Tag Archives: Cities

Graham Haughton’s Principles of Environmental Equity

We’re in environmental crisis. Everyone knows it, though maybe only really deep down. Everyone knows cities are central to it. I’m coming back to Graham Haughton, because the more I read in general, the more I feel that what he presented here encapsulates a helpful way of thinking about urban sustainability. A term now used to mean all kinds of things, a term thrown around happily by the World Bank and the IMF even, but not defined this way:

For humans, it specifically requires achieving a position that allows us to live in harmony with the rest of the planet, so that we neither destroy ourselves nor the systems that support lifeforms. The essential threat to sustainable development is that the human species is attempting to live beyond the capacity of the earth to sustain both humans and other species, most notably as we destroy the natural balance of critical natural protective systems… Moving towards sustainable development requires economic and social systems that encourage environmental stewardship of resources for the long term, acknowledging the interdependency of social justice, economic well-being, and environmental stewardship. (234)

We need some definitions of this off course, and I so much appreciate this work in bringing environmental justice  together with a more mainstream environmental discourse around sustainability that often never mentions justice at all. I think this is key in thinking about cities, because the environmental justice movement in the U.S. has primarily been an urban movement. In the words of Robert Bullard:

We are saying that environmental justice incorporates the idea that we are just as much concerned about wetlands, birds and wilderness areas, but we’re also concerned with urban habitats, where people live in cities, about reservations, about things that are happening along the US-Mexican border, about children that are being poisoned by lead in housing and kids playing outside in contaminated playgrounds. So we have had to struggle to get these issues on the radar on a lot of the large environmental groups.

I think providing a framework, a set of principles by which different approaches to imagining how we shape the city can be judged, is a good way to do this. Graham Haughton proposes the following:

  1. Intergenerational equity, or the principle of futurity as it is sometimes known.

  2. Intra-generational equity, or, more generally, contemporary social equity or social justice — the emphasis here is on the wider conception of social justice–that is, seeking to address the underlying causes of social injustice, not simply dealing with redistributive measures. (235)

  3. Geographical equity or transfrontier responsibility. Transfrontier responsibility requires that local policies should be geared to solving global as well as local environmental problems.

  4. Procedural equity. This principle holds that regulatory and participatory systems should be devised and applied to ensure that all people are treated openly and fairly.

  5. Inter-species equity, which places the survival of other species on an equal basis to the survival of humans. (236)

I’m not sure that I fully agree with how he defines or expands upon all of these–particularly thinking about procedural equity, how participation and direct democracy fold into this and how that is managed–but I think they are precisely the things that matter. This is where discussion should start, when most of the time I think it falls far short of this and gets us nowhere fast. Reading this from 1999 is like reading Jane Jacobs, filling me with frustration that nothing seems to have moved in the meantime, that discourse proceeds and so does practice and our cities are crawling along to where they need to be — if they are not falling back.

Justice? We still have a hell of a long way to go. And every day it is still poor communities, especially communities of colour that bear most of the costs. That will only get worse as crisis grows. To return to Bullard:

Environmental justice is not a social program, it’s not affirmative actions, its about justice. And until we get justice in environmental protection, justice in terms of enforcement of regulations, we will not even talk about achieving sustainable development or sustainability issues until we talk about justice. A lot of the groups that are trying to address these issues in the absence of dealing with race may be fooling themselves.

And to return to the importance of cities, and the reality of cities now:

So we can’t just let cities buckle under and fall into this sinkhole. We have to talk about this convergence of urban, suburban and rural and talk about the quality of life that exists and talk about the issue of urban sprawl. Basically everybody is impacted by sprawl. People who live in cities face disinvestment, in suburbs with the trees being knocked down, chewing up farmland. So you talk about this convergence, a lot of it is happening now, but it has to happen with the understanding that we have to include everybody, that it has to be an inclusive movement or it won’t work.

So to move forward to practical solutions. I like Haughton’s look at the possibilities that have been put forward — in more dispassionate terms than the fire with which a seasoned and passionate campaigner (as well as academic) can speak in an interview.

Self-Reliant Cities

The self-reliant city approach centers on attempts to reduce the negative external impacts of a city beyond its own bioregion, seeking to: reduce overall resource consumption; use local resources where possible; develop renewable resource-based consumption habits, always in a sustainable fashion; minimizee waste streams; and deal with pollution in situ rather than sending it to other regions (Morris 1982, 1990). (237)

Ooh you say, bioregion. You like the sound of that. So do I. I like most things about this idea.

The bioregion is usually seen as a central construct, replacing artificial political boundaries with natural boundaries, based typically on river catchment areas, geological features, or distinctive ecosystem types, although it is readily conceded that precise boundaries are usually difficult to define (Register 1987; Andruss et al. 1990). (237)

This also envisages a more democratic politics, which is part of the vision of Murray Bookchin (who I’ve read some of, not enough, but going all the way back to Kropotkin and his vision of co-operative society founded on a federation of non-hierarchical groups) and Callenbach’s Ecotopia (I still haven’t read this, I should, I will. It’s short). The danger is that they could become too isolated, folded in upon themselves. That they cease to contribute to the global work required to live well on the planet.

One city alone won’t save us, can’t alone challenge and transform many of the terrible oppressions operating at higher levels. We’re at war, we’re exploiting the resources and the labour of the world, we’re destroying forests and wetlands and … well. To return to cities, it would be nice to have one or two really trying to look to.

Redesigning Cities

This is what we do in the meantime, right? This is the dominant approach — just fix what is broken:

In essence the environmental problems of cities are seen to be linked intrinsically to poor design of the urban fabric, in particular 20th century additions predicated on the assumption of cheap and readily available fossil fuels for homes, work, and transport. Of special concern are the problems associated with the rise of the motor vehicle, from the spread of low-density residential development to the need to build substantial specialized infrastructure, including road systems and parking lots.

This focuses on the city itself, making it better, more liveable, more vibrant, without much attempt at a better integration with nature and the wider region like the first, much less global connections. The other question is just how well this can tackle the social and economic justice issues. You can see a design approach possibly taking the foreground, and of course new urbanism and smart growth that all too often (though not necessarily I suppose) have served as partial justifications for the mass and brutal displacement of the poor and people of colour from central city areas as part of redevelopment. Reshuffling the urban deck hardly seems ideal, but this approach has real trouble tackling the underlying causes of social injustice, particularly racism and, I would argue, capitalism itself. It’s probably not going to.

Externally Dependent Cities

The externally dependent city essentially follows the conventional or neoclassical view that environmental problems can be addressed effectively by improving the workings of
the free market. (238)

He gives this approach a lot more attention than I would, because honestly, look at the world. Just look at it. If the free market, or the government-supported and funded neoliberal market even, addressed environmental problems we would have nothing to worry about. Those semi-socialist Scandinavian countries with their heavily managed economies and regulated industries would be venomous and polluted cesspools, and the developing world where unregulated economic growth is being pushed and funded by the IMF and World Bank would be paradise, just like England was in the middle of the industrial revolution.

