Map of notable squatted social centers and houses in Europe

Squatted houses in the European Union.

 Link to zoomable Map of Squatted social centers.

This map comes courtesy of the  Squatting Europe Kollective, an international interdisciplinary research collective that seeks to “produce reliable and fine-grained knowledge” on squatting throughout the European Union. Their work–including the recent volumes Squatting in Europe: Radical Spaces, Urban Struggles (Minor Compositions: 2013) and The Squatters’ Movement in Europe: Commons and Autonomy as Alternatives to Capitalism (Pluto: 2014)–offer useful resources for scholars and activists “seeking to understand the issues associated with squats and social centres across the European Union.” The link contains a map that can users can use to search major cities or zoom in on specific locations.

Paris 1900


Extremely Rare Color Photography of Early 1900s Paris taken from

Extremely Rare Color Photography of Early 1900s Paris taken from

Some nice color pictures of Paris at the turn of the century. I thought they might be useful for those of you that work on Paris, urban space, etc. Here is the link:  Paris 1900

15M and the Anarchist Roots of Lavapiés

15M Anniversary in the Puerta del Sol, Madrid. May12, 2012

15M Anniversary in the Puerta del Sol, Madrid. May12, 2012

For those of you interested in 15M, okupas and the like I thought I would share this short item I recently published about Madrid’s 15M movement and the neighborhood of Lavapiés in The Volunteer, the online journal of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives.

Lavapiés and the Anarchist Roots of 15M.

Urban Renewal Brochures

As one is wont to do, clicking here and there and avoiding grading and writing, I came across this blog and its very interesting current post containing urban renewal brochures from the 1950s. Most interesting to me is that the images from New York are so seemingly devoid of people. Where are the people? More importantly, after they lay this “abstract space” across the landscape  where will the people that live there go. . . .Thanks to dubravka sekulic for this blog.

Beyond Zuccutti Park

Beyond Zuccotti Park


A number of scholars have participated to produce this new text that tries put the Occupy Wall Street movement into the context of scholarly work on public space, democracy, and social change. Just getting started on it, so I can’t comment to extensively, but I am impressed by the wide range of disciplines represented and the astonishing number of scholars (nearly three dozen) that are represented.

Fear the Fixie

In today’s New York Times an opinion piece entitled  Now Coveted — A Walkable, Convenient Place by Richard Leinburger discussed the increasing real estate prices in urban and semi-urban areas due to the rising interest of people to live in walkable and bikeable communities (along with access to other amenities). The author writes that “this trend is about both the revitalization of center cities and the urbanization of the suburbs.” This line of course caught my eye and immediately brought to mind David Harvey’s (1989) “urbanization of consciousness” and Lefebvre and the notion of the urban as being a cultural-conceptual experience, and not merely just a descriptor of physical space. It is an article that dovetails with an interest in bikes and bike culture that I have been thinking about lately.

Here in Madrid the increase in the number of cyclists that I see now compared a previous experience living here in 2004 is dramatic. And my first visit in 2001 need barely be mentioned since urban cycling in Madrid, much less in Granada was a whisper at that time, to say the least

Amongst the many type of cyclists and ‘cycles that catch my eye  is the hipster skateboard otherwise known as the fixie. (Disclosure: I like bikes and until unloading one prior to this previous move the personal count was at 4. )

A fixed-gear bike has no dérailleur and hence only one gear. The clean line of the chain running smoothly over the rear cog with no slack in the system to allow for the movement between gears has its mechanical and aesthetic advantages. It looks simple and tends to be simple to maintain. Oh, and it bears mentioning that these bikes have no freewheel either, so no coasting. To stop, proficient riders become adept at skidding by putting force onto the pedal nearest the rear wheel and often laying out the bike to achieve a ski-turn type arc to bleed speed and or stop. You can see an example here.

