Role That Urbanized Communities Play In The Larger Political Economy
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Role That Urbanized Communities Play In The Larger Political Economy
Chapter Four: Representation
Before you get started….
Find two images that capture how a community or group within your city is represented or under-represented in local decision-making processes or urban institutions. Be prepared to share your images with other students and discuss why these pictures demonstrate representation within your city.
By the end of this chapter you will be able to:
- Articulate categories and examples of decisions that are made on the local level
- Describe the unique opportunities and challenges that city governments face given the role that urbanized communities play in the larger political economy
- Explain how powerful individuals may shape urban policy making
- Define the concept of the right to the city
- Understand the relationship between public space access and representation in urban environments
In this chapter, we’ll examine how the diverse communities within a city achieve recognition and gain the right to participate in decisions that impact urban life. We’ll begin by defining exactly what types of decisions are made on the urban level. Then we will focus on participation processes and examine the various populations that influence the local decision-making process. Next, we will address the concept of the right to the city. Does such a right exist? And finally, we’ll look at the role public spaces play in incubating representation and bridging differences.
What decisions get made on an urban level?
In order to understand how individuals and communities are represented in urban areas, first we must identify the specific decision-making responsibilities that fall within the urban realm. Early urban theorists did not articulate the unique political powers that cities had, instead they sought to distinguish how urban communities differed from traditional rural settlements and to identify the ways in which cities produced new social relationships. The field of urban studies arose in reaction to the wave of urbanization and industrialization that swept Europe and North America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. During this era, the city was politically subordinate to the nation-state, which made many of the major decisions that impacted urban economies, legal structures, public revenue streams, and trading relationships.
Cities have not always been governed by a larger national body. Some of the earliest urban settlements were city-states, or a sovereign territories that encompassed a city and its agricultural hinterlands. City-states existed in the Middle East, Mediterranean, Europe, Asia, Central America, and Africa.[endnoteRef:1] The Sumerian city-states of Ur, Uruk, and Lagash flourished 5000 years ago, and the city-states of the Niger Delta region remained self-governing until Europeans colonized the area in the 1890s. City-states were politically and economically autonomous units, but they did not always remain independent entities. For example, the Mixteca region of southern Mexico contained more than 100 city-states starting around 900 A.D. These city-states retained much of their political sovereignty even after they were conquered by the Aztecs but lost their independence when the Spanish colonized Mexico. [1: Morgens Herman Hansen, A Survey of the 37 Identified City-State Cultures, accessed at < http://www.teachtext.net/bn/cpc/ > 16 December, 2018.]
While many city-states were monarchies or oligarchies, ruled by a small group of property owners, the ancient Greek city-states were the first democracies. The Greek term polis referred to a city-state and all of the territories and public spaces within it.[endnoteRef:2] The term polis was also used to describe a process of popular rule that was used in these independent communities.[endnoteRef:3] Greek poleis were governed by citizen assemblies. Participation in these assemblies was open to men who were citizens of the polis and were not enslaved. Although these assemblies disregarded the voices of large portions of the city-state population: women, children, slaves, and immigrants, the polis represented the first system of democratic rule in the ancient world.[endnoteRef:4] [2: Kitto, H.D.F. “The Polis,” in The City Reader, ed. by Richard LeGates and Frederic Stout (London and New York: Routledge, 2000), 31-6.] [3: Morgens, Herman Hansen (2006) Polis: An Introduction to the Ancient Greek City-State, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ] [4: Kitto]
The polis fostered a culture of political participation where all male citizens were equal regardless of their wealth or standing. In poleis, assemblies of varying sizes and age groups passed criminal laws, administered justice, created a currency, collected taxes and solicited loans for public projects, purchased property, made foreign policy decisions, went to war, negotiated treaties, organized festivals and religious ceremonies, determined procedures and rules for governing, and made decisions about the economic, political, and social life of those who lived in the polis. Each city-state was like an autonomous country, which might join in confederation with other poleis or occasionally, go to war with them.
