The Amazon-Race: Are we Edgy, Real, and Urban Enough for Jeff Bezos?

At the time of this writing, 238 cities have submitted official bids to Amazon in order to be considered for Amazon’s second headquarters, supplementing their base in Seattle.

Image result for amazon

There is a long and ongoing debate within economic geography (and related fields) about the costs and benefits of such competitions for major corporate expansions and relocations. Literature can be found that is supportive of intra-urban competition, tax incentives, and boasts of the intangible economic multipliers and dividends that these companies can bring (sometimes academic, but often led by think-tanks and consultancies). More critical literature (from geographers such as David Harvey, and many others who have critiqued the neoliberal urban economy) questions whether awarding companies such as Amazon tax and other incentives really pays off, especially in addressing structural problems and societal injustices. To be fair, a nuanced exploration can find examples where incentives might be judged to have succeeded, and others where they have clearly failed.

Regardless of this ongoing debate, one thing that is fascinating to me (and relatively unexplored) is the way that cities (and regions) present themselves during these processes, culminating in the 5-minute “bid videos” that are hand-crafted by local officials to showcase certain aspects that the courted company (in this case, Amazon), might find appealing. “Bid videos” are perhaps more famous when used for mega-events such as the Olympics, but are often featured in economic development efforts of the corporate type. For the viewer, they run the spectrum from inspiring to cringeworthy.

The psychology of the city bid video could be a sub-field within urban cultural studies, and I think would make a pretty interesting research sub-agenda (and a really fun conference session or two). From this topic, a series of questions emerge that deserve exploration:

Who is involved in these efforts, and what informs their worldviews?

Why are certain subjects, images, themes, symbols, sounds, and text chosen – and what are the meanings (or attempted meanings) attached to them?

Who ‘owns’ a city’s self-identity – and at what point is this agreed upon, or in a state of constant negotiation and formation, what are the competing conceptions of identity?

Where are the misunderstandings and disconnects between what local groups ‘think’ a company like Amazon wants, and what Amazon’s decision makers are really looking for?

To what degree do notions of ‘cultural capital’ and ‘habitus’ (referring to Bourdieu) deliberately or non-deliberately enter these processes; the subtle spoken and unspoken cues and clues meant to reach and connect with certain audiences?

What power relationships, power geometries, and uneven / exploitative structures are reinforced, questioned, or challenged in these efforts and marketing materials? Are there opportunities for subversions; for resistances; for progressive transformations – or must this be an (and caught within) inherently unjust neoliberal process / processes?

I link here (below) two similar, and yet so different, videos in the AMAZON-RACE: Charlotte’s (cringeworthy) effort to be seen as an edgy, hip, urban Millennial hotspot (count how many times the word “millennial” is mentioned in the video) and Detroit’s (somewhat more inspirational) showcase of its unique identity.

Both, interestingly, are written / performed in “spoken word” – the urban poetry form that is often associated with contemporary intellectual African-American-hipster communities. For Detroit, a city that has been majority African-American for decades, and is a national and international center of African-American music, culture and history – this representation seems somewhat natural (even given Amazon’s relative whiteness, coming from Seattle, a city in the least African-American part of the country). For Charlotte, however, there is a bigger question mark: is it to appease Pacific Northwesterners who might be wary of lasting racial attitudes in a Southern city? An effort to seem culturally relevant, offering the sort of culture that so-called Millennials are deemed to want and crave? Or a badly-disguised and unapologetic appropriation of an urban African-American art form for a corporate relocation largely planned by and benefiting affluent whites? Or, is it simply an example of what local critics have previously called Charlotte’s “Pinocchio” syndrome – the incessant need to say, “look, papa, I’m a REAL city!?” (with “Papa” in this case being Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man).

Perhaps these conclusions are best left to the eye and interpretation of the viewer, or a researcher interested in further exploring these questions. And the conclusions may be informed by whichever city Amazon picks, if indeed, their exercise is not just illusory.

