seminar 30 March

This seminar, held with the journal CITY, was attended by about 40 people.  Notes are below and there is also a podcast here.

Right To The City London – Do Londoners have a right to the city? 30.03.2010

Context: Why the meeting? (Michael Edwards)

The start of this discussion goes back a couple years to a very important meeting held in Berlin in 2008, to celebrate the 80th birthday of Peter Marcuse, activist, intellectual, lawyer, professor. The meeting was a remarkable gathering of the most radical and innovative social scientists of various kinds who we could group under the banner of “critical theorists”. But there were not only theorists present; there were also many practitioners there who link their work to theory.

The precedings to that conference was edited at immense speed and captured by CITY journal.

October 2009 Peter Marcuse was invited to come to London – held a big public lecture at UCL, which attracted very large numbers of people. It was an extremely stirring and moving lecture in which he essentially said that in the deepening and worsening of the world crisis and of injustice in world cities, it is crucial to develop and pursue and integrate critical thinking on urban life and extend it into action which will bring about social change. That lecture is published in City  and a podcast is on iTunesU

The following day he did a seminar at UCL, where he spoke of the role of teachers and students in urban action.

After that, several of us have had discussions of how to capture the momentum of those events and carry the ideas over, and link it up to broader action – linked up with 2 American gradate students in London who are veterans of the RTTC movement in USA.

Very timely à In London we’re going to have public hearings of a new London strategic plan. This is the focus of a lot of current action and current struggles. Some of those involved in those struggles are here tonight.  The Just Space Network, which coordinates some of this work, has received some money from the university – the whole purpose is creating constructive relations between UCL and action groups in the city.

Crucial questions:

-How do we interpret the current crisis and the current conjunctions of our particular cities?

-What realistically can be achieved in trying to do something?

Peter Marcuse emphasized the need to separate these two – Really try to make thorough critical evaluation of the world and then – independently – plan out reform, action, etc.; we shouldn’t let our analysis be crippled by what is immediately possible.

-Where next?

UK/London – Alternatives to the London Plan (Michael Edwards)

First question: is the crisis just financial or more profoundly, economic? Edwards’ reading – if we think of the period from World War II-1970s: in rich countries, real wages and real incomes for most workers were able to grow as consumption and productivity also grew. There was a distribution between labor and capital that was socially acceptable.

This was superceded from the late 70s onward by a long untidy period of “capitalism unleashed”  (the title of Andrew Glyn’s excellent book about it) – workers’ salaries were generally speaking static in most countries, or in some cases declining. Since we’ve had this enormous growth of inequality, the poor have been getting relatively poorer, the rich rapidly richer.

But, in these last 30-40 years consumption has grown. Everyone has continued to consume but only through the expansion of credit. And the growth of credit has been tremendous business for banks, lenders; it has allowed for sustained demand throughout.

The environmental crisis from a political perspective sits somewhere between total denial and lip service; there has been no adequate response to climate change.

[Slide] of one of David Banister’s diagrams: trajectory of growth of CO2 emission of London transport if we do nothing compared with where we would have to be in future dates to get to safe levels of emissions.

[Slide] Adrian Atkinson – Peak oil

Whether you approach the problem by looking at CO2 or peak oil, we’re in a completely unsustainable situation from an environmental point of view.

[Slide] Shares of GDP in EU as a whole

The London plans (both under Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone) seem to be in denial of the economic crisis [Slide]. Their teams have compared a lot of employment forecasts; their actual plan on employment growth ignores all these forecasts and is based on uninterrupted growth.

We’ve seen an explosion of asset values, the boom of the market-value of housing stock, and the creation of a distorted economy on assets and not on production meeting real needs.

The housing outcomes have been diabolical, impoverishing many people (tenants, new purchasers) and benefitting established owners, land owners, developers, banks. [Slide].

What’s been happening in the last couple of years? Groups in London that are hostile to neo-liberal growth planning have been getting together, pooling experiences and this exchange brought fruit at the last hearing in 2007. They are now much better organized in JustSpace:

This group shares the widespread agreement that maximizing the growth of GDP is the wrong fundamental objective – it omits environmental consequences, attaches excessive value to bankers and financial dealings, and gives very little value, if any, to care workers and to unpaid, voluntary and low-paid work.

We’re not talking about aiming for a no-growth economy, but what sort of growth are we talking about?

–       We need to make demands of greening all sort of industries. We have to think the greenness of all sectors and all parts of the economy, and not just a small number of specialized “green jobs”.

–       Support for non-profit, community enterprises, VCS

–       Diversifying economy away from finances and making it more robust

–       Putting more support in things that have low-value-added (care work, retail and  transport jobs, low-paid, catering, etc.)

–       Very strong demands to seriously tackle the exclusion of sections of the population from the labor market and from higher paying jobs – exclusion because of gender, ethnicity, disability, age.

Housing issues: (see slide)

–       Strong resistance to a new plan which reduces housing targets

–       Scrapped attempt to oblige suburbs to have social housing

–       Lots of resistance to declining space standards for green space, space within the homes, space for playing, for children, many of these declines really flow from the densification of a lot of the housing production in London of the last 10 years or so.

à The ways for paying for housing has collapsed – private sector, escalating land values, didn’t work before, failed to provide adequate social housing. Great need for a lot more diversity in ownership and use.

Energy: (see slide)

–       Weak targets for CO2.

–       Weak air quality targets

–       Going backwards on parking policy (in outer areas of London)

–       Treatment of a green economy is very weak

Transport: (see slide)

Incredible emphasis in the plan on heavy rail networks: extremely expensive – bringing workers into work in central London à the need is to redirect investment into shorter, local trips and into things like trip-chaining – there isn’t much on need to reduce length of travel.

Need to look at more of a micro-level services economy, a bottom-up approach as opposed to concentrating so much on the city-centre and metropolitan centres.

àà Big problem (in Europe) is that plans are required to be appraised by their impact- but what the impact is, is rather disregarded. It’s a big problem in cities à creation of big issues of equalities/inequalities.

USA – RTTC (Andrea Gibbons)

We are facing the same economic situation in the US.

There are lots of misconceptions of the States. The community she worked in is very representative of a lot of organizations in the States that fight hard to affect change there.

