Tag Archives: Politics

Why Detroit matters? Taking lessons from the motor city.

This is the sixth 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, Jacob Morris-Davies chose to write about Detroit …

Consider this, in 1940 you show Henry Ford this picture of Michigan Central Station, you say, “This is 2013, what do you think caused such a thing to happen?” To be frank his response would probably be along the lines of “the bomb”, “the apocalypse” or “the collapse of civilization”. Back then Detroit seemed indestructible, a freight train with unlimited momentum, but a train can only keep moving with tracks laid in front of it.

The transformation of Detroit over the last half century has been, to say the least, radical. What was once an industrial giant, the great manifestation of the American Dream, is now but a shell of its former self. Murder rates at ten times the national average(1), an alarming population decrease (it has halved since the 1960s)(2) and to top this all off on the 18th of July 2013 the city filed for chapter 9 bankruptcy(3). Why has this happened? Well that’s a complicated question, but an important one none the less. However, the question that should be on every economist, political scientist, sociologist and geographer’s lips is this. What happens next? Why? Because, if you think what’s happening to Detroit is unique, you’re wrong. At present, it may be exactly what’s around the corner for cities all over. If that’s to change, well, we better start paying attention.

How on earth did this happen?!?!

There are multiple possible explanations for the decline of Detroit, none of which are sufficient in themselves, here are just three of the main contributing factors.

Globalisation

Just as we saw the shift from city based economies to a national economy in the United States in the 19th century, the 20th century saw the rise of the global economy. Lower wages in East Asia have led to the decline of American industries across the country. Detroit is no exception.

Corruption

In the past 80 years five Detroit mayors and four country executives have either been sent to prison, were subject to federal probes, or were removed from office.(4) Giving out contracts to family members and creaming off taxpayer dollars are just the tip of iceberg. The political class in Detroit have contributed to the debt the city now sees itself in through irresponsible governance and outright Al Capone style tactics, yes that has even included the occasional murder.

Urban planning

Detroit is too big to function in without a car and contains too few people to justify such a massive land area. This is a map from the early 2000s(5), Detroit’s population has fallen even more since then but the point still stands. It is too spread out to function as a city. You cannot function in Detroit on foot, it’s impossible. But doesn’t everybody have a car? No, not in the Motor City. This has reduced social mobility, fuelled racial segregation and divided the city’s population geographically and socially.

But, whats going to happen now?

Here are three possible futures for Detroit, although we may not see these changes for many years, it is the actions of today that will determine the path the city takes.

It will be saved

The optimist in me believes that with the right intervention Detroit can be saved. By this I mean the city revitalised and re-populated. For jobs to be created and its crime rates reduced. For its image to be restored, to become a city in which people want to live again.

The 2009 auto industry bailouts were just the beginning, getting Detroit back on its feet is not just a matter of economics. No matter how many jobs are created its image and structure will not fundamentally change. The way working, living and moving interact in Detroit would have to be flipped on its head completely. People need to live in the city, at present over half of Detroit’s police force live outside of the city limits!(6) If the police force don’t want to live in their city, why would small business owners, young professionals or entrepreneurs? It would be a massive project, but not out of the question, large-scale top-down lead redevelopment would be the answer, the city is too far gone for private revitalisation such as gentrification to work.

Ruralisation

This is happening as we speak. Locals are turning huge areas of abandoned and unused land into farms, to grow food for themselves and for selling on. It is conceivable in the near future the city limits could become a sort of rural/urban hybrid.

In fact this is nothing new, only to a large urban area. Regions such as County Durham in the UK have transformed in a similar fashion since the decline of the coal industry in the UK. Small villages centred around mines are slowly changing into rural commuter villages, who is to say this will not be the future of Detroit?

Collapse 

There is of course the third option, complete and utter collapse. This may seem extreme, something to far in the future to be taken seriously right now, but isn’t that the arrogance of all civilizations that have fallen? Not to sound overly dramatic but why do we think we are any different, maybe this is the death of the industrial city?

