Posts tagged with "urbanism":
Cities are complex systems. But they are incomplete systems. These features take on urbanized formats that vary enormously across time and place. In this mix of complexity and incompleteness lies the capacity of cities to outlive far more powerful but formal and closed systems: many a city has outlived governments, kings, the leading corporation of an epoch. Herein also lies the possibility of making—making the urban, the political, the civic, a history. Thus, much of today’s dense built-up terrain, such as a vast stretch of high-rise housing or of office buildings, is not a city; it is simply dense built-up terrain. On the other hand, a working slum can have many of the features of a city, and indeed, some slums are a type of city—poor, but deeply urban. It is also in this mix of incompleteness and complexity that the possibility exists for the powerless to hack power in the city, in a way that they could not in a plantation, for example, and to hack particular features of the city. They are thereby able to make a history, a politics, even if they do not get empowered. Thus, current conditions in global cities, especially, are creating not only new structurations of power but also operational and rhetorical openings for new types of actors and their projects. In these cities those without power can make themselves present: in the richest neighborhoods where they are the indispensable household support, in the corporate center where they are indispensable service workers, and so on. Thus powerlessness can become complex in the city. And this is, in itself, a transversal type of hacking. One way of conceiving of some of this is as instances of urban capabilities. In this essay I am particularly interested in two features of the city. One is that the global city is a strategic frontier zone that enables those who lack power, those who are disadvantaged, outsiders, and minorities who are discriminated against—even though it decimates the modest middle classes. The disadvantaged and excluded can gain presence in such cities in a way they cannot in neat, homogenous provincial cities. In the global city, they become present to power and to each other, which may include learning to negotiate their multiple differences. They can hack power and they can hack their differences of origin, religion, phenotype. The second feature is the strategic importance of the city today for shaping new orders—or, if you will, hacking old orders. As a complex space, the city can bring together multiple, very diverse struggles and engender a larger, more encompassing push for a new normative order. It enables people with different passions and obsessions to work together—more precisely, to hack power together. Global Cities Are Today’s Frontier Zones The large complex city, especially if it’s a global city, is a new frontier zone. In frontiers, actors from different worlds meet, but there are no clear rules of engagement. Whereas historically the frontier lay in the far stretches of colonial empires, today’s frontier zone is in our large, messy global cities. Cities are now the places where actors from different spheres have an encounter for which there are no established rules. The historic frontier lay at the creeping and expanding edges of empires; but those edges of empires no longer exist today. Today that space of encounter with differences lies deep inside our large, messy cities. Thus, these cities are strategic for both global corporate capital and the powerless. Much of the work of forcing deregulation, privatization, and new fiscal and monetary policies on governments actually took place in the corporate sector of global cities rather than in legislatures and parliaments. In this sense, then, the corporates hacked the city because that making of new instruments was a way of constructing the equivalent of the old military “fort” of the historic frontier: the corporate zone in our cities is a protected, de facto private space. And corporate actors have been doing this since the late 1980s in city after city worldwide to ensure they have a global operational space that suits their interests. The global city is then also a frontier zone because it is where strategic spaces of power can be hacked— though they rarely are, which has always surprised me. But global cities are also strategic places for those without power. They signal the possibility of a new type of politics, centered in new types of political actors. That is one instance of what I seek to capture with the concept of urban capabilities. It is not simply a matter of having or not having power. For the powerless, the city is a strategic space because the political goes well beyond routinized voting and having to accept corporate utility logics, or the dominance of narratives that strengthen powerful actors. Urban space in powerful cities provides new hybrid bases from which to act. One outcome we are seeing in city after city is the making of new kinds of informal politics. For instance, there is a kind of public-making work that can produce disruptive narratives, and make legible the local and the silenced. Political work gets done this way: it becomes the work of making a new kind of contestatory public that uses urban space as a medium, a tool to hack power, even if it does not bring power down. The Occupy movements that rose in countries in very different parts of the world were momentarily disruptive but educational in the long term. They rhetoricized inequality and provided a narrative to large sectors of the impoverished middle classes, usually a rather conservative and prudent sector. It has evolved as a politics that is making headway at