Tag Archives: Exclusion

Ten Years After! What is the Legacy of the 2002 Commonwealth Games for Manchester?

The B of the Bang was a sculpture designed by Thomas Heatherwick and was commissioned to mark the 2002 Commonwealth Games.


In July and August 2002 the city of Manchester hosted the XVII Commonwealth Games.  This eleven day event was to mark the beginning of a strategy to systematically redevelop the east of Manchester.  After decades of losing its population and suffering multiple forms of distress, the plan was to use the Games to reintegrate the area’s neighborhoods back into the wider space economy.  New East Manchester, an urban regeneration company, was established to oversee the redevelopment.  Fast forward to July 2012 and London is about to host the Olympics.  A central feature of the discussions prior to the Games has been over their legacy in the area to the east of London.  This has involved learning from the efforts of other cities, such as Manchester, who have hosted major cultural and sporting events.

On 10 July 2012, cities@manchester will host a panel discussion (view full details and book a free place here) to explore the current state of East Manchester and the on-going legacy of the 2002 Commonwealth Games.  This forum will bring together stakeholders with a wide range of views to debate this vital issue.  The aim is to develop understandings that can inform the wider redevelopment efforts in the city, particularly in the context of shrinking public sector finances. Below are some brief provocations from each panelist to initiate reflection and debate.

Pete Bradshaw, Head of Corporate Responsibility & Infrastructure, Manchester City Football Club.

Ten years on… legacy in action or inaction?

The Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games undoubtedly captured the imagination of people across our city, our region, our nation and across the Commonwealth too.

Manchester and its city region had gained valuable experience in bidding for two Olympic Games (1996 and 2000) and in doing so, had the opportunity to stage a variety of international sporting events and an insight and understanding of what Games’ host cities needed – and indeed the risks involved. Embarking on a bid to stage the Commonwealth Games therefore, would need to be founded in reality, deliverability and should leave lasting legacy for the people of Manchester and for sport, locally, regionally and nationally.

When considering the development of Games’ facilities – it would be critical that they should be fit-for-purpose insofar as the Games were concerned, but no less important would be the need for those very facilities to provide a life beyond the Games without the need for further funding whilst developing new opportunities, events, inward investment and jobs.

Facilities  for the future and in helping deliver legacy would only be one consideration; participation and engagement another. Some twenty years previous, the Sports Council in its launch of Sport – The Next ten Years noted: “Although participation is made possible through facility provision, it is made actual only by sensitive management, inspiring leadership and energetic promotion”. Never more would this be the case with the legacy of Manchester 2002.

Programmes and activities directly related to the Games were (and are) there for all to see, successful at the time and in some cases setting precedence for events and investments ten years on. 15,000 Volunteers engaged with M2002 Pre Volunteer Programme and across the city we can still find them working on events and engaged in jobs as a result. There was Games XChange which created a comprehensive data base and event information resource; the Community Curriculum Pack shared with local education authorities from across the region whilst Let’s Celebrate engaged people of all ages in arts, cultural and events management. Passport gave people access to opportunities which included art, sport, environment, health and jobs and these were supported by Healthier Communities and Prosperity North West programmes.

The emerging development of east Manchester in 2012 is testament to the faith City leaders places in the Manchester 2002 Games and the benefits it would bring. The building of a stadium with a clear and thought-out after-life and the associated infrastructure of Sportcity helped realise the investment now seen, not just in facilities, but in structure and policy which recognises the benefits of local supply chains, local employment, skills development and aspiration for high quality environment, sustainable development and engagement at all levels in the spirit of building neighbourhood.

The changing, even unstable economic climate has presented challenges, no doubt, but the grounding, the character, the leadership and aspiration that lead City leaders to host the XVII Commonwealth Games is vital to our future success and the creation of and access to opportunities for people in our city. I remain convinced that there has been and will continue to be action and investment, there is certainly confidence in this city and about this city.

Rev. David Gray – Faith Network for Manchester and Growing faith in Community

Building trust between communities and practitioners is essential

Having been the workshop of the world during the great industrial push when mines, mills, factories and foundries were producing steel, cotton, coal and railway rolling stock for communities around the world, by the 1990’s East Manchester had become the most disadvantaged community inWestern Europe. Following industrial decline, the well meaning but empathy void slum clearances had broken the back and the heart of the community. Intricate connections reminiscent of eco systems like the Wood Wide Web were broken as orchestras, extended family networks, faith communities; sporting and artistic societies were broken up forever. As psychopathic predators preyed on the children who dwelt in a landscape where a once proud people no longer seemed to matter to those who wielded power, the working class became the post-working class and fell to their knees feeling useless, overlooked and de-skilled. Mortality rates rose to endemic levels due to the impact of hitherto misunderstood industrial diseases; mental ill-health spread like a plague and crime and anti-social behaviour took root among the disaffected. In a trail of broken promises from politicians and planners, hope began to retreat. Children growing up in a culture of unemployment that had been passed on like a baton down several generations lost any concept of there being a link between school and potential career paths.

In due course, a remnant of community activists and a new generation of regeneration professionals began to address the issues. But trust that had been broken had to be re-earned. The prospect of the Commonwealth Games being hosted in East Manchester came with mixed blessings. On one hand, this offered energising hope for the future – but on the other, fears of the gentrification of the area were fuelled as the dreaded compulsory purchases of living memory were once again used to destabilise the existing community.

The games themselves proved an uplifting experience for those local people who managed to remain in the community. Manchester Royal Artillery at nearby Belle Vue Barracks had been threatened with being disbanded, but received a reprieve when myself and others wrote to her Britannic Majesty to plead their cause as a force for good in our community, resulting in a battery salute from artillery field guns opening the games themselves.

The summer of 2002 was a balmy one and the atmosphere around the games was positive for visitors and host community alike.

The games over, a new threat reared its head when the politicians and planners put all their eggs into one basket with a proposal to regenerate the East Manchestereconomy by creating a super casino. Once again the long suffering community was filled with dread.

‘Communities for Stability’ was formed to explore alternatives and the Faith Network for Manchester held a conference “Gambling with our Future” that explored the positives of job creation alongside negatives such as organised crime, sexual exploitation and the impact of habitual gambling. Soon local communities were shouting loudly for something more diverse that was built on local experience and the diversity of the communities of this great city. In short, they were saying: “Bring Back Belle Vue – but with a modern, ethical ethos”.

In due course myself – by now made redundant from my post as community coordinator on the team that restored Gorton Monastery and going through the transition to becoming a sole trader – and unemployed trades union steward Damian Carr compiled, in consultation with local people, businesses, faith and community groups, Manchester City Football Club, police officers, teachers, children and health professionals a business plan that, with the help of Sir Gerald Kaufman, we presented to then communities minister Hazel Blears.

We took with us the directors of a company wishing to bring an eco-affordable housing manufacturing base to the area.

A lot has happened since that meeting. The Moscow and Chinese State Circuses have visited East Manchester; in September we will host a Circus themed parade and Carnival and the legacy of sporting and leisure represented by the games and the old Belle Vue have begun to inform the way ahead. But there is still no eco-affordable housing manufacturing base here, despite all the signs of its being sorely needed.

With a new national speedway stadium in the pipeline and the reintroduction of animal features such as EST Donkey Centre where Donkey’s housed in five star accommodation work to enhance the lives of children with learning difficulties, the magic of Belle Vue is unfolding once again.

This is part of the legacy of the Commonwealth Games, but it has been far from easy for local people to help drive new initiatives with so many disappointments in the fields of politics and banking in our national life. We are determined that our future is not driven by the greed and self interest of a minority of people who are unlikely to settle here themselves to share a stake in our unfolding future. We don’t say we know best, but we do say that unless the indigenous populace – including people who settle here from other lands – are thoroughly involved in what emerges post Commonwealth Games, the damage done by previous waves of regeneration will be compounded and our communities, indeed our national life itself, may never recover from the resultant wounds, allowing apathy to take a hold that will slowly throttle breath out of democracy as people cease to exercise their voting power within a system in which they have totally lost faith.