We are already seeing people tour the derelict areas of Detroit, calling themselves urban explorers and place hackers.(7) This too is also not new, think about Rome, Athens, Giza; human beings seem to have a fascination with exploring the ruins of past civilizations. That is not to say it has not made its mark in history through its industry, music and culture but the physical place of Detroit may in the 21st century cease to be.

Why does it matter?

You may ask why does this matter in the whole scheme of things, isn’t Detroit a one off case? Maybe, but probably not, it’s more likely the first of many. It’s not the only city out there with issues in planning, corruption, social division and industrial decline. Detroit should be taken as a lesson of what can and will happen unless city authorities, governments and businesses act now to ensure the long term prosperity of the urban areas they inhabit. Just as Urbanization and Suburbanization defined past generations it is conceivable that ruralization or the process of collapse will define the next. Detroit is the perfect case study for the future, whatever that may be.

What happens to Detroit is not just of consequence for Americans, urban decline such as this is a global problem and somewhat ironically one of the main regions that may be affected is East Asia. In recent years China for example has been organising its various provinces into specialised economic zones each centered around cities based on certain types of industry.(8) At the moment, it’s working well for them to say the least. However, in 20-50 or 100 years when Africa becomes a competitor, what then? Will they have the exact same problem on their hands as Detroit? Cities with one purpose in mind cannot last and adapt.

What is being urban anyway? What makes a great city? Why do we live in cities in the first place? Are cities not more than a group of people centered around one purpose? Detroit raises the questions, should cities be more holistic? Should they always serve multiple functions? Do they need a purpose other than just being?

Detroit was defined by its auto industry, why are we defining the places we call home, where we live and die in service of a single economic function? Should cities not be places we would live regardless of the work available? Many think so, many think cities can bring out the greatest and most beautiful elements of humanity. Because cities can have their own function which cannot be defined by any one factor, cities can have a purpose of there own, just by being.

Have a look at Richard Rodgers master plan for Shanghai(9), it approaches how cities are organised in an entirely different fashion. He suggests the overlapping pathways, connections and intersections of people, ideas and events make cities what they are. Not its icons, its industry or its history, but instead the way in which its inhabitants interact.

Why are these flows of interaction important? Well, because the cities of the future are being designed today. Cities must be economically and ecologically sustainable if they are to, but should they not also be socially sustainable? Detroit is at present none of these things, but why this is, where it’s going and what will works to fix it are questions that need answering to help plan our cities of the future.

What happens next? Collapse or re-birth, adaptation or abandonment, consolidation or ruralization, I do not know. But I do know this, understanding what is happening in Detroit now is essential to understanding how we should plan cities of the future. I will be watching; so should you.

References

(1)   – http://www.neighborhoodscout.com/mi/detroit/crime/

(2) – http://www.freep.com/interactive/article/20130723/NEWS01/130721003/detroit-city-population

(3) – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-23369573

(4) – http://www.myfoxdetroit.com/story/23652333/from-then-until-now-a-look-at-detroits-80-year-corruption

(5) – http://growingcities.blogspot.co.uk/2010/10/detroit-reassembled.html

(6) – http://tcf.org/blog/detail/reinventing-detroit

(7) – http://detroiturbex.com

(8) –  Wei Ge, (1999) Special Economic Zones and the Opening of the Chinese Economy: Some Lessons for Economic Liberalization, World Development Vol. 27, No. 7, pp. 1267 – 1285,

 (9) http://www.richardrogers.co.uk/Asp/uploadedFiles/Image/1950_Shanghai%20Masterplan/RSHP_A_JS_1950_L_E_MP.pdf]

* http://zfein.com

** http://www.survivefrance.com/profiles/blogs/panic-in-detroit

Vancouver: Harbouring Their Drug Problem by Feeding the Addiction?

This is the fifth 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, Alice Kiernan chose to write about Vancouver …

In 2010, Vancouver hosted the Winter Olympics. I remember seeing an article on the news about the social problems the city was facing running up to the games, but as a naïve and disinterested 16 year old whose preservation of ‘street cred’ was at the forefront of her mind, I turned a blind eye.

Street cred in mind, I am reluctant to admit that I am a self-confessed fan of American TV series, Glee. Last year, the world, and I, was baffled, shocked and sorrowed at the news of young Glee actor, Cory Monteith’s tragic death.