the level of political speech and mobilization, but not necessarily system change: Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece, the rise of a seventy-year-old long-term socialist in the United States as a presidential candidate appealing to all ages, but especially the young. Deeper have been the changes in Bolivia and Venezuela, encompassing a whole new vocabulary and governmental logic; less radical but still significant are Peru and Quito. All of these, across their differences, and with varying levels of intensity, share a partial or full repudiation of politics as usual. It also signals the possibility of making a new type of subject, one abundant in cities across time and place, but always somewhat rare: the urban subject that results from hacking ethnicity, religion, phenotype, inequality, physical disability. Old Baghdad and Jerusalem, industrializing Chicago and New York, early-twentieth-century Berlin and Buenos Aires were such cities. This is not to deny the specific histories and geographies that generated what I like to call the “urban subject.” The urban subject is at home with enormous differences of religion, ethnicity, etc. A city’s sociality can bring out and underline the urbanity of subject and setting, and dilute more essentialist markers. The need for new solidarities (for instance, when cities confront major challenges) is often what can bring about this shift. Urban space, especially a city’s center, can hack our essentialisms, as it forces us into joint responses, into crowded public transport, into highly mixed work situations, into public hospitals and universities, and so on. From there it can move us on to the appreciation of an urban subject, rather than more specific individual or group identities that might rule in a neighborhood. The big, messy, slightly anarchic city enables such shifts. The corporatized city or the office park does not. There is yet another type of hacking of long-time orders that is taking place today. It is the hacking of well-established larger units, notably nation-states, that are beginning to lose their grip on domains where they once had considerable control. This is an important even if partial and not always desirable change. In Territory, Authority, Rights, I identified a vast proliferation of such partial disassemblings and reassemblings that arise from the remix of bits of territory, authority, and rights, once all ensconced in national institutional frames. In Europe, these novel assemblages include those resulting from the formation and ongoing development of the European Union, but also those resulting in a variety of cross-city alliances around protecting the environment, fighting racism, and other important causes. These generate a European subject for whom protecting the local or global environment matters more than nationality. And they also result from subnational struggles and the desire to make new regulations for self-governance at the level of the neighborhood and the city. Against the background of a partial disassembling of empires and nation-states, the city emerges as a strategic site for making elements of new partial orders. Where in the past national law might have been the law, today subsidiarity and the new strategic role of cities make it possible for us to imagine a return to urban law. We see a resurgence of urban law-making, a subject I discuss in depth elsewhere (see Territory, Authority, Rights, chapters 2 and 6). For instance, in the United States, a growing number of cities have passed local laws (ordinances) that make themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants; other cities have passed environmental laws that only hold for those particular cities because they are far more radical than national law, or have developed currencies for local transactions that only function in those cities. These are among the features that make cities a space of great complexity and diversity. But today, cities confront major conflicts that can reduce that complexity to mere built-up terrain or a cement jungle. The urban way of confronting extreme racism, governmental wars on terror, and the future crises of climate change is to make these challenges occasions to further expand diverse urban capabilities and to expand the meaning of membership. Yet much national government policy and the “needs” of powerful corporate actors go against this mode. In the next section, I discuss a range of issues that illustrate how the powerless can hack power in the city.
This article originally appeared as Can Cities Help Us Hack Formal Power Systems? on urbanNext. 1- I develop this argument in “Does the City Have Speech?,” Public Culture 25(2) (April 2013): 209–21; see also Expulsions (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014; Dutch translation forthcoming with ACCO). 2- This is the process I describe at great length in The Global City, 2nd updated ed. (1991; Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), and in Cities in a World Economy, 4th ed. (CITY: Sage, 2012). 3- The emergent landscape I am describing promotes a multiplication of diverse spatiotemporal framings and diverse normative mini-orders, where once the dominant logic was toward producing grand unitary national spatial, temporal, and normative framings. See Saskia Sassen, Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008), chaps. 8 and 9. 4- One synthesizing image we might use to capture these dynamics is the movement from centripetal nation-state articulation to a centrifugal multiplication of specialized assemblages, where one of many examples might be the transborder networks of specific types of struggles, enactments, art, and so on.