During the Renaissance in Europe, city-states like Venice and Genoa flourished due to their role as long-distance trading centers.[endnoteRef:5] These mercantile cities issued their own currencies, maintained transportation infrastructure, and provided capital and finance to merchants, roles that are now the purview of national political or economic institutions. Charles Tilly, a sociologist and historian, observed that cities during this time period were places where capital and wealth was produced and concentrated and where decisions were made about how to circulate excess profits.[endnoteRef:6] Tilly argued that the nation-state primarily gains its power through coercive means, largely by maintaining and deploying a significant military force, rather than through the economic influence that defined mercantile city-states. From the middle ages up through the 18th century, European monarchs shifted from relying on decentralized militia forces in times of war and collecting taxes and tributes from city-states and wealthy merchants to absorbing these independent financial and military apparatuses into national political, military, and economic institutions that subsumed many of the duties and decisions that had once occurred at the city level. As the monarchs consolidated control over city-states, they lost their autonomy, and decisions regarding foreign and economic policy were made by the crown. [5: Michele Frantianni and Franco Spinelli, “Italian city-states and financial evolution,” European Review of Economic History, 2006, 10, 257-278. Jonathan Spence, “The Roots of Modern Capitalism.” New York Times, 10 July 1983 accessed at: https://www.nytimes.com/1983/07/10/books/the-roots-of-modern-capitalism.html. ] [6: Charles Tilly, “Cities and States in Europe 1000-1800,” Theory and Society, September, 1989, 18, 5, 563-584. ]
Beginning in the nineteenth century, industrialization and rapid urbanization posed new challenges for city dwellers sparking reform movements that won increased regulatory powers for local governments. As manufacturing drove urbanization, rapidly-built tenement neighborhoods emerged to house factory workers. Tenement buildings were overcrowded, had no plumbing or sanitary facilities, and lacked light, ventilation, and safety features. The squalid living and dangerous working conditions in industrial cities resulted in low life expectancies for the urban working class.[endnoteRef:7] In 1860, the average life expectancy in Liverpool was just 25 years. While urban workers had higher wages than their rural counterparts, poor living and working conditions led to disease and malnourishment. Height can be an indicator of malnutrition. In the early to mid-nineteenth century, urban English men were shorter than those living in rural areas, due in part to nutritional deprivation. [7: “Did Living Standards Improve During the Industrial Revolution?” accessed at < https://www.economist.com/free-exchange/2013/09/13/did-living-standards-improve-during-the-industrial-revolution > 26 December, 2018.]
As workers organized for better pay, reasonable hours, and safe working conditions, an array of urban reformers pushed for improved housing and neighborhood conditions. The emerging medical and public health fields began to document the links between diseases like cholera and poor environmental conditions. In 1842, British lawyer and reformer Sir Edwin Chadwick led a team of researchers who produced a detailed social survey of the Sanitary Conditions of the Laboring Populations of Great Britain.[endnoteRef:8] Social surveys document a community’s living or working conditions by collecting detailed statistics like the number of people residing on a particular block or the amount of rent they paid, numbers of windows in dwelling units, hours worked and so on. Chadwick’s survey resulted in the introduction of housing regulations that stipulated basic requirements for ventilation and sanitation and the establishment of local health inspectors who were charged with enforcing these building codes. The emerging sanitary movement spread to the United States. In 1901, New York City adopted a Tenement House Law requiring adequate lighting and ventilation in all multi-family dwellings.[endnoteRef:9] By 1910, nearly every large city in the United States had enacted building codes. [8: Lopez, Russell, Building American Public Health: Urban Planning, Architecture, and the Quest for Better Health in the United States, (New York: Palgrave-MacMillan, 2012). ] [9: Herrick, John Middlemist and Paul Stuart, Encyclopedia of Social Welfare History in North America, (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2005). ]
The late nineteenth and early twentieth century became known as the Progressive Era in the United States, and it was characterized by labor, social welfare, and housing reforms. While many of the new regulations were passed at the federal level, local governments began to play a more active role in ensuring that their residents had access to safe living conditions and basic services. Many of the services that are taken for granted in contemporary cities started as grassroots efforts to improve the living and working conditions of impoverished urban residents. For example, Hull House a settlement house in Chicago was established in 1889.[endnoteRef:10] Settlement houses were community centers in inner city neighborhoods that were staffed by volunteer residents. Residents were usually middle class reformers, and many were women. They worked with neighborhood residents to identify community needs and provide collective solutions to them. Hull House provided services such as English classes for recent immigrants, child care, and summer camp programs. There was meeting space for clubs and labor unions. Eventually, Hull House grew into a complex of buildings that included a library, labor museum, theater, book bindery, gymnasium, kindergarten, and housing for single, working women. Settlement houses were precursors to the social work profession, and many of the services and spaces they established, like playgrounds and summer camps, eventually were administered by local government agencies. [10: Ibid.]
