Lees on Gentrification: ‘It’s Displacement’.

Professor Loretta Lees appeared on talk show ‘Renegade, Inc.’ to discuss the impacts of gentrification – which she defines as resulting in displacement against one’s will. And critiques the more recent turn toward ‘regeneration’ as a more palatable form of social cleansing. https://www.rt.com/shows/renegade-inc/387555-gentrification-alternative-socially-cleansed/

 

 

The relationship between universities and the cities where they are located

Steven J. Diner discusses his new book, Universities and Their Cities: Urban Higher Education in America, in a recent interview with Inside Higher Ed. Read the interview here: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/05/04/author-discusses-new-book-relationships-including-tensions-over-race-and-economics?utm_source=Inside+Higher+Ed&utm_campaign=a5c8c771da-DNU20170504&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1fcbc04421-a5c8c771da-197367501&mc_cid=a5c8c771da&mc_eid=8edda0c773

 

Urban Protests, Housing Evictions, and Neighborhoods Dismembered: A Shared Collective Experience in the 15M

by Juliana Luna Freire

“15Mpedia, para que todo el mundo pueda contar <>” [15Mpedia, so that everyone can tell one’s 15M] is the description of a creative commons platform, within a larger idealized project called 15Mcc (15M Creative Commons), created to catalogue narratives, data, maps, articles, among other items related to the social movement originated in Spain in 2011 from the financial crisis that hit the whole continent. The platform attempts to convene sources about a social protest that reverberated over five years ago, as an ongoing example of “rhyzomatic revolution” happening in networked societies (Castells 2012, Merrifield 2014). We could argue that it generated a non-unified movement of multiple collective groups making impact in contemporary Spanish politics by precisely engaging virtual and physical use of space (Merrifield 2014).

Indignados and 15M, as political projects, can be interpreted as responses to the 2008 financial crisis in Spain. From the subdivision of these movements, two specific projects were created to focus solely on housing: the Platform for those Affected by Mortgages (PAH) and the Movement for the Right of Housing. Some of these visual material on independent productions of camping protests in the city of Barcelona and the appearance of manifests and protests anti-eviction (#nomásdesahucios) indicate how specific cultural projects appropriate the collective experience of housing/eviction and a loss of sense of commune in their virtual and physical platforms to question capitalist use of urban space.

libresdelosbancos.png

The photo above displays the following sentence: “Queremos ser libres, no presos de los bancos / porque la utopia es posible” [We want to be free, not jailed by the banks. Because utopia is possible]. The process of combined images of eviction and political protest counterbalance the lack of hope and disbelief in the process of seeing the human fabric that constitutes neighborhoods dismembered: in a move of the people against the system (Ressel 2011), of the acampadas against neoliberalism (Harvey 2012), and of the citizens of the city against the economic forces that govern it.

It is possible to notice that there was a combination of a series of economic factors that lead to high numbers of evictions. One of them, the cláusula suelo, a common financial practice followed by a later court decision on how the loan interest for housing were using abusive practices that protected instead bank institutions. Many lost their housing due to the implementation of those practices. Another complicating factor was the sale of public housing to banks, which subsequently lead to more removals: https://pahparla.blogspot.com.es/2017/01/comunnicado-encasa-cibeles.html?m=1.

One particular project that provides a collective experience of the neighborhoods being dismembered is “Poner rostro a las víctimas” [Put a face on the victims], photographing and distributing brief biographic information on the families being evicted .

Anti-eviction platform and protest were, then, fighting also the eviction of ill, disabled, elderly included, previous to the change of the law that protected that kind of eviction. A legal resolution from 1 de Julio de 2009 which determined protection in terms of electricity cuts for a series of individuals considered “colectivos vulnerables” [vulnerable groups], called “bono social” [social benefit]. Using the hashtag #Pobrezaenergéticamata [energy poverty kills], it tells stories such as the one of Rosa, an elderly lady in Reus, Tarragona (Nov. 2016). Because her gas supply was removed, she started using candles and ended up dead due to a fire.  What this indicates is also other forms of housing removal other than just displacement.

Occupation increased in urban areas during and after the crisis, and took different forms of activities and political ideas. For more information on the phenomenon of Okupas in Spain, please refer to Stephen Villaseca’s work (2013), offering a thorough reading on the ongoing movement before the 15M, and the protest of different groups against capitalist speculation, okuppying abandoned city spaces and creating new, communitarian uses for them.

Works Cited

Castells, Manuel.Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in the Internet Age. Cambridge, UK; Malden, MA: Polity, 2012.

Fominaya, Cristina. “Spain is different”: Podemos and the 15-M. 29 May 2014. Open Democracy.net. 10 Mar. 2017.

Harvey, David. Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution. New York: Verso, 2012.

Merrifield, Andy. The New Urban Question. New York: PlutoPress, 2014.

Ressel, Stéphane. ¡Indignaos! Barcelona: Ediciones Destino, 2011.

Snyder, Jonathan. Poetics of Opposition in Contemporary Spain: Politics and the Work of Urban Culture. London: Palgrave, 2015.