Camilla Lewis, Social Anthropology PhD candidate, University of Manchester

An uncertain future?

In 2002, the Commonwealth Games were championed as a win-win solution for Manchester. The sporting event would bring worldwide attention and investment to the city and offer a unique opportunity to kick start social regeneration and transform the fortunes of some of Manchester’s poorest neighbourhoods. East Manchester was chosen as an ideal site as it offered large, cheap, de-industrial areas suitable for the main sporting facilities. Over the past ten years, under the banner of ‘New East Manchester’, the area has been radically transformed through multiple processes of rebranding and rebuilding. The industrial past has been largely erased in order to refashion the landscape and, in turn, to create a sustainable, cohesive community. This begs the questions; what kind of legacy has the Games produced and have the expectations of the ambitious regeneration plans been met?

The answers to these questions are complex and contested. East Manchester is a large geographical area with a heterogeneous social landscape. Since local people report constant changes to neighbourhoods it is very difficult to talk about how a single event has changed people’s experiences in a uniform way. Rather than one moment of transformation, the social life and landscape in the area have been reconfigured in multiple ways with changes accelerating over the past decade. While there have been many positive reactions to the newly configured landscape, many local residents feel that the area is characterised by a sense of precariousness and uncertainty about the future. Despite the continuing regeneration efforts, East Manchester is still socially and spatially dislocated from the rest of the city. The future and sustainability of the area is questioned, due to the persistence of high levels of unemployment. In this context, new dynamics of social life have emerged in which relations to place have been reconstituted around historical ideas about community rather than a linear idea of progress and development. The Games promised to instill a sense of certainty and optimism for East Manchester which would be based on a socially accepted ambition towards progress. However, ten years after, community in the past is often remarked on with nostalgia and warmth whereas the future is described as uncertain.

Tom Russell,  former Chief Executive of New East Manchester

Lessons for driving social and economic renewal?

The 2002 Commonwealth Games, by common accord, was one of the most significant milestones in the recent history and development of Manchester. It also has had wider significance in  terms of the approach adopted by London towards the staging of the 2012 Olympics, and by Glasgow in looking forward to the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Arguably both cities success in winning these events has been helped by perceptions of Manchester’s success in 2002.

The city was always clear, through the bidding process for the event and beyond, that it was a means to an end, not an end in itself. Heavily influenced by Barcelona’s approach to the 1992 Olympics, the city’s primary objective was the comprehensive economic, physical and social renewal of the east of the city, one of the most disadvantaged parts of the country in terms of poverty and urban deprivation. Yet the relationship between an international sporting event – elitist by definition and frozen in  a moment in time – and deep-seated problems of urban decline and renewal is not obvious, and cities have faced considerable criticism over the cost and opportunity cost that such events involve.

My contribution to the Forum will aim to examine this relationship and evaluate progress towards the ambitious objectives Manchester set itself, the continuing challenges that the area faces, and the lessons that can be drawn from Manchester’s experience of harnessing a major international event to drive economic and social renewal.

The economic crisis: A view from the Everyday

by Maria Kaika, Geography, School of Environment and Development. maria.kaika@manchester.ac.uk

February 2012, Working Paper. Copyright: Maria Kaika

Turning a public of Indignados into a public of Desperados: the making of Greece’s Nouveau Poor. 

A walk through the streets of Athens today, can be a confusing, or even alienating experience. If one walks around the Acropolis or in the upmarket shopping district of Kolonaki, one comes across a city buzzing with people eating in restaurants and cafes, oozing with music, laughter and joy. But if one ventures two blocks further towards the city centre, one encounters a different city; a city whose every corner, every niche, is occupied by homeless people, and beggars, and whose air is saturated with woodfire smoke, the result of people who cannot afford their gas or electricity bills.

This extreme polarization of the Greek society, and the radical changes in the city’s physical and social fabric took place over a very short period of time; just under two years. These two years saw the Greek economy imploding, as a result of a soaring public debt, which currently totals 340 billion EUROS, and the Greek society polarizing like never before as a result of a set of ‘austerity measures’, to which the Greek government committed itself, in order to continue receiving funds from its creditors. Indeed the 12 billion Euro worth of savings that the Greek government made in 2011 affected mainly pensioners and the salaried lower middle classes. The cuts were translated into 30,000 job losses in the public sector; 20-30% cuts in wages and pensions across the public and private sectors; and a rise in general unemployment by 40 percent. During the first quarter of 2011, the GDP fell by a further 7%, whilst the suicide rate increased by 40%. A quarter of businesses in Greece has gone bust, 20% of shops in the centre Athens are currently empty, and youth unemployment currently runs at 49%.

As today Greece counts 3 million people living at the edge of poverty, has the highest risk of child poverty in Europe (at 24%), and 25,5% of its population living in substandard housing conditions, it is hard to disagree with Paul Krugman, who recently termed Greece’s austerity measures ‘terminal’ for the population . Although the austerity measures did not delivered the anticipated economic results, they did deliver a new social and political situation in Greece: nouveau poor, and turned a public of Indignados into a public of Desperados.

Whilst the 1% of the Greek population still engage in conspicuous consumption and drive luxury cars, the most desperate amongst Greece’s nouveau poor have now joined ranks with illegal migrants, junkies, and alcoholics in the streets of Athens, begging, or rummaging through garbage for food. Yet, Athens’ new class of poor can be distinguished easily from Athens’ veteran poor;  junkies, alcoholics, or begging migrants. They are young or elderly, men or women, who, until recently, belonged to the middle classes, but were spat out from these ranks as they lost their jobs, took massive cuts in their salaries or pensions, or had their homes repossessed. They still wear decent clothes, and still bear in their eyes a sense of dignity. They beg whilst looking at you straight in the eye, as if they were asking for a cigarette, or for the time. Their body language as they search through garbage for food is erect, and almost dignified, because they are convinced they do not deserve what they have got. They have not reached – yet – the level of misery that turns human beings into wretched creatures (Declerck, 2006). They have not – yet – entered the terrain where their existence is defined only by their position as beggars in a country that appears to have no future.

This is the once aspiring middle classes come poor; this is our poor, our ex-neighbour turned homeless; and for being that, for being our poor, they deserve  – and receive – a level of compassion, and national and international media attention, like no other group of poor in Greece, or elsewhere in Europe has ever received. Everybody has read reports about Greece new poor; but very few are aware of the struggle for survival of Greece’s one million undocumented migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria or Iran. Many have seen the international headlines about the suicide attempt of the public sector worker in Athens; but very few have heard of the year long hunger strike of Afghan migrants in Athens, who arrived there in search of Europe and found themselves trapped in this city, unable to move forward or backward.

Caring for our poor: the affective consequences of a local debt crisis.

I have highlighted the distinction between our poor and these other categories of poor, and the difference in attention that that these groups receive, in order to argue the following: the shock waves that the social consequences of Greece’s crisis sends down Europe’s spine are directly related to the fact that, this crisis concerns our poor. This is the first time, after the Second World War, that a European Union member country is faced with a humanitarian crisis; the first time, since the establishment of the European Union, that European Union members are treated like Africans or Latin Americans; that is, the first time that Europeans suffer the consequences of a debt crisis like Africans or Latin Americans do. Technocratic governments; the demand for appointed ‘commissioners’ to govern the ungovernable Greeks; demands for austerity and asset privatization in return for cash flows; demands for constitutional changes to prioritize servicing the country’s debt over servicing the population’s basic needs; all these are long established practices in the debt ridden countries of the developing world. But when these practices are transposed into European context, they become, for the first time shocking and widely publicized. They bring the message of a debt crisis home. And they make it louder. And by bringing the message home, Greece’s nouveau poor generate in western populations and political elites a set of interesting affective reactions (Tsalikoglou, 2012) that have serious political and social consequences.