It may be that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work and that when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.
Since the eighteenth century when the Western world became human-centered, humankind has not ceased to evolve, and so too has the very concept of the human. In 1933, Le Corbusier and a few other members of the CIAM issued The Athens Charter, a document aimed at orchestrating the emerging technologies of the built environment into a proposal for the future of cities. A classification of human activities became the vertebral spine of this proposal, structured around four urban functions: work, residence, leisure, and transport. This functional classification has structured urban planning policies ever since, but its human-centered approach appears now to be unable to address the problems of our age.
Ambitious “Well-Tempered City” explains what makes cities work, from ancient Mesopotamia to Lagos and New York City
As a certain New York real estate figure thrusts a set of unpalatable values down the national throat, another local developer’s ideas are entering public discourse for better reasons. Jonathan Rose is, in important senses, the Antidrumpf: a developer who views the building of communities as an ethically consequential profession. He applies knowledge from nature and intercultural history to benefit entire populations. He advocates resilient development in sane, mature, well-evidenced, and convincing terms.
One finishes The Well-Tempered City with respect for a substantial contribution to the urbanist literature—and with the impression that in an administration dedicated to planetary and institutional stewardship, not plunder and bluster, Rose would merit a cabinet-level appointment. (Interior? HUD? Energy? A polymath like Rose could lead any of these departments.) The Well-Tempered City stands alongside works by Jane Jacobs, Lewis Mumford, and Christopher Alexander, deserving influence and implementation.
The enduring fivefold path
With ambitious scope and explanatory clarity, Rose offers a unified theory of urban history grounded in five core concepts: coherence, circularity, resilience, community, and compassion. He also identifies nine variables critical to the rise of ancient cities: cognition, cooperation, culture, calories (energy), connectivity, commerce, control, complexity, and concentration.
The alliterations may imply a professorial top-down scheme, but Rose infers the nine C-concepts from historical studies before elucidating how stagnation or resilience depends on “urban operating systems” promoting the five principles. Cities that manage resource flows efficiently, generate socially beneficial incentives, and respond to shocks have thrived (e.g., today’s Copenhagen or Singapore, the altitude-adaptive village of Shey, Tibet, or the flexibly organized cities of Islam’s golden age). Wasteful, dis- or over-organized, militaristic, and parasitic cities (e.g., imperial Rome) have ossified and decayed.
Rose distinguishes complication from complexity: the former merely reflects scale, while the latter describes volatile conditions where small inputs trigger large outputs. The acronym VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity), he contends, describes urban as well as biological systems. Design suited to a VUCA environment will avoid the oversimplifications of 19th- and 20th-century planning by incorporating feedback phenomena and by continually adjusting incentives, technologies, balances among market and public-sector mechanisms, and other determinants of civic well-being. Ecosystems’ cyclical resource metabolisms are particularly important, avoiding linear extract-and-discard economies.
Déjà vu will kick in for readers of Jacobs, whose Death and Life chapter “The Kind of Problem a City Is” drew on Warren Weaver’s observations about “problems in organized complexity.” To this foundation Rose adds a broad familiarity with global cultural practices, evolutionary biology, archaeology, cognitive science, and network theory: He has the intellectual discipline to be usefully interdisciplinary.