Monteith battled with a history of drug abuse and was visiting Vancouver at the time of his death. Not a wise choice for a man with such a background.

When I looked into this more, it soon became apparent that the problems I briefly heard about back in 2010 had not resolved themselves.

Vancouver, on the surface, seems like a clean-cut city, but beneath this exterior are a hidden myriad of social problems – drugs being the main one. Along with the drug problem comes its two ugly sisters – health problems and homelessness – but this is far from a fairy-tale.

Of course this trio of troubles isn’t unique to Vancouver, but they are more visible. The city has battled for years with a severe drug problem, mostly in the DTES (Downtown Eastside), where drug dealers line the streets in broad daylight, often in the presence of police.

There are an estimated 1,600 homeless in Vancouver – something the mayor pledged to eradicate by 2015 – with 46% revealing they suffer from mental health problems. Of course, this percentage may be unrepresentative of the actual number of people suffering with mental illness, since respondents self-identified as mentally ill – i.e. some may have not disclosed information accurately and/or based their diagnosis on personal beliefs/experiences rather than medical diagnosis.

Many believe these problems have stemmed from the closure of Vancouver’s only mental health institute and the explosion of the drug trade (for more on this, click here). Surely these three must be linked and tackling one would help to alleviate the others?

Given its close proximity to the border and harbours, Vancouver has a hard time regulating what’s coming in and out of the city. The drug trade thrives in Vancouver and it is often reported that cocaine is brought into Canada, finding its way to Vancouver’s DTES. In 2002, substance abuse cost Canada a staggering $39.8 billion.

However, although the regulation of drugs entering the city is difficult, Vancouver is pretty revolutionary in its approach to the problems they face surrounding drugs. They receive a lot of opposition on these unconventional methods.

But let’s face it; in a city where it’s quicker to have drugs delivered than it is a pizza and for around the same price or less (it’s around $10 for heroin – which is about £6), a radical approach is probably what’s needed.

The City of Vancouver has devised a ‘four pillars’ drug strategy which focuses on harm reduction, prevention, treatment and enforcement. They have implemented this programme learning from other developed cities such as Zurich and Sydney who have managed to reduce the numbers of users consuming drugs on the streets, overdose-related deaths and HIV incidence in users.

Vancouver pumps the bulk of its budget surrounding this strategy into the harm prevention pillar. I’m talking about InSite; Vancouver’s revolutionary approach to drug users.

This is a centre (est. September 2003) open to all drug users to access as and when it suits them and provides them with free equipment such as needles and equipment for them to mix the chemicals to pump around their bodies. All of this takes place in a sterile and well-lit environment, overseen by two medically trained nurses.

It’s a place users can go in with their drugs (that’s the only bit that isn’t free), shoot up, and leave as high as a kite with no legal battles to fight. In essence, it’s a legal crack den.

It sounds, in theory, ridiculous; a free centre with operational costs of around $3 million for people to go and shoot up legally, funded by tax payers money? Absurd, you might be thinking. I jumped to that conclusion at first as well.

But when you delve a little deeper into the benefits of InSite, it’s actually not all that bad.

In a hefty report published by B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS it can be seen that the four pillar strategy has helped reduce cocaine use over a fifteen year span, from 38.1% in 1996 to just 6.9% in 2011 – a whopping 31.2% reduction. It also states that access to treatment has improved by 14.9% in the same time period.

They’re clearly doing something right with changes like that.

At one point in Vancouver’s past, they had the highest prevalence and incidence of HIV/AIDS outside of Sub-Saharan Africa. This is largely down to the sharing of needles amongst drug users. The average lifetime cost of treating a HIV infection per person is estimated by the B.C. Centre for Excellence as $250,000.

So when you sit and do the maths, it works out as quite cost-effective.

A centre which serves 12,000 drug users at a cost of $3 million is the equivalent cost of treating 12 drug users who have picked up HIV from unhygienic methods.

Alright, it’s still a lot of money we’re talking about here – but surely that’s more sensible than letting the percentage of the population affected by HIV creep up to an alarming level again?