Detroit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DO4J_PC1b5M

Charlotte: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8s1-0khtLps&t=6s

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Key Thinkers on Cities (Sage, Oxford)

KTOC book

A new addition to the Sage’s Key Thinkers range focuses on Cities and thinkers who are at the vanguard of contemporary scholarship that helps to shape our understanding of what city life is like. Key Thinkers on Cities presents the work of 40 innovative scholars who underscore the breadth and depth of urban research. These are writers whose ideas have sculpted how cities around the world are comprehended, researched, debated, and acted upon. Impressively, the book is not restricted to narrowly defined writers of ‘the urban’. The book contains fields as diverse as art, architecture, computer modelling, ethnography, public health, and post-colonial theory. In doing so, the book provides space for a group of thinkers who have started to shape knowledge of cities through these different disciplinary guises.  The range of 40 thinkers include; Ash Amin, Jason Corburn, Natalie Jeremijenko, Enrique Peñalosa, Jennifer Robinson, Karen C. Seto, Abdumaliq Simone, and Mariana Valverde. Key Thinkers on Cities foregrounds writers who have strived to engender a concern for the life of, and within, cities to a wider audience.

 

The book introduces a way to think about cities that provides a mapping of the current transdisciplinary field as well as disposition for the enquiry of all sorts of different cities. The authors have explained that “Key Thinkers on Cities is book that promises to be an essential text for anyone interested in the study of cities and urban life. It will be of use to those in the fields of anthropology, economics, geography, sociology and urban planning”. Key Thinkers on Cities is sure to be an essential tool in the urban scholar’s arsenal for many years to come.

2010 Student Protests in London: photography and oral history

By Gareth Millington

A fascinating photo diary from the 2010 London student protests has recently been posted on the Pluto Press website https://www.plutobooks.com/blog/student-revolt-photo-diary/. The photos, all taken by Patrick O’Brien, depict remarkable scenes from a protest which is now being recognised as pivotal in the resurgence of the left in Britain. Demonstrations were organised to oppose the tripling of student tuition fees and cuts to Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA).

The photo diary appears as an accompaniment to a new oral history book on the protests, published by Pluto and written by Matt Myers, titled Student Revolt: Voices of the Austerity Movement https://www.plutobooks.com/9780745337340/student-revolt/. I’ve only just received my copy and haven’t had a chance to read the book in its entirety but I am very impressed with what I have read so far. One aspect that interests me is how some protestors viewed the events as a turning or starting point in their political lives. The protests were a Year Zero. For some it was about excitement of emerging from individual isolation and feeling like you were part of something new:

For me, Millbank was about collective power. I had never felt more empowered in my life. When you’re atomised and festering away in your room, thinking about things like climate change or capitalism, and suddenly you find yourself in a group of four thousand people all as angry as you are, taking genuine action, it’s seriously empowering. (Natalie, p. 41)

Others were ‘caught up’ by the times in an event that would have a deep impact on how they came to view their personal relation to politics,

It was a bit surreal as it was my first major protest. That’s the irony of it. The moment had no context for me, because nothing for me had happened before it […] I’d just landed there. Right place, right time, right way sort of thing. It was so profound, radicalising, unifying and formative. It was one of the most important experiences of my life. (Charlotte, p.51)

Some report how friends who had no real understanding of politics felt drawn to the protests because of a gut feeling of injustice that their EMA was to be withdrawn:

My sixth form friends weren’t heavily political. They were deprived people from very mixed areas. They didn’t understand it from the ‘left-right-centre’ political spectrum […] It was an anti-government and anti-police perspective: a street politics perspective. (Arnie, p. 43)