Originally descended from fixed-gear track bikes used for professional- and Olympic-level competition and brought (as I understand it) to the urban masses by bike messengers from San Francisco and New York, these bikes have become immensely popular with the urban-hipster crowd for their DIY aesthetic, a subdued and supposedly unpretentious sense of cool, and their green politics. Often these bikes–so the aesthetic suggests–were cobbled together by scavenging parts at the local bike co-op, the playing cards in the spokes earned while at local alley-cat races (competitions usually held at night in which competitors traverse the city on a scavenger hunt/race and end up at pleasant social event at the end), the bullhorn handlebars scavenged from drop handlebars and chopped and flipped. The bikes themselves are pastiche–a mixture of recycled parts, high-end rims, vintage frames. Often the bikes look simple and low-key but sport a set of color coordinated wheels that can run a couple hundred dollars a piece.Here is an ad for a brand of custom fixed gear bike (Bike Ad). The DIY aesthetic has fallen to the wayside for the retail fixie trend.

After meandering through these descriptions, readers may wonder, why spend time talking about a seemingly obscure bike fashion on a blog devoted to urban cultural studies?

Well, it is not obscure since it is not just in Williamsburg or Portland where this is taking place. The fixed-gear and its lowly cousin the non-fixed single-speed, have become symbols of urban progressive youth. There are, of course, other bikes out there that people ride, but it is the single cog aesthetic that one sees displayed in the window of the Vans store on the calle Montera next to Gran Vía up the hill from the Puerta de Sol. As is always the case, the counter-culture has gone mainstream (think snowboarding fifteen years ago) and the Pabst-Blue Ribbon aesthetic of “fixie” hipster cool has begun to be subsumed into the urban machine. The surest sign that gentrification is on its way is the proliferation of the single-cog ride. And though I like fixed gear bikes for a variety of reasons and would rather see bikes be fashionable than SUVs, I can’t deny my creeping suspicion that we must fear the fixie for when it comes the lofts are sure to follow.

Spain is Different: Sol and the Kilometer Zero

As a scholar of literature and culture with an interest in urban cultural studies, mutual (re)production of the material and the metaphoric is always of interest to me. On Saturday, the events associated with the first anniversary of the Indignado movement in the Puerta de Sol in Madrid began. They are scheduled to run through the night of the 15th with scheduled events occurring in both the Puerta de Sol itself as well as other smaller plazas around the city, around Spain, and, in fact, around the globe. Yesterday standing amongst the Indignados composed of young children, teenagers, university students, pensioners I reflected on how the metaphoric qualities of this space have been a part of its powerful presence in the cultural imaginary of activists in Spain and in other parts of the world.

“Esta noche el Sol va a salir” [Tonight the Sun will come out] read one of the banners carried by the crowd. The conflation of the physical place and its namesake natural phenomenon inserts a symbolic and poetic quality into the discourse that one just does not find in Zuccotti Park (for example). It is in Sol at the Kilometer Zero where this has happened, is happening; it is literally the official center of Spain. With the Real Casa de Correos as a backdrop the Indignados make reference to other hisotrical moments. It is from the balcony of this building where the Second Republic was declared. Its basement dungeons sequestered political prisoners. In this context, the flags of the Republic waving in the crowd gain greater significance.

Because May 15 is also the day of San Isidro, the patron saint of Madrid, this “Spanish Revolution” has an  associations with Madrid that cannot be forgotten. There were plans to tie global protests in London and other locations to this anniversary of #15M, as if to launch the start of “Occupy” season and inspire another summer and long autumn of protest and resistance. It is from Sol, perhaps, that these global circuits of resistance will find renewed energy.

The #15M movement is so highly embedded into the scale of the urban, but because of its metaphoric possibilities has soared into the popular imaginary across Spain and across the globe. After protests in London, in Wisconsin, in New York, in LA, in Oakland, and of course Tahrir Square, it is in Madrid where perhaps the Kilometer Zero of the Global Occupy Movement seems to have settled. As always, that old slogan from the Franco era seems to be relevant again: Spain is different. 


Anniversary of 15M

As the first anniversary of 15M arrives next week things are well underway to retomar [re-take] the plaza. Today’s El País offers a brief look at the events planned for Madrid:

La indignación quiere tomar Madrid

After seeing the horizontal organization and seemingly spontaneous “uprising” of last summer’s Acampada de Sol there is a certainy irony to seeing this year’s events laid out in Spain’s most influential newspaper. It will be interesting to see how the movement has transformed, multiplied, and matured. Equally significant will be to see how the change in Spain’s national government from the leftist PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero Español) to the conservative PP (Partido Popular) affects the response of the National Police (CNP) to the protests.