Fair Share Cities

The final approach to sustainable urban development is one I term fair share cities, which sets out to ensure that environmental assets are traded fairly, with a particular view to ensuring that exchange docs not take place in ways that degrade donor environments, economies, and societies.

This is about flows of resource exploitation, flows of waste. An equal distribution of benefits and costs. Yet ultimately this hardly seems to bring us anywhere  near an actual goal of becoming sustainable, actually minimizing our weight upon the earth, actually avoiding environmental crisis. Just spreading our weight evenly. I don’t even quite understand this as an approach, it’s more like a neoliberal shell game, but perhaps I am missing something.

Ultimately, the trouble is, much as I like the first option best, none of these go far enough do they. And even though it does not go far enough,  how do you create a self-reliant city from a terrible sprawling one?  I sit and think about what could be done to make LA just for example, to make it sustainable. Land reform I think. A total redistribution of wealth and an end to segregation. A mass construction of social housing in straw bale and adobe, in all parts of the city. Perhaps a return to the old urban form of wheel and spokes that facilitated walking and public transport, a clustering around train stations and the land returned to gardens in between. Perhaps slowly, over generations, I would not wish the trauma of eviction on anyone. A tearing down of walls and erasing of municipal boundaries and tax shelters. An end to suburban subsidies. Some return to the mixed use and narrow streets of the old pueblo. Pedestrianisation. More and more and more public transport. Bike lanes and more bike lanes. A tearing up of concrete and freeing of the river and reclamation of the parks and empty lots. Solar panels everywhere and good jobs making them (but that shit still has to be mined somewhere else, so we need more ideas). A mad planting of the right wildflowers for bees, vegetables, fruit trees. A living wage. Free education. Bilingual education. Sanctuary.

Dreaming is nice. Sometimes I wonder, why not? What could we do if we tried? Yet even with imagination unleashed, can these things happen just at the level of the city? Probably not.

Still, I think I like these principles of equity as way to collectively imagine and then judge our imaginings for moving forward with, in steps as big as we can make them.

For more posts on environmental justice…

On Bankers and The City

An inventive genius would be useless in the City. For the City produces nothing, and creates nothing. It is the great go-between of the world…anyone who contemplates the City as a profession…will not have to face the competition of the flower of his contemporaries, who will be scrambling for briefs, teaching unruly forms in public schools, or rusting in the deadening atmosphere of Government offices…From this comfortable fact he may draw consolation if he does not carry much top hamper in the way of intellect…if he is to prosper in the City, according to the City’s notion of prosperity; that is to say, to put the matter at a modest valuation, if his income is to express itself in four figures (46).

–‘Prospects in the Profession: IX. The City’ Cornhill Magazine, 14, 1902-03, p 623. (Taken from A Vision for London, 1889-1914: Labour, Everyday Life and the LCC Experiment. Susan D. Pennybacker (1995) London & NY: Routledge )

The View from the Train: Cities and Other Landscapes

9781781687765-e406078c7d60b6e833cbb24f8c19c712Patrick Keiller (2013) Verso

I loved The View From the Train, my only critique is that it’s a bit repetitive…but with a collection of essays I suppose that’s par for the course. I’m a big fan of the Robinson films, and it is so so cool to get some of the thinking behind them and the process of making them — narrated in much the same fashion. They also start in a very different place, and hold very different assumptions than I do, though our side is the same as is our love of wandering and obsession with the city.

Both London and Robinson in Space had set out with a perception of economic failure, the result of a backward, specifically English capitalism; but in the second film, this gave way to an understanding that the UK’s social and physical impoverishment was not a consequence of some inevitable ‘decline’, but of the successful operation of a particular economic system in the interests of those who own it. The ‘problem’ that the film had set out to examine was revealed as the result of political decisions that could be challenged’ (6).

It is unique and more theoretical (Lefebvre is used in wholly new ways), and at the same time in the same vein of other London writers and ‘psychogeographers’ (Sinclair especially), which in itself I find fascinating. But they all pull from much the same canon (which I love, but there area few others I might just love more). Two quotes:

–from Benjamin’s essay on surrealism, ‘where he identifies the revolutionary potential of “everything we have experienced on mournful railway journeys…on godforsaken Sunday afternoon” (4).

–Bernard Tschumi writes that for Bataille ‘architecture covers the scene of the crime with monuments’ (18).

The rest of the cannon includes De Qincey, Poe, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Apollinaire, Aragon. Among them, as Keiller writes:

The desire to transform the world is not uncommon, and there are a number of ways of fulfilling it. On of these is by adopting a certain subjectivity, aggressive or passive, deliberately sought or simply the result of mood, which alters experience of the world, and so transforms it (9).

This formulation of the revolutionary nature of the writers, surrealists, situationists so often cited is an interesting one. I never knew that the surrealists tried to organise a ‘tourist’ event, on 14 April, 1921. Organised by Breton, it was to bring their insights gained from brothel and suburb exploration to the public, to ‘put in unison the unconscious of the city with the unconscious of men’ (14). But it rained, no tourists arrived, the rest of the tours were cancelled.

I also love some of the ideas behind the photography:

This visual material deliberately depicts places that are nearly or altogether devoid of human presence and activity, but which because of this absence are suggestive of what could happen, or what might have happened…. The aim is to depict the place as some sort of historical palimpsest, and/or the corollary of this, an exposition of a state of mind (11).

I loved the insights into decline, from ‘Port Statistics’, a wonderful examination of the docks and in 2001, an interesting foreshadowing of what was to come:

In the UK, wealth is not confined to a conservative nomenklatura, but the condition of, say, public transport or state-sector secondary schools indicates that the governing class does not have a great deal of use for them. People whose everyday experience is of decayed surroundings, pollution, cash-starved public services, job insecurity, part-time employment or freelancing tend to forget about the UK’s wealth. We have been inclined to think that we are living at a time of economic decline, to regret the loss of the visible manufacturing economy, and to lower our expectations. We dismiss the government’s claims that the UK is ‘the most successful enterprise economy in Europe’, but are more inclined to accept that there might b less money for schools and hospitals, if only because of the cost of financing mass unemployment (46)

From ‘The Dilapidated Dwelling’:

…under advanced capitalism it is increasingly difficult to produce and maintain the dwelling. This is especially odd given that dwellings constitute the greater part of the built environment, that they are the spaces where most people spend most of their time, and where arguably the real ‘work’ of society is done. Modernity, it seems, I exemplified not so much by the business park or the airport, but by the dilapidated dwelling (54)

Interestingly though, we differ greatly in the meaning of home and the meaning of dwelling. I myself love these old houses, these Victorian and Georgian rows. I dream of a city where the are neither dilapidated nor obsessively maintained to historic code by the wealthy. But I would welcome genuinely new architectural designs for homes and common living, and agree that none have been forthcoming, at least not here. Written in 1998,this comes before the majority of the ‘loft’ and ‘luxury flat’ development for wealthy young professionals emerging from regeneration. Part of me thinks they deserve those boxy and unimaginative and shoddily-constructed status symbols, if only the rest of us didn’t have to look at them. If only to build them, they didn’t first have to destroy. For myself, and perhaps from the vantage point of the next generation, it is hard to imagine this:

The volume of new construction is now less than it used to be, and western cities have not change anything like as much as was expected in, say, the early 1960s (70).