Some context:

Los Angeles is an extremely racist city which has very strong covenants on land and on where people could live (“mudtown” Black area) – concentrating poor people and people of color in specific areas.

–       White flight – services leave with them.

–       Red-lining (70s-80s) no loans for anything to entire regions demarked by banks; targeted areas of color.

–       Huge proportion of absentee landlords, huge proportion of tenants living in these areas.

–       Crack epidemic and the 80s – cops seen as the enemy not as stopping crime

–       Whole areas of devastation which still exist today

àThere are lots of movements in communities across the States to change things.

In a lot of areas, these movements worked, enabling the creation of parks and green spaces, affordable housing, etc. And most often when this happens, people like it and we witness a new wave of gentrification and displacement.

Our organization started from the fundamental belief of having community as the driver for the change that they want to see – not top-down but bottom-up.

SAJE (Strategic Actions for a Just Economy www.saje.net )  did a huge amount of work around development, affordable housing, slum housing, gentrification/displacement. We have a jobs program, which was created after organizing around big local developments, (Staples Agreement) – 15% local hire in living wage and unionized jobs. Additionally, lots of work to get parks and higher environmental regulations in the area.

In the States, there is a long history of organizing being divorced from theory. As an organization, we realized we needed a larger framework to think. In January 2007, SAJE, Miami Workers Center and Tenants and Workers United (Northern VA) held a founding conference in Los Angeles. There were 15-20 organization present, all doing similar work around development issues.

We made a very conscious decision of bringing in experts to help with what community had defined (Nick Theodore, Tony Samara, and now Peter Marcuse and David Harvey).

We built together a shared framework starting with the analysis of what the economic forces that we were looking at were, what we could do to have impact, how to fight various forms of displacement (private, public, demolitions, etc.).

This also helped us to see how our strategy was or was not working. On a small scale it worked, on a large scale not sure –10,000s of units lost in different cities around the country.

Idea of working together on joint demands and also as a way of building our own power- building strength and affecting change not just superficially.

Principles of unity: (taken directly from RTTC website – http://www.righttothecity.org)

1) LAND FOR PEOPLE VS. LAND FOR SPECULATION

The right to land and housing that is free from market speculation and that serves the interests of community building, sustainable economies, and cultural and political space.

2) LAND OWNERSHIP

The right to permanent public ownership of urban territories for public use.

3) ECONOMIC JUSTICE

The right of working class communities of color, women, queer and transgender people to an economy that serves their interests.

4) INDIGENOUS JUSTICE

The right of First Nation indigenous people to their ancestral lands that have historical or spiritual significance, regardless of state borders and urban or rural settings.

5) ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE

The right to sustainable and healthy neighborhoods & workplaces, healing, quality health care, and reparations for the legacy of toxic abuses such as brown fields, cancer clusters, and superfund sites.

6) FREEDOM FROM POLICE & STATE HARASSMENT

The right to safe neighborhoods and protection from police, INS/ICE, and vigilante repression, which has historically targeted communities of color, women, queer and transgender people.

7) IMMIGRANT JUSTICE

The right of equal access to housing, employment, and public services regardless of race, ethnicity, and immigration status and without the threat of deportation by landlords, ICE, or employers.

8) SERVICES AND COMMUNITY INSTITUTIONS

The right of working class communities of color to transportation, infrastructure and services that reflect and support their cultural and social integrity.

9) DEMOCRACY AND PARTICIPATION

The right of community control and decision making over the planning and governance of the cities where we live and work, with full transparency and accountability, including the right to public information without interrogation.

10) REPARATIONS

The right of working class communities of color to economic reciprocity and restoration from all local, national and transnational institutions that have exploited and/or displaced the local economy.

11) INTERNATIONALISM

The right to support and build solidarity between cities across national boundaries, without state intervention.

12) RURAL JUSTICE

The right of rural people to economically healthy and stable communities that are protected from environmental degradation and economic pressures that force migration to urban areas.

  • There is a steering committee of different organizations, members and resources allies.
  • Everyone has to sign on to principles.
  • There are elections to steering committees alongside regional groups and working groups.
  • Lots of civic engagement, actions around New Orleans, tenant rights, etc.
  • RTTC is really using the WSF to bring together issues as well as Mayor’s meetings – in order to get them to recognize problems in the cities.
  • Different groups pooling expertise and resources.
  • A lot of the cities are also doing big plans responses à Key idea: we want to come from a position of strength rather than reacting to what they’re saying – we bring our own plans to stand up against what the city is saying so that we wouldn’t have to follow their framework. They leave a lot of stuff out. (great example of NYC in David Harvey’s intro to the Right To The City).
  • Additionally, these cities do a lot of things to hold people accountable – meeting with elected officials, voting and electoral engagement, marches…

Discussant comment (Bob Catterall – CITY)

The questioning slogan we are gathered under today: “Do Londoners have a right to the city?” as a reflection of the US movement.

Bob has been thinking about this because he has lived in various parts of London and in SF, and was greatly inspired by the Kings’ Cross Railway Lands group.

These are his “confessions of a peripatetic researcher”.

King’s Cross Railway Lands group was saying “not to our area” but it wasn’t NIMBY-ism.

He was hired by Richard Rogers à sent to Barcelona and Paris to bring back information on what’s going on in these cities and what can be done in London. He learned very little from the French “Grand Travaux”, seen as orthodox beliefs – these are only concerned with central Paris, and not about the suburbs.

For him, the answer was not in Paris, but in Barcelona some 10-20 years ago, before the development of chi-chi parks. It was about looking at how people came together to make things happen who asked themselves “what can we achieve under Franco?”, “What can we do for working people that doesn’t cost much, that can be achieved in a few years (to see tangible target reached) and that is accessible?” – the Parks. People needed a bit more space. Local parks were something that could be achieved easily that didn’t need much money, and met a real need.

London grassroots groups are expressing needs. Is that enough? Ultimately no! So we move to demands! When you do this, then you start moving towards the idea of a right. This is a system that is denied rights.

Needs à Demands à Rights

He told Richard Rogers, that the answer is not in Paris, it was in Barcelona 10-20 years ago but it is right now in Kings Cross, another movement of real positive forces that people began to field.