First, they generate a soothing effect: it is the Greeks who suffer, not us Italians, us English, French, or Germans; not me; I still have a job; I can still feed my children; I am lucky; I’m OK.

Second, they generate a reassuring effect: after a year or two of doubts, I now feel Greeks have actually suffered enough; they are now worthy of my compassion. And the fact that I can still feel compassion is reassuring; it means I am still a human being.

Third, they generate desire for geographical distancing: Their suffering is inherently linked to their ‘Greekness’. It is close enough to me but cannot touch me, because I am not Greek; it remains outside my own country and my own home, and I want to keep it this way; I want to distance myself and my country as much as possible from ‘them’.

This way, the shock of poverty and misery brought home by the Greek crisis becomes, at best, a focal point for display of human compassion, and, at worst, a focal point for the display of racism. When it takes the form of racism, Greeks deserve what they get, because they are lazy, crooks, incompetent, etc. When it takes the form of compassion, Greeks do not deserve what they get, because they are the ones who gave us democracy; they fought on our side during the second world war, etc.

However, although compassion and racism may appear to be at the opposite ends of the spectrum of political and social reaction to this crisis, they are in fact, part of the same, Janus faced type of politics which allocates justice or hatred, compassion or despise, only after it places human beings into unified categories. It is only after I can other all Greeks as crooks and lazy PIIGS that I can express racist views about them. But it is also only after labelling all Greeks as a deeply democratic and suffering people that I can feel compassion for them. Whilst racism transforms human beings into dehumanized bodies, compassion transforms them into dependent bodies. Both cases confirm that debt is the end of freedom (Graeber, 2011). And an un-free human being -worthy of compassion or not – is a de-humanized being; a human being that can no longer produce its own history.

Learning from global capitalism: Try again and fail BETTER next time.

If we take seriously Hanah Arendt’s (Arendt, 1998) claim that History is the making of meaning, and totalitarianism the production of meaninglessness, we are currently in a moment that produces meaninglessness. In this paradoxical moment, group, the economic crisis generated a proliferation of group stereotypes across Europe, whilst the salvage of the European project is left to a bunch of nationalistic political elites. Inside Greece, this nonsensical nationalistic rambling presents other Europeans as villains, and the return to drachma as the way to save Greece from the ‘evil’ grip of foreign creditors. Greece’s family run political elites have twice now failed to negotiate Greece’s debt properly, and have twice now chosen to default on Greece’s people, rather than default on Greece’s creditors. Still, they blame the evil Germans, rather than themselves, for the misery that the Greek population has to suffer. Outside Greece, similar nationalistic ramblings present the economic crisis as a problem predominantly linked to Greece, and argue that the solution to the crisis dwells in chucking Greece out of the euro or even out of the European Union, because it is a nation of crooks who will always fail to deliver their promises.

But, of course, the claim that all Greeks, Portuguese Italian Irish and Spanish are crooks and lazy PIIGS is a claim as non-sensical as the claim that all Germans are Nazis (Trivizas, 2011). And, of course it is convenient for Europe’s political and petty local economic elites to revert to nationalism. It keeps them in power by posing false dilemmas, and constructing straw enemies. For, whilst European governments become increasingly entrenched in petty nationalism, capital becomes increasingly internationalized. Capital has never been patriotic: this is why it survives and thrives over time. In the midst of the crisis, Greek capital invests in multi-million mansions in London, whilst major private European funds invest in making “Greece the Florida of Europe”; Chinese sovereign funds buy large parts of Greece’s main port (Piraeus), whilst Qatar invests 5 billion US dollars in Greek tourism infrastructure.

There are good lessons to be leant from the movements of international capital. In a recent interview to Business Review, Niall Fergusson suggests that “the only way out of the current crisis —without disbanding the EURO—“ is to do as international capital does, namely “commit substantial resources to peripheral economies” (Blodget, 2012): But, for those who cringe to the sound of the word subsidies, we don’t even have to go that far. We could start by arguing for a more even-handed treatment of one Country towards another. As of January 2012, Greece actually runs a primary surplus (Krugman). This is a remarkable change that received little attention. It means that from now onwards, any new loan that Greece receives will only be needed to service its debt. Because part of Greece’s debt is served at 16,8% interest. Over the next couple of years, the European Central Bank is set to make a multi billion profit from interest repayments made by Greece. 5bn Euros of this profit is now earmarked to go back to the coffers of the countries that have contributed to Greece’s aid. Moreover, whilst France, the UK and Germany borrow at 0.25 interest or thereabouts, they still lend Greece at 3, 4 or 5%. In common language, this is called usury. In economic language, it is called aid. Why does Germany and France lending at high interest rates to Greece or Ireland, sound more outrageous than Bavaria subsidizing East Germany,England subsidizing Wales, or New York subsidizing Mississippi?

If we understood countries as the social historical constructs that they are, and if the economy were as ‘rational’ as it claims to be, interregional subsidies within the EU would make as much sense as interregional subsidies within the same country; and interregional lending at extortionate interest rates within the EU would sound as outrageous as the proposal of having Bavaria lending East Germany at 5%.

If we could see beyond the nationalistic parapets that Europe is building, we could also divert our attention to another remarkable fact: that the Eurozone’s greatest build up of debt is not with the governments of Greece Portugal or Spain; it is with the financial sector, whose total debt doubled from 155% of EUs’ actual economic output in 1999 to 222% in 2012. The financial sector’s debt currently runs at 20 trillion EUROS, but receives little media or political attention, compared to Greece’s debt of 340 billions which makes headlines across Europe every single day, and has claimed thousands of wo/man hours in the European and national parliaments over the last 2 years (Jones etal., 2012)

If, as a Greek passport holder, I wanted my understanding of the crisis to go beyond false dilemmas and the nationalistic rhetoric that Greece and the rest of Europe is currently stuck with, I should first and foremost remark that I am not Greek. I am not Greek, if being Greek puts me in the same category as 14,000 or so crooks who are now documented to have embezzled public funds in Greece, who drive around in SUVs and avoid paying taxes worth a total of 36 billion euros. I am not Greek, if that puts me in the same category as the thugs who beat up migrants in the streets of Athens in the name of ethnic cleansing.

But, at the same time, we are ALL Greeks. Like 99% of the Greek population, who did not embezzle public funds, we collectively foot the bill for bailing out indebted banks, or indebted countries; we collectively receive cuts in our pension funds, and we do not receive millions in bonuses, or Royal titles, for running banks that go bust, or for gambling with other people’s pension funds. If we take the rhetoric of the market to its full consequences, the fact that we are all consumers and tax payers, can form the basis for our commonality, as Bauman suggests (Bauman, 2012: no page). And if we wanted to take our commonality beyond the market logic, we collectively are the unknown people whose countless small actions, as Howard Zinn puts it, make history and produce change (Zinn, 1990).

So, addressing you as fellow global consumers, I would urge you to go to Greece for your next holiday. It will be an act of pleasure; you can enjoy the sun and the sea, and you don’t even have to face poverty if you stay clear off the main streets of Athens. It will also be an act of compassion: you will be contributing to a sinking country’s economy.