That’s one of the main arguments against InSite. Many contest the notion that the taxpayer should have to foot the bill for a social problem that is (mostly) self-inflicted. It’s a tough call. But when you weigh up the cost-effectiveness of the programme, it’s hard to dispute that it’s working a lot better than having no system in place.

The Mayor in Vancouver supports InSite given its higher quit-rates than any other official programme and the reduction of HIV infection. Opposing arguments claim that InSite merely condones drug use.

The main opposition comes from the Conservative party/government in Canada. The federal government have introduced the ‘Respect for Communities Act’, making it near-impossible for new centres like InSite to be built. Many policing bodies agree with this.

Conversely, Vancouver Police Department support InSite and other similar initiatives. I guess to them, it makes their job easier. They’re not bogged down with as many cases of abusive and difficult people to deal with (after all, drug addicts can get pretty violent).

The Drug Treatments Courts take a similar stance. They don’t demonise non-violent offenders and instead encourage and support them to access healthcare programmes. Again, at first, I was a little bit puzzled about this. My stance on it was: a crime is a crime and you should do your time.

But then I considered addiction as a health problem, a mental problem, rather than a social problem, and then it made sense.

Some believe that the money spent on prisons and trying to cut drug supplies would be better spent invested in rehab and outreach – and that’s exactly what InSite is. Maybe increasing the awareness of what it is InSite does to the tax-payer is the way forward.

Many think InSite is merely a promotion of drug use. I would disagree.

Drugs are such an uncontrollable part of society and I believe Vancouver have done a pretty good job of making an otherwise invisible problem more accountable and thus, controlled. Others argue, as do I, that regardless of where the consumption of drugs is taking place, it will always take place. So why not make the drug use within the city more accountable, safer and more cost-effective?

InSite (see image below) offer services to help people get clean, but maybe working on a compulsory ‘get clean’ basis would make the service even more effective in terms of cost and social benefit. The problem is: that’d only work if people wanted to be helped to get clean, not just assisted to shoot up.

Source: Maclean's 1

Source: Maclean’s 1

The question of legalisation is a split one, too. Walter McKay (former Vancouver Police Department officer) believes that no matter how many dealers are taken off the streets; more will be ready and waiting to replace them – so legalisation may be the way forward.

Dave Hamm (president of Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users) believes the federal government have taken a far too militant approach to drugs, but doesn’t want to see the same mistakes made with the privatisation of tobacco and alcohol.

Legal or not, Vancouver’s drug problem is a real big one, with no simple solution. But one thing’s for sure – they’re having a good crack at solving it in a (albeit) controversial, yet effective way. We can only wait and see if it proves to be a success in the long run with their on-going plans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endnotes and sources in order of use:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Postpolitics, Parks and Protest

Graham Haughton, Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning, Planning and Environmental Management, School of Environment, Education and Development, University of Manchester

A protest camp sprang up overnight in Alexandra Park in January earlier this year, in one of the coldest spells of winter. The camp was set up in response to contractors moving in their equipment to begin felling trees around the park. Tents appeared, including some in the trees. Two rallies were held in protest attracting large numbers of people. Support came from local people passing through food and others supplies for the protestors. Quickly a strong security and media presence emerged too, with media coverage in the local press and regional TV[i]. Very quickly this became a major news story in South Manchester. The council defended its actions, claiming community consultations had been extensive and had led to a welcome scheme to regenerate and revive a park, attracting people back into it.

Whilst at one level this was a protest about tree removal, it very quickly emerged that the protestors had other concerns that underlay these. Consultation had been poor, in terms of gaining public awareness and engagement.  Some felt that the consultations had focused on the positives, underplaying the loss of trees. The science was disputed too, particularly the claim that felling involved only 200 or so ‘trees’, which protestors said was an underestimate as it failed to include the undergrowth areas. What constituted a tree was very much open to question – trees it seems are a sociocultural construct as much as a natural phenomenon. For some the restoration of flowerbeds was a problematic privileging of one type of ecology, the formal gardens preferred in the Victorian era when the park was created, whilst for others overgrowth trees were seen as ecologically inappropriate, with poor light resulting in limited opportunities for other ecological niches to develop. Other concerns included whether the renovations would permanently impact on Moss Side Carnival which had been a major event in the Park’s calendar since 1972, the climate change impacts of removing trees, and whether lack of consultation was because the city leaders felt immune to criticism due to its heavy domination by one party.