The urban planning profession was created during the Progressive Era. City governments established planning departments that were charged with relieving some of the worst impacts of industrialization and rapid growth.[endnoteRef:11] Planners laid-out long-term visions that articulated how and where the city should develop paying careful attention to the need to provide adequate sewage, roads, and open space. As the planning profession emerged, designers from a variety of backgrounds wrote popular books that contained great schemes and ideas about how to improve cities. The City Beautiful movement consisted of landscape designers, planners and architects who laid-out visions for enhancing city life by creating great monuments and civic structures that would uplift urban residents with the grandeur of their designs. In England, Ebenezer Howard published a book that outlined his vision for the establishment of Garden Cities–small, cooperatively-owned towns that combined the best of urban and rural living. The Garden Cities concept influenced generations of planners who adopted the design, but not the social elements of Howard’s vision later influencing the rise of suburban communities in the U.S. and garden villages in the U.K. [11: Hutter, Mark, Experiencing Cities, (Boston, Allyn and Bacon, 2012).]
The organizing efforts of labor activists and social reformers greatly expanded the decision-making powers of local governments in the late 19th and early 20th century. While national political institutions continued to determine economic, trade, and foreign policy decisions that had been under the purview of ancient city-states, local governments gained the authority to regulate the built environment and development within their boundaries and to manage various social welfare programs designed to benefit urban residents.
City governments—unique powers and limitations
Manuel Castells used the term “collective consumption” to describe political responsibilities like providing and regulating housing and social services that fall under a city’s purview.[endnoteRef:12] In the early 1970s, Castells sought to illuminate the role that the city played in the overall political and economic systems. Using a Marxist analysis, he theorized that cities were responsible for the reproduction of the labor force, in other words, for supplying shelter, goods, transportation and services to working families. Castells argued that the collective consumption responsibilities of cities were critical to the functioning of the overall economy and potential sites of struggle and conflict among urban dwellers. [12: Castells, Manuel (1977) The Urban Question- A Marxist Approach (Translated by Alan Shendan), Cambridge, MIT Press Originally published as La Question urbaine, Francois Maspero, 1972 and 1976]
A decade later, Paul Peterson noted that the redistributive, allocative, and developmental impacts of urban policies are limited by the role cities play in the larger national and global political economy.[endnoteRef:13] Cities face the simultaneous challenges of having to attract and maintain businesses and jobs, while meeting their residents’ needs. The collective consumption responsibilities Castells highlighted cost money to implement. While federal or state funds may defray some of the costs of providing for urban residents’ needs, city budgets are largely funded through local tax revenues. Yet, businesses and property owners may be driven away by high local tax rates, which creates political tensions for city officials. Peterson concluded that given this conundrum, a city’s most effect tool for controlling development and mitigating inequality is to invest in infrastructure and enact land use regulations. By controlling land uses, city officials can attract the types and amounts of businesses and investments that they believe are necessary to meet the community’s economic and social needs. [13: Peterson, Paul, City Limits, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981). ]
David Harvey, an urban geographer analyzed the built environment of cities from a wider political economic perspective. He was interested in the connections between places and capitalist economic processes. He noted that pre-industrial cities emerged in resource-rich areas that were capable of producing surpluses that were distributed among the people living within that area. There were regional variances in resource availability, which led to dissimilar production and consumption patterns. In industrial society, many of these regional differences were smoothed over, because mass production and efficient transportation networks allowed for a wide-ranging distribution of consumer goods. [endnoteRef:14] Harvey did not simply see the city as a site of production or reproduction of labor, as Castells did, instead he recognized that cities are also places where consumers can access a huge variety of goods and services that are not necessarily dependent upon local resources. [14: David Harvey, 1973 Social Justice and the City ]
In addition to the role the city plays in producing and distributing goods and services, Harvey viewed cities as an important investment sites for capital. He identified a “secondary circuit of capital” that consists of urban real estate and infrastructure.[endnoteRef:15] When business owners have excess profit that cannot all be reinvested into their companies in the form of new machinery, buildings, equipment, or higher wages–what Harvey refers to as the “primary circuit of capital”– they seek out other profit-making ventures to invest in. Urban property markets and infrastructure become attractive investment opportunities. The flood of money into these markets helps spur urbanization, but also leaves areas ripe for speculation and a subsequent real estate crash. In Harvey’s view, the urban built environment itself is critical to profit-making and the functioning of capitalism, therefore, decisions about growth, development, and redevelopment become vital functions of local governments that have the potential to have a significant impact on the wider political economy. [15: Harvey]
Harvey also notes that decision-making about where to locate of advantageous and disadvantageous public and private goods are also sites of potential political conflict in cities, as well as avenues for economic redistribution. For example, decisions about where to construct a park can have tangible health and economic benefits for those who live near the site, while locating a major bus depot in a residential area can lead to poor air quality, negative health impacts, and depressed property values to those who live nearby.