Discussing how the efficiency metric of energy return on investment (the ratio of usable energy generated to energy spent creating it) correlates with civilizations’ rise and fall, he notes how China’s recent agricultural practices resemble those that doomed Rome for a thousand years; how New York, Detroit, Lagos, and Baltimore have benefited from better data collection; and how a Big Mac takes seven times as much energy to produce as it provides to its consumer. One strong chapter, “The Cognitive Ecology of Opportunity,” links the neurohormonal threat response of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis to environments that traumatize children, exacerbated by exposure to neurotoxins such as lead, producing vicious cycles of maladaptation and social isolation. Tragic cases like Freddie Gray’s death in a struggle with Baltimore police illuminate interwoven civic and individual pathologies.
Taking the polis in for a tune-up
Rose’s master metaphor is the tuning system popularized by Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, an advance beyond Pythagorean “just intonation” (grounded in astronomic-mathematical ratios and generating beautiful scales within each key, but unable to change keys without discord). Music from the baroque through bebop is inconceivable without it. Bach didn’t invent equal tempering; Rose scrupulously credits the discovery to Ming prince Zhu Zaiyu’s Fusion of Music and Calendar (1580), brought to Europe by a traveling monk and incorporated into German music theory by Andreas Werckmeister (1687), then into practice, gloriously, by Bach.
Conceiving harmony broadly, Rose looks to Mesopotamia for another key (if unfortunately named) concept. The societal codes that the Ubaid civilization (5500-4000 BCE) considered divinely ordained, known in Sumerian as meh, are the archetype for subsequent codes found across world history. Rose finds similar operating-system principles in Chinese nine-square geometric urban forms, Lübeck Law regulating trade in the Hanseatic League, and contemporary Smart Growth codes. Conversely, when civilizations embrace a poorly designed code—as when the Federal Housing Administration incorporated racist residential legislation into redlining, or when Chicago School economics ignores environmental externalities or network-scale Nash equilibria, in which choices maximizing individual benefits produce worse outcomes than coordinated choices do—disharmonies are inevitable: congestion, impoverishment, waste, and disease.
Socioeconomic reharmonization requires a comprehension of how codes handle inputs and outputs. Humanity’s mandate is thus to approximate nature’s advanced harmonies. Rose’s spiritually oriented conclusion points out how the Hebrew concept tikkun olam (“repairing the world”) has cognates across cultures. Humanity, he finds, has “evolved with an innate metacode” in which “altruism flows through every bit of a city’s interdependent social and cognitive ecologies, and is embedded in the morality of its systems.”
The audience that needs Rose’s analysis most drastically may be the least prepared for it. “Meh” in current parlance also names the shoulder-shrugging indifference of the incurious to anything beyond their truncated attention spans. Recent electoral results inspire little confidence that American society can decode principles observable in Uruk, Göbekli Tepe, and Chengzhou, and act on them purposefully. In his November 9 AIANY book talk, Rose emphasized how increasing immiseration in poorly built cities requires more comprehension of history and the sciences than partisan politics could muster: “I don’t believe either side of the election had the intellectual capital to deal with this.”
If Rose’s tempering theory omits anything vital, it may be a recognition of evil: Another synonym for the civic distempers flowing from greed and fear. Yet in accentuating the positive, the connectedness that has outlived such distempers, he reinforces our sense of harmony even in out-of-tune times.
The Well-Tempered City: What Modern Science, Ancient Civilizations, and Human Nature Teach Us About the Future of Urban Life Jonathan F. P. Rose Harper Wave, 2016, $29.99
This article originally appeared as The Evolution of Radical Urbanism in urbanNext.  David Harvey, ‘The Crisis of Planetary Urbanization’ in Pedro Gadanho (ed), Uneven Growth: Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities (2014) 29.  See Le Corbusier, Toward an Architecture (1927); R Buckminster Fuller, ‘Invisible Future’ (December 1967) 11 San Francisco Oracle 24.  Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future (2005) 168. This and other portions of this text are excerpted from a curatorial statement authored by UABB curatorial advisors Ersela Kripa and Stephen Mueller from AGENCY.  John R Gold, The Experience of Modernism: Modern Architects and the Future City, 1928-53 (2013) 15-16.  Meyer Schapiro, ‘Architect’s Utopia: Review of Architecture and Modern Life’ (1938) 4 Partisan Review 46, 89-92.  Reyner Banham, Theory and Design in the First Machine Age (2nd ed, 1980) 12; Tahl Kaminer, Architecture, Crisis and Resuscitation: The Reproduction of Post-Fordism in Late-Twentieth-Century Architecture (2011) 19.
