chinese migrants keenly settled in the city and its suburban areas to satisfy British tastes for Chinese culinary.  In a parallel development, an increasing number of Chinese businesses started opening in Central Manchester, with the first Chinese restaurant Ping Hong opening its doors on Mosley Street in 1948. Recalling the origins of Manchester Chinatown, senior Chinese residents unequivocally assert that ‘there was no Chinatown in Manchester in the 1970s’. Yet, 8y the mid-1970s the local newspapers were announcing that a Chinatown was emerging in central Manchester bounded by George, Nicholas, Faulkner, and Princess Streets. By the early 1980s, the geographical and socio-cultural place of Chinatown in Manchester was secured when in 1983 Manchester City Library added the entry “Chinatown” to its catalogue of newspaper clippings.

In the 1980s Manchester Chinatown boomed, when in the span of less than ten years key community organisations and societies were set up in the quarter: Chinese Cultural and Education Centre in 1979, the Chinese Arts Centre in 1986, Tong Sing Chinese Housing Association in 1984, Wai Yin Chinese Women’s Society in 1988, and Chinese Health Information Centre in 1987. The symbolic birth of Chinatown culminated in 1987, when the Chinese Imperial Arch, physically marking the area’s association with the Chinese community, was erected on Faulkner street.

The early 1980s also witnessed an active lobbying by Chinese community leaders of the City authorities to clearly mark the boundaries of the Chinatown by translating the names of the streets into Chinese and displaying street signs in Chinese characters: ‘It may not be long now before you can walk up the Street of Capturing Blessings, turn left into the Street of Fairy Happiness and end up in the heart of Manchester’s Chinatown…. Faulkner Street would become Fuk-Ngar Gai (street of capturing Blessing) and Charlotte street Sar-Lok Gai (Street of Fairy Happiness)’ (Manchester Evening News, Comment ‘Turning into the Street of Happiness’, 21 February 1983). The attempts to translate the names of the streets into Chinese were stalled in June 1985, when the City Council designated this area as a ‘George street conservation area’ where ‘signs should be designed and located so as not to compete with the architectural details of buildings’ (Manchester City Council, no date). The value attached to the history of the area took an upper hand over contemporary social trends.

A quick browse through the historical maps of Manchester city centre from the collection of Manchester Museum of Science and Industry confirms that the area of Manchester’s Chinatown developed in the Georgian times, and the layout and names of the streets haven’t changed since the 18th century. Until the early 19th century, this district was a well-to-do residential area, centred on St James’ church built at 7 Charlotte street in 1786 and demolished in 1928. The pattern of streets and street names are the only surviving witnesses to the layers of time which shaped and transformed this area of the city. A cluster of important societies and institutions also operated in the area, including Literary and Philosophical Society at 36 George street. Portico Library was opened in the area at 57 Moseley street in 1806 and still occupies its original site. Royal Manchester Institute was built on Moseley Street between 1824 and 1835 in the Greek neo-classical style and now hosts the City Art Gallery, and the Athenaeum, a club for a society for ‘advancement and diffusions of knowledge’ was founded on Princess street in 1835 and is now linked to the Art Gallery.

By the end of the 1990s, Chinese organisations and initiatives which were founded and started their activities in Manchester Chinatown in the 1980s started relocating to other parts of the city.  Most notably, The Chinese Arts Centre moved to the Northern Quarter and was recently renamed into the The Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, Fo Guang Shan Temple moved to Trafford, Manchester Chinese Centre re-established in Ardwick, and the Wai Yin Chinese Women’s Society moved to Ancoats. Chinese supermarkets are not limited to the Chinatown anymore and can be found in many different locations around Manchester. These processes point to the moving and changing character of Chinatown, what Doreen Massey coins as a continuous process of ‘multiple becoming’. The dominant perspective on Chinatowns around the world refers to them as ‘ethnic enclaves’, yet the dynamic history and ongoing transformations of Manchester’s Chinatown show that it embraces multiple histories, contested present, and an open future.  The physical demarcations of Chinatown are less important than social processes and experiences which both define and escape the attempts to pin down Chinatown’s spatial and cultural demarcations.

Vacant Lots Cost Philadelphia $90 Million a Year!

This is the fourth 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, Ceri-Ellis Kenyon chose Philadelphia …

If you’ve ever found yourself strolling through Lower North Philly (not that I’d recommend it!) you’ll have noticed that there’s not much to see – literally. The abundance of vacant land and boarded up property leaves you feeling thoroughly depressed. It’s a far cry from the booming 1950s when John McWhorter stumbled across and photographed this vacant lot, a rarity in those days but all too commonplace now.