Much of this theorizing about the role and limits of city governments was written during the “Fordist” era. Fordism refers to the post World War II political/economic order that emerged in North America and Europe.[endnoteRef:16] The term Fordism comes from the mass production model that Henry Ford instituted in auto manufacturing that was adopted by other industrial sectors. The Fordist economic order is characterized by mass production and mass consumption. In order to keep production profitable, workers had to have enough income to be able to consume the goods that are being produced. A large middle class emerged under Fordism facilitated by a strong labor movement and political rules and regulations that encouraged labor/management cooperation. Federal, state and local governments worked together to provide a social safety net, to invest in large scale public works projects, and to create financial and regulatory systems that facilitated a middle class consumerist lifestyle. [16: Amin, Ash, Post Fordism: A Reader, (Oxford, Cambridge: Blackwell, 2008).]
In the 1970s, globalization intensified and multiplied transnational economic networks, and new political and economic arrangements began to emerge. “Post-Fordist” society is characterized by flexible production, footloose capital, increasingly precarious work arrangements, the rise of the knowledge and service industries, growing economic polarization, the hollowing-out of the nation-state and the concomitant rise of global economic structures (like the World Trade Organization) and the increasing importance of local government’s role in attracting and retaining investment.[endnoteRef:17] “Glocalization,” or the growing importance of both global and local institutions, not only means that power has shifted, but the ways in which all governments relate to businesses and citizens has also changed.[endnoteRef:18] The dominant mode of governing that has emerged in the post-Fordist era is neoliberalism. Ideologically, neoliberalism refers to the philosophy of Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek who believed that the free market was the only avenue for maximizing individual liberty; political institutions were incapable of doing so.[endnoteRef:19] A neoliberal governing strategy orients public institutions towards serving the needs of private enterprise. It runs government like a business and can entail the privatization of public services, the retraction of government from social service provision and the outsourcing of these tasks to non-profit or for-profit organizations, and shifting the focus of government from providing for residents’ collective consumption needs to facilitating private investment and entrepreneurship. Neoliberalism has opened up new areas of potential conflict in cities. Decisions about urban development projects, tax subsidies, private contracting, and oversight of private companies or non-profits who take over traditional local government services are some examples of neoliberal policymaking that may be contested in the post-Fordist era. [17: Ibid.] [18: Swyngedouw, E. “Neither global nor local: ‘glocalization’ and the politics of scale,” in Spaces of Globalization, edited by K. Cox (New York: Guilford Press, 1997), pgs.137-166.] [19: Christelle Mourel Journell and Gilles Pinson, Debating the Neoliberal City, (New York: Routledge, 2017), and Margit Mayer, “Post-Fordist City Politics,” in The City Reader, ed. by Richard LeGates and Frederic Stout (London and New York: Routledge, 2000), 229-239.]
Who participates in urban decision-making?
Who makes the decisions that cities are responsible for? Who do those decision-makers represent? Are all city residents represented equally in decision-making that directly affects their lives? Who serves on the many non-elected boards that help shape the decision-making process?
When city governments began to greatly expand their purview during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they were dominated by political machines. Machine politics refers to a party-based hierarchical patronage system where the political party gains votes by providing local government jobs and services to the communities they represent.[endnoteRef:20] This form of politics, while corrupt, provided an avenue for poverty-stricken and newly arrived immigrant communities to gain tangible, collective consumption benefits that local governments had not systematically provided prior to the Progressive Era. Middle-class reformers pushed back against the anti-democratic aspects of the political machines and were able to successfully enact reforms such as hiring professional city managers to oversee local government bureaus, creating a professional civil servant class that stayed in their jobs regardless of who was in office, and electing representatives city-wide rather than by neighborhood or district. While machine politics were anti-democratic, they were effective at providing services to their constituents. In the early 20th century when cities were expanding the types of services they provided and developing new infrastructure, US cities, many of which were governed by political machines, were able to more quickly and effectively provide services than their European counterparts whose governments were more democratic. Machine politics are not common in US cities today, but similar political systems continue to dominate city governments in many parts of the world. [20: Ross and Levine]
The demise of machine politics did not necessarily mean that city governments became more representative. In many cities, large property holders and those with economic power have a greater influence on local government than the average city resident does. In the 1950s, political scientists began to examine how city governments functioned and who influenced local politics.