Villaseca, Stephen. Barcelonan Okupas: Squatter Power! Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson, 2013.

Emplacing Materiality

What are the materials of urban space and urban life? The dense forest full of volunteer trees and plants. The beveled, dark grey and somewhat translucent fence that surrounds 100-acres of land newly seized by eminent domain. The hoops and nets of a circular basketball court situated within the green of a vertical park. The aged red bricks of a three-story home. The calm pond in the middle of a calm park full of exercise activity stations. What are the materials of urban space and urban life?

Pruitt-Igoe forest

Last weekend, I considered this question as I visited three sites in North St. Louis City.

The first: Pruitt-Igoe/NGA. That moniker, as Heidi Kolk (mentioned below) has explained, is an amalgamation of two very different sites nevertheless linked due to proximity as they are across the street from each other. Pruitt-Igoe was the massive concrete public housing project first occupied in 1954, and demolished in the early 1970s. Although the complex began with the Pruitt tower for blacks and the Igoe for whites, Pruitt-Igoe soon became all-black and during its peak had 15,000 residents. Lee Rainwater’s famed 1970 ethnography, Behind Ghetto Walls: Black Families in a Federal Slum, described residents’ lives. After Pruitt-Igoe’s demolition in the early 1970s, the land slowly become a burly forest. Today, urbanists often venture to the forest, which is now private property: in 2016, developer Paul McKee bought the land from the city for a little more than $1 million. Across the street from Pruitt-Igoe will be the NGA or National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency; in 2016, the NGA bought a 100-acre plot within the St. Louis Place neighborhood. Eminent domain recently forced that area’s mostly black 200 residents and businesses to move. Both Pruitt-Igoe’s dismantling and NGA’s development, then, have displaced black residents.

Church within land seized by eminent domain for future NGA site (photo credit: Morgan Brooks)

The second site: a basketball court in St. Louis place. The third site: Fairground Park, site of the 1949 race riot that erupted after whites began to attack blacks near and within the park’s newly integrated swimming pool.

Basketball hoop in St. Louis Place Park (photo credit: Morgan Brooks)

We visited these sites as part Material World of Modern Segregation. A symposium convened by Iver Bernstein and Heidi Kolk, both of Washington University in St. Louis, the event brought together an interdisciplinary group of 20+ scholars (including historians, anthropologists, sociologists, film-makers, and urbanists) researching sites of modern segregation in St. Louis city and county. The symposium offered a chance for scholars to share research conducted thus far, and workshop ideas within and themes across the works. On the second day, Bernstein and Kolk split scholars into four groups, each headed to a region of St. Louis: 1) East St. Louis; 2) St. Louis University/Midtown/Mill Creek Valley (Mill Creek Valley was the thriving mostly black neighborhood of 20,000 demolished in the 1950s); 3) “Delmar Divide”; and 4) North St. Louis (my group).

I thought of geographer Katherine McKittrick throughout the symposium. In her 2011 article, “On plantations, prisons, and a black sense of place,” she defines a black sense of place as “as the process of materially and imaginatively situating historical and contemporary struggles against practices of domination and the difficult entanglements of racial encounter” (949). Crucially for this symposium McKittrick also writes: “[a] black sense of place draws attention to the longstanding links between blackness and geography. It brings into focus the ways in which racial violences (concrete and epistemic actions and structural patterns intended harm, kill, or coerce a particular grouping of people) shape, but do not wholly define, black worlds” (947) Her attention frames the processes that shape the materialites and geographies of black life, such as displacement of black residents and neighborhoods.

I also thought of ethnographer Sarah Pink as we experienced the site visits. In her 2008 article “An urban tour: The sensory sociality of ethnographic place-making,” Sarah Pink details her experience in Mold, Wales, UK. A Cittàslow (or Slow Cities) member town, Mold aims towards, what as Pink writes, “an attentiveness and mindfulness that stresses the quality of experience” (192). Pink describes taking a tour of Mold that emphasized that Slow City status; in the tour she walks with, eats with, talks with, explores with, photographs with, and experiences the city with residents. Her experience is not just one of being with residents; consciousness of the experience in the town also comes when Pink leaves the tour. She writes:

Most striking was perhaps not the process by which, through consuming my half-milk coffee, falling into step with my guides and trying to imagine the futures they mediated, I became attuned to their world. Rather, it was that once walking hurriedly to my car I felt more deeply how my way of both being in and knowing the town shifted as I was disengaged from my hosts and (without my mediators) returned in ‘transport’ (Ingold, 2007) mode to my car. (192)

Two of Pink’s ideas, I find, are crucial. First, she details how emplacement frames ethnographic approaches. She writes, “we should think not only about how the subjects of ethnographic research are emplaced … [r]ather, it invokes the additional question of how researchers themselves are emplaced in ethnographic contexts” (179). Second, she positions the tour as “a case study of an embodied and reflexive engagement with the discourses, materiality, sociality and sensoriality of a particular way of being in a town” (192). We make sense of urban spaces through discourses, materials, social experiences, and sensorial awareness; we also make sense of space by being conscious of how others and ourselves are emplaced. Critically, for the symposium, this approach situates sites and materiality as only given meaning by being emplaced to capture the often under-studied emplaced histories and practices of segregation that pervade St. Louis.