The contractors continued warily with their work of felling trees as protestors sought to disrupt them, with police and other security forces brought in to provide protection. Some concessions were made to the protestors to pull back on some of the planned felling. After about three weeks the tree felling programme was largely complete and the protest camp faded away, but leaving behind a continuing sense of grievance among some in the local community that they had largely been ignored.

Cities@manchester agreed to fund us (Anna Gilchrist, Graham Haughton and Erik Swyngedouw) to examine what was going on, quickly agreeing to fund some research whilst the camp was still in place. This allowed us to visit the protestors on site a couple of times, observe the contractors and security operations at work including talking police and contractors. After the camp had gone we continued our research, meeting a range of local policy makers, from the leader of the council to officials, professional ecologists and others. There was also a major public consultation event in the park soon after the protest camp which we attended. As if to confirm the protestors view, despite the fact that one of uses the park almost daily we only saw notices about this the day before .

We have made two videos about the protest camp, with the hope that we and others would be able to use them for teaching about postpolitics. That they helped in our emerging research was a bonus. The first video was self-filmed by Graham during a consultation meeting, on a day when he was noticeably starting to come down with a cold. It is proudly amateur and spontaneous, but hopefully it captures the spirit of the event. The second video is a companion piece, again self-filmed a few months later, covering our internal discussions as we sought to make sense of what the protests, with musings on urban political ecology and postpolitics to the fore. These can be viewed on the University’s you tube channel under the cities@manchester playlist. A key question that we address here is why the protest movement lost its momentum, that is how it failed to scale up to a more substantial challenge to the city authorities. Drawing on recent theoretical work on postpolitics, Erik in particular argues that this was in part a failure to move on from the initial focus on trees to the wider issues that protestors were also animated by. This was very different to another ‘trees in park’ protest this summer that reverberated around the world, Taksim Square in Istanbul.

 


 

[i] For the unfolding story, see for instance, this ITV clip, which contains links to videocasts from its broadcast coverage: http://www.itv.com/news/granada/topic/alexandra-park/ . For the BBC coverage see:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-21289875  and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-21321490 and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-21491870 . The story as seen by the protestors themselves is powerfully conveyed on their website: http://savealexandraparkstrees.wordpress.com/ 

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.

 

 

“What do you mean by ‘urbanising the informal settlement’?” Migration, informal settlements and everyday politics in Buenos Aires

By Tanja Bastia, IDPM

Food for all without clientism, image; Tanja Bastia

Food for all without clientism, image; Tanja Bastia

A couple of weeks ago we had a one day workshop (link to http://informalpoliticsinthecity.wordpress.com/) on ‘informal politics in the city’, funded by cities@manchester.  The papers included circular migration and migrants’ identities in Southern Africa; step-migration through Western African countries; street peddling in Barcelona; and two papers on Buenos Aires.  The aim was to bring together discussions about informality and migration.  While there is a large literature on informality and internal migration, there is far less work on cross-border (international) migration and informality.  Towards the end of the workshop one of the participants who works on migration and informality in Africa asked another, who works on informal housing in Buenos Aires, “what do you mean by ‘urbanising the informal settlement’”?  I remember asking the same question when I first started researching migration and informal settlements in Buenos Aires.

There is the issue of the extent to which concepts translate across different regions.  The straightforward answer is that ‘urbanising’ in the Latin American context is usually referred to as ‘upgrading’ in Africa.  It refers to the process of ‘opening up’ informal settlements through widening and paving of main roads.  This makes the informal settlement look more like a ‘normal’ – read formal – neighbourhood (though in some countries informal parts of the city are built on square grids).  Widening and paving of main roads means that services which are usually available in other parts of the city also become available in the informal settlement.  For example, police can patrol the streets, ambulances can get to those who need it, bricks and building material can be brought by motorised vehicles instead of having to be pushed in wheelbarrows.  