The first theories of who held decision-making power in cities emerged from broader community studies, which are detailed, ethnographic accounts of a neighborhood, subculture or small town. Community studies were one of the primary research methods early U.S. urban sociologists employed. They are similar to the social surveys that reformers used to draw attention to problems in industrial cities. A community study of Muncie, Indiana revealed that a small business elite and one powerful family dominated political decision-making in the town.[endnoteRef:21] In 1953, Floyd Hunter investigated political influence in the city of Atlanta and discovered that a power elite comprised of influential business and investment firm leaders drove policy making. A few years later, Robert Dahl examined decision-making in the city of New Haven, Connecticut and found that rather than being governed by a small elite, the city’s political landscape was shaped by shifting coalitions who held sway over particular policy areas such as education, transportation, or urban development. Dahl described a pluralistic form of urban politics, where multiple groups exert influence. [21: Ross, Bernard and Myron Levine, Urban Politics: Power in Metropolitan America, Sixth Edition, (Itacsa, IL: F.E. Peacock Publishers, Inc., 2001). Menes, Rebecca, The Effect of Patronage Politics on City Government in American Cities, 1900-1910. (Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1999). ]
John Logan and Harvey Molotch developed the concept of the “growth machine” to describe the coalition of powerful people and interests that influence urban policy.[endnoteRef:22] By tracing the history of urban boosterism, or place promotion, Logan and Molotch demonstrated how urban policy is oriented towards continual development and expansion. Rather than simply being driven by a small business elite, growth policies are embraced by a wide variety of local institutions within the city. Universities, local media, utility companies, arts organizations and professional sports teams, all of which rely upon popular support and benefit from population expansion are often key backers of growth-oriented policies alongside small and large-scale businesses. Logan and Molotch argued that while this businesses and institutional coalition might benefit from growth policies, they do not necessarily provide clear benefits to local residents, like access to jobs or higher wages. The addition of new businesses into a city can provide increased opportunities for locals, but depending upon the types of economic activities that are added, they may also attract workers from outside the region, resulting in increased housing costs and development pressures. [22: John Logan and Harvey Molotch, Urban Fortunes: The Political Economy of Place, (Berkley: University of California Press, 1987). ]
As local government functions like planning, housing and transportation became housed in professional bureaus, ordinary urban residents often had little voice in how urban development decisions were made. During the 1960s, the federally-funded War on Poverty created Community Action Agencies that were designed to address problems in disadvantaged urban neighborhoods. [endnoteRef:23] These decentralized, locally-based agencies were mandated to encourage “maximum feasible participation” in identifying areas of concern, designing solutions, and allocating resources. While the citizen participation requirements of the War on Poverty programs were ultimately short-lived, the notion that marginalized communities should have a say in the decisions that affect their lives and neighborhoods continued to resonate with urban residents. The 1970s ushered-in a widespread expansion of citizen participation efforts. Some were instituted by public agencies, but many were initiated at the grassroots level. In the early 1970s, neighborhood activists in Southeast Portland mobilized to stop a freeway from being constructed along Powell Boulevard.[endnoteRef:24] With the support of a progressive City Council, the neighborhood groups forced a vote on the issue, and Portlanders rejected the proposal to construct the freeway project. [23: Ibid.] [24: Oregon Historical Society, The Oregon Encyclopedia, Mt. Hood Freeway, accessed at < https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/mt__hood_freeway/#.WkQ7vvmnHIU> 26 December, 2017. ]
Ladder of Citizen Participation
Forms of Citizen Control
In 1969, Sherry Arnstein used the metaphor of a ladder to describe citizen participation programs as a continuum of efforts that could involve at the bottom rung, a manipulation of participants by powerful actors, or at the top, complete citizen control.[endnoteRef:25] Arnstein’s ladder provides a powerful visual tool that can be used to evaluate the quality and sincerity of citizen participation efforts. She argued that citizen participation processes should allow those without power to have a real say in the decisions that affect their lives. [25: Arnstein, Sherry, “A Ladder of Citizen Participation,” Journal of the American Institute of Planners, 8, 3, July 1969.]