The mesh fence that now surrounds the future NGA was put up in the last few weeks. Within the fenced area still are churches and homes recently abandoned as residents have been forced out. The churches and homes no longer act as spaces for worship and residence; framed by the fence, they are now marked for destruction. At one moment during our visit, as we looked at the fence and through the fence, a security guard driving in a car approached us and added unease to our observations.

Security guard driving towards us within newly fenced area slated for NGA (photo credit: Morgan Brooks)

When we were in the Pruitt-Igoe forest, John Early (a member of our group) mentioned that when he often walks through the forest he feels under his feet a dismantled curb or another remnant of the apartment complex demolished more than 40 years ago. That day, we saw what appeared as a large rock spray-painted in a bright pink color. Also, when within the forest although surrounded by seemingly calm green plants, I felt not ease but anxiety as I was technically trespassing on private property.

We played basketball in the court in St. Louis Place Park Basketball court and then walked by several homes in the neighborhood, including a “new” one. Charlesetta Taylor, one resident of the NGA eminent domain area, was able to have the city pay to move her home a mile away in the northern part of the neighborhood. (Other residents have not had her fate).

Charlesetta Taylor’s newly moved home (photo credit: Morgan Brooks)

As we walked by her recently moved home–which aesthetically seemed to fit into its new block–new meaning was made of the bricks that held together parts of the home, and continued to give strength and resilience in the new location. When we consider the materials of urban life, we make fuller sense of these materials by considering how they engage with our (and more importantly) with residents’ emplacement.

 

MAKING KIN WITH EARTHLINGS: An evening with the children of compost and Donna Haraway

On March 31st, I was fortunate to attend one of three events that Donna Haraway held at the BOZAR in Brussels. The themes of the events covered varied ground but were held together by Haraway’s work and interest in exploring the potential of living-with others. The first two events focussed on film. The first was a series of videos that were the result of the joyful interactions between documentary filmmaker Fabrizio Terranova and Donna Haraway. It included “animation shorts of militant cows, anti-globalization preaches, GoPro cameras strapped to aquatic animals, anti-Trump folk songs… as rituals of resistance and dance against the horror and stagnation”. The second was the presentation of film Donna Haraway: Story Telling for Earthly Survival by Donna Haraway and Fabrizio Terranova. The film foregrounds Haraway’s unique intellect and warmth of character that has explored planetary life for over 40 years. The final event was Donna Haraway reading from her new book Staying with the Trouble. Making Kin in the Chthulucene. The event was based around Haraway presenting her science-fiction short story The Camille Story, Children of Compost, an inter-species fable for making a liveable world for all. It is this final event that I attended and found extremely engaging, interesting, and informative for thinking through the potential of living differently with all sorts of beings on an equal footing.

donna-haraway

Image courtesy of BOZAR Brussels.

Haraway’s idea of living-with is a philosophical lineage that includes work by Jean-Luc Nancy and ideas about co-existence and being-with explored in Being Singular Plural and stretches towards Latourian Actor-Networks and Bergsonian-Spinozian explorations of affective potential. It also incorporates Feminist scholar’s attention to alternative political acts and interconnectivity of complex systems that Isabelle Stengers has explored via speculative philosophy. A further tradition that emanates from Haraway is American pragmatism. In de-centring the human as the main principle of action and foregrounding how to improve the future against what we’ve learnt in the past Haraway is continuing the work of William James and James Dewey. Keeping these ‘traditions’ in mind Haraway’s fable is as powerful as it is though provoking and opens up many avenues for urban scholars. I do not want to focus on the story but the sentiment. Haraway’s argument is that due to human influenced effects on the climate and how these are changing the planet “the earth is full of refugees, human and not, without refuge”. The planet had afforded safe spaces to all sorts of species to hide and find refuge from natural disasters but these are no longer available.

 

The answer in The Camille Story, Children of Compost is to make kin by humans taking on the characteristics of an endangered species and even grafting some of their attributes. In this way, making kin is something more that ancestry or genealogy to unite beings. The results could seem an aberration but after time it will have proven itself equitable. The idea of ‘kin-making’ therefore is the notion of making persons not tied to being as humans or individuals. In a time when the notion of refugee is used as a political and social lightening rod to demarcate which section of our species is welcome in which manmade and enforced division of the planet, the answer is to be-with others as Haraway advocates. To live-with others is to reformulate the idea of refuges and refugees. To generate flexible biological-cultural-political-technological healing, rehabilitation, and remaking, some of which Haraway argued must include mourning irreversible losses but not raising the dead. As Haraway sums up in a recent commentary in Environmental Humanities “renewed generative flourishing cannot grow from myths of immortality or failure to become-with the dead and the extinct”.