In a whole number of fields, people are demanding their rights + intellectually thought out right

Sadly Richard Rogers didn’t listen.

Then there was a big meeting organized at the LSE called the “Resurgent City” in the “naughties” – at the time there was a tremendous flow of wealth into the center of the city, is that really what we can “resurgence”? à Gentrification as a polite term for dispossession, for depriving people of their rights.

At this point he started to know Peter Marcuse, and asked him “Am I right to challenge this conventional wisdom, that we are in fact not at all facing a resurgent city?” Answer from Marcuse: “Right on Bob, right on.”

Londoners do have a right to the city and it’s about time they start demanding it.

Open discussion and debate

Some ideas of discussion (M. Edwards):

1) Does the concept of rights serve as a useful, inspiring, viable way to link campaigns

2) Exploring relations between theory and practice in order to better understand the dynamics of what’s happening

3) Looking at ways of organizing, establishing networks, changing strands of thoughts

Q: Trenton Oldfield (“This is not a gateway”)

What happens after we organize? He has worked for a community organization and around issues of regeneration for many years. It seems whenever they managed to secure something for the community, someone else would take over what they’d accomplished. One building that they managed to secure as a community asset for example, has been taken over by another organization, kicking out what had been set up (women’s association, etc.)

à Power shifts and a few neutralize what has been accomplished.

A: Bob Catterall (CITY): Marx talks about the distinction between “objective conditions and subjective needs”.

A: Mike Parkes ( Planning Aid for London (PAL) and formerly of King’s Cross Railway Lands Group): The way to secure community assets and organizing accomplishments is through partnership-working (combination of the public, private and third sector domains.) He comes from one of the rare groups that actually managed to get the community plan built (Isledon Road). It’s the idea of developing a common language and working through legal, local and strategic partnerships.

What we have to do over the next 10 years is monitor, evaluate and assess the performance of the London plan over the next 5 years. We’re at a moment where we have to do more for less. The 3rd sector is looking to play a much greater role in the aftermath of this economic crisis.

A: Duncan Bowie (London Metropolitan University) – Right now there are amazing opportunities to be grasped because of the changed economic context. There is widespread recognition in London and in the wider south-east that there has been a failure of development in the market, that old models need to be brought back (public sector leadership), and that we can no longer just act according to the pressures of the private market.

Even conservatives are looking at what local authorities can do to affect change locally. However this new emphasis on localism coming from the right, can actually be very dangerous because this approach of localism becomes about the empowerment of the right and of NIMBYs – we need to make sure it’s the community’s much larger and much longer needs that are addressed, and that the conversation takes on the form of arguing in terms of social justice for neighborhoods à Local authorities/Public authority ownership + community rights. Community’s needs to be set in much broader strategic policy objectives to be achieved in justice terms. It’s not about just short-term self-interest. As always, there is the risk that the market takes over.

A: Mike Parkes  (PAL and formerly,Kings-Cross Railway Lands Group): Yes we are faced with tremendous opportunities right now with the crisis, if we have the intelligence and maturity to address it correctly.

Q: Pasco Sabido (MSc LSE Student): Question on problems that community organizations can encounter in what is a very multicultural city – how do we get inclusive in a multicultural city where are so many divergent interests, different groups, etc.?

A: Andrea Gibbons (LSE/RTTC): It’s very difficult. At SAJE we worked with Latino and black populations. There were tensions there but you can bring people together.  You need people that are very skilled to bring people together, to discuss racism, etc. Community organizations at their best bring people together and create a space to talk about these issues. The best thing that can bring unity is struggle à in the States in these tenant organizations, where people have horrendous shared experiences, invited to openly talk about these issues. KIWA (Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance) in Los Angeles, organizes Korean, Latino, African-American workers.

The key is to make sure people can participate and everyone can be heard. It’s something you learn. A lot of it is technical stuff – ensuring you have translation, the right materials and that people feel comfortable. People work together and that’s how you build those bridges

A: Jenny Bates (Friends of the Earth London). JustSpace reaches out to a wider group of people. In her campaigning work experience, you have to go in where people are at. Coalitions build up, people meet on issues together, meet others interested in the same problems. It is a total issue of time and resources. FOE are currently trying to train some of their local groups around the city to reach out to some people in the city – using kids to translate to parents for example. It’s a slow long process and you can’t hurry that work.

Judith Ryser: For her, there are lot of problems and dangers of just falling into theory and ignoring the political. Agrees with Jenny, you have to meet people where they’re at, and it takes a long time to get anywhere. Scale matters a lot. If you’re trying to change things at a whole borough level, it’s very difficult. When you look at transition cities, the struggle they have at a local level is very interesting, there’s lots of good will and agreement, but once you scale it out to bigger change, it becomes very hard.

Babak Davarpanah (Planners Network UK + UEL):

The first step is getting rid of immediate injustice. We start from there and then we build from there and then we expand.

Q: Trenton Oldfield (“This is not a gateway”)

So what went wrong? These ideas go in and out of vogue. What do we do to make things last so that we aren’t having the same conversation again later?

Mike Parkes (PAL) A very wide representation of community interests come together when you have a major threat (right now he’s working in tons of boroughs ready for localities to be completely destroyed to make way for development coming into the area), or a major opportunity (handling a local budget for example).

A: Bob Catterall (CITY): What went wrong? People’s most generous emotions have been downgraded to not being important anymore – making money, fashion, – the notion of process, of partnership has been destroyed. The notion of the 3rd sector has been taken over. Universities have a big responsibility in that happening. For him the book “Working Capital” is an ideological disaster. We are in a real potential conjuncture at the moment that is the collapse of the property market.

Q: Andrea Gibbons (LSE/RTTC)- But has the property market actually collapsed? In L.A. we had a land trust, the market collapsed, but the property didn’t go down. Has property actually gone down here?

A: Michael Edwards (JustSpace/UCL): Agrees that the collapse of the property market is a gratifying thing even though it causes pain to lots of people. It isn’t making housing or property more affordable though. It has actually become much more difficult to borrow, even though interestrates are low. – it has become very difficult if you’re living on ordinary wages in order to get into the owner-occupier market.

Also wants to say that we should never underestimate the capacity of capitalism to go back to “normal”.