While US cities provide some opportunities for citizens to get involved in planning decisions or crafting other local policies, most efforts fall along the lower rungs of Arnstein’s ladder. However, in other parts of the world, city governments provide greater participation opportunities. In Brazil, the National Constituent Assembly convened in 1988 to write a new constitution after two decades of rule by a repressive military dictatorship.[endnoteRef:26] The new Constitution was written by hundreds of elected representatives, but Brazilian citizens were allowed to contribute bills for consideration, and more than one hundred amendments written by ordinary Brazilians were included in the final document. The Constitution mandates that all urban development and public property must fulfill a social function.[endnoteRef:27] In Brazilian cities, residents must have an opportunity to participate in designing health, housing, and educational policies and in urban planning efforts. The city of Porto Alegre pioneered the process of participatory budgeting in 1989.[endnoteRef:28] The process begins at the neighborhood level, where the budgets from the previous year are reviewed and new priorities are established. Ideas from the neighborhoods are shared at regional assemblies where priorities are discussed and voted upon by representatives, then passed along to a citywide assembly, where representatives of the regional councils deliberate and vote upon the final budget. [26: The Brazilian Report, “Under Threat, Brazil’s 1988 Constitution Celebrates 30 Years,” accessed on 2 January, 2019 at < https://brazilian.report/power/2018/10/05/threat-brazils-constitution-30-years/ >] [27: Teresa Caldeira and James Holston, “Participatory Urban Planning in Brazil,” Urban Studies, 2015, 52:11,] [28: Archon Fung and Erik Olin Wright, “Deepening Democracy: Innovations in Empowered Participatory Governance,” Politics and Society, 2001, 29:1, 5-41.]
Fung and Wright call grassroots processes like these “empowered deliberative democracy.”[endnoteRef:29] This form of decision-making is characterized by empowering ordinary people to make decisions about problems that affect their lives and to help determine solutions to them. Empowered deliberative democratic processes engage directly with people on the local level and ensure that there is communication and accountability between local resident decision-makers and the government agencies that implement their solutions and policies. Cities are the perfect sites for this type of direct democratic rule. Their governments are small enough to allow for meaningful popular engagement and the decisions they are responsible for have a direct impact on their residents’ lives. [29: Ibid.]
The Right to the City
The concept of rights is not often associated with local politics. Rights tend to be enshrined in constitutions on the national level and in international documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Rights guarantee access to resources and/or opportunities and protect certain behaviors. Rights are codified by governments and are backed-up by the power of the state.[endnoteRef:30] Given their political nature, rights are also reflective of the social relationships and historical realities of specific eras and places. [30: Don Mitchell, The Right to the City: Social Justice and the Fight for Public Space. New York and London: The Guilford Press, 2003.]
The concept of having a right to the city was conceived by Henri Lefebvre, a French sociologist and philosopher in a treatise published in 1967.[endnoteRef:31] The notion was embraced by students and workers in the May 1968 Paris uprising and popularized around the world. The right to the city has since been adopted by the activist groups and academics and has been enshrined in charters that outline rights for particular cities such as Mexico City and in international documents supported by the United Nations.[endnoteRef:32] However, many of these current incarnations of the right to the city diverge from its original theoretical formulation and instead interpret this concept as a practical list of material and political rights that should be guaranteed on the urban level.[endnoteRef:33] [31: Writings on Cities by Henri Lefebvre, edited and translated by Eleonore Korfman and Elizabeth Lebas, Oxford and Cambridge MA, Blackwell, 1996. ] [32: Gregory Scrugss, “Historic Consensus Reached on ‘Right to the City’ in New Urban Agenda, “accessed at <http://citiscope.org/habitatIII/news/2016/09/historic-consensus-reached-right-city-new-urban-agenda> on 28 December, 2017. ] [33: Purcell, Mark, “Possible Worlds: Henri Lefebvre and the Right to the City,” Journal of Urban Affairs, 36, 1, 2014, 141-154. ]
Lefebvre’s original outline of the right to the city was more abstract and was not conceptualized an entitlement to any particular resource or as a form of political expression guaranteed by the state.[endnoteRef:34] Instead, Lefebvre envisioned the right to the city as the ability of all urban dwellers to access the social possibilities that living in a densely settled, diverse community offers. Lefebvre argued that city is a “place of encounter, priority of use value” and that it has the capacity to be an “inscription in space of a time promoted to the rank of supreme resource among all resources.”[endnoteRef:35] What he means is that the right to the city is the right to interact with strangers, to create spaces that reflect the needs and desires of their users and to collectively make a city that allows its inhabitants to have control over all aspects of their daily lives. [34: Purcell] [35: Lefebvre, 158.]