Addressing you as fellow human beings, I would still urge you, to go to Greece for your next holiday. But I would advise you to walk off the beaten tourist track; walk the main streets. It will be an act of comprehension; it will bring home an understanding of why compassion and charity cannot work as a tool for social change. Because they are predicated upon the construction of divisive lines and divisive identities. Charity is for the middle classes. The only tool left to the poor is Politics. But, at this moment, when centre, right and left party political elites revert to primitive forms of nationalism, politics reverts to its rawest and most desperate form; politics as rioting. The recent burning of historical buildings in Athens during rioting was an act as nonsensical or as desperate, as the burning of the African American ghettoes in the 1960s. It was an act performed within a political moment that produces meaninglessness and fear. Today, we are all numbed by fear. Fear that our country may be next in line, our household next on fire, our children next to suffer. Fear of failure of any new attempt to think differently about the world or the economy.

However, this moment of meaninglessness and social disarray, is the best moment for transformative thinking. It is the moment when new radical imaginaries stop being an intellectual exercise, and become a social necessity. If we take seriously Cornelius Castoriadis’ conceptualization of history as the creation of new meanings and new social imaginaries (Castoriadis, 1987), there is no better moment than now for this type of creativity.

It is the moment to counter pose divisive stereotypes and fear of failure with Samuel Beckett’s (1983) aphorism that, if you have ever failed, try again; and fail again. But try to fail better next time. In fact, this is exactly what global capitalism has always done: constantly trying and failing and trying and failing again. And it is still here, perpetually transformed, and more powerful than ever. We should learn from global capitalism! We should dare to think differently, think beyond divisive lines; dare to try again and dare to fail again. In the process, we may create new meaning.

Arendt H, 1998 The human condition (University of Chicago Press, Chicago; London)
Bauman Z, 2012, “The left that ressembles the right” Eleytherotypia, Sunday 18th December 2012
Beckett S, 1983 Worstward ho (John Calder, London)
Blodget H, 2012, “NIALL FERGUSON: Okay, I Admit It—Paul Krugman Was Right” Business Insider
Castoriadis C, 1987 The Imaginary institution of society (Polity, Cambridge)
Declerck P, 2006, “On the necessary suffering of the homeless”, in Divided cities : the Oxford Amnesty lectures 2003 Ed R Scholar (Oxford University Press, Oxford) pp 161-176
Graeber D, 2011 Debt: the first 5,000 years (Melville House, New York)
Jones S, Oakley A, Watkins M, 2012, “Bond investors face euro reckoning” Financial Times
Krugman P, “The Greek Vise” The New York Times 6th February 2012
Trivizas E, 2011, “Trivizas on PIGS“,  last accessed 2 March 2012
Tsalikoglou F, 2012, “The homeless as medicine” To Vima, 29 January 2012
Zinn H, 1990 The politics of history (University of Illinois Press, Urbana)

Telescopic Urbanism and the Poor

By Prof. Ash Amin, 1931 Chair in Geography, Cambridge University

Prof. Amin will be giving a lecture at the University of Manchester on Wednesday 14 March, as part of an afternoon of global urbanism lectures and events. All welcome!

Slums, Mumbai - image wallygrom on flickr

As globalization turns cities into complex, stretched entities with multiple geographies of affiliation, it becomes easier for some to make the self serving argument that any internal integrity to cities disappears, that there is no innate reason why their parts – social and geographical – can or should hold together.  The result is a divided optic – a telescopic urbanism – that projects only parts of the city, eschewing any need to think the city a field of shared life and common rights and obligations.  The city returns only as a space of discrepant juxtapositions and severed obligations, a provisioning for some and not others.

Two powerful projections reinforcing this optic, I wish to claim, have risen to the fore, one from a colonising minority with powerful allies, and the other from advocates of a bounded majority, both ironically tracing similar subjectivities of survival and reward.  One is the ‘business-consultancy’ projection, supported by powerful allies, for whom the urban poor are a mere encumbrance and embarrassment, while the other is the ‘human potential’ projection, sold to the poor by their allies that the only way forward is to build capabilities and other means of entrepreneurial advancement.  My argument is that such telescopic urbanism is centrally involved in preventing the growing scale and severity of human struggle, particularly in the cities of the South, from being seen as anything other than a problem of autochthonous development.

My claim is that the urban imaginary will need to change radically for things to be different, and a start would be to think the city once again as a provisioning and indivisible commons.  It would be easy to dismiss such a premise as unworkable let alone too idealistic, by pointing to the omissions that follow from entitlements being defined by the legal rather than existential status of urban inhabitants (therefore excluding the majority city of illegals and non-citizens), the biases arising from hamstrung, inefficient or corrupt public authorities captured by the rich and the powerful, the organisation of elites, interests and communities who benefit from the apportioned and appropriated city, the sheer magnitude of need in the city of endless migration from the countryside and increased reproduction.  But without an optic that sees the whole city, and as a shared commons, the rudimentary response of telescopic regimes to a 21st century problem of bare survival for a very large chunk of humanity on the urban fringe will remain unchallenged.

Thinking in this way leads me to suggest that the state of the world demands once again a politics of large-scale social engineering, but of a distinctive sort.  Junking the totalising ideals of old-style socialist modernism or the brashness of modern capitalist colonisation of desire, a place to start is to commit to the universal distribution of the basic staples of human development and association, from access to shelter, clean water and sanitation to the means to access the rest of the city and its public goods.  Without extending the ‘infrastructural’ rights of the poor, business consultancy urbanism will take over the city, as it has already begun to do in parts of the world aspiring to world-class city status.   Here, the elites are on the march, bent on clearing slums and people of an unpleasant bearing to make way for business-consultancy city, with its shiny buildings, glitzy consumption, fast highways, clean and safe streets, plentiful real estate, a pro-business state, global connectivity, and an investment-tourism-consumption-knowledge friendly environment.

In aspiring world-class cities such as Delhi and Bombay the cleansing elites are already getting their way.  Here, even the affordances of the concessionary state to the poor in response to their organisation as a claims-making rather than rights-bearing body, are being choked off, fanned by a paranoid rhetoric from behind gated communities of bad life in upgraded slums whose real estate ought to be handed over to the prosperity-bearing middle classes.  Other cities of the post-colonial world will choose to follow suit as rumours of rich pickings from business consultancy urbanism spread.  They too will want their place in the sun in the unfolding post-occidental modernity, by letting the poor roast in the sun.  It may be time to rove the telescope to police the colonising urban elites, to insist on the basic infrastructural rights of the poor, without qualification.

Prof. Amin’s  book Land of Strangers, which examines the biopolitics of belonging in the contemporary West, is published in 2012 by Polity. An interview with Ash about Land of Strangers can be found on podularity.com.

Violence and the city: A view from the ganglands

Image from flickr: Il Fatto Quotidiano


by Dennis Rodgers, Senior Research Fellow, Brooks World Poverty Institute.

Email: dennis.rodgers@manchester.ac.uk

Although there has long existed a concern that urbanisation amplifies violence, there is sense in which cities are increasingly being put forward as key sites of violence in the contemporary world. The fact that much recent conflict, terrorism and civil disorder has occurred in cities such as Baghdad, Beirut, or Nairobi, or that the world’s highest homicide rates afflict cities in Central America, Colombia, or South Africa, has become ever more noted, and has clearly added to the ubiquitous notion that cities and violence are intimately related. It is striking, however, that the city as a particular type of space rarely reflected upon directly in such debates.

An important exception in this regard is the gang literature, which has consistently sustained that in order to truly get to grips with gangs, it is critical to understand the context within which they emerge. Certainly, two major insights of gang research are that they are on the one hand are fundamentally epiphenomenal social formations, and on the other, that they are inherently urban in nature. For example, in his pioneering study of gangs, The Gang: A Study of 1,313 Gangs in Chicago (Chicago University Press, 1927), sociologist Frederic Thrasher paradigmatically suggested that “the gang and its problems constitute …one of many symptoms of the more or less general disorganization incident to …the rapid growth of cities and all the internal process of kaleidoscopic movement and rearrangement which this growth has entailed” (page 487).

