Cities as contested space(s) of theory

by Yule Heibel on August 3, 2010

Continuing from yesterday’s post about Urban agriculture readings, here’s another interesting FastCompany article about cities: David Harvey’s Urban Manifesto: Down With Suburbia; Down With Bloomberg’s New York. This one deals with what could perhaps be called a kind of reverse urbanization – turning the city into a glossier, less heterogeneous place – one that, shorn of its rough edges, resembles a suburb.

To get a great sense of where David Harvey‘s critique is coming from, watch the animated version of his The Crisis of Capitalism lecture (Harvey’s theory is impeccable, and the animation really drives it home: must see). Concepts like spatial fix will make sense in interesting new ways, and connections between society of the spectacle and great resets will come into sharper focus.

At the same time, I’m not convinced that cleaning cities up has to equate to (bad) gentrification or capitalist pacification of the masses via spectacle. See a couple of my bookmarks – noted here (scroll down to find the remarks by Benjamin Hemric) and here – about gentrification (in particular as excoriated by Sharon Zukin’s recent book Naked City) for alternate takes.

Clearly, though, close reading of the urban landscape is making a comeback (or maybe it never went away). It reminds me of TJ Clark‘s reading of Paris – familiar territory indeed.

Interestingly enough, one of Clark’s arguments about the Parisian banlieues (suburbs) was that they, in the 19th century, were heterogeneous and rough (unfinished) looking, very unlike the city itself, which – as spectacle – was being “finished” (surfaces became all-important) and thus appeared smooth and perfectly enticing (read Baudelaire‘s Eyes of the Poor, eg. – or listen to The Cure‘s How Beautiful You Are, which is based on Baudelaire’s poem).

But are we now saying that the suburbs are homogeneous and smooth, and that their infernal smoothness is displacing the “grittiness” or heterogeneity of the true urban core? …And if so, is heterogeneity getting the “spatial fix treatment,” by being now found only in some mega-slum or shanty town in the so-called third world?

That’s not something I want to believe, not that what I believe makes any difference.

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