But gentrification is in here:

in London now, psychogeography leads not so much to avant-garde architecture as to gentrification
…. The great irony of the UK’s psychogeography phenomenon is that its invocation of the flaneur only narrowly preceded an almost immediate commodification of café culture (71).

The same idea in relation to psychogeography’s surrealist and situationist antecedents:

At the time [1990s], I suggested that their purpose had been overlooked: the derive and psychogeography were conceived, in a more politically ambitious period, as preliminaries to the production of new, revolutionary spaces; in the 1990s they seemed more likely to be preliminary to the production of literature and other works, and to gentrification, the discovery of previously overlooked value in dilapidated spaces and neighbourhoods (186).

This brings us to the urban and capitalism:

Capitalism both destroys and creates places, but the places it creates seem always, at least to begin with, less substantial, less rich, than the places it destroys…On the other hand, modern capitalism also gives place high value–partly by making its sought-after qualities scarce, partly by concentrating power in the global system in particular places: New York, Tokyo, Frankfurt, Paris, London, and so on. In the interstices of all this–in more or less dilapidated domestic spaces, as ‘consumers’ (neither passive nor docile)–we live our lives (73)

And finally just the voice:

–‘The UKs production of desirable artefacts is certainly lamentable (and confirms the stereotype of a nation run by Phillistines with unattractive attitudes to sexuality’ (45).

–repression and S&M hunt the Conservatives in a way that cannot be put down simply to the influence of the public schools (48).

This is just an odd collection of thoughts to do with what I am working on now, but there is so much more here on film and SF and an entertaining narrative of a trip to Rochester and some modern pictures inset with old pictures matched perfectly to the streetscape in ways that destabilize our sense of reality — the strength of film and photography perhaps as he argues.

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The Condition of the Working Class in England

engels condition of the working class017(1)In the words of my partner, a corker. It left me with a number of impressions.

The most overpowering is just rage and sadness at how the industrial revolution decimated lives. Half of children dead by the age of 5, average life expectancy from 45 to 50, the malnutrition, cold, damp, misshapen bodies, impotency and infertility, lost limbs, lost lives.

‘The English working men call this ‘social murder’, and accuse our whole society of perpetrating this crime perpetually. Are they wrong? (38)

No. They are not wrong, and Engels’s goal with this work is to prove it. He writes:

I have now to prove that society in England daily and hourly commits what the working-men’s organs, with perfect correctness, characterize as social murder, that it has placed the workers under conditions in which they can neither retain health nor live long; that it undermines the vital force of these workers gradually, little by little, and so hurries them to the grave before their time. I have further to prove that society knows how injurious such conditions are to the health and the life of the workers, and yet does nothing to improve these conditions (107).

The second is just how much this must have contributed to Marx’s thinking in writing Capital, I read it and throughout the empirical and social research I found so many echoes (but they must be considered previews really) of Marx’s more theoretical work making sense of it, bringing its insights into order and revealing a deeper structural functioning. Editor and author of the introduction Dave McLellan notes that it was one of Engels’s articles on this political economy of the factories which first awoke Marx’s interest in economics when he received it as editor of the radical German journal to which Engels was submitting it. I can’t help but think that these two works should be more tightly linked, particularly for those like myself who are nervy of theory too removed from concrete fact. I like to think now, of this being the first volume of their work throughout the volumes of Capital, the understanding of raw suffering and misery, the initial grasping of the roles played by competition (given an entire chapter which proposes that capitalism consists of a never-ending movement between crisis and prosperity and this requires a reserve army of workers) and constantly improving technology, that drove them to fully theorise these things much more elaborately and certainly at far remove from the actual conditions described here. Some of them are revisited in Capital itself, but I found this to be far more persuasive, both why a bigger theory of capitalism was so desperately needed, and to dig into the way it has functioned to impact worker’s lives and how they have struggled against it (which Capital never gets to…).

Third, the character of Engels himself. In the opening dedication ‘To the Working Classes of Great Britain’, he writes

‘I forsook the company and the dinner parties, the port wine and champagne of the middle classes, and devoted my leisure hours almost exclusively to the intercourse with plain Working Men(9)

I can think of no more hilarious opening, and McLellen does right in pointing out (as Engels points out himself in his 1885 preface), how young Engels was: only 24 when he researched and wrote this between 1843-45 while working at his father’s thread factory in Manchester. How imbued he was with the idealism of the Young Hegelians and the even more radical politics of Hess and Marx. He remains in many ways a man of his time and class, with many a cringe-worthy sentence on the nature of the Irish and the stupidity of the working man, and the most amazing failure to see any revolutionary potential in the thousands of women and child workers. He sees instead a fundamentally unnatural system where women work and men actually take care of the home (OMG! the horror!).

Can anyone imagine a more insane state of things?…this condition, which unsexes the man and takes from the woman all womanliness…(155)

On the working classes? He confuses arrests with criminality for example, completely failing to recognise the use of police and prison to dominate and contain. It is hard imagining him treating any factory as an intellectual equal. For the Irish, he does note that it is primarily as an exploited country and as immigrants that they are used to force wages and demands down. But there is a brutal judgment of their humanity running through everything:

In short, the Irish have discovered the minimum of the necessities of life, and are making the English workers acquainted with it. Filth and drunkeness, too, they have brought with them (103)

Fourth, the key observations of the city and its form that he makes. On Manchester:

The town itself is peculiarly built, so that a person may live in it for years, and go in and out daily without coming into contact with a working-people’s quarter or even with workers, that is, so long as he confines himself to his business or to pleasure walks. This arises chiefly from the fact, that by unconscious tacit agreement, as well as with outspoken conscious determination, the working-people’s quarters are sharply separated from the sections of the city reserved for the middle class; or, if this does not succeed, they are concealed with the cloak of charity (57)

He looks at the full layout of the city, with each class inhabiting its sections, and large thoroughfares separating them, lined with shops and activity and closing off from view the inner courts and closes:

The finest part of this arrangement is this, that the members of the money aristocracy can take the shortest road through the middle of all the laboring districts to their place of business, without ever seeing that they are in the midst of the grimy misery that lurks to the right and the left. …they suffice to conceal from the eyes of the wealthy men and women of strong stomachs and weak nerves the misery and grime which form the complement to their wealth (58).