Indeed, Thrasher argued that “the beginnings of the gang can best be studied in the slums of the city where an inordinately large number of children are crowded into a limited area. …Such a crowded environment is full of opportunities for conflict”, which “coupled with deterioration in housing, sanitation, and other conditions of life in the slum, give the impression of general disorganization and decay” (pages (26 & 37-38). In a manner clearly reminiscent of Louis Wirth’s famous analysis of “urbanism as a way of life”, Thrasher contended that such conditions of anomie and impersonal social relations led to the emergence of “an inevitable repertoire of predatory activities and a universe of discourse reflecting the disorganized social environment”, most obviously manifest in the existence of gangs.

At the same time, however, Thrasher’s research simultaneously undermines the notion that there exists an inherent relationship between urban contexts and gang violence. The ethnic nature of the gangs that he highlights in his study for example clearly contradicts the idea that violence emerges as a result of the superficiality and anonymity of urban social relations, insofar as it suggests that gangs can be based on elementary forms of social connection. Thrasher attempts to explain this paradox by suggesting that the actions of social agents cannot go beyond their individual experiences, and that gangs therefore had to have their “beginning[s] in acquaintanceship and intimate relations which have already developed on the basis of some common interest” (page 30). In addition to ethnicity, he thus also lists kinship and feelings of local neighbourhood belonging as basic vectors for gang formation.

In many ways this is not surprising, however. Anthropologists have provided us with a plethora of studies of neighbourhoods, barrios, or quartiers in cities around the world that describe how urbanites effectively reproduce small-scale community forms of living within urban contexts by interacting repeatedly with relatively small numbers of individuals, moreover within a normally localised territory. Social life is not a mass phenomenon, but something that generally occurs in small groups, and therefore any generalizations about social life in the city must inevitably draw on the study of these smaller universes rather than on abstract statements about the city as a whole. While this makes eminent sense, it also suggests that it is important to examine the underlying nature of gang violence more closely in order to truly understand the way that the phenomenon articulates with urban life in general, and the city in particular.

Thrasher justifies specifically focusing on slums in cities – which he likens to frontier zones – by arguing that they constitute “geographically …interstitial area[s] in the city”, and that just as “in nature foreign matter tends to collect and cake in every crack, crevice, and cranny”, so “life, rough and untamed” materialises in the interstitial areas that constitute “fissures and breaks in the structure of social organization” (pages 22-23). Gangs, from this perspective, are “rich in elemental social processes significant to the student of society and human nature” (page 3), because they represent an unmediated form of life, a primordial reflection of the violence that inherently bubbles under the surface of things and inevitably erupts at points where the social fabric is weak.

Such a perception of violence manifesting itself when social order breaks down clearly constitutes the phenomenon as something that exists outside of the social order. Although this kind of thinking is part of a long tradition, which perhaps finds its most obvious expression in Thomas Hobbes’ classic argument that violence is an incipient facet of being human in a state of nature that is held in check by the establishment of an encompassing social order, it is a viewpoint that also naturalises violence by projecting it as an autonomously pre-existing phenomenon that comes to the fore organically and automatically as a result of the existence or absence of certain objective conditions. For Hobbes, this was the absence of the Leviathan, but in relation to Thrasher’s framework, it was the existence of cities, or at least of the particular social relations that he associated with the spatial characteristics of cities as anomic, disorganized social spaces.

When seen from this perspective, it could be argued that urban space is not necessarily violent per se, but rather constitutes a particular type of territorial space with intrinsic characteristics that naturally unleash the violence inherent to being human. The notion of space is not only concerned with the territorial environment, however, but is also fundamentally about social relations. The gang literature once again provides us with an interesting window onto this, including for example Philippe Bourgois’ modern classic In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio (Cambridge University Press, 1995), which offers a detailed ethnographic study of drug-dealing gangs inEast Harlem. This presents a nuanced and multifaceted analysis that balances economic motivations and individual choices with structural constraints, showing how the Puerto Rican gangs that he studied could be understood in terms of a mixture of local resource distribution, local cultural identity, and implicit political resistance.

Bourgois describes in great detail how gang violence was an instrumental means to protect markets, enforce contracts, and ensure that the local drug economy ran smoothly in order to provide for neighbourhood inhabitants in a context of limited resources, and how it built on local cultural norms and networks. But he also links the emergence of gangs to the way in which the wider urban labour market effectively condemned the inhabitants of poor neighbourhoods such as the one he studied to dead-end jobs, which thus made joining drug-dealing gangs a logical aspiration, particularly for youth rejecting the low-grade options on offer to them. In doing so, Bourgois highlights how gangs in East Harlememerged not just as instrumental adaptations to a context of limited resources, but also very much as responses to a broader context of limited access to resources within a broader city context characterised by extreme socio-economic marginalization.

Bourgois thereby suggests that gangs are not a natural ecological feature of a city’s spatial form, but rather epiphenomena of very specific wider socio-political circumstances. As such he is drawing on a very different epistemological tradition to the Chicago School sociologists, and assuming that questions pertaining to the distribution, allocation, and use of resources are the fundamental organising vectors of society, with violence not a natural phenomenon that is unleashed by social breakdown but a means through which control over resources, or access to them, is achieved instrumentally. Indeed, this is something that Bourgois underlines starkly when he discusses East Harlem in terms of “institutional violence” and “urban apartheid”, emphasising the active and purposeful process of segregation that occurs between the inner city and the rest of New York in the form of particular patterns of Police patrolling and the targeting of particular racial profiles, oppressive architecture and technologies of surveillance, the provision of deficient social services, and cultural stigmatisation.

At the same time, however, Bourgois also comments how if inner city neighbourhoods such as East Harlem represent “the United States’ greatest domestic failing, hanging like a Damocles sword over the larger society”, “ironically, the only force preventing this suspended sword from falling is that drug dealers, addicts, and street criminals internalize their rage and desperation”, and “direct their brutality against themselves and their immediate community rather than against their structural oppressors” (page 318). The reasons for this are a complex “mesh of political-economic structural forces, historical legacies, cultural imperatives, and individual actions”, but in the final analysis reflect the fact that gangs are desperate forms of social mobilisation, whether viewed from a micro or a macro perspective. Locally, their natures as limited institutions means that they can only benefit a minority within the ghetto, while at the macro level they simply do not have the strength to challenge the city-wide system of oppression, which is backed by an extensive apparatus of power and control. Seen from this perspective, it can be argued that it is this latter form of structural subjugation that is ultimately the most devastating type of urban violence that can afflict cities. In other words, what the view from the gangland suggests is that understand violence in the city requires understanding the political economy of the city first and foremost.

Nicaragua: the road to ‘pacification’

The transformation of Managua’s road system should be seen as a case of “infrastructural violence” which is intrinsic to a broader regime of injustice, argues Dennis Rodgers (BWPI).

Managua has undergone many metamorphoses during the past half century. The reasons range from a devastating earthquake in 1972 to the utopian urban planning of the Sandinista revolution during the 1980s, and subsequent attempts by right-wing post-revolutionary governments to erase these material and symbolic traces of Sandinismo. Since 1998, however, Managua has undergone a remarkable and wide-ranging makeover, which has fundamentally changed the metropolis’ morphology in an unprecedented manner.

From a ramshackle, sprawled out, and impoverished city widely nicknamed “la ciudad caótica” (“the chaotic city”), the metropolis has been completely re-organized, its transport network improved, new buildings erected, and it now has numerous expensive restaurants, bars, night clubs, hotels, casinos, designer stores, and malls. Although these transformations can be linked to the post-1990 market economy suppressed during the Sandinista period, the city’s makeover has also been the result of a very purposeful process of state-led planned transformation.