As a timeline, all three political parties are talking about cutting social wages, which will have appalling effects on ordinary people: salaries, on the availability of old people’s care, etc. It’s going to be terribly difficult.

Duncan Bowie (London Metropolitan University): Coming back to that, he’s not saying all is great. It’s about thinking differently about relationships to think of certain social outcomes. It’s about a shift from planning reacting to the market to planning with communities and public sector. Debates are happening much more widely, even in private sector, because they’re wondering what’s going to happen as well.

In last 50 years, what has happened? In the 70s/80s, all the city groups had a policy of defending local interests against gentrification and also world city expansion. Then with Thatcher, private-led interests, led to the sacrificing of fringe communities. Parallel to that development, community organizations shifted to private interests as well.

Additionally, there was a shift of communities into developing nighttime economies (clubbing, etc.) without regard to consequences and with a total disregard for the broader public community benefit. For him there needs to be an emphasis on art à this touches income, class, and wealth distribution.

There needs to be a real debate about what planning and the city and assets are actually for. It’s actually about the benefit of people. We are in a context in which we can actually have these debates again. So many people have retreated back into theory and now we have to get back into practice.

Michael Edwards (JustSpace/UCL): There’s a new literature on “urban regeneration”, lots of research demonstrating how useless a lot of it has been, (causing displacement, harm to communities and old people, etc.) with exceptions

Eda Beyazit (Oxford University – Transport):

She’s interested in natives and is speaking from her experience in Istanbul, question about whether, if nothing happens in people’s neighborhoods, if they’re not being displaced, do people not care about this stuff? It’s mostly NGOS, community organizations etc that are interested in questions of displacement, we can’t actually get to the individual level. Is this true? Is it only great struggle that gets people to become interested?

NAME: For him, these are questions of unmanageable complexity. There’s a need to find a theoretical frame of reference to get a better grip and a clearer point of entry into this continuum of issues, into this city of 7 million people. For him it’s about pursuing community as identified by place. The phrase “people where they’re at” means addressing issues that are bugging them now, or the latest challenge or pressure and then taking it from there. But that’s starting from a very negative position. The sheer magnitude of the power that you’re trying to influence is self-defeating.

The frame of reference for him is local community defined by local high street or town center. The central place is the central place of people’s identity. There’s a scope for mapping by say 10 min walks. People do overlap within 10 min walks. That catchment area can create a new form of market level, and fold into other catchement areas, to create a market hierarchy. It becomes about involving people around that initial area – to discuss local issues around that area. In this way the arena is restricted to a more manageable area. It’s better than focusing on a single issue. You can get all kinds of different issues. People come together around an idea of a local community, a market, the social market—-hierarchy of needs, services, activities from center to periphery – from local to township, to bigger catchment levels.

Q: UCL David Staunton – JustSpace/UCL – questions for Andrea:

1) Are greater inequalities in US a positive driver for change relative to UK (with less great inequalities)?

A: Andrea Gibbons: It definitely radicalized people in a much deeper sense. People definitely faced immense challenges which are just not the same here (lead, poison, people being beaten up by police officers) plus private property is not enshrined in the same way here. But at the same time because of this, there is lots of room for the right to take over as well (see the Tea Party movement). These struggles definitely led to a very extraordinary organizing movement.

2) How did different workers work together?

A: Andrea Gibbons: It was very difficult to get everyone to agree. It was a very rocky road, but it’s about coming together on what you have in common, a shared language and trust. The framework is very useful because people bind under shared principles (“this is what we agree on, this is what we stand for” and can refer back to them.

Michael Edwards (JustSpace/UCL): In London it is easier to organize people around issues like local centers, businesses, social market, etc. But there are also big problems around coalition – they ran a Social Forum in London and encountered really big problems.

London Citizens is probably the most successful coalition right now – very successful living wage campaign. It’s a group that is made of a network of the political left, religious groups, schools – tons of different people who couldn’t agree about other things. Their coalition holds together on their one issue but would never go beyond that. Doesn’t have just one geographic focus, though it does do effective things geographically.

Various green movements and left organizations, really agree on some things, but not on others, it’s very difficult. For example greens here vary hugely in their attitudes to capitalism, to inequality.

Andrea Gibbons: In the RTTC we made a distinction between “sister orgs” and then strategic coalitions – temporary coalitions. You recognize them for what they are. The basic starting point for all these organizations: the poor and the working class drive change. The question then becomes, “Did our action impact their lives?” – that’s how you measure change.

German woman: Again we have to bear in mind idea of the difference between what’s feasible now and what’s possible in the future. Additionally, when speaking about this idea of community gathering around a place, big issue = different neighborhoods have totally different resources, to even begin to tackle issues from a local framework seems impossible.

For her it doesn’t matter that those people who can think about where things to overlap and don’t fit, get together to talk.

Suggestions:

NAME: We should always be sure to think of the physical landscape as result of economic constraints, as well as understanding constraints of common language in London – looking at impact of physical on the social and how that impacts now, and in future. City as both a space and where the public/private exist (common language).

Duncan Bowie (London Metropolitan University): Is the purpose here to direct more academic research in order to direct broader political policy? Or is it about trying to encourage more coordinated community organizations? Because surely other people are more appropriate actors to do the latter.

Michael Edwards (JustSpace/UCL): The way he sees it is just about trying to think of how we can operate as critical social scientists to challenge the current city? Interested in RTTC but with some reservation as in the UK “rights” are seen as being individualistic (while our concern is often about collective rights).  Idea here is to switch professors, students, activists etc. into more critical ways of working.

Suzy Nelson (University of Westminster): For her RTTC could be a useful way of linking agendas here in London. For her it’s about changing the discourse to change the way we see the world and the way we think things can be. You need to be able to capture people’s imagination and make them think it’s possible. Changing discourse can make things feel possible.

Suggested we should start a series of discourses around the different topics of RTTC (economic justice, land rights, etc. we can also adopt the agenda) number of themes to take from that or develop new ones.  It would be useful to have a small series of linked talks that were more focused, around affordable housing, economic justice, while at the same time trying to see interconnections of theory and practice.

