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Text for The Neoliberal Frontline: Urban Struggles in Post Socialist Societies

The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. David Harvey

What is the city for? The res onse of neoliberal urbanis! has been extraordinarily coherent: the city is a living and breathing !achine for !axi!i"ing the return on invest!ent# The frenetic gentrification of attractive city neighborhoods over the course of the last decade and the dra!atically s$elling real%estate bubbles that ca!e in its $a&e have rovided the !ost obvious illustration of this ri!ary rule# 'ehind the urban scenes( the transnationali"ation of !unici al bond offers has been $idely used to raise ca ital for the infrastructure of the real%estate boo!( o ening u lucrative financial !ar&ets and reconfiguring the lin&s bet$een !unici al and national governance in the rocess# These t$o !a)or trends have both been subordinate to a third heno!enon( the grand ri"e of neoliberal urbanis!: the installation of ost!odern roduction facilities( $hether the big league of global cor orate head*uarters and associated services( or the s!aller but still highly rofitable ge!stones of credit%based luxury consu! tion +sho ing centers( tourist districts( franchised bouti*ues,# -n a breathta&ing ress to$ard total !a&eover( the face of cities across the $orld has been changed since the early ./01s( not only to fit an aesthetic nor!( as is $idely con)ectured( but above all in accordance $ith an underlying tool&it( a unified set of roductive and regulatory rocedures# The result of the three interrelated transfor!ations can be ter!ed !ega% gentrification: an entirely ne$( globally connected urban real! res onding to the needs and desires of increasingly ho!ogeneous $orld elites# This attern is increasingly $ell &no$n( and - $ill s&etch out its features in !ore concrete detail belo$# What has not yet been for!ulated is the *uestion that a ears on the hori"on of the current credit crisis and the rolonged recession or de ression that is al!ost sure to follo$# 2et this *uestion is the only thing that really !atters today( it is the crux of our resent !o!ent# -s neoliberal urbanis! a destiny? 3r can a co!bination of local inhabitants4 !ove!ents( national regulation and a broad transnational analysis of revailing trends act together to counter the !ost da!aging rocesses that are currently at $or&? While entire sectors of the cor orate elites slide into ban&ru tcy and the state co!es bac& in $ith a vengeance( can contesting social forces reclai! a right to the city? Such s$ee ing *uestions $ere not on anyone4s agenda bac& in the late ./51s and early ./61s( $hen the $ord gentrification first ca!e to designate the ho!e%i! rove!ent efforts of a fe$ hi entre reneurs $ho could be alternatively !oc&ed or flattered by connotations of finer lifestyles and a vague aura of 78erry 3lde 9ngland#: 'ut the neoliberal version of urban rene$al no longer !atches that *uaint i!age of forty years ago# With his analysis of three distinct hases in the gentrification rocess( the geogra her Neil S!ith has clearly de!onstrated the successive increases in scale( to the oint $here today( in the hase of 7generali"ed gentrification(: the installation of !a)or cultural facilities designed as invest!ent !agnets is carried out under integrated !unici al and state%govern!ent lans for the valori"ation of urban ro erty on $orld !ar&ets#. ;o!!ercial invest!ent in such 7regenerated: "ones is inevitably do!inated by transnational franchises $ith the ability to raise initial ca ital( a ly recut !anage!ent sche!es( rovide fla$less logistical su ort and unveil instantly

