Tag Archives: Poverty

Asking the right questions: What kind of research will actively serve to improve urban health?

Natalia Garcia Cervantes, Jessica Roccard and Cathy Wilcock (University of Manchester) write about an international conference that took place two weeks ago in Manchester …

The second morning’s opening plenary (6 March) featured keynotes by Dr David Satterwaite (International Institute for the Environment and Development) and Professor Ana Diez Roux (Drexel University). Both focus on the role of research in improving health.

Professor Satterwaite was asking ‘Why is health so poor in the Global South after 60 years of humanitarian interventions?’ Despite over half a century of development assistance, in many countries in the Global South, 1 in 5 infants are still dying before the age of 5. In light of this lack of progress, Professor Satterwaite asks why most of the research into ‘causes of death’ is conducted with the aim of being able to make global comparisons, rather than generating localised, relevant knowledge. Without this specific local information, there is no way development practitioners, urban planners, or local governments, can target the right policies at the right areas of their locality. He proposes that the way forward is to garner the unique knowledge of the poor themselves to form the basis of local partnerships between community organisations/ social movements within poor urban areas and their local governments. We wonder can participatory research work in areas where the power relations between government actors and non-state actors are abusive/oppressive? Does participation, as a policy-relevant research method, focus too much on the agency of the poor themselves, therefore initiating policies which are blind to the structural inequalities actually keeping people in poverty?

Following on from this, Professor Roux’s keynotes called for innovations in research methodology in health research. She demonstrates that a lot of health research is ‘linear’ – it aims to reveal or demonstrate a causal relationship between one variable and another, often through data-gathering in experimental settings. In contrast to this so-called ‘reductionist’ method, she makes a compelling case for a ‘systems approach’ in health research. Less concerned with proving a causal relationship between two variables, a systems approach is sensitive to the multitude of factors which affect health and can present findings which are demonstrative of feedback (as opposed to causal) relations between the numerous components in the system. Especially within the context of a conference where the somewhat vague subtitle of ‘crossing boundaries’ has not really shone through so far, this refreshing keynotes provided a clear strategy for change rather than a business as usual approach.

Whose role is it anyway? Sharing responsibility for the urban poor’s health

The keynotes speeches had left me wondering about the question of responsibility – who is responsible for improving the health of the urban poor. Is it the poor themselves? Their local governments? National governments? International NGOs? Local NGOs? If it is a combination of any of the above, how can that shared responsibility be managed? The session on ‘Stress in the City’ provided some interesting approaches to this question.

Women in Informal Employment: Globalising and Organising (WIEGO) presented on their work with market traders, street vendors, home based workers and domestic workers in urban townships in South Africa. Following that Dr Selmin Jahan spoke about water and sanitation facilities for the urban poor in Dhaka. The session closed with Dr Helen Elsey speaking about a ‘Healthy Kitchens’, an initiative which identifies interventions to improve health in urban slum kitchens. All of these presentations were about projects seeking to improve the health and safety in informal, unregulated urban settings where people are exposed to a multitude of risks including lung disease, gastrointestinal disease, burns etc. All three projects are asking how do we extend health and safety policies to urban informal settings? How can they be included in urban planning? How can we minimise health and safety risks in informal settings? In WIEGO’s case, they have developed a piece of research in partnership with the market traders which outlines a zonal health and safety plan for their workplace. As well as providing education and training, they have overseen the installation of a risk management sub-committee among the traders. For the healthy cities initiative, the targeted intervention is to replace open fires and gas in kitchens with a safer alternative.

These projects placed a lot of the responsibility for improving health and safety on the urban poor themselves – the aim of these projects was to empower the urban poor to take the appropriate actions and establish the appropriate systems for improving health and safety using the resources available to them. However, they also recognised that these measures can only go so far without the local governments also taking responsibility to protect their citizens. In WIEGO’s project in particular, the difficulty of making this shared-responsibility work shone through. They recognised the need to negotiate the unequal power relations between governments and their poor citizens and interestingly, have themselves developed strategies to tread this contentious path towards partnership. These presentations about three fascinating projects demonstrated how small, inexpensive measures can be implemented by the urban poor themselves to improve their health and safety. However, unequal structures loom large: how can the poor empower themselves effectively in a broader context of disempowerment?

Climate Change: a universal threat?

During the session about climate change (CC) and urban insecurities chaired by Dr Dodman, three presenters, Mr Umamaheshwaran, Mrs Dang Thu and Dr Rais introduced their work. Their interesting speeches raised different issues caused by climate change impacts on urban areas. On the one hand, it can be understood that impacts such as flooding and/or the increase in temperatures (among many others), are faced by every city within every country. And within these cities, they severely affect particularly the health of the most vulnerable: the low-income communities. However, not every city has to face existing burdens that CC only exacerbates. For example, New-Delhi faces extreme problems of drinking water access, sanitation systems and air pollution caused by the dense traffic. Moreover, the health policies are not always being adequately implemented and the reaction time of the authorities when an epidemic occurs is too long.

Nevertheless, there are attempts underway to address these problems. Indeed, strategies to face climate change impact are implemented by NGOs such as ‘Challenge to Change’ (Mrs Dang Thu), by providing support to the most vulnerable groups in Vietnam to implement strategies to mitigate and adapt to these impacts. On the other hand, more technological solutions such as projects from Taru (Mr Umamaheshwaran) are also being implemented in Indore. By supporting a new management system and software for the health practitioners, this organisation helps to monitor the spreading of disease and allows following in real time the epidemics.

The second session about climate change, chaired by Dr Alfredo Stein, also introduced some very interesting topics. Starting with the presentation of Dr Jemery Carter from the University of Manchester, the session first focused on climate change impacts and adaptation responses in Greater Manchester. Dr Carter pointed out the existing connections of the previous concepts with people health and well-being. He emphasised the creation of green infrastructure as a solution to face impacts such as flooding and heat wave. However, the infrastructure promoted might be efficient in a context of Manchester, but would not benefit from the same efficiency in Indian cities, for example.

Mr Brown and Dr Dodman propose a different approach of climate change. They argued that climate change research has been often considering it as top-down approach and focusing on hazards themselves. Hence, challenging this view, the vulnerability of the urban poor is the focus of their research.

The last presentation, given by Vikai Desai, focused on her experience in Surat city, which experienced strong flooding. As an impact of flooding, the city witnessed the arising of a new disease: leptospirosis. Facing this new challenge, an innovative monitoring and control system had to be implemented. Not only people, but cities as a whole have also to adapt to the new challenges arising from climate change direct and indirect impacts!

Finally, these sessions allowed the understanding of the multi-disciplinarity of climate change and multi-faceted impacts. CC creates strong challenges for urban health and development actors, as well as for the inhabitants of those cities. Practitioners and academics must work together to build a brightest and healthiest future.

Aiding violence? Urban violence and humanitarian responses to it

One of the HCRI/GURC sub-conference sessions was ‘Urban violence and conflict: Exploring the response to urban violence’ with the participation of Elena Lucci (via skype), Verena Brähler, and Dr Melanie Lombard.