Click here for flyer. RTTCflyer03_10-3

Outcomes from the seminar include an audio file (MP3) here. There is also a written note of the meeting below:

Notes RTTC London – Do Londoners have a right to the city? 30.03.2010

Context: Why the meeting? (Michael Edwards)

The start of this discussion goes back a couple years to a very important meeting held in Berlin in 2008, to celebrate the 80th birthday of Peter Marcuse, activist, intellectual, lawyer, professor. The meeting was a remarkable gathering of the most radical and innovative social scientists of various kinds who we could group under the banner of “critical theorists”. But there were not only theorists present; there were also many practitioners there who link their work to theory.

The precedings to that conference was edited at immense speed and captured by CITY journal.

October 2009 Peter Marcuse was invited to come to London – held a big public lecture at UCL, which attracted very large numbers of people. It was an extremely stirring and moving lecture in which he essentially said that in the deepening and worsening of the world crisis and of injustice in world cities, it is crucial to develop and pursue and integrate critical thinking on urban life and extend it into action which will bring about social change. That lecture is published in City  and a podcast is on iTunesU

The following day he did a seminar at UCL, where he spoke of the role of teachers and students in urban action.

After that, several of us have had discussions of how to capture the momentum of those events and carry the ideas over, and link it up to broader action – linked up with 2 American gradate students in London who are veterans of the RTTC movement in USA.

Very timely à In London we’re going to have public hearings of a new London strategic plan. This is the focus of a lot of current action and current struggles. Some of those involved in those struggles are here tonight.  The Just Space Network, which coordinates some of this work, has received some money from the university – the whole purpose is creating constructive relations between UCL and action groups in the city.

Crucial questions:

-How do we interpret the current crisis and the current conjunctions of our particular cities?

-What realistically can be achieved in trying to do something?

Peter Marcuse emphasized the need to separate these two – Really try to make thorough critical evaluation of the world and then – independently – plan out reform, action, etc.; we shouldn’t let our analysis be crippled by what is immediately possible.

-Where next?

UK/London – Alternatives to the London Plan (Michael Edwards)

First question: is the crisis just financial or more profoundly, economic? Edwards’ reading – if we think of the period from World War II-1970s: in rich countries, real wages and real incomes for most workers were able to grow as consumption and productivity also grew. There was a distribution between labor and capital that was socially acceptable.

This was superceded from the late 70s onward by a long untidy period of “capitalism unleashed”  (the title of Andrew Glyn’s excellent book about it) – workers’ salaries were generally speaking static in most countries, or in some cases declining. Since we’ve had this enormous growth of inequality, the poor have been getting relatively poorer, the rich rapidly richer.

But, in these last 30-40 years consumption has grown. Everyone has continued to consume but only through the expansion of credit. And the growth of credit has been tremendous business for banks, lenders; it has allowed for sustained demand throughout.

The environmental crisis from a political perspective sits somewhere between total denial and lip service; there has been no adequate response to climate change.

[Slide] of one of David Banister’s diagrams: trajectory of growth of CO2 emission of London transport if we do nothing compared with where we would have to be in future dates to get to safe levels of emissions.

[Slide] Adrian Atkinson – Peak oil

Whether you approach the problem by looking at CO2 or peak oil, we’re in a completely unsustainable situation from an environmental point of view.

[Slide] Shares of GDP in EU as a whole

The London plans (both under Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone) seem to be in denial of the economic crisis [Slide]. Their teams have compared a lot of employment forecasts; their actual plan on employment growth ignores all these forecasts and is based on uninterrupted growth.

We’ve seen an explosion of asset values, the boom of the market-value of housing stock, and the creation of a distorted economy on assets and not on production meeting real needs.

The housing outcomes have been diabolical, impoverishing many people (tenants, new purchasers) and benefitting established owners, land owners, developers, banks. [Slide].

What’s been happening in the last couple of years? Groups in London that are hostile to neo-liberal growth planning have been getting together, pooling experiences and this exchange brought fruit at the last hearing in 2007. They are now much better organized in JustSpace:

This group shares the widespread agreement that maximizing the growth of GDP is the wrong fundamental objective – it omits environmental consequences, attaches excessive value to bankers and financial dealings, and gives very little value, if any, to care workers and to unpaid, voluntary and low-paid work.

We’re not talking about aiming for a no-growth economy, but what sort of growth are we talking about?

–       We need to make demands of greening all sort of industries. We have to think the greenness of all sectors and all parts of the economy, and not just a small number of specialized “green jobs”.

–       Support for non-profit, community enterprises, VCS

–       Diversifying economy away from finances and making it more robust

–       Putting more support in things that have low-value-added (care work, retail and  transport jobs, low-paid, catering, etc.)

–       Very strong demands to seriously tackle the exclusion of sections of the population from the labor market and from higher paying jobs – exclusion because of gender, ethnicity, disability, age.

Housing issues: (see slide)

–       Strong resistance to a new plan which reduces housing targets

–       Scrapped attempt to oblige suburbs to have social housing

–       Lots of resistance to declining space standards for green space, space within the homes, space for playing, for children, many of these declines really flow from the densification of a lot of the housing production in London of the last 10 years or so.

à The ways for paying for housing has collapsed – private sector, escalating land values, didn’t work before, failed to provide adequate social housing. Great need for a lot more diversity in ownership and use.

Energy: (see slide)

–       Weak targets for CO2.

–       Weak air quality targets

–       Going backwards on parking policy (in outer areas of London)

–       Treatment of a green economy is very weak

Transport: (see slide)

Incredible emphasis in the plan on heavy rail networks: extremely expensive – bringing workers into work in central London à the need is to redirect investment into shorter, local trips and into things like trip-chaining – there isn’t much on need to reduce length of travel.

Need to look at more of a micro-level services economy, a bottom-up approach as opposed to concentrating so much on the city-centre and metropolitan centres.

àà Big problem (in Europe) is that plans are required to be appraised by their impact- but what the impact is, is rather disregarded. It’s a big problem in cities à creation of big issues of equalities/inequalities.

USA – RTTC (Andrea Gibbons)

We are facing the same economic situation in the US.

There are lots of misconceptions of the States. The community she worked in is very representative of a lot of organizations in the States that fight hard to affect change there.

Some context:

Los Angeles is an extremely racist city which has very strong covenants on land and on where people could live (“mudtown” Black area) – concentrating poor people and people of color in specific areas.

–       White flight – services leave with them.