Over the past 20 years, vacancy has spiralled out of control.  A recent study found that Philadelphia has the highest vacancy per capita of any US city.  Combatting the issue of vacant property has been at the forefront of government agendas for decades now. Why? Because these tracts of vacant land dispersed throughout the city cost Philadelphia an estimated $90 million a year in delinquent taxes and policing charges alone!

So, what have the politicians done to improve things? Well, they’ve thrown lots  of money at the problem but, as is often the case, they’ve mostly ignored the needs of the local people. No surprises then that, far from getting better, things have continued to decline.

‘Wastin’ away on the streets of Philadelphia…’

I’m sure Bruce (Springsteen, of course!) had something quite different  on his mind when he wrote this song back in the 1990s but his lyrics seem more relevant than ever in today’s downtown. The Philly streets are literally “wastin’ away” as the population plummets and vacancy and crime rates soar.

Vacant land reflects vacant soul

Philadelphians know which areas of town not to venture into at night, or even by day for that matter, but why? A bunch of empty houses? That surely seems crazy…

…But, empty houses and barren land lead to social issues; crime, poverty, gang warfare and drug use. A recent Forbes survey ranked Philadelphia as the 5th most miserable city in the USA. Any stats based on averages are going to paint a gloomy picture but Philly isn’t all bad. We’d love to argue with the ‘experts’ at Forbes but there is, in actual fact, overwhelming evidence that vacant land and crime go hand in hand. Ken Skinner’s “Clean and Seal” programme is the city’s latest attempt at tackling the social blight associated with vacancy. Skinner, Chief of The Department of Licences and Inspections, has joined forces with the City Redevelopment Authority to employ a 48 strong team to secure the entrances to empty property and deserted land, in an effort to keep out the thugs and keep the neighbourhoods clean.  This temporary measure is an uphill battle as 300+ properties and lots are added to the vacancy inventory each year!

Lower North Ghost town

Lower North is without doubt the most desolate area in Philly. In terms of land use (commercial, residential, recreational etc.)  “vacancy” is the third largest category in the district. At the beginning of the 20th Century, Lower North was home to a thriving community of Black African Americans, attracted to the area by an abundance of brick yards, coal yards, tobacco plants and textiles workshops along Glenwood Avenue. Economic crisis in the 1950s left many Lower Northerners permanently unemployed as manufacturing jobs became few and far between. This triggered an epidemic of vacant land, an increase in crime and a decrease in population, which has continued every year since. In the 1990s, Philadelphia experienced the 3rd largest population decline in the history of urban America.

Lower North is an urban graveyard; 47% of the Lower North population are living in poverty, 13% of property is vacant and the district has 45 so called ‘ghost parks’. The only remaining ‘assets’ in Lower North are Temple University, 19 bus routes, 2 regional rail stations and its proximity to the city centre. The fact that two of the four remaining assets are transport infrastructure says it all…

So far, the problem has only been exacerbated by those in high Philly society. Ex-mayor Ed Rendell promised to rejuvenate Lower North and was voted into office by a majority black vote, desperately hoping for change. But Lower Northerners suffered anguish and humiliation at the hands of Rendell, who focussed solely on the city centre, deeming Lower North a problem unworthy of  attention.

Double duped as Street turns his back too…

Hot on the heels of Rendell; came Street and his ambitious plan to commandeer The Neighbourhood Transformation Initiative. His ingenious idea, to simply demolish 1400 vacant properties in Lower North was supposed to attract private investment. Instead, as most of us  could have predicted, it transformed vacant property into nothing more than vacant land! His typically political heavy handed approach caused nothing but backlash among the surprisingly tight knit community of Strawberry Mansion (which is hardly surprising when you consider Street’s plan to demolish their entire century old neighbourhood!). His  approach meant he ‘succeeded’ in demolishing a mere 800 of the planned properties at a  cost of $81 million and more importantly, he demolished the trust and vote of an entire community.

The Master plan, change may be just around the corner!

A committee of Philadelphian planners, community leaders, business owners, non-profit organisations and elected officials are currently working to piece together a blueprint for the redevelopment of the neglected Lower North. The PlanPhiladelphia2035 scheme hopes to pull together the expertise needed bring about change and rescue Lower North once and for all. David Fecteau, the brains behind the idea, chaired community meetings throughout July and August to gauge public opinion. What did he want to know? “Who’s happy?”… Seems nice!