Elena Lucci opened the session with the intervention ‘Humanitarian Action in the context of urban violence’ drawing on the lessons emerging from case studies based on humanitarian aid in urban settings experiences. She started by asking the question ‘What is urban violence and why is it important for humanitarians?’ She defined urban violence and then asserted that the characteristics such as dynamism, density and diversity or urban centres, can create enabling environments for violence. There are important lessons from her experience in humanitarian aid. For example: ensuring clear aims from the beginning must a priority; also, acting strategically to develop capacity and linkages in the community that is being served; thirdly, taking a localised approach to violence and to developing the specialized skills that are needed to respond to urban crises.

Following this, was Verena Brähler from UCL, with ‘Inequality of Insecurity in Rio de Jainero, Brazil’. Verena presented the results of her PhD Research. She used a mixed methods approach and, on this occasion, she talked about the quantitative part. Her analytical framework is based on the concepts of inequality and security. Additionally, she measured social cohesion and perceptions of insecurity through a series of surveys in the ’favelas’ and compared the security provision between low and middle-income neighbourhoods. To end such an interesting discussion, the audience contributed to the dialogue with questions about the role of the state in security provision in Brazil. She argues that in the absence of the Brazilian state as a provider of security, poor people have to accept to live side by side to criminals, respecting a silence code in exchange for minimal security provision.

Last but not least, Dr Melanie Lombard explored urban land conflicts with a case study from provincial Mexico. Dr Lombard provided key concepts about land disputes, and conceptual differences between conflict and violence; in Santa Lucia –the case study– the situation of many urban settlements in Mexico is exposed: land is available but unaffordable. As a result, colonias populares or peri-urban settlements arise from the illegal subdivision of previously community-owned land (ejidos). Conflict appears when, under the absence of state presence and a normative dissonance (since the land was neither claimed to be rural nor urban), the interests of key actors, including the state, urban political leaders and local associations clash. She concluded asserting that ‘When violence is used as a tool by actors struggling for political or economic power, conflict over land is more likely to escalate and the urban poor communities are more likely to be adversely affected’.

This was indeed a very intense and stimulating session. Thanks to all the participants!!

 

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Detroiters: Back in the Driving Seat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boda-Boda! Rethinking Unregulated Urban Transport in the Global South

Unregulated transport is vital to billions living with poor road access in the Global South, yet is increasingly marginalised in transport policies intended to modernise cities. In this article James Evans focuses on boda-boda motorcycle taxis in Uganda to ask how current thinking in Geography might help us re-think the role of informal transport in achieving more inclusive and sustainable urban development.

It is impossible to visit the Global South without being struck by the variety of transport at street level. Rickshaws, tuk-tuks, jeepneys, minibuses and bikes appear in all sorts of motorised and non-motorised forms across cities in Asia, Africa and South America.  Kampala, the rapidly growing capital of Uganda, is no exception. Synonymous with its unregulated army of motorcycle taxis, so-called boda-bodas dodge and weave through the congested streets and alleys with passengers clinging on to the driver. Boda-boda taxis are part of African bicycle culture, originating as a way to cross the Kenyan-Ugandan border in the 1960s and subsequently spreading through East Africa as an industry with relatively cheap entry costs for migrants. In 2010 the Kampala Boda-Boda Association estimated that there were upwards of 200,000 boda riders and 5,000 stages (stops) serving an urban population that has doubled in the last 20 years to some 1.5 million people.

Boda-bodas connecting the full extent of the Kampala (source: Jennifer O’Brien)

Boda-bodas connecting the full extent of the Kampala (source: Jennifer O’Brien)

Boda-bodas connecting the full extent of the Kampala (source: Jennifer O’Brien)

Boda-bodas connecting the full extent of the Kampala (source: Jennifer O’Brien)

Offering affordable transport to the poor, boda-bodas are more efficient in terms of fuel, space and maintenance than cars. These kinds of informal modes of transport play an essential role filling the gap left by the absence of planned transport infrastructures and have grown at the same breakneck speed as the cities in which they exist, with estimates suggesting that informal transport accounts for 80-90% of public transport journeys in medium sized cities. Manifesting what AbdouMaliq Simone terms the distinctive mobility of the African city where movement is essential to daily survival, boda-bodas support the ‘thickening fields of social relations’ that city dwellers depend on. Flexible and cheap, they contribute to the connectivity and resilience of the city, running errands delivering both goods and information in addition to providing personal transport. It is through informal urban infrastructures like boda-bodas that existing socio-economic relations find material expression in the city.

Unlike slums that are often out of sight, informal transportation permeates and often defines the experience of an entire city. In response to a national road safety crisis that has been compared to HIV in terms of its national importance and the protestations of more affluent car-driving residents of the city, the recently formed Kampala Capital City Authority is attempting to bring the unruly growth of boda-bodas under control, leading to a long-running dispute between the boda-boda operators and the city authority over perceived attempts to cleanse the city of their presence. It is the powerful versus the poor, but more than this it is battle between competing visions of the city. This is a story that we find repeating itself from Shanghai to Lagos, leading to calls for new thinking about the role of informal transport in urban development. Delhi may have famously failed in their attempt to ban motorised rickshaws in 2010, but Chinese cities have progressively banned various forms of two wheeled transport in the name of modern transport planning.

The 2013 UN Habitat report Planning and Design for Sustainable Urban Mobility, which provides the nearest thing to a template for current global thinking on the issue of sustainable mobility, argues that robust land use planning is necessary to create urban landscapes that are amenable to more sustainable forms of mobility. But local transport solutions like boda-bodas question the validity of top-down planning approaches that seek to impose Western infrastructure on the city. Because informal transport infrastructures have developed incrementally with the city, they have shaped it materially and territorially. No doubt transport needs are dictated by the ways cities are planned, but equally the existing urban landscape reflects the kinds of transportation available. Changing the material form of a city is easier said than done; to the extent that things like existing houses, streets, wells and shops are obdurate, cities are locked into certain transport futures. At the same time, informal transport is so integral to cities like Kampala that imagining a future without it literally requires us to imagine a different place. For the city to be in any sense sustainable and inclusive, informal transport has to play a part.

While the idea that informal transport is more adaptable and thus potentially sustainable is not new, few studies have attempted to understand how its social functions are materially and territorially embedded in the city. More often than not, African roads are approached as a source of either terror or fascination by writers and commentators struck (not unreasonably) by their apparent chaos. Perhaps because of its poor safety record, motorcycle transport has received relatively little academic attention despite its importance to the billion people currently living in cities with poor roads. Researchers have focused on the impact of roads and road-building projects on local communities and cultures, but specific work on the day-to-day experiences of driving and using taxis is less common.

One way to capture this relation between mobility and the city is to rethink informal transport as a materially embedded urban infrastructure. Recent research has shown how self-building technologies and sanitation in informal settlements unavoidably reflect material conditions and constitute something distinctive and different to the kinds of development that characterise Western cities. In challenging received norms about mobility, the street-level practices of boda-bodas produce a very different kind of city to the ones commonly envisaged in planning documents and strategies. Focusing on the distinctive qualities of informal transport opens up new ways to think about infrastructure provision in the city and what a transition to sustainability could and indeed should look like.