Lefebvre repeatedly refers to the city as an oeuvre, or a work of art that should be constructed collectively by those who inhabit it. [endnoteRef:36] His vision was a utopian one that celebrates the possibilities that urban society offers. The city in its current formulation emphasizes property ownership and profit-making over the material and social needs of its residents. It is designed by rational experts, like planners or architects, who impose their own visions of what urban life should be like. In all of his writings, Lefebvre focuses on the relationships between urban space, or the physical city, and social relations. The right to the city is quintessentially the right for its inhabitants to create physical spaces that facilitate daily life as they would like to lead it. [36: Lefebvre]
After participating in the urban uprisings that swept across the world in 1968, Lefebvre turned his attention to how urbanization produced alienation and social inequality and how cities and the unique social relationships within them were a potential source of liberation.[endnoteRef:37] Lefebvre argued that urbanization was not simply an outgrowth of capitalism and industrialization; it was an all-encompassing social process, an end in itself, rather than simply a means of organizing industrial production and consumption patterns. He saw urbanization as a totalizing force that reshaped life in both the city and the countryside. Lefebvre envisioned a city where its inhabitants could create a built environment that would suit their individual and collective needs and desires, instead of one designed by bureaucratic staff to benefit business interests. While other urban theorists like Castells and Harvey identified the specific roles the city played in the larger political economy, Lefebvre believed that social relations were a product of urbanization and that these relationships could only be altered if urban residents were able to imagine and produce spaces that served their needs. [37: Lefebvre, Henri, The Urban Revolution, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003) translated by Robert Bononno, ]
In recent years, the right to the city concept has been used by academics and activists to demand specific improvements to city life. In all of its current iterations, the right to the city is always conceived of as something that all urban dwellers should have.[endnoteRef:38] It is not only the purview of those who are registered to vote or have citizenship or residency status. In his original text, Lefebvre was quite clear that this right belong to all who “inhabit” the city, although he specifically excluded the ruling elite whose daily activities are not closely tied to place, but rather “transcend everyday life.”[endnoteRef:39] [38: Purcell] [39: Lefebvre, 159.]
In Caracas, Venezuela, expansion of the public transit system can be seen as an expression of the right to the city.[endnoteRef:40] The construction of cable car and subway lines that serve informal settlements gave low-income residents affordable and efficient access to the central city. In this case, the right to the city wasn’t a right to transportation per se, but rather a right to access the urban spaces in the center of the city that facilitate the types of social relationships that Lefebvre identified as one of the potentially liberating aspects of city life. [40: Kingsbury, Daniel, “Infrastructure and Insurrection: The Caracas Metro and the Right to the City in Venezuela,” Latin American Research Review, 52, 5, 2017, 775-791.]
The right to the city is also a right to participate in decision-making and city-building activities. It is the right for all urban inhabitants to shape the place they live-in so it is serves their needs and desires. The right to participation is closely tied to the right to access information. Lefebvre acknowledged that residents needed access to information, but in the fifty years since this right was originally conceived, information has become a critical factor in every aspect of human life. Data and information play a key role in the production of urban spaces.[endnoteRef:41] For inhabitants to truly create a city that satisfies their individual and collective needs, they need to have full control over and access to information and data. A right to information could encompasses a wide range of situations from knowing what types of potential toxins or contaminants are contained on a piece of property to being notified about potential development decisions to having municipal ownership over wireless or fiber-optic networks. [41: Shaw, Joe and Mark Graham, “An informational right to the city? Code, content, control and the urbanization of information,” Antipode, 49, 4, 2017, 907-927.]