‘Urbanising an informal settlement’ also involves the state arranging for the provision of water services, electricity and sewers, to the same standard as in other parts of the city.  The 2003 Plan to Urbanise Villas and Precarious Neighbourhoods of the City of Buenos Aires includes three main objectives:

  1. The physical and social integration of precarious settlements so that they become similar to existing urban neighbourhoods
  2. Improved quality of life for those living in informal settlements with the provision of services to a similar standard to those available in the rest of the city
  3. The integration of the community in the process of decision-making through the active encouragement of the participation of the population living in precarious settlements in the configuration of their habitat (Plan summary available http://www.cnvivienda.org.ar/revistas/revista9/CiudadBA_9.pdf)

However, the question points to an issue that is more complex than the translation of concepts across different regions.  When I first came across the term ‘urbanising the villas’ – as the informal settlements in Buenos Aires are known – I was perplexed by the etymology of the term.   To ‘urbanise’ means to make something more urban, usually referred to the process of urbanisation – the growth of the urban population or the turning of village or town into a city.  However, in this particular case, the term ‘urbanise’ is being referred to informal neighbourhoods.  How can you ‘make more urban’ something that is rapidly becoming the very image of urban life for the majority of the urban population across the globe?  Is there any aspect of the ‘slum’, as informal settlements are despectively called, that is not ‘urban’?  The use of the term ‘urbanise’ to refer to the villas, favelas or any other precarious part of the city implies that informal settlements are not really part of the city, a reference to the early process of urbanisation, when informal settlements were seen as vestiges of village life in the city and their inhabitants as ‘peasants in the city’ (see e.g. Bryan Roberts Cities of Peasants, published in 1978). 

Internal migration was indeed important for the growth of informal settlements.  In Buenos Aires, villas emerged during the 1930s and the process of industrialisation, to house the large number of workers that were unable to find housing in other neighbourhoods.  As in other Latin American countries, villas were built on public land and were an integral part of the growth of the city, with the main difference being that the state played a small role or no role at all in the provision of basic services, such as water, electricity or sewage.  The auto-construction of the houses was often complemented by collective efforts to bring basic services to the informal settlements. 

Buenos Aires, Image; Tanja Bastia

Buenos Aires, Image; Tanja Bastia

The military regimes during the 1970s attempted to eradicate informal settlements from the city of Buenos Aires, as these were seen as key bastions of opposition.  The city was associated with order, cleanliness and obedience and villas were seen as lacking in these characteristics.  They were associated with dirt, chaos, subversiveness.  The military regimes therefore aimed to move all informal settlements on the other side of the boundary of the city of Buenos Aires.  Racist stereotyping preceded the forced evictions and over 200,000 are thought to have been forcefully evicted from the city of Buenos Aires (see Blaustein, Eduardo, Prohibido vivir aquí: la erradicación de las villas durante la dictadura, published in 2006).

With the return of democracy in 1983 many of these residents returned to the places from which they had been evicted and they were increasingly joined by migrants from neighbouring countries, such as Paraguay and Bolivia, and during the 1990s, Peru.  Some informal settlements today are associated with specific nationalities.  For example, the villa 21-24 is predominantly Paraguayan and the parish church bears the name of a Paraguayan Virgin, the Virgin of Caacupé.  However, while there might be a cultural association with Paraguayan ancestry, and while anecdotal accounts give estimates of ‘90% of those in 21-24 are from Paraguay’, a recent census conducted by the Instituto de la Vivienda de la Ciudad, (IVC – City Housing Institute) indicates that in fact only just over a third of its residents were born in Paraguay (34.7%), while 48% are Argentinean (they might have Paraguayan parents but given that they were born in Argentina, they are Argentinean).  This is significant, given the fact that many public authorities attempt to ‘export’ the issue of informality by attributing it to a problem generated by the migration from neighbouring countries.

Migrants from neighbouring countries and Peru have suffered decades of discrimination.  Xenophobic attitudes in public discourse intensified during the 1990s, during the Menem government, when migrants from neighbouring countries, particularly Bolivia, were accused of stealing jobs from Argentineans, and therefore increasing unemployment, increasing crime rates and insecurity, and blamed for health scares, such as a cholera outbreak.  These xenophobic attitudes were also present in everyday actions, such as a brutal murder of Marcelina Meneses, a young Bolivian woman, who was pushed off a train in Buenos Aires in January 2001 while carrying her ten month old son, who also died in the accident.  The event, painfully illustrates the everyday acceptance of xenophobic and racist attitudes towards migrants from neighbouring countries.