Many basic everyday questions remain unanswered about boda-bodas in Kampala. For example, how do boda-bodas connect the city? Where do bikes circulate, what is their range, where are the stages, what routes do they trace, which parts of the city do they link and what are their working rhythms? What role do they play in circulating goods, people and informal knowledge? Beyond this, how is boda-boda infrastructure embedded in the city? For example, how, where and when are bikes fuelled, stored, repaired, recycled, reclaimed and maintained? Where do the drivers live and what do they eat?

Materiality matters. Just as political ecologists have shown how power is manifested in the material resource flows of cities so it is possible to open up alternative visions of the city though materially grounded analyses. In Kampala, the city planning authority is potentially receptive, currently developing a low-carbon development plan in addition to finding itself at the centre of a major transport row. If current solutions like simply building more roads have failed as a strategy in the West then they certainly won’t solve the transport challenges faced by cities in the South, which are that much more acute. There is an opportunity to establish a new agenda for the study of informal transport and its role in achieving more sustainable and inclusive urban development. In the search for viable alternatives, the question of what we can learn from existing forms of transport like boda-bodas seems to be a valid one.

 

Going, going, gone! Empty Homes for £1, but at what cost to community?

by Matthew Thompson, PhD Candidate, School of Environment and Development Venmore St, Anfield (source Share the City blog)

Venmore St, Anfield (source: Share the City blog)

Voelas Street, Welsh Streets, Toxteth (source Share the City blog)

Voelas Street, Welsh Streets, Toxteth (source: Share the City blog)

What to do with street upon street of beautiful period properties dating from the Victorian and Edwardian eras – the architectural heyday of the city in which they once proudly stood – but which now stand empty, derelict, and apparently unwanted? Well it all depends which city you are in of course. In London, these empty terraces would be snapped up in the blink of an eye – in the speculative feeding frenzy driving the epicentre of the FIRE (Finance-Insurance-Real-Estate nexus).

But this city is obviously not London. It’s Liverpool, where such demand is simply nonexistent. Or at least that’s the story we’re told by those behind the Merseyside Pathfinder programme, one of nine Pathfinders rolled out across Northern UK cities in New Labour’s massive £2.3 billion Housing Market Renewal (HMR) scheme initiated in 2003, which condemned some 400,000 homes nationally. In Merseyside alone, around 18,000 houses were targeted for clearance and redevelopment; a huge physical restructuring not seen since 1960s urban renewal.

In this blog post I question the rationale for HMR and unpack some of its contradictory effects in Liverpool, in opening up the space, so to speak, for experimentation in community-led self-help housing.

The policy narrative goes something like this. The so-called ‘wicked’ problems of long-term economic decline, emptying out of the inner-city, and increasingly concentrated deprivation – a downward spiral of demand, falling prices, rising vacancies, dereliction, and abandonment – requires a drastic solution: whole-scale restructuring of ‘failing’ housing markets and replacement of ‘obsolete’ terraces with a ‘sustainable’ mix of tenures for 21st century urban living.

Yet this is a city apparently going through a cultural renaissance: European Capital of Culture in 2008; its urban core transformed through culture-led regeneration and speculative development. In fact, despite a glut of empty apartments left over from the noughties building boom, Liverpool has successfully attracted new residents back into the city for the first time since the 1930s, after decades of decline.

History repeats itself. First as tragedy, then as farce. HMR made the same tragic mistakes of post-war modernist planning, but without the earnest paternalism of social democratic aspirations and welfarist goals. It came at the height of renewed state ambitions for socio-spatial engineering – albeit New Labour’s zombie-like resuscitation of the long-dead-and-buried political taste for comprehensive public planning, with the added ingredient of ‘roll-out’ neoliberalism. And it was of course overseen by a public-private partnership which in true QUANGO style was given the farcically slick name of ‘NewHeartlands’, clumsily flailing at rebranding a new place identity.

Through its focus on solving ‘market failure’ – by reconnecting local to regional markets plugged into global circuits of capital – it is not difficult to see HMR as a classic case of that powerful process of neoliberal capitalist urbanisation made infamous by David Harvey as ‘accumulation by dispossession’. And dispossessed they were. Compulsory purchase orders have displaced many residents of Pathfinder clearance zones to assemble large land banks. The eviction of an 88 year old Bootle woman who had lived in her terraced home all her life is just one of the more controversial examples sensationalised by the media.

Regeneration on this massive scale might be seen as the new extractive industry for our post-industrial age: mining speculative value from urban land through the successive recycling of our built environment. The new-build suburban houses with which Pathfinder replaced some of the Victorian terraces represent a downgrading of both urban density and build quality, with built-in obsolescence part of their very raison d’être.

It may seem all too easy to denounce HMR along these lines. At best a shambles, at worst a scandal. Its fiercest critics accuse it of state-led gentrification tantamount to class cleansing; a direct transfer of wealth from public funds into private hands. Yet even Grant Shapps, in a statement to Parliament, alluded to an intentional strategy of ‘managed decline’ for the financial benefit of developers and the state. Demolition plans teleologically set in motion a self-fulfilling prophecy of blight.

But there’s a reason why policymakers and researchers call the socio-economic problems targeted by HMR ‘wicked’. There is a long and complicated history of complex structural forces, policy interventions and cultural conditions interacting and compounding in often unpredictable ways to produce the multifarious effects of decline with which HMR was designed to tackle. Had the programme been seen through to its 25 year conclusion in 2019 it may well have produced beneficial socio-economic transformation. But we will never know.

The Coalition government’s cancellation of HMR in 2011 – coinciding with the worst economic downturn and property slump in almost a century – has left the programme only part-finished. Owing principally perhaps to these capricious political and economic conditions, HMR has undeniably generated more blight. Dense urban neighbourhoods have been flattened or reduced to something resembling a warzone; swathes of wasteland aggressively fenced off from surrounding streets stubbornly still bustling with activity; hundreds of crumbling empty houses boarded up, left to rot. And all without the funds for either rebuild or refurbishment for reuse.

Unsurprisingly, various community and campaign groups – led by the likes of Empty Homes and SAVE Britain’s Heritage – have been vigorously campaigning for bringing these tinned-up terraces back into community use. Channel 4’s ‘Restoration Man’, George Clarke, helped kickstart a national debate in visiting several ex-HMR Liverpool neighbourhoods in his popular TV documentary – and is now championing community-led refurbishment projects as newly appointed head of the government’s Empty Homes Review. The Coalition government have introduced a £100million Empty Homes Fund and a £50m Clusters of Empty Homes Fund alongside a £75million Transitional Fund, specifically intended for refurbishing previously-condemned ex-HMR properties.

However, SAVE have highlighted in a judicial review how the Transitional Fund is being illegally misspent to demolish a further 5,000 houses. This follows the controversial decision to save Beatles drummer Ringo Starr’s birthplace amidst the clearance of hundreds of surrounding houses in the Welsh Streets area of Granby; sparking angry accusations of being a ‘tokenistic smokescreen’ for civic vandalism.

And so it was into this fray that Liverpool City Council recently announced its ‘homesteading’ plan to sell off 20 ex-HMR houses for just £1. The plan follows a pioneering project in Stoke-on-Trent, in which 70 empties are being sold to local people for £1 with a low-interest £30,000 loan made available for DIY renovation, but with the crucial condition that buyers commit to living in them for a minimum of 5 years without subletting.