–       Red-lining (70s-80s) no loans for anything to entire regions demarked by banks; targeted areas of color.

–       Huge proportion of absentee landlords, huge proportion of tenants living in these areas.

–       Crack epidemic and the 80s – cops seen as the enemy not as stopping crime

–       Whole areas of devastation which still exist today

àThere are lots of movements in communities across the States to change things.

In a lot of areas, these movements worked, enabling the creation of parks and green spaces, affordable housing, etc. And most often when this happens, people like it and we witness a new wave of gentrification and displacement.

Our organization started from the fundamental belief of having community as the driver for the change that they want to see – not top-down but bottom-up.

SAJE (Strategic Actions for a Just Economy www.saje.net )  did a huge amount of work around development, affordable housing, slum housing, gentrification/displacement. We have a jobs program, which was created after organizing around big local developments, (Staples Agreement) – 15% local hire in living wage and unionized jobs. Additionally, lots of work to get parks and higher environmental regulations in the area.

In the States, there is a long history of organizing being divorced from theory. As an organization, we realized we needed a larger framework to think. In January 2007, SAJE, Miami Workers Center and Tenants and Workers United (Northern VA) held a founding conference in Los Angeles. There were 15-20 organization present, all doing similar work around development issues.

We made a very conscious decision of bringing in experts to help with what community had defined (Nick Theodore, Tony Samara, and now Peter Marcuse and David Harvey).

We built together a shared framework starting with the analysis of what the economic forces that we were looking at were, what we could do to have impact, how to fight various forms of displacement (private, public, demolitions, etc.).

This also helped us to see how our strategy was or was not working. On a small scale it worked, on a large scale not sure –10,000s of units lost in different cities around the country.

Idea of working together on joint demands and also as a way of building our own power- building strength and affecting change not just superficially.

Principles of unity: (taken directly from RTTC website – http://www.righttothecity.org)

1) LAND FOR PEOPLE VS. LAND FOR SPECULATION

The right to land and housing that is free from market speculation and that serves the interests of community building, sustainable economies, and cultural and political space.

2) LAND OWNERSHIP

The right to permanent public ownership of urban territories for public use.

3) ECONOMIC JUSTICE

The right of working class communities of color, women, queer and transgender people to an economy that serves their interests.

4) INDIGENOUS JUSTICE

The right of First Nation indigenous people to their ancestral lands that have historical or spiritual significance, regardless of state borders and urban or rural settings.

5) ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE

The right to sustainable and healthy neighborhoods & workplaces, healing, quality health care, and reparations for the legacy of toxic abuses such as brown fields, cancer clusters, and superfund sites.

6) FREEDOM FROM POLICE & STATE HARASSMENT

The right to safe neighborhoods and protection from police, INS/ICE, and vigilante repression, which has historically targeted communities of color, women, queer and transgender people.

7) IMMIGRANT JUSTICE

The right of equal access to housing, employment, and public services regardless of race, ethnicity, and immigration status and without the threat of deportation by landlords, ICE, or employers.

8) SERVICES AND COMMUNITY INSTITUTIONS

The right of working class communities of color to transportation, infrastructure and services that reflect and support their cultural and social integrity.

9) DEMOCRACY AND PARTICIPATION

The right of community control and decision making over the planning and governance of the cities where we live and work, with full transparency and accountability, including the right to public information without interrogation.

10) REPARATIONS

The right of working class communities of color to economic reciprocity and restoration from all local, national and transnational institutions that have exploited and/or displaced the local economy.

11) INTERNATIONALISM

The right to support and build solidarity between cities across national boundaries, without state intervention.

12) RURAL JUSTICE

The right of rural people to economically healthy and stable communities that are protected from environmental degradation and economic pressures that force migration to urban areas.

  • There is a steering committee of different organizations, members and resources allies.
  • Everyone has to sign on to principles.
  • There are elections to steering committees alongside regional groups and working groups.
  • Lots of civic engagement, actions around New Orleans, tenant rights, etc.
  • RTTC is really using the WSF to bring together issues as well as Mayor’s meetings – in order to get them to recognize problems in the cities.
  • Different groups pooling expertise and resources.
  • A lot of the cities are also doing big plans responses à Key idea: we want to come from a position of strength rather than reacting to what they’re saying – we bring our own plans to stand up against what the city is saying so that we wouldn’t have to follow their framework. They leave a lot of stuff out. (great example of NYC in David Harvey’s intro to the Right To The City).
  • Additionally, these cities do a lot of things to hold people accountable – meeting with elected officials, voting and electoral engagement, marches…

Discussant comment (Bob Catterall – CITY)

The questioning slogan we are gathered under today: “Do Londoners have a right to the city?” as a reflection of the US movement.

Bob has been thinking about this because he has lived in various parts of London and in SF, and was greatly inspired by the Kings’ Cross Railway Lands group.

These are his “confessions of a peripatetic researcher”.

King’s Cross Railway Lands group was saying “not to our area” but it wasn’t NIMBY-ism.

He was hired by Richard Rogers à sent to Barcelona and Paris to bring back information on what’s going on in these cities and what can be done in London. He learned very little from the French “Grand Travaux”, seen as orthodox beliefs – these are only concerned with central Paris, and not about the suburbs.

For him, the answer was not in Paris, but in Barcelona some 10-20 years ago, before the development of chi-chi parks. It was about looking at how people came together to make things happen who asked themselves “what can we achieve under Franco?”, “What can we do for working people that doesn’t cost much, that can be achieved in a few years (to see tangible target reached) and that is accessible?” – the Parks. People needed a bit more space. Local parks were something that could be achieved easily that didn’t need much money, and met a real need.

London grassroots groups are expressing needs. Is that enough? Ultimately no! So we move to demands! When you do this, then you start moving towards the idea of a right. This is a system that is denied rights.

Needs à Demands à Rights

He told Richard Rogers, that the answer is not in Paris, it was in Barcelona 10-20 years ago but it is right now in Kings Cross, another movement of real positive forces that people began to field.

In a whole number of fields, people are demanding their rights + intellectually thought out right

Sadly Richard Rogers didn’t listen.