We are living in an urban age. According to the United Nations, the balance of people living in cities crossed the threshold of 50 percent in 2008 for the first time in the history of the planet. By 2050, it is estimated that more than three-quarters of the world’s population could reside in cities.
With such global demographic shifts taking place within cities, combined with the accelerating challenges of climate change, it would be easy to be pessimistic about the future.
The UN conference Habitat III, which took place in Quito, Ecuador, from October 17–20, was a key moment in which the global community embraced the idea of urbanization as a positive agent of change in human development. Occurring only once every 20 years, the conference collects some of the world’s most influential policy makers, politicians, press, designers, researchers, experts in sustainability, and interested onlookers on issues surrounding housing and sustainable urban development.
This year there were 45,000 participants, the greatest number ever to attend. Many of the thousands of participants appeared to be local Quiteños who had managed to register in time and had braved the long lines. The week was hectic, busy with visitors clamoring to attend panel discussions, visit exhibitions, and listen to lively discussions. The audience was filled with intrigue and anticipation, teetering on frenzy—there was so much to do and so many important conversations to absorb and participate in.
We felt that this was a landmark week—because we were in the place where the New Urban Agenda, the ambitious document that underpins the conference, was officially adopted. Paragraph five out of its twenty-three pages perhaps communicates best its bold potential: “By readdressing the way cities and human settlements are planned, designed, financed, developed, governed, and managed, the New Urban Agenda will help to end poverty and hunger in all its forms and dimensions, reduce inequalities, promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, in order to fully harness their vital contribution to sustainable development, improve human health and well-being, as well as foster resilience and protect the environment.”
The positive outlook continued into the conference and throughout there was a series of exciting conceptual revelations that shifted the discourse on the evolution of cities. It started with recent Pritzker Laureate Alejandro Aravena’s keynote speech at the end of the first day, where he extolled his belief that the moment had come to invert our notion that good cities only come about after the creation of wealth and prosperity; to one where good cities lead by setting the context for economic development—an idea he borrowed directly from Dr. Joan Clos, executive director of the conference. Then there was the hugely anticipated release of the Atlas of Urban Expansion, a collaboration among New York University, UN-Habitat, and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. After years of analyzing satellite data, Professor Shlomo Angel and his team revealed conclusive proof that the footprints of cities are expanding faster than their populations.
LSE Cities and Deutsche Bank’s decade-old Urban Age program explores how the physical and social are interconnected and enter the collective conscience. The New Urban Agenda’s mantra of “urbanization as an engine of sustained and inclusive economic growth, social and cultural development, and environmental protection” with its “potential contributions to the achievement of transformative and sustainable development” seems irrefutable and was adopted by all member states.
However, just because it is written does not necessarily mean it shall be. Reality is unpredictable. Ominously, on the final day of the conference, after days of a smoothly run operation, there was a sudden power outage. The whole complex of the Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana, where the majority of the conference was located, was temporarily thrown into darkness. As people exited the dark lecture theaters, eyes squinted against the bright sunlight, rumors circulated that there were power surges causing explosions on the grid and that the city was without electricity, perhaps even the whole country. An hour or so of presentations, though written weeks before, were wiped from existence.