Fecteau claims that unused industrial land could create up to 200 jobs and that ex residential areas could be re-moulded into community gardens and green space. Maybe! Of course, as a development tycoon he would say that, wouldn’t he Could this be just another example of the all too familiar pattern of planning betrayal in Lower North? If so, it has not weakened the residents of Strawberry Mansion’s burning desire for something to be done…finally. Community leader Judith Robinson announced that ‘redevelopment which avoids gentrification and subsequent displacement is welcomed’. The agenda for PlanPhiladelphia2035 is definitely optimistic and so far so good. The community meetings have established hotspot areas of unhappiness and have fuelled ideas and debates about the future land use. Could this be the answer to Lower North’s prayers? Watch this space…

Sowing the seeds of change

Clearly these large-scale, top-down approaches to redevelopment in Philly have largely failed. The PlanPhiladelphia2035 project is the first integrated approach and therefore the most likely to succeed. Hallelujah!

In typical Philadelphian fashion, small scale initiatives to decrease vacancy abound in many neighbourhoods throughout the city. Urban farms have sprung up on ex industrial sites all over the place, the most popular of which, GreensGrow, is in Kensington. The area reaps the social and economic benefits of urban farming and GreensGrow puts the vacant land to good use. Could the land in Lower North be suitable for an urban farm? Could it reduce the levels of crime and antisocial behaviour experienced there?

We’re constantly bombarded by green action group lobbying about transformation of urban land into green community space, but is this what Lower North needs? Research from The University of Pennsylvania found that over a period of ten years, the area surrounding a fenced public garden experienced a significant reduction in crime. Apparently, fences and neatly mown lawns deter criminals in these areas. Could this work in Lower North?

Is it naïve to assume that the introduction of green space will solve all social and economic issues in Lower North? Green space alone is not enough. Redevelopment needs to take place and must happen now! The work of PlanPhiladelphia2035 is a step in the right direction, but to succeed we need real commitment from those in power and enthusiasm for the project from the communities themselves. Appearances can be deceiving and there is still a strong community spirit beneath the desolate face of the Lower North. The residents deserve better and we must learn from past failures and work together to rejuvenate Lower North and turn it back into the thriving community it once was.

Here are some useful links if you’d like to find out more…

PlanPhiladelphia2035 Lower North plans: http://phila2035.org/home-page/district/lower-north/

An Accessible news bog site for Philadelphia: http://philly.curbed.com/tags/top

An Academic article evaluating Street’s Neighbourhood Transformation Initative:

http://www.seas.upenn.edu/~sys502/arcview/Projects/Phil_Housing/Phil_Nbhd_Initiative.pdf

Lower North District’s Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Philadelphia#Neighborhoods

A news article expressing concern around Fecteau’s ulterior motives: http://philly.curbed.com/archives/2013/08/05/consultant-to-major-developers-advocates-clearcut-strategy-for-city-planning.php

Information about Ken Skinner’s clean and seal programme: http://articles.philly.com/1993-09-30/news/25985242_1_houses-seal-tin

A news article about the reduction of crime in ‘greened’ areas: http://grist.org/list/2011-11-23-turning-vacant-lots-into-parks-reduces-violent-crime/

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!

From ‘civil’ to ‘civic’ conflict? Violence and the city in ‘fragile states’

Dennis Rodgers was a Senior Research Fellow in the Brooks World Poverty Institute (BWPI) between 2007 and 2012. He is now Professor of Urban Social and Political Research at the University of Glasgow. In this blog he writes with two colleagues –  Tom Goodfellow, Lecturer in Urban Studies and International Development, University of Sheffield and Jo Beall, Director, Education and Society, British Council – about some on-going research.

For a fleeting moment during the final decade of the twentieth century, the general trajectory of conflict across the world seemed clear. With the Cold War over, the number of interstate wars was in free-fall and the dominant form of violence was internal, within fragmenting states no longer propped up by their superpower sponsors. The age of ‘total war’ between states had thus been largely superseded by a wave of civil conflicts, often characterised as ‘new wars’, fought for the most part in rural hinterlands and widely considered as limited in scope and scale.