The demand has been so high – over 2,000 people or 100 per house registering interest – the council has extended the deadline and is considering making more empties available. This raises serious questions that need to be answered over the fundamental logic of HMR in writing off otherwise desirable housing as ‘obsolete’. It also signals more promising prospects for campaigns across Liverpool’s ex-HMR neighbourhoods to establish Community Land Trusts (CLTs) and housing cooperatives for community acquisition and reuse of empty homes.

In one of the three homesteading neighbourhoods, Granby residents have come together to form one of the UK’s first urban CLTs, Granby 4 Streets; a charitable organisation capable of bidding on publicly-owned assets for community ownership. One of these four streets, Beaconsfield Street, witnessed the start of the Toxteth riots in 1981, and has been condemned by council demolition plans ever since; wilful neglect which some residents feel is punishment for ‘the uprising’. But in the last few years, community activism in the form of ‘guerrilla gardening’ has transformed the tree-lined streets from desolation into a verdant display of ownership and pride of place. Communal street gardens, colourfully-decorated frontages, and wildflower meadows are enjoyed by residents and visitors alike in the popular monthly Cairns Street Market.

Granby 4 Streets mirrors similar campaigns across Liverpool to establish CLTs for the community ownership of ex-HMR housing; together representing a radical new model of urban regeneration through grassroots community asset acquisition. Their successful development might contain the blueprint for a small-scale bottom-up alternative to fill the gap left by the retreating state in our emerging era of ‘Big Society’ austerity urbanism.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the £1 houses in the homesteading plan will end up under local stewardship, owned and managed by CLTs, which are, in principle at least, democratically controlled by member residents for the mutual benefit of affordable housing in perpetuity. Or instead flogged off individually to more socially-mobile residents looking for a bargain with little stake in community life.

But the picture is more complex than this simple dichotomy. The conditions of the homesteading plan require that individual buyers live in their new homes for at least 5 years without subletting out to tenants, which may well protect against landlordism and ensure local people affected by HMR become the principal beneficiaries. However, there is no reason why homeowners, after this short period, would not simply sell up and move on, cashing in on their sweat equity to pocket the difference. This not only amounts to a considerable transfer of public assets into private hands, but may also stoke gentrification processes, further displacing original residents.

The positive potential of CLTs and other forms of mutual ownership lies in their unique ability to protect these assets under a trust structure to ensure that housing remains affordable and accessible to successive local residents for generations to come. Covenants and constitutional conditions built into the CLT governance model limit the resale value of houses and ensure a minimum equity stake is retained under CLT ownership so that homes remain tied to the locality and controlled by members through accountable governance processes.

Local authorities are nonetheless apprehensive to simply hand over entire terraced streets to CLTs for a number of reasons. First, individual ownership is perceived as a tried-and-tested model reflecting deep-seated ideological biases for homeownership and owner-occupation. Individuals appear more reliable in renovating one house at a time at a more manageable scale. CLTs must therefore do more to demonstrate their long-term financial and organisational viability as well as their expertise in housing management.

Second, CLTs produce a different set of tensions and contradictions within their own practices as well as in their relationship with the state, the market, and the surrounding local community. They must similarly demonstrate their capacity for inclusive democratic governance and fair representation of all local residents. Inward-looking or tightly-bounded groups may make CLT membership exclusive to certain people: emancipatory for some, but divisive for others. Owning assets in trust for the entire community, both present and future, is ultimately a matter of trust. CLTs must also first gain the trust and support of public and other external partners in order to access their most fundamental resource of all: land.

Finally, the biggest barrier appears to be politics. The transfer of public assets into CLT hands represents a considerable shift of power from local government to local communities. It is unrealistic to assume that councils would jump at the chance to divest their power to potential competitors for dwindling public resources at the local level. This is all too evident in the refusal of Sefton Council to support the otherwise successful £5.2million funding application to DCLG that would have enabled Little Klondyke CLT in Bootle, north Liverpool, to acquire and refurbish 120 homes for community reuse. As it stands, the CLT cannot access government funding without approval from the local authority. And so Little Klondyke remains derelict.

But the tensions do not end there. Even if Merseyside CLTs were to receive public funding to become institutionalised as housing providers there still remains the grave danger of co-optation into housing association structures. Large commercially-driven yet publicly-funded RSLs with profit-making development arms have been heavily involved in Pathfinder redevelopment schemes – and yet ironically formed out of the charitable housing cooperatives that emerged from 1960s grassroots community resistance to municipal urban renewal. Now contending for the £1 houses, these huge housing companies not only present stiff competition for CLT campaigns in the acquisition of empty homes, but also pose the threat of incorporation into increasingly professionalised and commodified social housing markets. Whether contemporary CLTs will be swallowed up into marketised forms of housing provision like their historical non-market antecedents – including many of Liverpool’s 1970s cooperatives – will be the greatest test for community-led self-help housing. Tragic the first time, farcical the next; it begs the question: will history repeat itself?

The relationship between large-scale regeneration programmes like HMR and community-led self-help housing initiatives is complex and ambiguous, and therefore one requiring deeper research. Ironically, it took the threat of dissolution posed by top-down spatial engineering to crystallise deprived yet diverse neighbourhoods into more cohesive place-based communities. Embedded in the ashes of HMR are the seeds of exciting institutional innovations in local asset ownership. The successful development of CLTs may herald a shift toward more mutual social relations and cooperative forms of citizenship that do far more to regenerate deprived localities than expensive top-down tinkering with markets. The real test for Localism – or dare I say it, the Big Society – is whether these embryonic seeds will be tended to politically; and given sufficient institutional nutrition to grow into financially-sustainable forms of inclusive local governance.

Strategic Embellishment and Civil War: More Notes on the New Urban Question

via flickr by jgarber

via flickr by jgarber

by Andy Merrifield, Leverhulme Visiting Professor, Geography, University of Manchester

No matter how many times you read Walter Benjamin’s musings on Paris they never disappoint. They never sound worn; there are always new nuggets buried within, lurking between the lines, little sparkling gems you never expected to find, nor saw upon your first reading. There is always something, too, that speaks as much about our century as the fabled nineteenth, over which Paris, Benjamin said, majestically presided. He spent hours upon hours — years and years in fact — scribbling away under “the painted sky of summer,” beneath the huge ceiling mural of Paris’s Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF), amassing piles of notes (some still apparently lying unpublished, gathering dust in BNF’s vaults) on the arcades projects that so mesmerized him, on Fourier and Marx, on Baudelaire and Blanqui, on Haussmann and insurrection. Those latter two themes — Haussmannization and insurrection — have piqued my interest recently, helped me frame my thinking about what I’ve been calling (for want of a better term) “the new urban question.”