The descriptions of thousands of people crammed into tiny closes with pigs and no sewage facilities or drainage or running water are heart breaking.

If anyone wishes to see in how little a space a human being can move, how little air–and such air!–he can breathe, how little of civilization he may share and yet live, it is only necessary to travel hither (65)

He diagrams the closes and courts, the new rows being thrown up shoddily by speculative builders and the methods and materials they use. He also sees them, like Lefebvre long after him, as the birthplaces of struggle:

The great cities are the birthplaces of labour movements; in them the workers first began to reflect upon their own condition, and to struggle against it; in them the opposition between proletariat and bourgeoisie first made itself manifest; from them proceeded the Trade Unions, Chartism, and Socialism. The great cities have transformed the diseases of the social body, which appears in chronic form in the country, into an acute one, and so made manifest its real nature and the means of curing it. Without the great cities and their forcing influence upon the popular intelligence, the working class would be far less advanced than it is. Moreover, they have destroyed the last remnants of the patriarchal relation between working men and employers…(133)

And finally, the accounts of struggle to recover humanity through theft, arson, murder by despairing individuals, and the struggle to organise into unions and associations, to win political change through chartism. There is so much to admire here, even though Engels own theoretical belief in the inevitability of defeat is at war with the hopefulness inspired by worker struggle:

The history of these Unions is a long series of defeats of the working men, interrupted by a few isolated victories. All these efforts naturally cannot alter the economic law according to which wages are determined by the relation between supply and demand in the labour market. Hence the Unions remain powerless against all great forces which influence this relation (224)

He describes long strikes and gun battles. The ‘Rebecca’ disturbances in Wales, in which agricultural workers donned women’s clothing and black face to conduct their rebellion. he prophesied revolution coming at any minute.

He was wrong of course, at least about the imminence of revolution. It reminds me of reading Angela Davis writing in the 60s, that firm belief that change is around the corner. Writing his preface 40 years later, I found it fascinating to discover that that part of his explanation for this failure is the rise of England as the manufacturing hub of a globalised world, exporting to all of Europe and creating a demand for its goods as far away as Africa. This caused the manufacturers to make a compact with workers (my word), raising wages and improving conditions so as not to interrupt production and wildly rising profits with growing markets whose demand outstripped supply. The beginnings of a newly reorganising chains of production and a growing globalisation.

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Mirrorcity Exhibit, Hayward Gallery

God I hated it. I considered a considered rant about why I got angrier and angrier as I thought about Mirrorcity long after we had left. In summary this felt on the whole like a pretentiously abstracted  slap in the face of any city’s vibrancy, hope, struggle and increasing desperation. A slap we actually paid for and that stuck with me disagreeably through the whole of the afternoon. I would recommend just spending money on Tim Etchells‘ amazing Vacuum Days instead, you can skim through them here. A subset of these pointed and playful and angry thoughts on the daily news had been printed large and stretched up several floors to be read as you climbed the brutalist stairs (whose architect’s utopian dreams were here otherwise utterly smashed into pointless pieces). At the top was another piece by Etchells on the evolving city. Wordy and needing too much time to read for an exhibit really, but there was nothing better to look at. I liked that too and decided I would go see any exhibit of his at any time. I also really liked Emma McNally’s maps. There were one or two other things that were okay, but seriously. Just buy that book. Catch those two elsewhere.

Luckily we had a gig in the evening to remind us what artists can be. Thee Faction and 8 Rounds Rapid replaced all that anger with some awesome sounds, and Grace Petrie‘s every song was like a gift. Made me want to write words that burned, made me want to change the world. They’re all on the same list with Tim Etchells.

Prague Walks: The Big Picture

So much focus on details and beautiful craftsmanship (doors! naked statues! the terror of cherubs!) along with Kafka (I’ve been reading and greatly enjoying Bohumil Hrabal and Karel Čapek, and Čapek is perhaps my favourite yet their words don’t map onto the city as much as Kafka — surprisingly). I’ve maybe missed the big picture, the feel of the streets and the city itself. So here it is. Starting with a bit of the town just outside the tourist quarter walking east, and then heading down to the river and along to reach some of the more well-known vistas:
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There are these beautiful streets in Mala Strana, NE of the Charles Bridge (packed with people and thus fairly horrible and we mostly avoided it entirely):

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Then you turn up through this beautiful arch, climb up towards the castle area, stare out over the city. One of my favourite things is the SF space station away in the distance (I know, I know it’s really something else):
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You come down the other side, towards the street where the Čapeks lived, where together they invented the word robot (I’m sure I have mentioned that already, it was most exciting)

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Their vista
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One of the most beautiful turnings in the world
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You continue down and cross the bridge again, we didn’t make it as far down as Vyšehrad, but there are beautiful modern buildings to be found here, This surprise glass walkway:
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Gehry’s Dancing House (1996):
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The wonderful Manes Gallery:
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There are some really interesting contrasts between the old and the new:IMG_9329

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Prague had some tagging going on, but wasn’t too full of street art. Still, we found this:
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And this wonderful trompe l’oeil:

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And then just vista after vista of the beautiful and the unexpected, the non-sanitised splendour as you wander:
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So that the tourist trail packed (and I mean packed, even in November) across the Charles bridge:IMG_9510
Down into the main square with its extraordinary clocks (which I loved despite the hordes):

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Even that square in the sunset: IMG_9596
was hardly the most beautiful place. I’m glad there is a centre and a focus for most tourists, I almost felt bad wandering the places many others didn’t seem to go, because I imagine Prague’s residents are even more protective of their city and their space. It is hard to imagine it as it was before the industry of travel, though on many of the more distant streets this seems possible. Still, I am so glad, feel so lucky, that I have had the opportunity to go.