Over a decade into the new millennium, however, the trajectory now looks far from straightforward. Like international wars, civil wars too have been steadily declining in number. Yet from Colombia to Cairo, Brazil to Baghdad and Kenya to Kandahar, each month brings new manifestations of what Arjun Appadurai (in)famously termed the ‘implosion of global and national politics into the urban world’. Although riots, gang crime, and terrorist attacks have afflicted cities for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, the increasing ubiquity of such events – even if not ‘wars’ in any conventional sense – suggest that the hallmark of the contemporary period is one of rising ‘urban conflict’ rather than ‘peace’.

These developments raise questions with respect to a category of countries often described as ‘fragile’, ‘failed’ or ‘failing’ states, since most definitions of ‘fragility’ explicitly refer to the state’s inability to prevent ongoing violence within its territory . What, if anything, is the link between weaknesses at the level of the state in particular parts of the developing world, and changes in the spaces in which violence plays out? What, moreover, can be said about why some cities in troubled regions remain remarkably peaceful and resilient, seemingly against the odds? These are some of the questions we address in a new Special Issue of Urban Studies on ‘Cities, Conflict and State Fragility in the Developing World’.

One way of re-thinking violence in contemporary ‘fragile states’ is to turn to European history – particularly as it was analysed by the late Charles Tilly, whose work reflects  on the central role that cities and violence played in building states in early modern Europe. Today, by contrast, all too often it seems that cities are where state-building projects in the developing world unravel rather than consolidate. This is partly because we are moving from a world where conflict over cities fuelled the need for taxation and state power, to one where conflict in cities undermines state-building efforts even as it necessitates them. Yet we should not dismiss the historical parallel altogether:  cities can be (and sometimes are) still central to processes of state-building when the conditions are right. To understand when such an outcome is possible we need to understand the drivers of the apparent urbanisation of violent conflict, as well as analysing the ways in which different political actors have responded to it in different places.

Many forms of violence across the world today can be characterised as ‘civic conflict’: a concept that is both distinct from civil war and eschews the simplistic tendency to think of forms of urban violence as being either ‘social’, ‘political’, or ‘economic’ in nature. The word ‘civic’ is suggestive of cities on the one hand, and of citizenship (and by extension, the state) on the other. From sectarian riots to gang violence, terrorism, and ‘turf wars’ between urban landlords, these forms of conflict are all linked both to the city as a distinct space and to contestation over citizenship and entitlements, often reflecting a sense of neglect by the state.

These forms of conflict are quite different from ‘conventional’ civil war, which generally involves an effort by a rebel organisation to fully take control of the state, and in which cities are often the ‘end-point’: their ‘capture’ signifies victory, usually followed by the laying down of arms. Civic conflicts instead represent expressions of discontent, demands for attention, claims of entitlement to the resources of the city, and sometimes the establishment of parallel structures of control that take the place of (or fill the gaps in) state institutions.

In many parts of the developing world, both of these forms of conflict exist simultaneously. In others, however, civil wars have largely ceded to civic conflicts, which may be equally or more devastating but which do not require formal peace settlements so much as new political settlements in cities – and between urban and rural communities. As the world becomes more urban, our understanding of violent conflict and routes to its resolution must keep pace; therefore alongside national politics, urban politics – a complex and often neglected area of study in relation to the developing world – needs to be factored into conflict analyses.

It is true that some of the most war-torn countries of recent decades, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and, until recently, Northern Uganda, have been mired in rural-based civil conflicts where cities and towns were relative havens of peace for long periods of time. Even in such cases, however, cities rarely remain so peaceful when civil wars draw to a close. All too often, urban havens can become flashpoints of violence later on, precisely because they attract people in droves but their governments neglect to ‘think urban’ in post-war reconstruction efforts, usually perceiving urban growth as temporary.

While politics is certainly not all about elites, how struggles over urban citizens’ needs are managed by political elites has crucial impacts on both the incidence of violent conflict and prospects for long-term development. In cases such as Colombia, which until recently was home to some of the most violent cities in the world, and the Kwa-Zulu Natal region of South Africa, elites have risen to this challenge with relatively impressive results. In other cases, including parts of India, Pakistan, Nicaragua, and East Timor (to name just a few) urban violence was precipitated or exacerbated by elite strategies at particular moments in time. In yet other cases from our own research programme, including Mozambique and Rwanda, there is the distinct possibility that latent urban conflicts are simply being ‘deferred’ to a later date by particular elite approaches towards conflict management.

Critically important for reducing violence in a sustainable way is the evolution of systems of institutionalised bargaining between urban groups that cohere around socioeconomic identifiers that go beyond ethnic, religious or racial ones. Making demands on the state is vital for state-building itself; yet when demands are based on fixed exclusionary categories and individual patrons, a likely outcome is either violence or the kind of unproductive rent-sharing that does little to bring development.