“Speculation on the stock-exchange,” says Benjamin, commenting on “Haussmann or the Barricades,” “pushed into the background the forms of gambling that had come down from feudal society.” Gambling transformed time, he says, into a heady narcotic, into an orgy of speculation over space, seemingly addictive for the wealthy and indispensable for the fraudulent. (The two, unsurprisingly, fed off one another then and still do.) Finance capital began to make its sleazy entrée into the urban experience; beforehand the urban was simply the backdrop of a great capitalist drama unfolding around the time Marx wrote the Manifesto. It was simply the seat of the stock market; suddenly, though, the urban itself became a stock market, another asset, now for a wheeling and dealing in space, for state-sponsored real estate promotion, for investing in new space and expropriating old space. The passionate embrace between politics and economics underwent its modern consecration.

Benjamin underscores two principal characteristics of Louis-Bonaparte’s master-builder Baron Haussmann — who, remember, prided himself on his self-anointed nickname: “l’artiste démolisseur” [“demolition artist”]. (“Baron,” too, was likewise a purely egotistical creation, having no official credence.) First was Haussmann’s immense hatred of the masses, of the poor, rootless homeless populations, the wretched and ragged victims of his giant wreckers-ball, immortalized by Baudelaire’s “Eyes of the Poor” Spleen poem. Benjamin recalls a speech Haussmann made in 1864 at the National Assembly, fulminating about the stepchildren his grand works had actively created. “This population kept increasing as a result of his works,” Benjamin says. “The increase in rents drove the proletariat into the suburbs.” Central Paris thereby lost its “popular” base, “lost its characteristic physiognomy.” Typical of so many tyrant-visionaries (like Robert Moses, who admired his gallic antecedent), Haussmann was a bundle of contradictions: publicly-minded (his underground sewers and macadamized boulevards replaced shitty overground drains and boggy lanes) yet scornful of real people; a lover of Paris, “the city of all Frenchmen,” yet  suspicious of democratic elections and progressive taxation; Haussmann saw it all as his God-given duty, his natural right “to expropriate for the cause of public utility.”

Yet, for Benjamin, there was something else behind Haussmann’s works, a second, perhaps more important theme: “the securing of the city against civil war,” a desperate desire to prevent the barricades going up across the city’s streets. A red fear. The breadth of those new boulevards would, it was thought, make future barricade building trickier, more onerous and protracted an ordeal in the heat of any revolt; besides, “the new streets,” says Benjamin, “were to provide the shortest route between the barracks and the working-class areas.” Hence the forces of order could more quickly mobilize themselves, more rapidly crush a popular insurrection. Urban space was concurrently profitable and pragmatic, aesthetically edifying yet militarily convenient; “strategic embellishment,” Benjamin labels it, a vocation eagerly practiced to this very day, though with new twists.

*  *  *

The new twist is the scale of this dialectic, the depth and breadth of the twin forces of strategic embellishment and insurrection. This dialectic is immanent in the our current urban-global condition, and respective antagonists feed off one another in dramatic ways. They are both immanent within the upheaval of our neoliberal market economy, just as Marx said that a relative surplus population was immanent in the accumulation of capital; and therein, borrowing Benjamin’s valedictory words, “we can begin to recognize the monuments of the bourgeoisie as ruins even before they have crumbled.” While we can pinpoint Haussmann-like acts in every city across the globe, North and South, East and West, it’s nonetheless vital to see all this as a process that engineers planetary urban space. We need, in other words, to open out our vista, to see the global urban wood rather than just the city trees, to see an individual despotic program as a generalized class imperative, as a process of neo-Haussmannization, as something consciously planned as well as unconsciously initiated, pretty much everywhere.

Our planetary urban fabric — the terrestrial texturing of our urban universe — is woven by a ruling class that sees cities as purely speculative entities, as sites for gentrifying schemes and upscale redevelopments, as machines for making clean, quick money in, and for dispossessing erstwhile public goods. Cities therein are microcosmic entities embedded in a macrocosmic urban system, discrete atoms with their own inner laws of quantum gravity, responsive to a general theory of global relativity. Splitting city molecules reveal elemental charges within: let’s call them “centers” and “peripheries,” complementarities of attraction and repulsion, of speculative particles and insurrectional waves. Is there a master-builder therein, some great God presiding over these heavenly bodies, a living Baron Haussmann? Yes and No.

Yes, because there are particular prime movers in making deals, actual class embodiments of finance capital and speculative real estate interests, real lenders and borrows, actual developers and builders, breathing architects and administrators, some of whom are moguls who mobilize their might like the Baron of old; all, too, have their own local flavoring and place-specific ways of doing things, culturally conditioned dependent on where you are, and what you can get away with.

No, in the sense that although there are complicit individuals, both in public and private office, with varying degrees of competence, who may even be cognizant of one another, in explicit cahoots with one another, it would be mistaken to see it all as one great conspiracy — a “Great Game,” as Kipling quipped of English imperialism in India — as a single coordinated global conspiracy undertaken by an omnipotent ruling class. Indeed, that would attribute too much to this aristocratic elite, over-estimate their sway over the entirety of urban space.

To peripheralize en masse necessitates the insulation of centers. Insulation means controlling borders, patrolling risk, damming leakiness, keeping people out as well as in; “control,” the Invisible Committee say in The Coming Insurrection, “has a wonderful way of integrating itself into the commodity landscape, showing its authoritarian face to anyone who wants to see it. It’s an age of fusions, of muzak, telescopic police batons and cotton candy. Equal parts police surveillance and enchantment!” That’s the nub of neo-Haussmannization, its law of social physics. Thus aristocrats in our age of Enlightenment acknowledge their fear of the sans-culottes they help create, the citizens they disenfranchise, the deracinated they banish to the global banlieues.

Thus the civil war is everyday, is about strategic security in the face of economic volatility; and the stakes have ratcheted up since 9/11. In fact, 9/11 set the terms of whole new set of odds about what is now permissible. The “war of terrorism” gets reenacted on the everyday civilian urban street, where “low intensity conflicts” justify paramilitary policing and counter-insurgency tactics — just in case. (For a graphic survey, we need look no further than Steve Graham’s brilliant exposé, Cities under Siege [2010]. “The war on terror operations in London,” says Graham, “efforts to securitize and militarize cities during G-20 summits an other mega-events, the counter-drug and counter-terror efforts in the favelas of Rio… link very closely to the full-scale counterinsurgency warfare and colonial control operations in places like Baghdad or the West Bank.”)

The fragmented shards of global neo-Haussmannization are likewise reassembled as a singular narrative in Eric Hazan’s Chronique de la guerre civile (2003): “nonstop wail of police sirens on the boulevard Barbès, the whistling of F16s high in the sky over Palestine, rumbling tanks rattling the earth in Grozny and Tikrit, armored bulldozers crushing houses in Rafah, bombs exploding over Baghdad and on buses in Jerusalem, barking attack dogs accompanying security forces on the Paris metro” — all provide testimony of a business-as-usual battle scene in an ongoing global urban civil war. In fact, paramilitary policing in Palestine, says Hazan, serves as something of a model everywhere for “the war of the banlieue.” Jerusalem isn’t any further from Ramallah than Drancy is from Notre-Dame; yet it’s a war in the periphery that’s rendered invisible from the standpoint of the center. (“In Tel-Aviv, you can live as peacefully as in Vésinet or in Deauville.”) And behind all the din and shocks, the bombs and barking, global centers experiment with new depersonalized high-technology, unleashing democracy at 30,000 ft, modern warfare orchestrated on a computer keyboard. (High-tech Israelis are closely linked with American research institutes and with the military-industrial complex; arms trade and patents are worth billions of dollars. “The military and the monetary get together when it’s necessary,” rapped the late Gil-Scott Heron; he left out the academy, or “the academary,” which goes together with the military and the monetary when it’s necessary.)