It makes you wonder if (and how) such a street politics developed developed in the years that followed. Were these sixth-form kids also drawn into the 2011 riots? In my view, the book is original and welcome for two main reasons. First, even though the students ostensibly ‘lost’ the battle—i.e. they didn’t manage to successfully halt the Coalition government’s plans to triple fees—Myers’ book does not inhabit that all-too-familiar register of leftish nostalgia or melancholy. Rather, as Myers explains (p.189), ‘[f]ollowing the French socialist Jean Jaurès, tradition should not be viewed as the worship of ashes, but as the preservation of fire’. And the book achieves this, without recourse to sentimentality. As such, it is the after-life of the protests, the radical germ that now gestates way beyond those individuals involved in November 2010, that may be seen as the true measure of their success. Second, and this is a related point, the book doesn’t treat the 2010 protest as a singular event with a neatly demarcated beginning and end. It strikes me that it is ludicrous to judge protests or uprisings in this way (both the Right and Left are susceptible to do this), ignoring the origins and legacy of events and measuring their impact in terms of whether they initiated decisive change within a limited time frame.

myers

Amin and Thrift’s Seeing Like a City reviewed at Society and Space

PHILOSOPHY IN A TIME OF ERROR

By Michele Lancione here. She writes:

Amin and Thrift’s contribution is an important one because it pushes urban scholars out of their comfort zones, even more so than their 2002 Cities did. Seeing Like a City invites the reader to tackle fundamental urban questions—of epistemology, economy, and marginality—from a radically new perspective: one attentive to the (un)makings of infrastructural life and its immanent potential. The book is not easily digested nor comfortable, but that is a small price to pay for a contribution that offers a rare opportunity to reimagine what urban studies and politics can and should be.

Source: SEEING LIKE A CITY BY ASH AMIN AND NIGEL THRIFT – Society & Space

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CFP: European Association of Urban History (Rome 2018)

Papers are invited for the session “Urban Gardening: a Historical Perspective, c. 1700 – 2000” of the European Association of Urban History’s conference, to be held in Rome between 29 August and 1 September 2018.

Recent interdisciplinary historical work on green spaces and food production in a number of different cities has shown that this is a rich and important area worthy of further investigation, not least because of the growing public and academic interest in urban gardening in the modern metropolis and the economically less developed societies of Europe. Today’s economically and culturally-driven urban horticulture has strong historical roots, as in the early modern kitchen gardens, 19th century market gardens of Paris, the vineyards of Vienna and the German Schrebergarten, for example.
This session will seek to compare developments in different kinds of European urban gardens and productive landscapes from the 18th century onwards and to identify ways in which they represent examples of the adaptation and resilience of individuals, associations, communities and municipalities to times of rapid urban expansion and population growth, social and economic change, crisis and hardship and the wartime disruption of food supplies, and concerns about health and food adulteration. To what extent was support for commercial and local enterprises, allotments and public and private gardens an effective strategy for increasing the resilience of urban communities to economic hardship and resource constraints, a means of guaranteeing food security and improving the general health of the population? What role did gardening in its various forms play in shaping and revitalizing urban landscapes and economies and maintaining urban-rural connections? Were there transnational influences at play? To what extent were present-day concerns about physical and mental health, the growth of leisure and tourism, sustainability, urban decay and expansion, and fears about the resilience of individuals and communities in the face of social and economic change and environmental and ecological crises foreshadowed in earlier developments?

Coordinators: Ivaylo Nachev (ivailon@abv.bg), Jill Steward (jill.steward8@gmail.com)

Please submit your paper proposal online to the EAUH2018 website: https://eauh2018.ccmgs.it/users/  

Deadline to submit an abstract is: 31 October, 2017.

Notification of paper acceptance: 1 December, 2017

Session webpage: https://eauh2018.ccmgs.it/users/index.php?pagename=cms&name=sessiontrack…

The Frontiers of Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy has been proclaimed as one of the greatest contemporary writers to herald from the United States and, also, as a writer that can be set historically alongside both John Williams (Butcher’s Crossing) and Oakley Hall (Warlock), in producing a pantheon of masterpieces addressing the borders, landscapes, and geographies of the American west. Such status could be conferred as much by Blood Meridian, marked by its twenty-fifth anniversary this year, as the novels that constitute The Border Trilogy including All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, and Cities of the Plain.

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