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Women who write about cities

Who are key women writing and thinking seriously about cities in fiction and non-fiction? My partner asked me this innocuous question that should have been easier for me to answer as, among other things, an avid reader, a geographer, a feminist, an urbanist. Granted I feel a beginner at the academic interface of all but the first, still, when asked, I was struggling a little. This post is a beginning at rectifying that problem.

space-place-gender-doreen-massey-paperback-cover-artIn the most easily accessible list of ‘great’ or best-known geographers I carry in my head, there is really only Doreen Massey, who has absolutely written on space and gender. Beyond an article or two I haven’t read much, and I’ve been meaning to change that for some time. I suppose Saskia Sassen belongs here as well with her work on world cities, but I think I probably need to revise this list of ‘great’ geographers in my head, or get rid of it all together. Key to my thesis was the work of Laura Pulido, who looks at race, white privilege and the city’s form with a focus on struggle and environmental racism in L.A., and to a lesser extent Gillian Hart, who brings together Stuart Hall and Lefebvre to look at race, gender and space in South Africa. There are Audrey Kobayashi, Linda Peake, Katherine McKittrick,  all of whom I know from searching for discussions of intersectionality and space. One of my favourite books about L.A. is by Becky Nicolaides, a historian writing about the working class suburb of South Gate in My Blue Heaven. Jenny Robinson on everyday politics and the Global South, Margit Meyer writing from Germany on struggle and right to the city. I am sure there are many other women rocking the subject of women in the city, and many I’ve cited, but shamefully they are not in that top layer of my brain’s recall. I’m in Bristol at the moment, but hopefully once I am at home staring at my beloved bookshelves I will come up with a few more.

VIRGINIA WOOLFI’ve been doing all this reading on London and psychogeography as well, and is that shit male! White too. There is a kind of cannon of ‘walkers of the city’ that so many people refer to, Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Years, Poe’s ‘Man in the Crowd’, Baudillaire and Rimbaud, de Quincey’s Confessions of an Opium Eater, Arthur Machen, de Certeau, Walter Benjamin, sometimes Dickens, Breton’s Nadja (where he stalks a woman), the situationists Debord and Vaneigem, there is  James Joyce of course, I always add Dylan Thomas to this list but not many other seem to. Iain Sinclair writing now, Patrick Keillor. There are a few names missing here, but the only woman regularly included is Virginia Woolf, with Mrs Dalloway. Time to create a new and broader cannon I think, much more female, queer, of colour. These groups move through cities, experience cities, desire from cities very different things.

mishaI love noir and SF, which deal so much with cities, but again, most of the people immediately springing to mind as writers of the city are men. Asimov of course, with Trantor, China Miéville’s The City and the City, and New Crobuzon and London in so much of his short fiction and Kraken and King Rat. The city is a character in so much noir, but it’s Chandler and and Hammet, Gary Phillips and Walter Mosely and Chester Himes on LA and Harlem, even Crumley, not Dorothy Hughes or Leigh Brackett or Margaret Millar — though perhaps her more than most. Maybe L.A. for Denise Hamilton, who knows so much history of both the city and noir itself. Chicago in Paretsky‘s novels? Not so much really, not if I remember rightly. There’s the incredible book of urban apocalypse by MishaRed Spider, White Web, Karen Tei Yamashita‘s L.A. in Tropic of Orange, and San Francisco of I Hotel, Nnedi Okorafor‘s Lagos in Lagoon.  Glasgow in Denise Mina‘s work. London’s broader literature scene has Zadie Smith, and Monica Ali, maybe Elizabeth Gaskell on northern cities…but who else? The more I write and think the more names come to me, but I haven’t come across anyone else thinking about these things. Probably my own fault for not looking hard enough.

So I googled women writing on cities. The first hit is a list of work from the Contemporary Women’s Writing Association on contemporary women writers and their constructions of the city from some years ago, it looks good but it is so short:

Comer, K., 1999. Landscapes of the New West: Gender and Geography in Contemporary Women’s Writing. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.

An original text that explores the way in which a number of contemporary American women writers (Joan Didion, Maxine Hong Kingston, Leslie Silko, Jeanne Houston and Louisa Erdich among others) have developed a feminine/feminist, postmodern, multiracial, urban imagination in their fiction.

Fischer, S. A., 2002. “A Sense of Place: London in contemporary women’s writing”. Changing English, Vol. 9: 1, pp. 59-65.

An exploration of the symbolism of London and its relation to race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and class in a range of contemporary women’s writing including Sarah Waters.

Palmer, P., 1994. “The City in Contemporary Women’s Writing” In Massa, A. & Stead, A. eds. Forked Tongues: Comparing Twentieth Century British and American Literature. London: Longman, 1994, pp. 315-335.

Palmer’s essay explores the approach taken by women writers to writing the city in contemporary fiction.

Squier, S. M., 1984. Women Writers and The City: Essays in Feminist Literary Criticism. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press.

A unique critical analysis of the symbolic role of “the city” in a range of women writers. This collection includes essays on Margaret Atwood, Doris Lessing and Adrienne Rich. Also has a very useful bibliography for further reading.

Wilson, E. 1991. The Sphinx in the City. London: Virago.

An examination of various cities with regard to urbanism and postmodernism. Offers an excellent focus on the role of women and the freedoms and perils that face them in the city.

Some good places to start. There is this book from 2006: Unfolding the City: Women Write the City in Latin America, Anne Lambright and Elisabeth Guerrero, editors.  More to read! This book on women’s poetry and translations and walking the city — Metropoetica from Seren Press. But really, without more thought on google strings and library searches, not much more is coming up. I know you’re out there, women. Writing great things, thinking great thoughts. So, a new theme to investigate and write about and hopefully I will find you sooner rather than later.

Restless Cities

9781844674053-frontcover-83c085449c453716ce5cb8062d23e61eEdited by Matthew Beaumont and Gregory Dart, 2010. Verso.

A wide ranging collection of authors writing about the different ways we live, experience, traverse the city — and thus also serving as a possible model to write about and try to understand those things. They are a very accessible series of meditations really, no footnotes or endnotes, a list of readings at the end of each chapter rather than bibliography. Each is centered around a verb: Archiving, Bombing, Commuting, Convalescing, Daydreaming, Driving, Falling, Imaging, Inhabiting, Lodging, Phoning, Potting, Recycling, Sickening, Waiting, Zigzagging. Interesting that each author approached these themes far differently than I would have — a good counterpoint to my interior voice and pointing the way to my enjoyment. A new way of thinking about the city in connection with a way of being or acting within it. Depending on the author, and, to be fair, my own preoccupations these days, these were more or less rewarding encounters.

Archiving is one current preoccupation, and I love thinking of the city like this so I shall spend some time with Michael Sheringham’s piece. The opening line: ‘One of the city’s archives is its detritus’ (1) was unexpected and I wanted more of the strange maps of rubbish, but we soon moved onto the familiar ground of authors charting the dirty depths of the city. Calvino, Hugo, Dickens, Joyce, Perec, referencing Defoe and Poe and moving on to Sebald and Benjamin and Baudelaire and Sinclaire and etc. I like this cannon but really, I think they are a little exhausted by now, their insights well explored, and the incredible diversity of cities deserves some new voices that reflect it. Still, I unequivocally like this, though I am still thinking it through:

For Derrida, the archive is first of all a physical location, a place of deposit–like the Archivo de los Indios…Secondly, for Derrida, the archive is the site of a conflict between the urge to preserve and the urge to destroy, between remembering and forgetting. Archival action consists in the activities of accumulation, classification and consultation: it happens in the present, but its true time-frame is the future. Archives are always of the future; what we make of the pasts that we are made of. The cityscape, its streets, monuments and open spaces, its slums and beaux quartiers, are all the products of accretion, juxtaposition and transformation, but this history is made available to us at the surface. The city wears its heart on its sleeve (12).