*  *  *

A force is a push or pull exerted upon an object resultant from its interaction with another object. Centers and peripheries emanate from such interaction, from such contact interaction, from a Newtonian Third Law of Motion: that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. We can name that oppositional reaction insurrection, even if, in the Third Law of Newtonian Social and Political Motion, that reaction is opposite but never equal; it is a minority reaction despite being voiced by a majority; it is a reaction that creates its own action, or, as The Coming Insurrection suggests, its own resonance. Insurrection resonates from the impact of the shock waves summoned up by bombs and banishment, all of which unleash reactive and active waves of friction and opposition, alternative vibrations that spread from the banlieues, that ripple through the periphery and seep into the center.

If there are twin powers of insurrection, one internal, another an external, outer propulsive energy, then it’s the latter which might hold the key in any battle to come, in any global intifada. And here it’s not so much a solidarity between Palestinian kids lobbing rocks and casseurs in Seine-Saint-Denis, between jobless Spaniards and Greeks taking over Madrid’s Puerta del Sol and Athen’s Syntagma Square, between school kids in Chile and looters in Croydon, nor even between the Occupy movement in the US and its sister cells across the globe; it’s more that each of these groups somehow see themselves in different camps of the same civil war, fighting as territorial foot soldiers, as relative surplus populations sharing a common language and, significantly, a common enemy.

The war of the banlieue is a special kind of war, the scene of military maneuvering different from Clausewitzian warfare of old, staged on an open battlefield. This war no longer comprises grandiose campaigns by troops but is rather a micro-everydayness of peacetime intervention, a dogged affair in which the police and the paramilitary play interchangeable roles, indiscernible roles. Maintaining order and destabilizing order require new urban tactics, different from past warfare and previous insurrections. The terrain of the civil war is now at once more claustrophobic and more fluid, more intensive as well as more extensive. The urban needs to be theorized as a tissue with capillaries and arteries through which blood and energy circulate to nourish this tissue, to keep its cells alive, or sometimes to leave them partly dead from under-nutrition or blockage. This understanding let’s us see the urban’s complex circuit card, its networked patterning, its mosaic and fractal form, stitched together with pieces of delicate fabric; an organism massively complex yet strikingly vulnerable.

Insurrectional forces must enter into its flow, into the capillaries and arteries of urban power and wealth, enter into its global network to interrupt that circulation, to unwind its webbing and infrastructure, to occupy its nodes at the weakest and most powerful points. In a sense, given the global interconnectivity of everything, this can be done almost anywhere, accepting there are nodes that assume relative priority in the system’s overall functioning. Just as cybernetic information can be hacked, so too can acts of subversion interrupt and hack flows of money, goods and transport. The system can be stymied, symbolically, like outside Wall Street or St. Paul’s Cathedral; and really, like when, in December 2011, Occupy Oakland took over the US’s fifth-largest port, “Wall Street on the waterfront,” crippling operating revenues that amount to a hefty annual $27 billion, striking aristocrats hard where it hurts them most: in their pockets.

Perhaps sabotage is a valid retribution for the incivilities that reign in our streets. “The police are not invincible in the streets,” the Invisible Committee write, “they simply have the means to organize, train, and continually test new weapons. Our weapons, on the other hand, are always rudimentary, cobbled together, and often improvised on the spot.” The power of surprise, of secret organization, of rebelling, of demonstrating and plotting covertly, of striking invisibly, and in multiple sites at once, is the key element in confronting a power whose firepower is vastly superior. Once, in the past, sabotaging and thwarting work, slowing down the speed of work, breaking up the machines and working-to-rule comprised a valid modus operandi, an effective weapon for hindering production and lock-jamming the economy; now, the space of twenty-first-century urban circulation, of the ceaseless and often mindless current of commodities and people, of information and energy, of cars and communication, becomes the broadened dimension of the “whole social factory” to which the principle of sabotage can be applied.

Thus “jam everything” becomes a reflex principle of critical negativity, of Bartlebyism brought back to radical life, of Newton’s Third Law of Political Motion. Ironically, the more the economy has rendered itself virtual, and the more “delocalized,” “dematerialized” and “just-in-time” is its infrastructural base, the easier it is to take down locally, to create apoplexy, to redirect and reappropriate. Several years ago, insurrections in France against CPE bill (contrat première embauche), the first of a series of state laws to make job contracts for young people more insecure, “did not hesitate to block train stations, ring roads, factories, highways, supermarkets and even airports. In Rennes,” the Invisible Committee recall, “only three hundred people were needed to shut down the main access road to the town for hours and cause a 40-kilometer long traffic jam.” Blanqui, too, that professional insurrectionist, the shady conspiratorial figure who so fascinated Benjamin (and Baudelaire), likewise recognized how urban space isn’t simply the theater of confrontation; it’s also the means and stake in an insurrection, the battleground of a guerrilla warfare that builds barricades and gun turrets, that occupies buildings and strategic spaces, that employs the methodology of moving through walls.

But barricades today aren’t there simply to defend inwardly. They need to be flexible and portable, and outward looking. They need to move between nodes to disrupt and block, and to foster new life within. They need to be mobilized to tear down other barricades that keep people apart, that trap people in, that peripheralize. Those latter sort of barricades are walls of fear that need smashing down like the veritable storming of the Bastille, so that new spaces of encounter can be formed — new agoras for assemblies of the people, for peoples’ Assembly.

Benjamin was mesmerized by the spirit of Blanqui haunting Haussmann’s boulevards, Blanqui the antidote to Haussmannization, Blanqui the live fuse for igniting civil war, for catalyzing insurrectional eruption. And although Blanqui’s secret cells of revolutionary agents — those hardened, fully-committed professional conspirators — had an inherent mistrust of the masses, Benjamin nonetheless saw in them a capacity to organize and propagandize, to spread the insurrectional word, to figure out a plan and give that plan definition and purpose. They could even help guide an activism that seizes territories and schemes mass desertion; that could, in our day, reinvent a neo-Blanquism (neo-Jacobinism?) to confront intensifying neo-Haussmannization, an opposite and almost equal reaction. Indeed, perhaps the thing that most fascinated Benjamin was Blanqui’s notion of “eternal recurrence,” that stuff comes around full circle, including revolutions, that democratic passions don’t disappear: they crop up again and again in new forms and in different guises, with new tricks and covert tactics, with new participants whose prescient ability is to imagine the dominant order as ruins even before it has crumbled.

