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Street level - FT.com

24/03/2012 12:18

But Harvey also points out that this new “City of Light” made room for the cafés, department stores and grand expositions that transformed urban life into a carnival of consumption. Such Parisian efforts at social engineering are compared with the programme of suburbanisation undertaken by the US after the second world war, in which cheap petrol and subsidised roads led to a huge building boom. This spurred development but also led to “white flight”, as more prosperous citizens fled to the outskirts, leaving the inner cities to an increasingly marginalised African American population. Subsequent urban planning exacerbated this, most notably in New York, where the powerful Robert Moses built freeways through poor neighbourhoods that acted as walls between suburban haves and urban have-nots. Like many Marxists, Harvey criticises both suburbanisation and urban regeneration – billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg, he argues, has turned downtown New York into a “vast gated community for the rich” – while offering few answers beyond the usual proletarian revolution. He is good, though, on the changing nature of that proletariat, which he argues is no longer composed of Marx’s factory workers but of low-paid, insecure immigrants. Harvey covers the rest of the world – from the Mexican Zapatistas and Evo Morales’ Bolivian socialists, right up to the recent anti-austerity protests in Europe – though the Arab Spring is not given much attention. There is also disappointingly little consideration of the ways in which public space has been subverted – and where this has not been allowed. The St Paul’s protesters, for example, could not make camp outside London’s Stock Exchange because it turned out the square was privately owned. Who knew? Quite how movements such as Occupy will develop is uncertain. Yet for all the slightly woolly objectives of the self-proclaimed 99 per cent, it is clear that we are only at the very beginning of a new era in street protest. Harvey and his peers will need to work hard just to keep up. Edwin Heathcote is the FT’s architecture critic

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