recogni"able brand%na!e decors# -n 9uro ean cities for!erly !ar&ed by a s ecific national or regional character( the a earance of fully standardi"ed consu! tion environ!ents in the .//1s ca!e as so!ething of a shoc&( underscoring the ne$ status of real%estate s eculation as a ri!e terrain of both rivate and ublic finance# 9lse$here( ho$ever( the very $ord gentrification see!s to colla se beneath the !agnitude of urban rene$al rogra!s: in countries li&e ;hina( for exa! le( $hat is ty ically at sta&e is not the beautification of existing streets( ar&s and housing stoc&( but instead( the ra"ing of entire districts and the construction of high%rise( high%rent to$ers in their lace# 2et the old notion of an aristocratic 7landed gentry: living off the rent of rural ro erty has gained ne$ currency in all these different cases( as luc&y o$ners around the $orld have been able to sell off their !assively inflated ho!es and a art!ents for handso!e retire!ents( or better yet( refinance their !ortgages on the fly( so as to generate recious li*uidities for invest!ent on the surging stoc&%!ar&ets# The !asters of the regenerated inner city are indeed a ne$ gentry( flush $ith the returns on their exclusive titles to nobility: the o$nershi deeds granting the! a sta&e in the global boo! of urban centrality# What then of the city as a collective ro)ect( $hich alone !a&es this &ind of individual )ac& ot ossible? <ason Hac&$orth has sho$n ho$ cities in the US=( then increasingly around the $orld( have had recourse to only three bond%rating agencies in order to !a&e their !unici al bonds attractive as a secure( blue%chi invest!ent for ension funds and other large ortfolio ad!inistrators#> The &ey transfor!ation of the ./01s and .//1s( in Hac&$orth4s analysis of the =!erican data( is the relative ecli se of local ban&s as !a)or buyers on the bond !ar&ets and the corres onding rise of institutional investors $ithout any detailed &no$ledge of the urban environ!ent# Under these conditions( the role of the Nationally ?ecogni"ed Statistical ?ating 3rgani"ations @ 8oody4s( Standard A Poor4s and Fitch @ is to rovide authoritative guarantees of future rofitability( absolving fund !anagers fro! any ossible accusation of undue ris&%ta&ing# -ndeed( binding regulation rohibits !any ension funds fro! ac*uiring any but the highest% ran&ed securities# The advantages for distant institutional investors of such close surveillance of urban develo !ent ro)ects $ere irresistible# With the volu!e of invest!ent rising globally and ca ital ouring into !unici al bond !ar&ets fro! sources as far a$ay as Saudi =rabia or ;hina( the rating agencies ca!e to reign su re!e over infrastructural lanning( not only in the US but throughout the $orld# To facilitate the !anage!ent of budgets( ro)ects are often s un off into s ecially chartered 7districts: +air ort district( se$age district( etc#, $hich !ay also be configured as rivate% ublic artnershi s# -n addition to the standardi"ed develo !ent attern that this rocess i! oses( $hat results above all is a loss of de!ocratic oversight as increasingly large tracts of urban land are !anaged according to the dictates of the ratings agencies( and in so!e cases handed over to *uasi%non%govern!ental organi"ations( or 7*uangos: as they are called in Breat 'ritain# The double negation of 7*uasi: and 7non: says a lot about ho$ !uch can be hidden in this rocess# The )uridical basis of ublic s ace falls into the legal ga bet$een ublic and rivate# What drives cities to$ard this o a*ue but highly orchestrated rocess of total !a&eover? The big ri"e( as Sas&ia Sassen ointed out al!ost t$o decades ago( is the status of 7global city(: or co!!and and control center of the $orld econo!y#C The &ey attributes here are full integration to global financial flo$s( to %*uality infor!ation and trans ortation infrastructure( and 7$orld class: real%estate !ar&ets and cultural a!enities !a&ing the city attractive for the !ost *ualified cor orate ersonnel# While it