Then there was a big meeting organized at the LSE called the “Resurgent City” in the “naughties” – at the time there was a tremendous flow of wealth into the center of the city, is that really what we can “resurgence”? à Gentrification as a polite term for dispossession, for depriving people of their rights.

At this point he started to know Peter Marcuse, and asked him “Am I right to challenge this conventional wisdom, that we are in fact not at all facing a resurgent city?” Answer from Marcuse: “Right on Bob, right on.”

Londoners do have a right to the city and it’s about time they start demanding it.

Open discussion and debate

Some ideas of discussion (M. Edwards):

1) Does the concept of rights serve as a useful, inspiring, viable way to link campaigns

2) Exploring relations between theory and practice in order to better understand the dynamics of what’s happening

3) Looking at ways of organizing, establishing networks, changing strands of thoughts

Q: Trenton Oldfield (“This is not a gateway”)

What happens after we organize? He has worked for a community organization and around issues of regeneration for many years. It seems whenever they managed to secure something for the community, someone else would take over what they’d accomplished. One building that they managed to secure as a community asset for example, has been taken over by another organization, kicking out what had been set up (women’s association, etc.)

à Power shifts and a few neutralize what has been accomplished.

A: Bob Catterall (CITY): Marx talks about the distinction between “objective conditions and subjective needs”.

A: Mike Parkes ( Planning Aid for London (PAL) and formerly of King’s Cross Railway Lands Group): The way to secure community assets and organizing accomplishments is through partnership-working (combination of the public, private and third sector domains.) He comes from one of the rare groups that actually managed to get the community plan built (Isledon Road). It’s the idea of developing a common language and working through legal, local and strategic partnerships.

What we have to do over the next 10 years is monitor, evaluate and assess the performance of the London plan over the next 5 years. We’re at a moment where we have to do more for less. The 3rd sector is looking to play a much greater role in the aftermath of this economic crisis.

A: Duncan Bowie (London Metropolitan University) – Right now there are amazing opportunities to be grasped because of the changed economic context. There is widespread recognition in London and in the wider south-east that there has been a failure of development in the market, that old models need to be brought back (public sector leadership), and that we can no longer just act according to the pressures of the private market.

Even conservatives are looking at what local authorities can do to affect change locally. However this new emphasis on localism coming from the right, can actually be very dangerous because this approach of localism becomes about the empowerment of the right and of NIMBYs – we need to make sure it’s the community’s much larger and much longer needs that are addressed, and that the conversation takes on the form of arguing in terms of social justice for neighborhoods à Local authorities/Public authority ownership + community rights. Community’s needs to be set in much broader strategic policy objectives to be achieved in justice terms. It’s not about just short-term self-interest. As always, there is the risk that the market takes over.

A: Mike Parkes  (PAL and formerly,Kings-Cross Railway Lands Group): Yes we are faced with tremendous opportunities right now with the crisis, if we have the intelligence and maturity to address it correctly.

Q: Pasco Sabido (MSc LSE Student): Question on problems that community organizations can encounter in what is a very multicultural city – how do we get inclusive in a multicultural city where are so many divergent interests, different groups, etc.?

A: Andrea Gibbons (LSE/RTTC): It’s very difficult. At SAJE we worked with Latino and black populations. There were tensions there but you can bring people together.  You need people that are very skilled to bring people together, to discuss racism, etc. Community organizations at their best bring people together and create a space to talk about these issues. The best thing that can bring unity is struggle à in the States in these tenant organizations, where people have horrendous shared experiences, invited to openly talk about these issues. KIWA (Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance) in Los Angeles, organizes Korean, Latino, African-American workers.

The key is to make sure people can participate and everyone can be heard. It’s something you learn. A lot of it is technical stuff – ensuring you have translation, the right materials and that people feel comfortable. People work together and that’s how you build those bridges

A: Jenny Bates (Friends of the Earth London). JustSpace reaches out to a wider group of people. In her campaigning work experience, you have to go in where people are at. Coalitions build up, people meet on issues together, meet others interested in the same problems. It is a total issue of time and resources. FOE are currently trying to train some of their local groups around the city to reach out to some people in the city – using kids to translate to parents for example. It’s a slow long process and you can’t hurry that work.

Judith Ryser: For her, there are lot of problems and dangers of just falling into theory and ignoring the political. Agrees with Jenny, you have to meet people where they’re at, and it takes a long time to get anywhere. Scale matters a lot. If you’re trying to change things at a whole borough level, it’s very difficult. When you look at transition cities, the struggle they have at a local level is very interesting, there’s lots of good will and agreement, but once you scale it out to bigger change, it becomes very hard.

Babak Davarpanah (Planners Network UK + UEL):

The first step is getting rid of immediate injustice. We start from there and then we build from there and then we expand.

Q: Trenton Oldfield (“This is not a gateway”)

So what went wrong? These ideas go in and out of vogue. What do we do to make things last so that we aren’t having the same conversation again later?

Mike Parkes (PAL) A very wide representation of community interests come together when you have a major threat (right now he’s working in tons of boroughs ready for localities to be completely destroyed to make way for development coming into the area), or a major opportunity (handling a local budget for example).

A: Bob Catterall (CITY): What went wrong? People’s most generous emotions have been downgraded to not being important anymore – making money, fashion, – the notion of process, of partnership has been destroyed. The notion of the 3rd sector has been taken over. Universities have a big responsibility in that happening. For him the book “Working Capital” is an ideological disaster. We are in a real potential conjuncture at the moment that is the collapse of the property market.

Q: Andrea Gibbons (LSE/RTTC)- But has the property market actually collapsed? In L.A. we had a land trust, the market collapsed, but the property didn’t go down. Has property actually gone down here?

A: Michael Edwards (JustSpace/UCL): Agrees that the collapse of the property market is a gratifying thing even though it causes pain to lots of people. It isn’t making housing or property more affordable though. It has actually become much more difficult to borrow, even though interestrates are low. – it has become very difficult if you’re living on ordinary wages in order to get into the owner-occupier market.

Also wants to say that we should never underestimate the capacity of capitalism to go back to “normal”.

As a timeline, all three political parties are talking about cutting social wages, which will have appalling effects on ordinary people: salaries, on the availability of old people’s care, etc. It’s going to be terribly difficult.