I loved Beaumont’s acknowledgment of convalescing and its altered state, the sensitivity and betweeness and the newness of everything and how that changes what and how we see. The chapter on Daydreaming almost made me like Debord and the Situationists again:

As for Mumford, so too for Debord, the ideal city was one in which all human creativity would be maximized. It would be an imaginatively suggestive space, not a streamlined or spectacular one. Such a city would be to some degree structured like the unconscious, a realm in which all elements would exist in an open relationship with one another. It would be a multi-layered space, difficult to control, impossible to plan, the ultimate success of which would be gauged by the ‘situationist possibilities’ it made possible. What is more, the Situationist dream city would be inimical to daydream to the degree that it would do away with the need for it, re-dissolving spectacle back into situation, and fantasy back into play (91).

I’ve enjoyed thinking about how that would work, what that would look and feel like, if I feel threatened by a city that is inimical to my daydreaming. I can’t visualise myself without my daydreams, they are so much a part of me, particularly when I ride public transportation. They are where I work out stories and when my unconscious works best to unknot that problem I’m having in my thesis or my writing.

Driving seemed to miss the joy, the music turned up all the way, the warm wind blowing through your hair, the road before you, the power to go anywhere, the control over your small domain, the pleasure in hugging curves and shifting gears smoothly. In short, the awesome visceral experience that driving can be…though it too often is not, especially in this country. I’m remembering those trips from Tucson to the mines near Green Valley to deliver maps for my dad, driving our boat of a buick older than I was down the windings of Mission road, a two lane highway through the res with its shot up street signs and its lack of traffic. I guess I was lucky. And I suppose that is not driving in the city, nor is Tucson a city in any European sense.

‘Falling’ I loved, Marshall Berman I love because he understands the meaning of home and of losing home, the power of city governments to tear down and destroy and ruin and lay waste and the echoes and unending sense of loss that it leaves in the lives of hundreds and thousands of people. Urbicide. The death of buildings, urban fabric, community, and individual hopes and homes. I like Patrick Keiller as well, his essay ‘Imaging’ is included in his latest collection where I first read it — though I can’t read anything he writes without hearing it spoken by the narrator of the Robinson films. Which I enjoy greatly I confess.

I quite adored ‘Potting’ by Kasia Boddy, a history of the geranium from its early rarity and thus high class beginnings through its sensual teens (just think lips of geranium red) to a long history of bright colour and sturdy uprightness loved by some and despised by others. I was sad to hear William Morris was of the latter. We can’t all have gardens, we can’t all escape the dirty concrete city into a backyard or a summer home or a holiday trip. We can all have a geranium on the windowsill. The geranium through literature is a barometer not just of gender relations, but of class-inflected feelings (and judgments) about the city and the home. This was a brilliant exploration of the city through the popularity and use of a flower.

The final essay on ‘Zigzagging’ by Mark W. Turner was also very powerful, a cry against the straight lines of City Beautiful and le Corbusier, the careful planning and rationalisations of the whole of life made possible by creating a perfectly rational environment. It is a celebration of the bent, the queer, the spontaneous, the unplanned, the poetic. It echoes Dart in some ways, but questions our adherence to that cannon (hurrah!), drawing instead on the glories and dangers of living itself, of cruising, of queerness, of encounter. I loved it, and the importance of the message and the passion of it were a good way to end the collection, as not all of the essays were quite up to that standard. There’s one about perfect coffee and donuts that name drops a stay in every cultural capital of the world…and it is dismissive of Effra Road here in Brixton. But never mind.

There is a lot to think about here, and it will change the way you see certain things. Geraniums at the very least.

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The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study

The Philadelphia NegroW.E.B. Du Bois ([1899], 1995) The Philadeplphia Negro: A Social Study. University of Pennsylvania Press

Du Bois is unquestionably the father of modern Sociology, the more of this I read, the angrier I became that this is not universally recognized. This book is extraordinary. It doesn’t escape all of the faults of its time (this was published in 1899!), but the level of rigorous scholarship and its depth of insight floored me just a bit. What also floored me was how very little things have changed, and that was heartbreaking. But the key to why Du Bois is not a larger figure in Sociology as a whole, rather than Black studies is here: the incredibly insulting terms under which he was given the work of producing this volume at all:

At the University of Pennsylvania I ignored the pitiful stipend. It made no difference to me that I was put down as an “assistant instructor” and even at that, that my name never actually got into the catalogue; it goes without saying that I did no instructing save once to pilot a pack of idiots through the Negro slums (xvi, quoting Dusk of Dawn, pp 58-59)

His understanding of race as not being monolithic, and his humor:

I shall throughout this study use the term “Negro,” to designate all persons of Negro descent, although the appellation is to some extent illogical. I shall, moreover, capitalize the word, because I believe that eight million Americans are entitled to a capital letter (footnote 1, p 1).

His understanding of the connections between slavery and oppression of all workers:

Very early in the history of the colony the presence of unpaid slaves for life greatly disturbed the economic condition of free laborers (14).

There is a lovely history of African Americans in Philly, what most caught my attentions was the early organizing of the Free African Society in 1787 by Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, which resulted after a split in Allen forming the African Methodist Episcopal Church of America, or A.M.E., first African-American Church in America and such a pivotal part of every African-American community across the country.

Du Bois covers the hope inspired by the Haitian Revolution, the rise of multiple white mobs leading to an actual decrease of African Americans in the city between 1840 and 1850. The rise of the highly paid chefs and caterers, who catered to the very cream of Philadelphian Society and earned good wages until the fashion shifted towards European cuisine, exiling African Americans from the field all together. His detailed maps and house-by-house questionnaires cataloguing occupant details, personal observations, interviews as he knocked on each and every single door in the 7th ward. The maps were particularly interesting as they are based upon the Booth maps, detailing poverty in London in the mid-1800s and using the same moral categories, with the bottom being the vicious and criminal poor.