Actively increasing urban citizens’ capacity to make collective demands in ways that are non-violent – rather than denying them political agency by hoping either that they will return to the countryside or that economics will somehow save the day – is now in order. This is a challenge for local political leaders and international development actors alike, and implies a deliberate (though cautious) reinvigoration of urban political contestation in fragile states: something that has largely been ignored in the policy debates on fragility over the past decade.

 

 

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/

Urban Forum – Manchester: Towards a Just City?

cities@manchester are organising a public panel debate on Tuesday 18 June at the Anthony Burgess Foundation. Full details here.

Manchester like many cities at present suffers from growing divides, poverty and inequality. The Council has cut jobs and reduced services, while the centre of the city and surrounding retail high streets are blighted with a growing number of empty store fronts. With house prices stagnant or falling and unemployment levels across Greater Manchester continuing to rise, it is unclear how housing or labour markets can improve the living conditions of the local area. Some analysts point to possibilities for job growth from the creative industries and financial services sectors, but these opportunities remain as yet unrealised. In this research forum we bring together a number of stakeholders to explore where manchester is now, the challenges it faces and what it needs to do to become more at ease with itself and more socially just.

Panel:

Neil McInroy, Chief Executive, Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES); Allison Foreman, Project Development Coordinator, Greater Manchester Pay and Employment Rights Advice Service; John Holden, Deputy Director of Research, New Economy Manchester; Clive Memmott, Chief Executive, Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce. Chair: Adam Leaver (Manchester Business School, University of Manchester)

Some of the panel give their viewpoints below:

Clive Memmott, Chief Executive, Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

In the current economic and political climate it can be difficult to get behind the headlines and uncover what the real situation is.

Whilst the ongoing drive to cut spending dominates much of government thinking, it would be incorrect from a business perspective to say that all is lost and that there is no money available.

Since the financial tornado struck in Autumn 2008 the private sector has borne the brunt of the maelstrom caused by a combination of seemingly reckless activity by banks and successive governments’ inability to react adequately to promote growth and help create adequate employment opportunities.  The public sector too has suffered greatly from these tough economic times.

Things are better than they were – this isn’t denying the seriousness of the situation – but let’s be clear this means flat or low growth. Our most recent Quarterly Economic Survey, completed by over 800 businesses, showed that one of the worst hit sectors, construction, showed some signs of growth. This sounds promising, but the reality is that this is from a breath-takingly low starting point.

Some sectors have fared better but set against the broader economic conditions these results are often difficult to see. On the one hand private sector jobs figures remain positive but this is counterbalanced by weaknesses elsewhere, ensuring that the overall situation (for those out of work) is still challenging.

However some of the present issues predate present experience and will need more than an economic upturn to rectify. Ask any employer about skills or rather the lack of them and it’s apparent we have a startling wide range of shortages.  The figures make stark reading: with over 15% of Greater Manchester residents having no skills. The challenge of inadequately trained and work ready employees dates back to issues caused two or even three recessions ago. We feel the brunt now because of the acuteness of circumstances.

Likewise the state of our high streets. Previous recessions dealt severe if not fatal blows to our large manufacturing base. This time around major high street chains – some of which have been around for generations – have gone out of business. However as we sit shopping on Amazon whilst shaking our head at the news of another boarded up shop, should we ask ourselves about the role we have played in this?

One price of a reasonably robust level of employment is the significant rise of part-time working which has benefits as well as some obvious downsides.

Yes, there are increasing numbers of high value, high skills jobs, but there are also plenty of low skill, low value jobs.

We do have a part to play however in putting things right. The Chamber is tackling the skills issue through its Employer Ownership of Skills work, our members want to help reinvigorate our town centres; more businesses are showing an interest in trading abroad – those that do are better placed to develop and grow in the future.

Whilst it can be dangerous to pick winners, it is sometimes more dangerous to ignore them. We have and always have had some world class businesses in Manchester, and many more aspire to be so.  They don’t want special treatment just an environment that encourages enterprise which will allow them to grow and create the opportunities for the future so desperately needed to lead the economic recovery. They generally understand the social role they play and the impact they have on communities.

I see this everyday and I see what can and must be done. It isn’t beyond anyone’s ability to make this happen but everyone has a part to play either as catalysts for change or giving support to those that take action.