The New Urban Question

via flickr by Marco Garofalo

via flickr by Marco Garofalo

by Andy Merrifield, Leverhulme Visiting Professor, Geography, University of Manchester

The form of a city changes quicker, alas, than the human heart

— Baudelaire

“I am tempted to the belief that what are called necessary institutions are only institutions to which one is accustomed, and that in matters of social constitution the field of possibilities is much wider than people living within each society imagine”

— de Tocqueville

In a remarkable series of essays, bundled together under the rubric Paris sous tension (La fabrique, Paris, 2011), popular historian and organic intellectual Eric Hazan sings a paean for his hometown under fire, his Paris under tension; the pressure gauge is edging toward danger level and seems about to blow anytime. Hazan, who trained as a cardiologist and in the 1970s worked as a surgeon in poor Palestinian refugee camps in the Lebanon, now fronts the Left publishing house he founded in 1998: La fabrique. He takes leave from one of Balzac’s remarks: “old Paris is disappearing with a frightening rapidity.” Yet while Hazan’s pages are full of a long lineage of Parisians who, like Balzac, lamented this disappearance — Hugo, Chateaubriand, Baudelaire, Chevalier, Debord — he’s over his grief for a lost loved one; he’s sobered up, detests nostalgia, and embraces a future that looks a lot different from a once glorious past.

In this sequel to L’invention de Paris (2002) [The Invention of Paris], Hazan evokes another Paris, a popular Paris; his dandies and flâneurs have darker skins and many don’t speak native French; his Paris lies beyond the center, is even a Paris without a center, one he invents in his head and out on the streets. (Is there any living urbanist who knows their city so intimately? Hazan seems to know all the names on doorbells, let alone buildings and inner courtyards.) Hazan bids adieu to the dead Paris inside the boulevard périphérique, regretting nothing and seemingly fearing nothing. His Paris isn’t the two million denizens of the predominantly white, bourgeois core, dancing to the tune of rapacious real estate interests on the one side, and a spectacular tourist market — a Disneyland for the cultivated — on the other, each consciously and unconsciously conspiring to rid the grand capital of the poor.

It’s assorted banlieues that hold the collective key, the outer “red belts” of eight million predominantly black and Arab peoples, throbbing with sometimes scary and impoverished life yet always hustling on the edge. Forever the optimist, Hazan sees all this as the source of great energy and potential for renewed urban vitality; this is where a new radiant Paris will reemerge, if it ever reemerges. Forget about the center. Parisian ruling classes have banished so many people to the outside that now the periphery is somehow central to the city’s urban future, to an urban form beyond the traditional city norm. Tourists come to gape at Paris’s lovely museums, at the museumified quartiers, at the beautiful buildings and monuments, at an entombed, cold history; but the real living history, the real Paris as a living organism, breathing and palpitating, ain’t so regal, and lies beyond the breach, beyond Pompidou’s peripheral barrier. Even so, amid these changes some things don’t change: “my conviction,” says Hazan, “is that Paris still is what it has been for two-centuries: a great battleground of a civil war between aristocrats and sans-culottes.”

*  *  *

Hazan mightn’t know it — though I suspect he does — but what he’s sketching out here is a new urban question. It’s new — or relatively new — for two reasons. The first is how Paris, we know, gave us that prototypical urban practice in the 1850s — Haussmannization — an infamous process of divide and rule, of class expulsion through spatial transformation, of social polarization through economic and political gerrymandering. It was a ruthless counter-revolution that tore into medieval Paris and old working class neighborhoods, mobilizing public monies to prime the private real estate pump, enabling investors to find new speculative outlets in the built landscape of the city. The sense of loss, the sense of dispossession, was apparent for many poor Parisians and is still felt by their counterparts one hundred and fifty years down the line. Today, though, Paris is no longer paradigmatic of but microcosmic in a new process of divide and rule, a new global process: neo-Haussmannization.

Haussmannization and neo-Haussmannization share a historical and geographical lineage. But the primal scene of its progeny needs updating and upgrading. Those grand boulevards still flow with people and traffic, even if the boulevard is now reincarnated in the highway, and that highway is more often at a standstill, log-jammed at every hour. Twenty-first-century grand boulevards now flow with energy and finance, with information and communication, and they’re frequently fiber-optic and digitalized, ripping through cyber-space as well as physical space. Neo-Haussmannization is a global-urban strategy that has peripheralized millions of people everywhere to the extent that it makes no sense anymore to talk about these peoples being peripheral. As cities have exploded into mega-cities, and as urban centers — even in the poorest countries — have gotten de-centered, gotten glitzy and internationalized, “Bonapartism” projects its urban tradition onto planetary space.

What’s happening in Paris, then, is a revealing microcosm of a larger macrocosm. Paris is a cell-form of a bigger urban tissuing that’s constituted by a mosaic of centers and peripheries scattered all over the globe, a patchwork quilt of socio-spatial and racial apartheid that goes for Paris as for Palestine, for London as for Rio, for Johannesburg as for New York. Differences are differences of degree not substance, not in the essential unity of process, engineered as it is by a global ruling class intent on business. Nowadays, the poor global South exists in North-East Paris, or in Queens and Tower Hamlets. And the rich global North lives high above the streets of Mumbai, and flies home in helicopters to its penthouses in Jardins and Morumbi, Sao Paulo.

This spatial apartheid has now begotten a new paradox in which centers and peripheries oppose one another; the fault lines and frontiers between the two worlds aren’t some straightforward urban-suburban divide, nor necessarily anything North-South. Rather, centers and peripheries are immanent within global accumulation of capital, immanent within what Lefebvre called “secondary circuit of capital.” Profitable locations get pillaged as secondary circuit flows become torrential, just as other sectors and places are asphyxiated through disinvestment. Therein centrality creates its own periphery, crisis-ridden on both flanks. The two worlds — center and periphery — exist side-by-side, everywhere, cordoned off from one other, everywhere.

The second theme that Hazan mischievously pinpoints, following just as immanently from the first, is insurrection, one of his favorite words. Little surprise that La fabrique first made public that most incendiary of insurrectional tracts, L’insurrection qui vient [The Coming Insurrection]. (After its publication in 2007 and the subsequent arrest of the “Tarnac Nine,” anti-terrorist police called Hazan in for questioning at Le quai des orfèvres, subjecting him to four hours of abusive interrogation about the author’s identity. He remained tight-lipped throughout.) Hazan’s idea about insurrection is twin-pronged (even if he never says so explicitly), dramatized by both an inner energy and an outer compulsion — or rather an outer propulsion.

The inner energy is a burning desire to live on the margins, to rebuild the margins, to make one’s neighborhood a livable neighborhood — the center of one’s life. It’s a familiar immigrants tale, even if these immigrants are sometimes born in this foreign land and carry its passport. In certain peripheral Parisian spaces, Hazan spots the germ of an artisanal, spontaneous and collective rebuilding program in action, reminiscent of what’s going on in Ramallah. There’s even something inventive happening in the core, too, at the corner of rue Morand and rue de l’Orillon in the XIe arrondissement, he says, involving Arab and Malian masons and carpenters who scavenge breeze-block and wood and bricks from God knows where to quasi-legally rehab an entire building. Atypical for Paris, the architecture is vernacular rather than spectacular, serving local needs and nobly integrating itself within a “healthy” urban tissuing. (An ex-surgeon, Hazan knows all about dead and live tissue.)