Having just read William Julius Wilson, it was fascinating to encounter similar findings 80 years apart – and much the same moralizing tone – in noting the high number of women widowed, separated ‘indicating economic stress, a high death rate and lax morality’ (70), and a tendency to late marriages. Like Wilson, Du Bois would find that improved employment opportunities would solve almost all ills. He presents an extensive and detailed study of work, with the methodological note:

There was in the first place little room for deception, since the occupations of Negroes are so limited that a false or indefinite answer was easily revealed by a little judicious probing; moreover there was little disposition to deceive, for the Negroes are very anxious to have their limited opportunities for employment known… (Footnote 1, p 97)

Under male occupations there were some interesting things on the list: huckster listed under entrepreneur, and what is a kalsominer? Paper Hanger, Oyster Opener. Under the occupations for the ladies, he has “politicians” in quotes (2), Root Doctors (2) and a Prize fighter! But only one. Prostitutes are also hidden away in a much bigger table for the whole city, but no pimps—although he describes their existence. Maybe they fall under hucksters? What is most clear is how African Americans were systematically shut out of manufacturing and better paid higher status jobs. Du Bois is smart enough to note not just the losses of income here, but the impossibility of accumulating wealth. The ways that wages are driven down:

To appreciate the cause of low wages, we have only to see the few occupations to which the Negroes are practically limited, and imagine the competition that must ensue. This is true among the men, and especially true among the women, where the limitation is greatest… their chances of marriage are decreased by the low wages of the men… (110)

He doesn’t explore this, but mentions the possibility that such occupational segregation is as much caused by racism as it then in turn causes it to deepen.

The peculiar distribution of employments among whites and Negroes makes the great middle class of white people seldom, if ever, brought into contact with Negroes—may not this be a cause as well as an effect if prejudice? (111)

He notes the existence of ‘the curious prejudice of whites’, their dislike, for example, of being buried near Negroes. He gives the story of the funeral procession of caterer Henry Jones being turned back from the cemetery gates (121). But above all, he sees it as economic:

It is often said simply: the foreigners and trade unions have crowded Negroes out on account of race prejudice and left employers and philanthropists helpless in the matter. This is not strictly true. What the trade unions have done is to seize an economic advantage plainly offered them… white workmen were strong enough to go a step further than this and practically prohibit Negroes from entering trades under any circumstances (126) …They immediately combined against Negroes primarily to raise wages; the standard of living of the Negroes lets them accept low wages, and, conversely, long necessity of accepting the meagre wages offered have made a low standard of living. Thus partially by taking advantage of race prejudice, partially by greater economic efficiency and partially by the endeavour to maintain and raise wages, white workmen have not only monopolized the new industrial opportunities of an age which has transformed Philadelphia from a colonial town to a world-city, but have also been enabled to take from the Negro workman the opportunities he already enjoyed in certain lines of work (127)

Unions – ‘white’ sometimes actually inserted as one of the qualifications, but more generally informally maintained. To come to grips with the problems of the 7th ward, however, is above all providing employment:

…the one central question of the Seventh Ward, not imperative social betterments, raising of the standard of home life, taking advantage of the civilizing institutions of the great city—on the contrary, it makes it a sheer question of bread and butter and the maintenance of a standard of living above that of the Virginia plantation (140).

There is a chapter on health, noting high incidence of disease and sufferance, high death rates, particularly in comparison to other groups. He rarely loses his sustained sarcasm:

Particularly with regard to consumption it must be remembered that Negroes are not the first people who have been claimed as its peculiar victims; the Irish were once thought to be doomed by that disease—but that was when Irishmen were unpopular (160).

There is this startling pronouncement on the social nature of crime and on crime as rebellion that precedes and frames a chapter which in other ways sometimes seems to fall back on a more moral reading more palatable to his employers:

Crime is a phenomenon of organized social life, and is the open rebellion of an individual against his social environment (235).

The chapter on crime is sandwiched between this identification of employment as the primary issue and then telling lists of severe economic hardship house by house, room by room. This is followed by lists of individual’s efforts to educate themselves and failing, to find jobs and failing.

The real foundation of the difference is the widespread feeling all over the land, in Philadelphia as well as in Boston and New Orleans, that the Negro is something less than an American and ought not to be much more than what he is (284)

He notes that African Americans ‘are in the economic world purveyors to the rich’ (296), which forces them to live close, in central areas of the city where rents are higher, and there he pays more for house-rent than any other group. For those venturing outside of certain areas:

The Negro who ventures away from the mass of his people and their organised life, finds himself alone, shunned and taunted, stared at and made uncomfortable; he can make few new friends, for his neighbors however well-disposed would shrink to add a Negro to their list of acquaintances…Consequently emigration from the ward has gone in groups and centred itself about some church… (297)

While within African American areas:

agents and owners will not usually repair the houses of the blacks willingly or improve them. In addition to this agents and owners in many sections utterly refuse to rent to Negroes on any terms…public opinion in the city is such that the presence of even a respectable colored family in a block will affect its value for renting or sale… (348)

He states his optimism that this is changing. Sadness.

He notes the social distinctions between those born in Philly and those arrived from the South, with many migrants trying to hide their origins. Unlike many other coming after him who idealized the original ghetto with its mixture of classes, he also describes the distance between the better classes and the rest despite physical proximity:

…they are not the leaders or the ideal-makers of their own group in thought, work, of morals. They teach the masses to a very small extent, mingle with them but little, do not largely hire their labor. Instead then of social classes held together by strong ties of mutual interest we have in the case of the Negroes, classes who have much to keep them apart… (317)

He also describes the ways in which class intersects with a racial hierarchy that puts Anglo-Saxon on the top, this white privilege is extended with some ‘reluctance’ to the Slav and Celt. ‘We half deny it to the yellow races of Asia, admit the brown Indian to an ante-room…with the Negroes of Africa we come to a full stop’ (387). And within the Negroes, there are distinctions as well, of the ‘better’ classes he writes:

They are largely Philadelphia born, and being descended from the house-servant class, contain many mulattoes (318).

So much contained in that one sentence: the remnants of slavery, the higher social class/caste belonging to lighter skin, the history of rape.

There is a brilliant section on voter fraud. Du Bois has some strange ideas about capitalists, the wealthy, the employers being of a better, more intelligent class more suited to improve society. He flirts with the idea of a benevolent dictatorship to solve some of these problems. Part of me thinks he is playing his white funders just a little here, but he might not be. He certainly became more and more radical over time. But here, he seems to be advocating limiting the right to vote to the ‘worthy’ due to the corruption of machine politics. There is a great transcript of a trial quoted at length, my favourite part:

Philip Brown, a McKinley-Citizen watcher, said that the election was a fraud. He saw Mr. Roberts with a pile of money, going around shouting, “That’s the stuff that wins!” (377)

At the same time, I think Du Bois has a somewhat realistic and practical view of why his people might be in favour of machine politics, noting that they do offer some positions allowing African Americans to advance. These are better than none. The challenge is certainly to the reformers, who he fairly outrightly labels as racists, to prove their reforms will be of benefit. In his conclusions he writes:

If in the hey-day of the greatest of the world’s civilizations, it is possible for one people ruthlessly to steal another, drag them helpless across the water, enslave them, debauch them, and then slowly murder them by economic and social exclusion until they disappear from the face of the earth—if the consummation of such a crime be possible in the twentieth century, then our civilization is vain and the republic is a mockery and a farce (388).