It is clear, however, that much has changed in Argentina, which today boasts one of the most progressive migration legislations in the world, the law 25,871, which was approved in 2003 after years of lobbying by civil society organisations, and implemented the year after.  However, migration as a subject, as in many other parts of the world, continues to be studied from the point of view of the nation, that is, it suffers from methodological nationalism.  Beyond public figures that attribute the growth of informal settlements to a problem of neighbouring countries, there is very little research that takes a deeper look at the association between informality and migration (some notable exceptions include work by Alejandro Grimson, Lucia Groisman and Carla Gallinati).

In a pilot research project we are currently exploring the relationship between informality and migration, specifically through the everyday politics of informal settlements.  We are particularly interested in understanding how migrants organise as ‘neighbours’ (vecinos), often in conjunction with non-migrants, around issues that affect them.  These sometimes relate to their condition as migrants, but most of the time, they organise on the basis of their experience as residents of informal settlements.

Organisational strategies and aims vary greatly.  However, we find that the scale at which we address migrants’ everyday politics matter.  When we look at the city as a whole, migrants tend to organise around their particular country of origin, and on the basis of their national identity.  We find many organisations that (claim to) represent Bolivians, Paraguayans or Peruvians.  However, when we shift the focus to the informal settlement, there are many more cross-national organisations, those made up of migrants from different countries, as well as migrants and Argentineans.  While it is not surprising that the everyday politics in informal settlements aim to address the most immediate needs – adequate access to electricity, connection to sewage system, better security and access to health services – what is surprising is the absence of claims in relation to their condition as migrants.

Does this mean that migration is irrelevant at the more micro level of analysis, at the level of informal settlement?  Some interviewees vividly remember the nights following the 2001 economic collapse when they had to gather around fires to fend off attacks from other groups of migrants.  However, most grass-roots organisations are able to transcend differences on the basis of nationality and unite their activists around issues that affect them all.  This is encouraging, particularly if taken together with the progress at the national level on migration legislation, as it could point to a top down and almost simultaneous bottom up recognition of difference but a willingness to work across these differences, to form what Amin terms a ‘society of strangers’ (see Ash Amin, Land of Strangers, published 2012).  There remains, however, the level of the city, where public authorities as well as those claiming to represent different groups of migrants, reproduce and often strengthen divisions among groups of strangers.  

In the same way that informal settlements are an integral part of the city and, many would argue, are here to stay as long as the current system remains in place, so too is migration.  To wish to ‘urbanise’ informal settlements, lends little recognition to the structural elements that have generated existing inequalities, the same inequalities that encourage people to move from one country to another, despite having to live in an informal settlement.  What is clearly missing is the recognition of the fact that informal settlements are already urban, they are an integral part of the city life, and its residents are already proposing creative solutions to their problems.  Listening and paying attention to these proposals is a vital ingredient of constructing a more just, and less unequal, city in the future. 

The project to which this blog refers to “Seeking justice: migration, informality and political participation in Buenos Aires” is being carried out by Tanja Bastia and Jerónimo Montero Bressán, in collaboration with Diana Mitlin and Melanie Lombard (Global Urban Research Centre, University of Manchester). We gratefully acknowledge the funding from cities@manchester.

 

The Difficult Question of Regional Cross Subsidy

by Adam Leaver, Manchester Business School

“You can’t revive the regions just through handouts from Whitehall…Revenues from the financial services sector were recycled round the rest of the country through the long arm of the state, creating the illusion of strong, national growth. Jobs were created but in an unbalanced way, over-relying on the public sector, funded by tax receipts from the City of London. And we’ve seen what happens when the conveyor belt breaks, as it did spectacularly in 2008. Those tax receipts fall, the money stops flowing and the whole country feels the consequences as the public sector contracts and jobs are lost. This nation is made up of 100,000 square miles. It cannot rely so heavily on one.” (Nick Clegg, October 2012)

Nick Clegg’s explanation of our current malaise is a seductive one in these times of austerity. The idea of an unsustainable cross subsidy form London’s vibrant financial services sector to the regions public sector jobs appeals to the prejudices of a metropolitan political elite who draw on this central perception. Such a view undoubtedly informed Osborne’s attacks on public sector wages and employment which he believed were ‘crowding out’ the private sector. It is also the bedrock upon which Boris Johnson now lobbies for London to ‘keep more of its own tax’.