John Holden, Deputy Director of Research, New Economy Manchester

Books have been published, phds written, and raging debates held on what exactly it means to be a Just City. There isn’t scope in these few words to do any of that work justice, so I will take as my starting point a narrow definition that I think most people would broadly agree with: a Just City is one that provides equality of opportunity to all residents, especially the young. The interesting question then becomes: what can local policy makers do to ensure that all residents share the same opportunities in life? The weight of research tells us that the single most significant differentiating factor between those who succeed in life and those that do not is their level of skill. This underscores the need for a single-minded focus on improving education. This needs to start in the very earliest years, certainly before school and ideally from birth onwards, to ensure a radical improvement in life chances. At the same time, while improving educational outcomes across the spectrum is the archetypal easy thing to say but difficult thing to do, do it we must. The need to improve skill levels also holds for those who have left education and find themselves either unemployed or in low paid work.

If that sounds too easy, it’s probably because it is. In the current economic climate there are two factors which mean making Manchester a more Just City is all the more challenging. First, despite the labour market holding up better than expected at the start of the recession, there is still a shortage of job opportunities. Public agencies have to focus on generating economic growth and jobs for our residents to move into. It would be foolish to focus simply on the distribution of wealth without concerning ourselves with where that wealth is to come from. Second, public sector budgets are reducing and the pressures on services that support many of our most deprived residents increasing. It is not enough to identify what more policy makers can do, we need to identify what can be done differently to achieve better outcomes with less money. Through its economic growth objectives and public service reform programme Greater Manchester is ahead of most places in tackling these issues head on and making the city a more just place. If we achieve all we want to, we might yet write the definitive book.

Neil McInroy, Chief Executive, Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES)

Across the UK, and the world, we are in a moment of significant economic injustice.  Things which have always been there are now in more obvious focus.  Inequality knows no compass points in Britain today.  There is a growing complex patchwork quilt of haves and have-nots.  And yes in London too.

In urban policy terms, neo liberal ideas around urban enrepreneuralism, where we just made it easy for global financial capitalism are being exposed and urban policy with a focus on manufacturing and industry struggles to find and alternative.

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but it would appear in policy terms that the message of necessity has not yet got through.

So we need to face up to some realities.

Four things we need to do.

1. Recognise.  The so called good times were not that good.

Most historic and present economic development, basically hangs on to the half truth that a growing economy will lift people out of poverty – trickle down.  However, even the good times were not that good for some areas.  We cannot boom-goggle – A chronic condition of vision in which nothing is seen but endless boom just around the corner. We need to do something more progressive with growth, wealth creation, and redistribute in different ways.

2. Reducing poverty is not the outcome of economic growth, it’s part of the solution

Tackling poverty is part of the economic answer and unless we do something about poverty, then it may be difficult to restore the kind of prosperity we would like. Our economy needs the poor to not be poor.

Levels of disposable income are reducing local demand.  Trickle up economics tells us that the poorest have a higher propensity to consume. They will spend a higher proportion of their income, usually locally. They must start earning and spending. Our businesses (especially our SME’s) need this. This relationship means, we have an irrefutable economic rationale for dealing with this shocking situation as regards low wages, underemployment and poverty.

3. We need to advance and accelerate new economic thinking.

Some great organic grass roots based stuff is happening

  • The rise of alternative financial models –such as crowdfunding
  •  appreciation of a social return on investment,
  • new forms of exchange, production and consumption cooperatives,

Local economic policy needs to catch up with this narrative and be bold. This is the future.

4. There is the need for a new economic activism, driving transformation. 

In this, we need the central state to set a better redistributive context.  The poorest areas need more support, this is not jam spreading.  It’s about giving the most in need more sustenance. We need a proper industrial strategy and a coherent set of initiatives.

From there we look at the local state, to work to think about a new economic and social destiny.  This includes things like the development of positive local multiplier outcomes, which means local sourcing, means local jobs, means more local spend.

Just look at this city – Manchester City Council spends over 50% of its commissioned goods and services within the Manchester economy.  With over 50% of that in the most deprived neighbourhoods.  Suppliers re-spent 47p in every pound back in Manchester economy in 10/11.  A good start. (for more details see here)

It’s also about a new local social and economic contract, with business at the front appreciating place, respecting public inputs to its success and working where it can to play more of an activist place role.

Finally the economic sphere is not some opposite to social life.  The aim of the economy, is to improve social life.  This means creating an economy, which is not solely for private gain, but there to support social institutions for social development and a decent standard of living for all.  This has to be the economic future.  This is a just city.