And this is what I think he believed could lie ahead. The report ends on an optimistic note, but given its nature as a study leading to policy recommendations to help solve ‘the Negro problem’ (and I love how this entire book reframes it as a white problem) it does end on a hopeful note.

Also included is another study: ‘Special Report on Negro Domestic Service in the 7th Ward’ by Isabel Eaton. It made me think of Angela Davis’s work on this solidarity sometimes shared between abolitionist figures and early feminists and suffragettes who came together on the margins. Unlike DuBois’s work it doesn’t really get down to much of the lived experience of domestic workers, but is an invaluable data source on a subject too much ignored…the work of Black women.

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Mapping Decline: St Louis

3045503Colin Gordon (2008) University of Pennsylvania Press

So many maps! And they are so beautiful! And also damning, I loved them. I wanted more about the process of mapping itself, because so few academic geographers and planners really wield maps like this. So I was a little disappointed that this didn’t involve some thinking through of what the process of mapping teaches us, especially given the title.

What it did do was masterfully describe the growth of St. Louis and its spectacular decline, and it balanced fairly beautifully a big picture view of the policies that caused it along with enough of the intricate detail to judge how it all happened. It describes the period from 1940-2000, bringing this story somewhat into the present which is also rare. He also does a far better job of combining policy and planning analysis with acknowledgment of race: ‘The plot of this story, in St. Louis and elsewhere, is irretrievably racial in its logic and its consequences’ (11). Also that

This is a story that can be retold, with local twists and variations, for virtually nay American metropolis in the modern era. Local, state, and national policies encouraged economic and demographic flight from increasingly poor, and black, central cities. Sprawl and political fragmentation made these cities–and the larger urban (35) areas they anchored–increasingly difficult to govern or finance. The modern urban crisis was a direct consequence of public policy, not an unfortunate social ill that persisted despite public policy.

He opens with ‘Local Politics, Local Power’, a look at the wildly fragmented political mosaic of counties, cities and jurisdictions that make up St. Louis (233 incorporated municipalities in a 12-county area? Jesus). It’s so different than that of L.A. which I know best, but with the same effect — the carving up of an urban area into smaller sections allowing wealthy white areas to insulate themselves and their wealth from the rest.

This pattern of governance in greater St. Luis was accomplished quite purposefully; it was, in Terrence Jone’s apt phrase, ‘fragmented by design’. This fragmentation in turn, facilitated and invited a prolonged pattern of local piracy as political units sought to maximize local wealth and tax bases while minimizing any claims that might be made on them (45-46)

Here too, he examines the politics of the growth machine, the movement to the suburbs of whites and wealth, cities left with no tax base for their poverty-stricken populations.

Next Collins looks at the “‘The Steel Ring’: Race an Realty in Greater St. Louis,” an examination of both the local, state and federal polices that led to intensive segregation, and the real estate industry, which he sees as lying at the heart of it. St Louis was one of the cities that legislated racial zoning, when that was struck down it turned to race restrictive covenants (which, like L.A., heightened during the first great migration of African Americans from the South during WWI). One neighbourhood purchased their street and streetlights from the city so they could impose uniform deed restrictions, but most simply formed those ubiquitous neighbourhood and homeowner associations. Interestingly, Collins writes:

As with most such settings in St. Louis, the local improvement association was more a consequence of the covenant than it was a cause; the boundaries of the neighbourhood were determined by the willingness of homeowners to sign the covenant. (80)

After restrictions were outlawed, these restrictions continued on as art of policy.

The FHA, as Robert Weaver…noted in 1948, had ‘turned the agency’s operations over to the real estate, and home finance boys.’ Four years later the NAACP scored what it viewed as an ‘extension of racial discrimination and segregation abetted and furthered by a government agency backed by billions of dollars of insurance secured by taxpayers’ money’ and concluded bitterly: ‘We are breaking down the ghetto in old housing only to see federal funds being used to establish impregnable ghettos in new, desirable suburban developments’ (From memorandum re: FHA Underwriting Manual (n.D.), NAACP Papres pt 5, reel 4:0945).

I like this pithy statement: ‘African Americans did not, in the logic of the HOLC, live in residential areas; they invaded them and compromised them’ (92).
Some of the data Collins managed to get and map is truly awesome.

On to zoning! The most boring thing on the planet, but yet also one of the most devastating. Because this is what it does:

Exclusive and fragmented zoning in the suburbs erased any semblance of residential diversity, sorting the white middle class into income-specific single-family enclaves on the periphery and leaving African Americans, the elderly, and the poor to filter into older and higher-density housing stock (much of it unprotected by zoning)in the central city (112)

A 1926 court case challenged zoning, and the law in question on nuisances was actually struck down by an Ohio judge, stating ‘in the last analysis the result to be accomplished is to classify the population and segregate them according to their income or situation in life’. The Supreme Court agreed, but allowed it as part of a bigger plan for land use. Through zoning for large lots, single family homes, minimum square footage and the like, lower-income people were kept out.

I think my favourite chapters were around Urban Renewal and the definitions of blight, and some of the data Collins was able to get hold of is amazing. Also profoundly profoundly depressing as he charts the passage of the multiple and often overlapping programs under which urban renewal was carried out. There are volumes to be written on the changing and highly political uses of the term ‘blight’, ‘blight’ as verb, as risk, as disease, as something that even if not yet present can loom and threaten and justify another huge tax break to yet another corporation. And of course, it always invoked the presence of Black people. It helped ensure that ‘renewal’ focused on the destruction of community, the tearing down of homes to build for commercial use and ‘economic development’. Almost no onewas rehoused or given compensation as homes came down to make way for freeways and landmark projects like malls, hotels, and stadiums. Taxes were shifted entirely into financing the loans required to construct such projects through TIF (Tax-increment financing), essentially stolen from schools and other essential city services. And at the end of the day, only 1 of 12 projects financed through TIF was even breaking even in terms of what the site had been earning before development and what after.

To conclude, Collins writes: ‘Wile its central thread is private property, this is not a story…of private markets and private choices. What gives this story its plot, and its sorry ending, are the many ways in which private and public policies shaped or frustrated those choices’ (221). The solutions he believes is to ‘displace local fragmentation with some form of regional governance’. This will help ease competition between local areas, help increase density and improve services, can approach the topic of tax sharing. Here is where my greatest critique comes in, because this book does so much but doesn’t take the next step in trying to answer why public policy took the turns it did. It doesn’t really get at the multiple ways that this preserves the unique privileges of wealthy whites in exclusive areas and how they have fought to increase those privileges, nor how it serves the interests of large corporations and real estate developers lobbying at all levels of governments. These are the interests that must be overcome to reverse any of it, and there is not much sense of how to go about that.

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