This is especially obvious when considering the striking transformation of Managua’s legendarily abysmal road infrastructure over the past decade and a half. As late as 1997, potholes were a chronic driving hazard, traffic was chaotic, car-jackings frequent and there was no discernable logic to the city’s byzantine road infrastructure. By 2000, the Managua municipality had carried out a large-scale programme to fill in the potholes, resurfaced and widened the major arteries of the metropolis, built a suburban bypass, and replaced traffic lights with roundabouts.

These works ostensibly aimed to speed up traffic and reduce congestion, but when considered on a map, a definite pattern emerges whereby the new roads predominantly connect locations associated with the lives of the urban elite, for example linking the (newly re-modelled) international airport to the Presidential palace to malls to the “Zona Rosa” of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs to the exclusive Las Colinas and Santo Domingo neighbourhoods, and so on. This particular road network has enabled the urban elite to move safely between the different points of their lives, no longer impeded by potholes, congestion, traffic lights, or crime (roundabouts considerably reducing the risk of being car-jacked).

As such, Managua’s pattern of road development has been the keystone of a veritable process of socio-spatial “disembedding”, whereby a whole layer of the city’s fabric has been “ripped out” from the general patchwork quilt of the metropolis and constituted as a “Nueva Managua” (New Managua) that is exclusively for the rich, who now live in what could be termed “splendid segregation”. At the same time, however, the process arguably goes further than this, with the road building also constituting a means of actively “pacifying” the poor, as the view from barrio Carlos Fonseca highlights well.

Barrio Carlos Fonseca is a settlement of approximately 1,500 inhabitants and about 180 households in the South-East of the city. The neighbourhood has little to distinguish it from other poor neighbourhoods in the area, except for the fact that the pista Cardenal Miguel Obando y Bravo extends through it. The pista is a four-lane highway that cuts East-West across South-Central Managua, and was built in three stages for a total cost of US$5.6 million, or about 10% of the Managua Municipality’s budget.

The first two stages of building the pista in 2006-07 involved widening and improving pre-existing roads. The third stage, in 2008, involved literally bulldozing throughbarrio Carlos Fonseca. This affected 40 households in the neighbourhood: 16 houses were completely destroyed, and 24 were partially destroyed. The details that emerged about this process from interviews that I carried out in the neighbourhood in 2009 suggest that there was very little consultation, differential compensation, and also likely instances of corruption. None of this is very surprising, however –political clientelism is a well-established practice in Nicaragua, as is corruption, and undermining possibilities for organized resistance through “divide and rule” tactics makes eminent sense.

The consequences of the pista’s construction for local barrio life have been devastating, however. Many of those whose houses were affected but not completely destroyed have found themselves living in cramped conditions. In one case, there were 19 people living in 3 rooms instead of the 6 they had previously had. Only 3 of the 16 families whose houses were completely destroyed accepted re-location outside the barrio, and the Municipality re-settled the rest in a baseball field in the neighbourhood, providing them with materials to build houses that were generally not as spacious or solid as their previous ones.

The baseball field had moreover until then constituted a primary focus for neighbourhood socialization, and the re-settlement consequently eliminated thebarrio’s primary area of public space. As a local inhabitant called Don Victor told me: “Where are the youth supposed to meet and play ball now? They used to get together in the park all the time, and we’d all gather to watch them, and you would be able to chat to other inhabitants of the barrio. Now you just talk to your neighbour, and even then, hardly ever, because everybody stays locked up in their homes due to the crime and insecurity, so it’s just hello and goodbye whenever you’re coming or going…”

The pista also literally cut the barrio in half, significantly changing local attitudes and behaviour patterns. As Doña Angelina explained: “you go less to the other side, you don’t see people anymore, there’s no exchange… If you go to the other side, they say to you, ‘but you’re from the other side’, which never happened before, we were all from barrio Carlos Fonseca, now it’s like you have Carlos Fonseca 1 and Carlos Fonseca 2.”

Although negative views about the new road were widespread, there simultaneously existed a clear acceptance. A local youth called Mungo for example responded to my critiques by saying “hey maje, this road, it’s progress, and you can’t stop progress, we’ve gotta keep on moving forward to improve things in the city…” Similarly, Doña Angelina once told me: “you know, I don’t mind living next to thepista. It’s beautiful at night, when it’s all lit up. There are no street lights in the barrio, but here yes, and so you feel that here you have progress, you know.”

Such discourses reflect a socio-psychological process of “pacification”, in the sense developed by Norbert Elias in The Civilizing Process, wherein he traces how the assimilation of a particular discourse can condition the world view of individual social agents in ways that lead them to conform. Individuals become “psychologized” into a dominant value system, even if it is oppressive and unequal, and Doña Angelina or Mungo had clearly internalized a vision of Managua’s infrastructural development that led them to believe in the inevitability – and indeed, the necessity – of transformation, irrespective of its negative impact on their lives.

When viewed from this perspective, a case can be made that Managua’s makeover constitutes a case of what might be termed “infrastructural violence”. This goes beyond seeing infrastructure simply as instrumental to instances of oppression and domination, but rather considers it as intrinsic to a broader regime of injustice. In other words, the issue here is not so much that political economy and infrastructure are inevitably interrelated, but rather the way a particular articulation of the two can come together to purposefully produce outcomes such as “pacification” in barrioCarlos Fonseca.

This is important because much recent writing belonging to the so-called “infrastructural turn” has adopted a view of urban infrastructures as complex “assemblages”, that is to say highly contingent, unplanned, and often temporary material configurations. This arguably obscures the way in which infrastructural development can constitute an intrinsic basis for oppressive forms of domination in cities. The concept of “infrastructural violence”, on the other hand, provides a lens through which to capture this. When seen from such a perspective, Managua’s makeover emerges unambiguously as a deliberate reengineering of metropolitan topography by an urban elite aiming to both segregate and manage the poor in the city. Both in terms of intent and consequence, such a pernicious process merits being labelled “violent”, but doing so also squarely situates blame and responsibility, and as such is the first step towards trying to transform this profoundly unjust reality.

This article was first published on OpenDemocracy.net (8 November 2011)

Shop a Looter: Renaissance style

by Stephen Milner, Serena Professor of Italian, School of Languages, Linguistics and Cultures.

The outbreak of seemingly random violence and looting which marked the end of the summer continues to generate comment, analysis and discussion in the press and amongst politicians, policy makers, and academics as evidenced already in this blog. Causal explanations have been drawn from the full range of ‘–ologies’ made available to us by the social sciences whose own disciplinary roots lie in late nineteenth century attempts to account for collective violence, crowd psychology, and the relation of the individual to social structures. Many have blamed the loss of moral compass in the political and social realm by linking the street level opportunism of the urban dispossessed with the corporate opportunism of the financial sector and political opportunism of some MPs who continue to place private wealth before any common wealth and who view the state as a supplier of patronage for the benefit of friends and relations.

Yet unlike the complex and intricate investigations into covert political and financial malpractice, the very public nature of the recent riots and looting has seen the police deploy information collected from so-called ‘security’ cameras and surveillance technology to help identify participants. This ‘publication’ of the riots, in the sense of both using media to identify and capture participants and in calling on the public to participate in the policing endeavour, resulted in Manchester in the ‘Shop a Looter’ campaign: faces caught on camera were displayed on billboards together with the number of a confidential helpline for use by the general public when forwarding information.

As a historian of Renaissance Florence based in Manchester, I’m naturally interested in the analogy that was often made in the nineteenth century between the two cities. It was to Italy and to Florence as the cloth, wool processing, and financial capital of late medieval and Renaissance Italy that the industrialist entrepreneurs turned when seeking a cultural paradigm that fused capital accumulation with cultural production in a civic context. In the figures of the Medici and Strozzi, this new industrial class saw fellow merchants who demonstrated a high level of cultural discernment and civic pride in their roles as patrons of the arts and builders of the city’s architectural fabric.