Clegg’s paragraph tells us little about the pre-2007 world. Finance never contributed more than around 9% of total UK GDP and 11% of tax, even on the broadest interpretation of what activities constitute the sector – and that’s before we factor in the bailout money which exceeded the total taxes paid by the industry in the five years before 2007. Clegg and his fellow parliamentarians know this – this is ideology in its very old fashioned sense. But what he and others have done is to establish a new moral language around the regional economy, which talks about ownership, earnings and deserve on the one hand and dependence, subsidy and inefficiency on the other.

Such discourse abstracts from the sheer diversity of flows in any national economy. Global cities like London do attract capital, but they do so because they are a kind of conversion machine, taking national and international assets, converting them into revenue streams from which well-placed individuals skim high pay. London attracts capital because it is also extractive in other words. This can be seen from investment banking to private equity to infrastructure PFIs. This process of extraction requires an active state, through bailouts and subventions in the banking system to the underwriting of risks in infrastructure PPPs and PFIs. This implies the centrality of the state to a proportion of the UKs private sector.

PPPs and PFIs are a good example of where ‘extraction’ has distinct regional effects. The decomposition of activities around a contracted-out infrastructure project leads to a fragmentation of corporations around specialised functions, so that one company may provide the finance, another may build the school or hospital, another may manage the asset etc etc. In theory some of these functions need not be located on the site of the project. And certainly the revenue streams do not all circulate regionally: the finance company probably has its operating office in London, as might the asset management office. Even the operations might be co-ordinated from London using local contractors on site. Overseas companies that invest in PPPs/PFIs are likely to have an office in London, and those senior workers are likely to be extremely well paid.

Before PPPs and PFIs, projects that were State funded had revenue streams that would congeal in the regions where those projects were based, kicking in multipliers that would further benefit the local economy. The fragmentation of activities has led to a concentration of certain functions like financing and asset management in London. This has diminished capacity in the regions through the withering of broad competences, the fragmenting of supply and project chains, and skills drift as talent is forced to relocate down South to find a job. State-sponsored investment projects across the country have benefited private sector growth in London and the South East.

But infrastructure projects are not just about where the revenues go, but what liabilities are taken on to generate those revenues; and crucially who assumes responsibility for those liabilities when things go wrong. Many PPP/PFI schemes are highly levered: before the crisis projects were financed on around a 90/10 split debt to equity, though this has now levelled down to around 70/30. Even so, leverage produces interest payments that require servicing and a manifest risk of default. So the flipside to the revenue streams clipped by metropolitan elites is a tower of hidden contingent liabilities that may be passed onto the State, as when NHS Trusts cannot repay their PFI loans. Similarly on the operations side, contracts which allow companies to exit their obligations (designed to attract initial bidders) may leave the State with unexpected costs. This is what First Group did when it walked away from the backloaded premium payments on its First Great Western franchise, costing the taxpayer an estimated £800m in lost receipts. On the contracting side, unwieldy contracts can produce inefficiencies and exorbitant penalty clauses which are costly to renegotiate. And this is before we discuss the many contracts that overshoot their original estimates. All of these interventions should be thought of as State subsidies; received mainly by private subsidiaries operating in the capital, and paid for by taxpayers the length and breadth of the country.

This quiet cross-subsidy from North and West to South East has been running un-noticed for a long period of time. Its unanticipated result is a kind of regional moral hazard: the metropolitanisation of gains, and the nationalisation of losses. Perhaps by looking at the regional distribution of these corporate subsidies we might be able to challenge the simplistic picture mobilised by Clegg, Osborne and Johnson?