Public Spaces–Incubators of Representation
What sets a city apart from rural areas or small towns is its abundance of public space. Lyn Lofland describes the public realm as the physical locations in a city where strangers mingle with one another.[endnoteRef:42] The public realm includes streets, sidewalks, parks, plazas, shops, restaurants, public and government buildings, community centers, and so on. It is basically any space where entry is not controlled. Lofland argues that the public realm is social territory. It facilitates the full spectrum of human connection. In public spaces, one can simply sit back and people watch, or have an intimate conversation with a close friend. The public realm also plays an important role in facilitating what Lofland describes as cosmopolitanism—the ability to interact with others across differences. In the public realm, we learn to behave cooperatively with strangers, which provides a basis for breaking down barriers of difference. [42: Lyn H. Lofland. The Public Realm: Exploring the City’s Quintessential Social Territory. New York: Aldine De Gruyter, 1998. ]
Despite Lofland’s celebration of the positive potentials of public spaces in the city, they may not always be experienced as safe or tolerant places. Don Mitchell surveyed some of the major struggles over public spaces in the United States.[endnoteRef:43] Protest movements, homelessness and unconventional uses of public space incite conflicts over who should be allowed to access this shared realm and how they can behave there. To control public spaces, cities have enacted laws banning sleeping, sitting on sidewalks, or marching in the street without a protest permit. Mitchell argues that laws that prohibit some groups from using public spaces pose a threat to the rights of all urban residents. “When all is controlled, there can simply be no right to the city.”[endnoteRef:44] [43: Mitchell] [44: Mitchell, 229. ]
Another trend is the increasing securitization and privatization of the public realm. Los Angeles has been described as a fortress city, full of gated communities, heavily policed housing projects and surveillance cameras along the streets.[endnoteRef:45] In many US cities, neighborhood businesses band together to pay for private security forces and public space improvements. While the quality and maintenance of these spaces may improve, these private improvement districts gain control over how space is used and who has access to it. In London, there has been a proliferation of POPs, or privately-owned public spaces that are governed and managed by building owners or associations.[endnoteRef:46] While these plazas, gardens and parks are indistinguishable from their publicly controlled counterparts, the unstated rules within them guard against any behavior deemed deviant or unorthodox. Unlike a traditional park or plazas, POPs do not permit demonstrations or political gatherings and often criminalize homeless people who try to sleep or spend significant amounts of time there. [45: Mike Davis City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles, London: Verso, 1990. ] [46: Jack Shenker, Revealed: The Insidious creep of pseudo-public space in London, The Guardian, 24 July, 2017, accessed at https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/jul/24/revealed-pseudo-public-space-pops-london-investigation-map. ]
Cities have unique functions and play critical roles in the larger economic system. Cities are responsible for the collective consumption needs of their residents and must provide transportation, health, housing, education, and other services. Cities are also investment sites and business elites may dominate governing coalitions, although more pluralistic forms of leadership are possible too. Cities are often geared towards growth and this agenda may dominate policies, although they may not benefit the resident population.
Multiple groups use and access the city from its residents to global-oriented businesspeople. These competing groups may come in conflict with one another over the use of public spaces. Cities allow residents to participate in varying degrees in political decision-making, but the quality and scope of that participation can vary from simple consultation to full community control.
The right to the city is a concept that embraces the liberatory potential of urban social relations. In its original formulation, Lefebvre called for all urban dwellers to have the right to create spaces that reflected their own needs and desires. The right to the city has come to be understood as a right to basic collective consumption needs, to participation in decision-making and to access to opportunities. The right to the city is realized in urban public spaces, where heterogeneous groups mingle and coexist. Limiting access to public space curtails the ability of urban residents to assert their right to representation.
Check your understanding…
- What types of decisions are made by city-states?
- What does the term polis refer to? How were decisions made in the polies?
- List three types of urban services that would be considered part of a city’s “collective consumption” responsibilities.
- Harvey describes the urban built environment and real estate market as a “secondary circuit of capital.” What does he mean by this term?
- Choose one theory that describes how wealthy and powerful people influence urban politics and provide an example that illustrates what this relationship looks like in a contemporary city (you may create a hypothetical example if you are unable to come-up with a real one).
- How did Lefebvre conceptualize the “right to the city,” and how has it been interpreted by academics and activists?
- Why do communities need to have access to public space to make a claim for greater representation?
Urban Literacy: Learning to Read the City Around You pg. 36
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Review of relevant theoretical literature is evident, but there is no integration of studies into concepts related to problem. Review is partially focused and organized. Supporting and opposing research are not included in the summary of information presented. Conclusion does not contain a biblical integration.
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Role That Urbanized Communities Play In The Larger Political Economy