Here we have the urban as use-value not exchange-value, as a lived not ripped off realm, with integrative not speculative housing; it’s a project, too, that has plenty of scope for scaling up after the insurrection, after an inner energy to rebuild erupts into an expansive and propulsive momentum to democratize. In that sense it’s very likely, Hazan thinks, that l’insurrection qui vient won’t erupt in central Paris: The coming insurrection will erupt on the periphery, out on the global periphery, where dispossessed and marginalized denizens — “the dangerous classes” — will organize and mobilize themselves to create a truly “popular” urbanism, generating at the same time tensions at the centers they surround; and maybe, just maybe, one day actually “recuperating” that center. Hazan doesn’t speak of a “right to the city” as his organizing banner. For him, it’s the political insurrection that finds its expression in any outer propulsion; not a desire to change the government or the municipality, but to change the existing nature of society — “to change life,” as Lefebvre might have said.

*  *  *

Nowhere in Paris sous tension does Hazan adopt the vocabulary of “Occupy,” either; but it’s not too hard to nudge him along in that direction. Like Occupy, Hazan’s notion of insurrection represents a hypothesis, a daring hunch that, for people who care about democracy, for people who know our economic and political system is kaput, change is likely to come from within, from within excluded and impoverished communities, through collective experimentation and struggle, through action and activism that overcomes its own limits, that experiments with itself and the world.

Doubtless this spells more self-initiated rehabs and rebuilding of peripheral banlieues, of rundown HLMs and grands ensembles, as well as more occupations of vacant buildings and lots the world over, those foreclosed and abandoned speculative properties, unused patches of land awaiting private plunder; even whole strip malls in the United States lie empty, over-built and under-used. That’s a lot of steady work for sans-culottes to wage war on two flanks, on those inner and outer flanks that Hazan identifies: on the one hand, occupy these vacant spaces, squat them and take them back, rebuild them in a new communal image, reinventing them as spaces in which people can encounter one another and new affinities can be forged; there, small-scale retailing might flourish within over-accumulated and devalued giant retailing. These devalued spaces can revalorize as new Main Streets on the edge, new centers of urban life with green space, with organic small-holdings, with social housing, self-organized by people for people rather than for profit. Creative destruction, at last, might allow for non-patented creativity.

On the other hand, the outer propulsion of the insurrection must continue to occupy the spaces of the 1%, of our financial and corporate aristocracy, fighting the banks, financial institutions and corporations who spearhead neo-Haussmannization, protest and denounce them on their own turf, downtown, at the centers of their wealth and power, making a racket while liberating the spaces these shysters have foreclosed, abandoned and repelled. It’s not so farfetched to call this global ruling class an “aristocracy” because they have much in common with the parasitic elites of yesteryear. For one thing, their profits and capital accumulation have arisen from a marketed penchant for dispossession; they’ve shown zilch commitment to investing in living labor in actual production.

Much wealth comes from titles to rent, resultant of land monopolization and real estate speculation, and from interest accruing from financial assets, many of which are purely fictitious and extortionately make-believe, including make-believe service charges and transaction fees incurred on borrowers. Profits have little to do with corporations investing in salaried workers and making quality products at lower prices than their competitors, doing all the things “good” capitalists are supposed to do. Invariably, it’s more to do with scrounging corporate welfare, tax avoidance and monopolization, with destroying competition within a given field. The enormous growth in wealth means more and more redundant workers; living labor is a species en route to extinction, thus sans-culottes — sans travail as well as often sans papiers.

 In the “old” urban question, Manuel Castells suggested that the urban wasn’t an arena of production as such, since production increasingly operated over regional and global scales. A better point of entry into the urban was, à la Althusser, reproduction. The urban was, Castells said, “a specific articulation of the instances of the social structure within a spatial unit of the reproduction of labor-power.” The urban was vital, in other words, for expanded accumulation because it was vital for reproducing labor (and hence, it was thought, value), vital as a unit of “collective consumption” — of collective goods and public services outside the wage-relation, outside of variable capital, stuff provided by the state, like public housing, public utilities, transport infrastructure, schools, hospitals, etc. But in the “new” urban question the state has done something Castells could never have imagined: it has decoupled from its duties relating to social reproduction and to the reproduction of labor-power, and actively repossessed items of collective consumption, privatized them, sold them off at bargain basement prices to private capital — or else freely given them away. All of which heralds an explicit subsidization of capital, an emphasis on the reproduction of “productive” consumption, even if “productive” rarely equates to actual production.

*  *  *

Hazan’s great inspiration for insurrection is the “June Days” of 1848, more so than the Commune itself, because the latter, says Hazan in his foreword to Lissagaray’s History of the Paris Commune, started off as “a patriotic upsurge, a gesture of national pride, before being a revolutionary social movement.” The June Days of 1848 were a truly authentic insurrection of the sans-culottes, one that can set the terms for l’insurrection qui vient (or qui viendrait) in our day. Even the voice of Order, the conservative-liberal commentator Alexis de Tocqueville, marveled in his Recollections (staple reading for Guy Debord) at those June Days, “the greatest and strangest insurrection that had ever taken place in our history.” Tocqueville could almost be describing Occupy, circa September 2011: “the greatest [insurrection] because insurgents were fighting without a battle cry, leaders, or flag, and yet they showed wonderful powers of coordination.” Yet if Tocqueville is brilliant and surprisingly generous at analyzing what insurgents did between February and June 1848, he’s also damning about what they failed to do after assuming power, and after la Garde mobile marched into town. (The CRS and the privatized security force of the RATP are La Garde mobile’s latter-day reincarnations.)

The June Days were a revolt of the “unknown,” initiated by an anonymous rank-and-file, by a nobody urban proletariat, ordinary men and women “who gave events their color and explain in part why they’re now forgotten.” 1848 is the most important insurrection in working class history, says Hazan, because it “marked the severing of an implicit pact, or, if you like, the end of an illusion: that the people and the bourgeoisie, hand-in-hand, were going to finish what they’d started in the Revolution [of 1789].” Today, we’ve seen another illusion put to an end, punctured, a rupturing with our own post-war consensus (and dissensus): that of paternal capitalism giving ordinary people a break, of a bourgeoisie and workers establishing a just social contract together. All bets are now summarily off. What we’ve seen instead is the end of an era of expectations: expectations of steady jobs, with decent pay, with benefits, with security and pensions; the whole bit.

Experiments in living today necessarily mean having no expectations in life, except those you create yourself, invent yourself, including the insurrection — an insurrection in which economic self-empowerment encounters political collective-empowerment; the favelas as well as financial districts, banlieues as well as bidonvilles, the malls as well as Main streets would all get occupied then, democratized by an inexorable and an insatiable swarming, by a sheer numbers-game asserting itself as a political subjects-game. At that point, the barricades wouldn’t so much go up in the center of the city (à la Commune) as those barricades that separate centers from peripheries would get torn down, removed within the tissuing of global urban space. Such is my wish-image for the coming New Year, for the new civil war unfolding across the planet, the new urban question. For the moment, though, Hazan knows, just as I know — just as Tocqueville knew back in 1848 — that the fighting has stopped, even if it is due to start again any day soon. “The insurrection was everywhere contained,” says Tocqueville, “but nowhere tamed.”

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.