is obvious that only a fe$ cities can ever obtain this osition +Sassen herself focused only on Ne$ 2or&( Dondon and To&yo,( still enor!ous su!s are s ent by co! eting !etro olises all over the $orld in ho es of !oving u the ran&s of global integration# -n the historically do!inant financial ca itals and a!ong the serious ne$ contenders such as Shanghai( Sydney( Sao Paulo( 'russels or -stanbul( $hat one $itnesses is the $holesale retooling of arts of the city for a ne$ &ind of cos!o olitan citi"en( fantastically $ealthy( exceedingly $ell infor!ed and uni*uely de!anding in !atters of infrastructure( entertain!ent and security# The territory of this ne$ 7landed gentry: is vigilantly guarded by !en in cor orate unifor!s $ith nightstic&s and radios and guns( yet it cannot be reduced to the su re!ely valuable urban districts in $hich the o$ners hysically live @ for through free$ays( heli orts( airlines( fiber%o tic cables and satellite co!!unications syste!s( their territory extends to the !ega%scale of the global net$or&# -nterestingly( it is a!ong the lesser $annabes of global citydo! that $e find the single !ost influential !odel for everyday gentrification in 9uro e( na!ely 'arcelona( $hich does not even figure on the list of sixty leading cities recently co! iled by the =!erican !aga"ine Foreign Policy#E Nonetheless( the global reach of the ;atalan !etro olis has been rodigious# Flagshi urban develo !ent ro)ects such as the 3ly! ics( or !ore recently( the Universal Foru! of ;ultures( lavish rovision of tourist facilities and conference centers( careful attention to the restoration or redesign of streets( faFades and urban furnishings( deliberate encourage!ent of the tertiary sectors of the urban econo!y and last but not least( liberal s ending on local cultural events( has served to create civic ride( olitical consensus( s&yroc&eting real%estate values and !ulti le incite!ents to s ending and invest!ent fro! the outside# Using this integrated a roach( 'arcelona has not only refreshed and refurbished its decaying neighborhoods @ and driven a$ay !uch of the exotic urban fauna that gave it a literary re utation in the ./C1s%51s @ but it has also beco!e a veritable !odel( a full%fledged 9uro ean e*uivalent to San Francisco as seen by the =!erican 7creative%city: booster ?ichard Florida# -n .///( in an un recedented gesture( the ?oyal -nstitute of 'ritish =rchitects a$arded its Bold 8edal not to an individual but to the entire !etro olis of 'arcelonaG $hile at the sa!e ti!e( an Urban Tas& Force under the leadershi of Sir ?ichard ?ogers drafted lans for $hat $ould essentially be the 7'arceloni"ation: of ten 'ritish cities#H Today the architects and lanners of the ;atalan ca ital are able to sell the city4s collectively generated urban ex ertise far beyond its borders or ring roads# When cru!bling ca itals li&e 'uda est or 'uenos =ires suddenly find the!selves graced $ith beautifully restored historical districts and entire streets filled $ith brand%ne$ the!e restaurants @ along $ith bond%issues in the $or&s for exclusive infrastructures( an incongruous 7lifestyle: rhetoric on the li s of city officials and grand as irations for hosting cultural events @ the influence of the 'arcelona !odel is never very distant# Through strategic rofessional net$or&ing the 7!ega: scale is attained a!ong the !inor leagues( by extension rather than concentration# The outstanding *uestion( ho$ever( concerns the future of both these s eculatively driven !odels( at a ti!e $hen the !a)or attribute of the global city @ finance ca ital @ and the !a)or source of funding for the gentrification of second%ran& rovincial cities @ abundant credit fro! outside @ have both run straight into their funda!ental contradiction: na!ely( the inability of ex loited $or&ers and overstretched consu!ers to go on holding the s inning ball of golden drea!s u in the air# Today $e face the largest financial crisis in a century( already $ell on its $ay to beco!ing a crisis of the