Duncan Bowie (London Metropolitan University): Coming back to that, he’s not saying all is great. It’s about thinking differently about relationships to think of certain social outcomes. It’s about a shift from planning reacting to the market to planning with communities and public sector. Debates are happening much more widely, even in private sector, because they’re wondering what’s going to happen as well.

In last 50 years, what has happened? In the 70s/80s, all the city groups had a policy of defending local interests against gentrification and also world city expansion. Then with Thatcher, private-led interests, led to the sacrificing of fringe communities. Parallel to that development, community organizations shifted to private interests as well.

Additionally, there was a shift of communities into developing nighttime economies (clubbing, etc.) without regard to consequences and with a total disregard for the broader public community benefit. For him there needs to be an emphasis on art à this touches income, class, and wealth distribution.

There needs to be a real debate about what planning and the city and assets are actually for. It’s actually about the benefit of people. We are in a context in which we can actually have these debates again. So many people have retreated back into theory and now we have to get back into practice.

Michael Edwards (JustSpace/UCL): There’s a new literature on “urban regeneration”, lots of research demonstrating how useless a lot of it has been, (causing displacement, harm to communities and old people, etc.) with exceptions

Eda Beyazit (Oxford University – Transport):

She’s interested in natives and is speaking from her experience in Istanbul, question about whether, if nothing happens in people’s neighborhoods, if they’re not being displaced, do people not care about this stuff? It’s mostly NGOS, community organizations etc that are interested in questions of displacement, we can’t actually get to the individual level. Is this true? Is it only great struggle that gets people to become interested?

NAME: For him, these are questions of unmanageable complexity. There’s a need to find a theoretical frame of reference to get a better grip and a clearer point of entry into this continuum of issues, into this city of 7 million people. For him it’s about pursuing community as identified by place. The phrase “people where they’re at” means addressing issues that are bugging them now, or the latest challenge or pressure and then taking it from there. But that’s starting from a very negative position. The sheer magnitude of the power that you’re trying to influence is self-defeating.

The frame of reference for him is local community defined by local high street or town center. The central place is the central place of people’s identity. There’s a scope for mapping by say 10 min walks. People do overlap within 10 min walks. That catchment area can create a new form of market level, and fold into other catchement areas, to create a market hierarchy. It becomes about involving people around that initial area – to discuss local issues around that area. In this way the arena is restricted to a more manageable area. It’s better than focusing on a single issue. You can get all kinds of different issues. People come together around an idea of a local community, a market, the social market—-hierarchy of needs, services, activities from center to periphery – from local to township, to bigger catchment levels.

Q: UCL David Staughton – JustSpace – questions for Andrea:

1) Are greater inequalities in US a positive driver for change relative to UK (with less great inequalities)?

A: Andrea Gibbons: It definitely radicalized people in a much deeper sense. People definitely faced immense challenges which are just not the same here (lead, poison, people being beaten up by police officers) plus private property is not enshrined in the same way here. But at the same time because of this, there is lots of room for the right to take over as well (see the Tea Party movement). These struggles definitely led to a very extraordinary organizing movement.

2) How did different workers work together?

A: Andrea Gibbons: It was very difficult to get everyone to agree. It was a very rocky road, but it’s about coming together on what you have in common, a shared language and trust. The framework is very useful because people bind under shared principles (“this is what we agree on, this is what we stand for” and can refer back to them.

Michael Edwards (JustSpace/UCL): In London it is easier to organize people around issues like local centers, businesses, social market, etc. But there are also big problems around coalition – they ran a Social Forum in London and encountered really big problems.

London Citizens is probably the most successful coalition right now – very successful living wage campaign. It’s a group that is made of a network of the political left, religious groups, schools – tons of different people who couldn’t agree about other things. Their coalition holds together on their one issue but would never go beyond that. Doesn’t have just one geographic focus, though it does do effective things geographically.

Various green movements and left organizations, really agree on some things, but not on others, it’s very difficult. For example greens here vary hugely in their attitudes to capitalism, to inequality.

Andrea Gibbons: In the RTTC we made a distinction between “sister orgs” and then strategic coalitions – temporary coalitions. You recognize them for what they are. The basic starting point for all these organizations: the poor and the working class drive change. The question then becomes, “Did our action impact their lives?” – that’s how you measure change.

German woman: Again we have to bear in mind idea of the difference between what’s feasible now and what’s possible in the future. Additionally, when speaking about this idea of community gathering around a place, big issue = different neighborhoods have totally different resources, to even begin to tackle issues from a local framework seems impossible.

For her it doesn’t matter that those people who can think about where things to overlap and don’t fit, get together to talk.

Suggestions:

NAME: We should always be sure to think of the physical landscape as result of economic constraints, as well as understanding constraints of common language in London – looking at impact of physical on the social and how that impacts now, and in future. City as both a space and where the public/private exist (common language).

Duncan Bowie (London Metropolitan University): Is the purpose here to direct more academic research in order to direct broader political policy? Or is it about trying to encourage more coordinated community organizations? Because surely other people are more appropriate actors to do the latter.

Michael Edwards (JustSpace/UCL): The way he sees it is just about trying to think of how we can operate as critical social scientists to challenge the current city? Interested in RTTC but with some reservation as in the UK “rights” are seen as being individualistic (while our concern is often about collective rights).  Idea here is to switch professors, students, activists etc. into more critical ways of working.

Suzy Nelson (University of Westminster): For her RTTC could be a useful way of linking agendas here in London. For her it’s about changing the discourse to change the way we see the world and the way we think things can be. You need to be able to capture people’s imagination and make them think it’s possible. Changing discourse can make things feel possible.

Suggested we should start a series of discourses around the different topics of RTTC (economic justice, land rights, etc. we can also adopt the agenda) number of themes to take from that or develop new ones.  It would be useful to have a small series of linked talks that were more focused, around affordable housing, economic justice, while at the same time trying to see interconnections of theory and practice.

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2 Responses to “seminar 30 March”

  1. what about linking right to the city to right to education, especially in the light of current student protests against tuition fees and the government decision to withdraw all public finance support for arts and humanities degrees?

    • Judith you are right: it should be linked. I guess we have so far been overlpaded just with the “city planning” dimensions….. The students (and staff unions) have certainly put the education issue at the heart of the struggle, yes.


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