Leaders often turn to architecture to make concrete ideas that are, in reality, abstract constructions and Dr. Clos was no different in this regard when he asserted that the New Urban Agenda is contingent on “three pillars” of development: the rule of law, good design, and a sound financial plan. By the end of the conference they were being expounded almost as if they were fundamental laws of nature: “Without these three pillars in a good manner, well balanced, we don’t have good urbanization. You can have excellent project design of two pillars but if … any one of them fails, all the systems fail.” Unsurprisingly, architects across history have been among the biggest exponents of using architectural rhetoric to imbue an underlying natural order to their ideas. Though Dr. Clos is an epidemiologist by training, his image of three pillars conjures the spirit of the likes of Vitruvius, Vignola, and Le Corbusier. Though subsequent societies came to recognize these men’s “laws,” as polemical constructs, now that the New Urban Agenda has been adopted it would seem that Dr. Clos’s words have become a fixed reality for many.
Aravena has an enthusiastic belief in these laws. In fact, his practice, Elemental, provides the perfect example of the three pillars at work. In his evening Urban Talk, Aravena explained the financially sustainable building models his practice develops that allow the construction of homes at scale. He informed us that crucial to his projects, in addition to the relationship between the state and the market, a third element is utilized: the capacity of the people themselves. This dynamic, exemplified in his Incremental Housing concept, is where people expand on their homes within a preset framework when they have the means. Aravena’s model exemplifies how good design enables people who start with nothing to become property owners and even sell and reinvest.
This goes to the heart of a key idea pervading the New Urban Agenda. Bundled up in the preeminence of the city is an ideology that increasing land values will unlock wealth and prosperityfor all, in what the president of the Lincoln Institute for Land Policy, George McCarthy, said is a virtuous cycle: “… when new investments made in infrastructure and services increase the size of the tax base, and increase the value of the land, it becomes the source of new own source revenues and those revenues become available to make new investments…” Essential to delivering on the New Urban Agenda is a strategy based on market economics. In this context, fears over the right to the city are understandable. With growing inequalities in urbanized and urbanizing regions, how can the prosperity of the many be guaranteed?
It is possible to have come away from the conference believing that the world’s leading thinkers on urbanization were broadly in agreement about their faith in the strategies underlying the New Urban Agenda. Except, beyond the high fences and security barriers protecting the Habitat III venues, other events were taking place that ran counter to this, such as “The Alternative Habitat,” organized by activists, community organizers, and researchers who felt left out of the official process. Invisible from any official program, the geographer David Harvey gave an energizing talk at the university on the Right to the City.
Professor Edgar Pieterse of the African Centre for Cities was one of the few speakers to plainly spell out the political economic challenge when speaking on a panel in the conference discussing the UN Green Cities partnership: “… it does require that we also talk about the political economy of vested interests… There are a set of infrastructure economies, financial actors, and financial markets that have a vested interest in the unsustainable form of the city.” Pieterse went further, explaining that “60 percent of the labor force is employed in precarious situations. So they don’t have the revenue or the income to live in these beautifully, carefully planned cities. They don’t.”
However, delve further into the implications of Clos’s pillars, and the whole conception of democratic place making could be brought into question. “First and foremost,” he argued, “urbanization should be based on the rule of law. Good urbanization is based in good urban legislation and its implementation. Good urban legislation generates urban value.”
But how might the rule of law be enforced? The foregrounding of these ideas will have fundamental impacts on the development of cities and their architectures with potentially dangerous unintended consequences. When Clos dictated that “… the natural form of spontaneous urbanization is the slum,” it seemed clear that his insistence on the rules of law is most acutely directed at developing nations and their regions of rapidly expanding informal settlements. What troubles him is that in the coming years, developing countries will provide the greatest growth. Current UN estimates show that Africa alone will account for 54 percent of global population growth by 2050, the majority of which will bein cities. These are precisely the places where the social contract is weakest, making the rule of law, regulation, and planning the most difficult and antagonistic to implement. So, if the price of establishing the New Urban Agenda is expropriating land and increasing municipal revenues by imposing new, ever-inventive forms of taxation that also target the poor, without addressing Pieterse’s pertinent point about securing jobs, then UN-Habitat might inadvertently be framing the city as the territory of a battle between elite policy makers, planners and politicians, and the urban poor.