real econo!y in the real!s of industry and trade( but also a olitical crisis on the streets and in the voting booths $here the ressure of ra idly rising une! loy!ent is !a&ing itself o$erfully evident# 8ega%gentrification has at last !et its li!its( and a so histicated urban develo !ent aradig! built u over the course of three decades no$ stands on the verge of colla se# For co!!unity grou s fighting the gentrification of their neighborhoods( or the installation of cultural and consu! tion facilities $hose first effect $ould be to erase their culture and dis lace their consu! tion to big%box $astelands( this sudden halt to the s eculative boo! $ill co!e as a relief( or even as a saving grace# 'ut for everyone $ith a long%ter! interest in ecologically sustainable develo !ent( in the sharing of urban centrality $ith the eri hery( in the roduction of artici atory culture rather than aying entertain!ent( and in the de!ocratically chosen transfor!ation of lifestyles in full res ect of those $ho $ould rather stay the sa!e @ in short( for everyone vitally interested in the grassroots exercise of the right to the city @ the current crisis o ens other ossibilities and oses other( erha s thornier *uestions# Ho$ to find anything but a res ite in a global construction do$ns$ing $hich could easily be as transient as those of innu!erable recessions ast? Ho$ to begin undoing the reflexes and refor!ulating the ex ertise accu!ulated over three decades of neoliberal !anage!ent? Ho$ to s read an a$areness of the subtle ini*uities of neoliberal urbanis!( at a ti!e $hen far !ore ressing issues and varieties of olitical rhetoric are li&ely to co!e to the fore? Ho$ to insure that ublic $or&s ro)ects( if they are carried out( do not !erely reiterate the sa!e illusory riorities as the credit%s onsored ro)ects $hich receded the!? =nd above all( ho$ to continue resisting the i! osition of !unici ally !andated real%estate sche!es $hich( li&e everything in society( do not ever really die but instead go into a &ind of living aralysis( an auto!ated re etition $hose only guarantee of continuity is the refusal of any in ut fro! the outside $orld? These and !any other issues arising fro! the current crisis are far !ore than any single local grou or social !ove!ent could ever resolve on its o$n# =s David Harvey notes( the right to the city is 7a co!!on rather than an individual right( since this transfor!ation inevitably de ends u on the exercise of a collective o$er to resha e the rocesses of urbani"ation#:5 =s such it de!ands co!!on efforts( across local( national and even continental boundaries# =nd though every significant struggle ha ens in one single lace( $ith one single constellation of forces( still it is high ti!e to establish lin&s fro! city to city( fro! country to country( fro! region to region @ and to begin building a co!!on grassroots aradig! of alternative urbanis!( $here issues of s atial )ustice are al$ays granted their full $eight( $hatever the scales of decision# # #

Notes
.Neil S!ith( 7Ne$ Blobalis!( Ne$ Urbanis!: Bentrification as Blobal Urban Strategy(: in Antipode CEIC +<uly >11>,# For a detailed treat!ent of !unici al( state and cor orate collaboration on urban develo !ent ro)ects( see 9ri& S$yngedou$ et. al.( 7Neoliberal Urbani"ation in 9uro e: Darge%Scale Urban Develo !ent Pro)ects and the Ne$ Urban Policy(: in the sa!e s ecial issue of Antipode#

><ason Hac&$orth( The Neoliberal City: Governance, deology and !evelopment in American "rbanism +-thaca: ;ornell University Press( >116,# CSas&ia Sassen( The Global City: Ne# $or%, &ondon, To%yo +Princeton University Press( .//.,# E=#T# Jearney( -nc# and The ;hicago ;ouncil on Blobal =ffairs(7The >110 Blobal ;ities -ndex(: in Foreign Policy +Nove!ber%Dece!ber >110,# 'arcelona does( ho$ever( figure in a s ecifically cultural category at the botto! of the ran&ing established by P#<# Taylor( 7Deading World ;ities: 9! irical 9valuations of Urban Nodes in 8ulti le Net$or&s(: in "rban 'tudies E>I/ +>11H,# H8ari Pa" 'alibrea( 7Urbanis!( culture and the ost%industrial city: challenging the K'arcelona 8odel(4: in Ti! 8arshall( ed#( Transforming (arcelona +Dondon: ?outledge( >11E,# 5David Harvey( 7The ?ight to the ;ity(: in Ne# &eft )evie# HC +Se te!ber%3ctober >110,#