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The city we built and they stole | openDemocracy

19/06/2012 15:02

It was this exploited urban class who were the key actors in the 1871 Paris Commune. It was claimed by Marx as a “proletarian uprising”. Harvey suggests it was instead constituted by a more complex arrangement of workers characterised by “insecurity...episodic, temporary, and spatially diffuse employment” attempting to claim back control of the cities they themselves had produced. The significance? Since late-capitalist economies are increasingly marked by a decline in the industrial proletariat, a rise in precarious labour, and an increase in the exploitation of consumption, it is an urban politics, in the spirit of 1871, which provides the way forward for revolutionary movements today. Social Life and Value Creation In South Baltimore, “regeneration” meant the displacement of a lively street life where people “sat on their stoops on warm summer nights and conversed with neighbours” in exchange for “burglar-proofed houses with a BMW parked out front and a rooftop deck, but with no one to be seen on the street.” Unable to reproduce itself, the social life vanished and the communities became inchoate and disparate. Look no further than HBOʼs The Wire for the result. As detective Bunk Morland puts: “As rough as that neighborhood could be, we had us a community. Nobody, no victim, who didn't matter. And now all we got is bodies, and predatory motherfuckers like you.” In the series, the drug money accumulated on the back of the misery of the city housing projects is routed through property developers, who in turn continue to buy out vast swathes of Baltimoreʼs land to be converted into luxury condominiums. Like much of The Wire, this picture is an accurate reflection of the reality of a city historically dogged by regeneration: its inner harbour was turned into typical blend of convention centres, hotels and a magnificent tourist attraction (an aquarium) in the 1970s, whilst the cheap land in the city centre was bought out by wealthy institutions like John Hopkins University. The city remains divided into clearly demarcated zones of wealth. Gated communities are prolific. It is not just at the local level that the value created by the urban commons is extracted. Harvey introduces the idea of monopoly rent – the way hugely inflated market prices are justified on the back of the ʻuniquenessʼ and ʻauthenticityʼ of the product. For cities, this is achieved through the appropriation of “historical narratives, interpretations and meanings of collective memories, significations of cultural practices” with the paradox that a backlash against the homogenisation driven by market globalisation is thereby recuperated by exactly the forces driving that homogenisation in the first place. Barcelonaʼs “rise to prominence” for example was cultivated through an excavation of its Catalan history and traditions: its artistic and

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