Yet the analogy also encompassed the respective cities’ social inequalities, for both cities also had their underclass. Just as every mill-owner and merchant employed a mass of workers, so every Florentine mercantile dynasty employed numerous lesser guildsmen and wool-carders. The uprising and seizure of power by the so-called ‘Ciompi’ wool workers against their patrician overlords in 1378 is often given pride of place in western histories of social insurrection and industrial dispute as the so-called ‘popolo minuto’ sought wider political participation within the governance of the city’s affairs. The parallels with the Chartists abound. Behind the great palaces of both cities, the living and working conditions of the labouring poor were abject. Engels’ description of Manchester assumes a Dantean hue as he describes how his partner, the working-class Irish radical Mary Burns, acted as both Virgil and Beatrice in leading him through the slums of Cottonopolis and its ‘subterranean dens’ and ‘smokiest holes’.

But recent events, and specifically the ‘Shop a Looter’ campaign, reminded me of a more pertinent parallel between the two urban centres, albeit at over 500 years remove, a parallel which begs again the question as to how recent events look when placed in a broader historical context and what such a view may tell us about the enduring characteristics and dynamics of urban life. I’ve recently been looking at the Florentine town criers as mediators in the flow of information in Renaissance Florence having come across 500 written proclamations that were read out on behalf of the Florentine policing magistracy between 1470 and 1530. Proclaimed by the banditori, or criers, of the so-called ‘Otto di Guardia’ or ‘Eight of Security’, these documents are bound into communal registers. Significantly the bandi do not just proclaim the law on behalf of those in authority, they also call for information from members of what we might term ‘the general public’ concerning those who have transgressed. In fact they constitute a latterday form of ‘Shop a Looter’ or ‘Crimewatch’, publishing to a wider constituency what may have been known to only a few in the search for information. Just as contemporary viewers voyeristically scan the faces of looters or tune in to find out what goes on out there, so, I would hazard, contemporary Florentines awaited these proclamations with a certain relish, fascination and faux disgust.

The scenarios described are easily recognisable today. The vandalising of allotments; riot and the assaulting of police officials; breaking and entering; arson; street fights betwen gangs using slings and knives; drunken brawls and so on. Most take place outside the hours of curfew as established in the city’s statutes and chimed out by the city’s bells. Once such calls for information had been proclaimed, citizens were invited to pass information to the authorities anonymously by placing details on a piece of paper which they were required to deposit in sealed wooden boxes, known as ‘tamburi’, which were located at key points around the town. Judicial officials would then empty these boxes daily and were legally bound to investigate all denounciations. Amongst those sought for questioning are Niccolò Machiavelli and Benvenuto Cellini, neither of whom can be charactrised as members of an underclass.

Renaissance Florence was probably one of the most policed pre-modern cities in Europe. It certainly had a pletora of magistracies concerned with law and order. Yet what these documents show is that even within what, by current standards, was a small city bounded by a circle of walls, they still struggled to contain social unrest and crime, calling on fellow citizens to help maintain the rule of law and bring offenders to court. They bear witness to governmental anxiety concerning their ability to maintain order, to moments otherwise unregistered, to incidents behind which lie irrecoverable stories, to the traffic of the street, in sum to social practice beyond the ritualistic.

And it was in the streets that most of this action took place. Defined by the built environment, streets embody the networks that their social traffic constructs. At once place and space, they offer a literal ‘via del mezzo’ between the two foundational co-ordinates of sociology as a discipline, namely structure and agency: whilst the former prioritises the description of social structures and the institutions of social ordering, the latter foregrounds the agency of the individual as he/she negotiates a route through the conditioning (not determining) cultural landscape. On the one side stand figures such as Weber, Durkheim, Parsons, and the early Foucault on the other the likes of the voluntarists Gabriel Tarde, Walter Benjamin, Goffman, Bourdieu, De Certeau and Latour.

For it is the street in particular which provides a liminal space, physically and symbolically, in which the continuing dialogue is carried out between the binaries of society vs the individual, frames vs flows, and maps vs pedestrians. Indeed, it is precisely the inbetweeness of the street as an empty space which allows identities to be called into being, regenerated, challenged, contested and afforded a scene. They are also the prime urban site through which social energies are channelled. In the process they obviate in the clearest way the tension between the desire for liberty on the one hand and the need for security on the other. The street, therefore, can be thought of as a medium through which information flows, a way (via) of delivery and dispersal rather than a decisive factor in disciplining identifications. Unlike the ‘Other’ places studied by Foucault which marginalised and contained those considered a threat to the normative structures of potentially repressive political ordering, the streets and open spaces of the city are permeable, and as such ‘The’ places where such normative structures of social ordering are legitimated and contested. As practiced spaces, streets and squares have always been perennially receptive to the imputation of symbolic meanings and resistant to definitive closure. As sites of social centrality they are resistant to any form of political marginalisation. Consequently, they remain ‘places of invention’ for the individual and society, empty spaces through which the life-blood of communities flows. As sites of contiguity they generate community but conversely they carry the perennial threat of contagion. In the words of Friedrich Kittler, ‘The City is a medium’ and as such it constantly challenges us when seeking to read its message.

Between Two Rivers – Another Cairo

by Nick Jordan

Violence erupts on the streets of Cairo. Bricks and stones are thrown between opposing groups on either side of the street. Shots are fired, as armed police intervene to separate the two fighting mobs. But this is not the 2011 revolution in Cairo, Egypt. It is Cairo, Illinois, deep in the heartland of America, and the year is 1969. These are archive scenes from a new feature-length documentary, Between Two Rivers (www.betweentworivers.net), directed by myself and Jacob Cartwright. The documentary centres on Cairo, Illinois, a small city with a dark and turbulent history, located at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.

Once mooted as a potential capital city of the USA, Cairo exists on the border between America’s northern and southern states, and is a city of marked contrasts and intense conflicts. Isolated and encircled by levees, the once prosperous town has been devastated over time by floods, racial violence, depopulation and severe economic decline. Mirroring the Ohio-Mississippi confluence, Between Two Rivers combines the past and present, connecting themes such as history, politics, economics and the environment, all to be found in a single location, here at the ‘Confluence of America.’

The documentary sets Cairo’s tumultuous past against the backdrop of the latest crisis to afflict the community: the record-breaking floods of spring 2011, when the rising Ohio & Mississippi rivers threatened to engulf the town.

In editing the documentary, which we researched and filmed over a four-year period, we decided to combine our own cinematography with historic film clips, including remarkable archive footage from Cairo: City in Turmoil, made in 1969 by Southern Illinois University. Unseen for over 40 years, City in Turmoil captures the town at the height of racial tensions, when Cairo witnessed the last pitched battles of the American civil-rights movement.

Our collaborative practice often explores the relationship between cultural and natural history, and Between Two Rivers looks closely at the unique natural environment that encircles the town. Cairo is positioned at a biological midpoint of the USA; a region of natural diversity where numerous species and terrains meet at the limits of their northern and southern range.

We originally came upon Cairo by chance, whilst working on a series of short films based on the writings of the 19th century American frontiersman and ornithologist John James Audubon. After filming in neighboring Kentucky our search for somewhere to stay in the area lead us to Cairo. The town’s name conjured up notions of civic grandeur and pioneer ambition. We imagined a clapboard river town, where the old world converges with the new; an exotic, old Americana, offering a welcome antidote to generic motels and chain-food franchises.

We arrived at night to find the town in a state of ruin. Commercial Avenue, once the main mercantile thoroughfare, was lined with the crumbling facades of 19th century stores, banks, abandoned warehouses and saloons, some littered with police tape and bullet holes. Adjacent streets were punctuated by burnt out ‘shotgun’ houses, deserted churches and gutted mansions. Cairo’s troubles were all too evident. It was only later that we discovered the scope and nature of its baleful history: from booming river trade, lavish opera halls and lively juke-joints to mob-lynchings, curfews and armed vigilantes.

