Reinventing urban democracy in Barcelona – March 25, 2015 openDemocracy.net article

1) Reinventing urban democracy

A March 25, 2015 openDemocracy.net article is entitled: “Reinventing urban democracy in Barcelona.”

The opening paragraphs read:

  • “We’re losing Barcelona and we want to win it back.”
  • These are the opening words of the manifesto of the new electoral alliance Barcelona en Comú (which can be translated as “Barcelona for all”). It’s a sentiment that will resonate with city-dwellers across the world. The alliance is already topping some polls in its bid to win this May’s city council elections and bring to an end decades during which urban development became a get-rich-quick scheme for private investors. The Catalan capital, which was a hotbed for radical politics of all stripes in the early twentieth century, immortalised in Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, is giving birth to a 21st century vision of municipal democracy.
  • This is a vision that cities across Europe need now more than ever. During the 1970s and 1980s devastated urban landscapes emerged from the wreckage of deindustrialisation giving way to a new kind of urban politics in cities from Malaga to Maastricht. This new politics, often described as “neoliberal urbanism”, is all about extending the role of the market in shaping how cities work. The policy recipe is well known: privatisation of municipal services; promotion of “light touch” tax regimes; a low-wage, precarious service sector and the conversion of housing into an investment asset. These measures, intended to respond to the urban crisis let loose by deindustrialisation, have created a new, permanent crisis for the majority of city-dwellers and facilitated the enrichment of a tiny, footloose global elite.

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2) Dispatches Against Displacement: Field Notes from San Francisco’s Housing Wars (2014)

A blurb at the Toronto Public Library for the above-titled book reads:

  • San Francisco is being eroded by waves of cash flowing north from Silicon Valley. Recent evictions of long-time San Francisco residents, outrageous rents and home prices, and blockaded “Google buses” are only the tip of the iceberg. James Tracy’s book focuses on the long arc of displacement over almost two decades of “dot com” boom and bust, offering the necessary perspective to analyze the latest urban horrors.
  • A housing activist in the Bay Area since before Google existed, Tracy puts the hardships of the working poor and middle class front and center. These essays explore the battle for urban space—public housing residents fighting austerity, militant housing takeovers, the vagaries of federal and state housing policy, as well as showdowns against gentrification in the Mission District. From these experiences, Dispatches Against Displacement draws out a vision of what alternative urbanism might look like if our cities were developed by and for the people who bring them to life.
  • James Tracy is a Bay Area native and a well-respected community organizer. He is co-founder of the San Francisco Community Land Trust (which uses public and private money to buy up housing stock and take it out of the real estate market), as well as a poet and co-author of Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power.

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3) Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste : How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown (2013)

A blurb at the Toronto Public Library for the book with the above-noted titled reads:

  • At the onset of the Great Recession, as house prices sank and joblessness soared, many commentators concluded that the economic convictions behind the disaster would now be consigned to history. Yet in the harsh light of a new day, attacks against government intervention and the global drive for austerity are as strong as ever. Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste is the definitive account of the wreckage of what passes for economic thought, and how neoliberal ideas were used to solve the very crisis they had created. Now updated with a new afterword, Philip Mirowski’s sharp and witty work provides a roadmap for those looking to escape today’s misguided economic dogma.

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4) The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power (2015)

A March 16, 2014 New York Times book review of the above-noted book can be accessed here.

5) Crystal Myths: Behind the ROM’s philanthropic façade

A March 27, 2015 Globe and Mail article with the above-noted title can be accessed here.

6) After 40 percent loss in operating budget, Glenbow became most financially self-sufficient of 10 largest museums in Canada

The above-named previous post can be accessed here.

7) Cruel Modernity (2013)

A blurb at the Toronto Public Library for the above-titled book reads:

  • In Cruel Modernity, Jean Franco examines the conditions under which extreme cruelty became the instrument of armies, governments, rebels, and rogue groups in Latin America. She seeks to understand how extreme cruelty came to be practiced in many parts of the continent over the last eighty years and how its causes differ from the conditions that brought about the Holocaust, which is generally the atrocity against which the horror of others is measured. In Latin America, torturers and the perpetrators of atrocity were not only trained in cruelty but often provided their own rationales for engaging in it. When “draining the sea” to eliminate the support for rebel groups gave license to eliminate entire families, the rape, torture, and slaughter of women dramatized festering misogyny and long-standing racial discrimination accounted for high death tolls in Peru and Guatemala. In the drug wars, cruelty has become routine as tortured bodies serve as messages directed to rival gangs.
  • Franco draws on human-rights documents, memoirs, testimonials, novels, and films, as well as photographs and art works, to explore not only cruel acts but the discriminatory thinking that made them possible, their long-term effects, the precariousness of memory, and the pathos of survival.

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8) Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice (2015)

A March 18, 2015 New York Times book review of the above-titled book can be accessed here.

 9) Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class (2015)

A March 17, 2015 New York Times book review of the above-titled book can be accessed here.

10) Driven from New Orleans (2012)

The full title is: Driven from New Orleans: How Nonprofits Betray Public Housing and Promote Privatization (2012). The opening paragraph of a blurb (see link in previous sentence) for the book, whose topic may or may not have parallels with the story of Regent Park in Toronto, reads:

  • In the early 1980s the tenant leaders of the New Orleans St. Thomas public housing development and their activist allies were militant, uncompromising defenders of the city’s public housing communities. Yet ten years later these same leaders became actively involved in a planning effort to privatize and downsize their community – an effort that would drastically reduce the number of affordable apartments. What happened? John Arena – a longtime community and labor activist in New Orleans – explores this drastic change in Driven from New Orleans, exposing the social disaster visited on the city’s black urban poor long before the natural disaster of Katrina magnified their plight.

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Comment

A message that comes across in the above-mentioned links is that clarity of thought, the sharing of evidence, and the articulation of suggested next steps for dealing with the situation are useful in the face of life’s challenges. A useful next step with regard to clarity of thought involves the project of turning neoliberalism and social innovation into analytically useful concepts.

A related theme concerns the power of narrative and metaphor, for good or for ill, a topic discussed at this post among others:

The Meaning of Human Existence (2014)

Update

A July 30, 2015 New York Times article is entitled: “Who Runs the Streets of New Orleans? How a rich entrepreneur persuaded the city to let him create his own high-tech police force.”

 

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