At a time when the “99%” majority, who paid trillions to bail-out the financial markets, are left shouldering the burden of higher taxes and food prices, public service and welfare cuts, job losses and a huge drop in living standards, the small, isolated and largely forgotten city of Cairo graphically represents the pressing social problems facing western economies today, with gross levels of wealth inequality, rising poverty and environmental pressures. Candid in its representation of severe economic and social failings, we hope that our film also highlights the dignity, faith and optimism of the people of Cairo, many of whom are proud of their community and yet feel that they have been left behind.

The film will be released to festivals and wider distribution from January 2012.

There will be a special, non-public screening of the film at Cornerhouse, Manchester on November 7th, 2011. The screening is free and will begin at 4pm. If you would like to attend please e-mail mail@betweentworivers.net to secure your place.

Nick Jordan, Director

For further trailer, clips and further info please visit:

Nick Jordan is an artist/film-maker based in Manchester (www.nickjordan.info). He also works for the University of Manchester, making educational training videos in psychiatry and psychology.

Tough on rioters, tough on the causes of riots?

Bansky street cleaner - Chalk Farm

by Alan Harding, Director of the Institute for Political and Economic Governance.

Question. What do Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets, Southwark, Lambeth, Nottingham, Islington, Haringey, Salford, Sandwell, Leicester, Greenwich, Lewisham and Camden have in common? Two correct answers that I’m not looking for are, firstly, that they all recently suffered the worst rioting seen on British streets since the early 1980s and, secondly, that a depressingly large number of them had witnessed similar scenes thirty years previously. These observations should nonetheless give us pause for thought, especially when politicians and opinion formers have been so keen to emphasise that ‘this is not a repeat of the 1980s’.

At one level the talking heads are right, of course. Poor relations between ethnic minority youths and police, exacerbated by the indiscriminate use of stop and search powers, was much less of an issue this time around, even though the flashpoint in Tottenham rekindled tragic memories of deeply troubled police-community relations. And there’s little doubt that the desire to loot, whipped up via social messaging, drove many a discriminating contemporary rioter rather than became an additional temptation once more spontaneous acts of destruction had begun and the police had become distracted. Just as it would be foolish to argue that the rioters of 1981 were a more noble, politicised breed, though, so it would be churlish not to ask what parallels exist between now and the early 1980s.

Had Harriet Harman asked Michael Gove, during their celebrated stand-off on Newsnight, why he thought this scale of urban conflagration isn’t commonplace, he might have argued that mass outbreaks of ‘pure criminality’ are inexplicably cyclical. He might, however, have acknowledged that there seems to be something about the combination of a national economy in or near recession, high unemployment, eye-watering levels of youth unemployment and a further fading of the already-poor prospects for the young in our poorest communities that seems to require relatively little – a few days of good weather, a distant tragedy, a local incident, a Blackberry – to trigger mayhem.

There may also be a further factor. What if there’s a perception, amongst the recent perpetrators of violent destruction and theft, that nobody cares about their lives? Time to answer that original question with an unfortunate fact. The local authorities that cover the seventeen named areas each appear in the list of the top thirty authorities that are having to implement the largest net cuts in local spending.

Within months of Margaret Thatcher promising, in 1981, that her government would never reward rioters, we had the Scarman report, which ushered in a sea-change in community policing, and Michael Heseltine introduced his famous ‘it took a riot’ Cabinet paper to kick-start a new phase in urban policy. This time around, the recently-appointed Minister for Cities, Greg Clark, is said to have until Christmas to dream up a new cities strategy. Unless he’s confident that he can conquer global warming and produce cooler summers, he’s going to need all the help he can get.

Multicultural cities don’t matter; continuing ethnic minority disadvantage does

Chinese Lanterns outside Manchester Town Hall

Dr Yasminah Beebeejaun is a lecturer in spatial planning interested in urban planning and equality.

Cities are the most visible places of difference that we have. As the world’s population becomes increasingly urban we live alongside people of different nationalities, ethnicities, sexualities and socio-economic circumstances. While this diversity has the potential to heighten conflict, it is equally possible to imagine that cities can be places where difference is mediated and even enjoyed. Manchester, for instance, enjoys a far more positive and cosmopolitan reputation for ethnic relations than neighbouring towns, such as Oldham and Burnley.

However, what concerns me is not simply the existence of difference and diversity in cities, but the ways in which that difference is represented. Just because people of different cultures physically inhabit a space does not mean that it is automatically a place of toleration or freedom. As a planning academic, I know that both city marketing and official plans acknowledge difference; but they often do so in a way that venerates ethnicity, yet divorces it from other concerns.

Planners have a tendency to give a great deal of attention to participation: they worry about getting minorities to collaborate in policy-making, or about recognising physical manifestations of difference through spaces such as the ‘Curry Mile’ or ‘Chinatown’? Along with many great planning ideas, this approach is well intentioned but flawed. The problem is that it sees minorities through a prism that sets cultural diversity as the most important difference affecting them. While race and ethnicity are hugely important, they cannot be divorced from wider political claims about representation, power, and equality. In other words, cultural difference is important, but cannot be separated from pressing issues of social, economic and political exclusion.

The result is that our cities fetishise and commodify conceptions of ethnic identity, whilst downplaying the gaps in power and socio-economic status. Though urban policy in the sixties worked to ameliorate racial discrimination and related economic disadvantages suffered by minorities, today’s policies do not recognize the structural and institutionalized nature of racial discrimination, and therefore fail to engage with its economic and political consequences.

In Manchester, this blindness to the importance of institutional representation can be seen in the membership of the Local Economic Partnership. LEPs are new, important bodies, which will guide economic development, housing, employment and other key infrastructure decisions in the city-region. They consist of local authority spokespeople and businesspeople, but excludes representatives from the voluntary or community sector. The Fabian Society recently sounded an alarm, noting that LEPs seemed to have negligible numbers of ethnic minorities on board (Sloane, 2011). Manchester’s LEP is no exception: it would seem none of the current members are from an ethnic minority background. What is more, the LEP’s focus on an agenda dominated by fiscal cutbacks has allowed it to drop a commitment to equality from its agenda altogether. In a climate where only 10 of Manchester City Council’s 96 councilors are from a visible ethnic minority (Manchester City Council Website), we should worry about the impact of this lack of institutional presence at every level of decision making.

To make matters worse, the situation of disadvantaged, ethnic minority communities has deteriorated in recent months, due to the effects of reforms enacted by the Coalition Government. These threaten to exclude minority communities not only from membership of political and administrative institutions, but from having a say over their own communities. The Coalition’s sustained attack on the planning system has put the future of communities in the hands of local people with the potential for limited planning powers to be given to local areas. While this sounds democratic, in practice it will work to the advantage of wealthier communities who are capable of developing their own neighbourhood plans and accustomed to representing themselves in the public sphere. Poorer communities, and particularly those with a large proportion of people from ethnic minorities, will struggle as professional technical expertise and funding has to be provided from the community.

Since their inception, cities contain potential for realising human happiness; but equally for human misery. Valuing cultural difference will only be credible when explicitly related to ending discrimination and increasing the political voice and power of minorities. Manchester must cease to view ethnicity in isolation from economic and political issues, and instead put itself back at the forefront of a movement that is capable of mounting a coherent attack on economic disempowerment, racial discrimination, and political exclusion.

Manchester City Council, Councillors by Name, Available at [http://www.manchester.gov.uk/councillors/name] (Date accessed 3 June 2011)
Sloane, N (2011) ‘How the Tories are embedding inequality’ Fabian Review, pp.20.-21