The new Radical Urbanisms – a research exchange

The new Radical Urbanisms – a research exchange

Keynotes from:

_ Dario Azzellini, Sociology, Cornell University, USA
_ Brendan Murtagh, Planning, Queens University Belfast, UK
_ Colin Haslam, Management School, Queen Mary University of London, UK

Organised by Peter North and the Power, Space and Cultural Change Research Cluster, Department of Geography and Planning, University of Liverpool.

This event will bring into discussion a number of new radical, new left or ‘municipalist’ conceptions of the city developed by a new generation of urban activists.  These urban activists are exploring an emerging urban politics focussing on widening and deepening local democracy and grassroots politics; social, solidarity and diverse economies (Utting 2015; North and Cato 2017; Murtagh 2019); new localisms (for example, community wealth building focused on anchor institutions, such as the ‘Cleveland’ or ‘Preston Models’); and the Foundational Economy - developing employment and business opportunities supplying things we need and which need to be produced everyday (Foundational Economy Collective 2018). Municipal companies are being established to build council housing, explore the possibilities of a ‘green new deal’ and local power generation, and to municipalise waste collection and public transport (Cumbers 2012, Hanna 2018). In Argentina and beyond, a number of failing enterprises have been successfully recovered by their workers (Ozaro 2019), while Chavez’s Venezuela saw the communal state investing in local missions developing ‘21st century socialism’ (Azzellini 2018). Economic democracy has been progressed with an emphasis on co-operative development, perhaps through solidarity economy incubators (da Costa 2018). Some of these developments have been brought together in the Fearless Cities network (Russell 2019).

This new urbanism differs from what Peck (2014) has called the accepted ‘common sense’ (or ‘dull compulsion’) of Harvey’s (1989) ‘entrepreneurial thesis’ which argues that urban policy must focus on maximising the city’s wealth and economic opportunity through business-friendly policies such as place marketing and winning inward investment and grants with the assumption that the benefits will trickle down to residents. Conceptions that cities should be made by property developers whose proposals should be welcomed irrespective of their wider benefits – the presumption in favour of ‘sustainable development’ - has led to city centres potentially oversupplied with poor quality developments while food bank usage has never been higher and many barely get by on benefits or, if working, on zero hour, insecure contracts. Consequently, trickle-down economics have, the left argues, been discredited given austerity and continued poverty, especially in English cities where state funding has been cut by up to 60% (Bayırbağ et al 2017).

These ‘economies of everyday reproduction’ (Federici 2012) speak to Polanyian (Peck, 2013), feminist and Diverse Economies (Gibson-Graham, 2008) perspectives, drawing on more optimistic and positive understandings of how good livelihoods can be generated from more than importing jobs and businesses from the outside. They all feed into nascent understandings of what a new politics from the (urban) left (Wainwright, 2018) would look like that as yet has not received sufficient academic analysis.

This event will examine these new municipal agendas, focussing less on ‘what is going on in different places?’ than ‘how can we conceptualise these developments?’ Papers and expressions of interest are invited on, but not limited to, the following agendas:

• How radical or counter hegemonic are these differing conceptions?  For some, social enterprise represents the neoliberalisation of what was previously a sphere of mutual aid (Hackworth 2012).On the other hand, the proactive recuperation of a company that the owner wished to close is more clearly an antagonistic act (North 2017).

• What is the role of the social democratic local state in facilitating, channelling, co-opting or blocking these new urban strategies and initiatives (Dinerstein 2018)?  Do they form a coherent alternative entrepreneurial agendas, or work alongside them?

• How far can we take democratic public ownership? How can we implement it locally – are there limits to local municipal enterprise, as opposed to renationalisation of national infrastructures?  How can we make sure the problems of public ownership in the past are not recreated, and that providers and consumers of services have a voice?  Should we promote municipal, and/or co-operative enterprise? Are there completely new models?

• Are these initiatives aimed at including those ‘left behind’ by otherwise conventional entrepreneurial urban agendas (for example WISEs), or do they constitute an alternative?

• What is the role of grassroots, non-state movements or for worker’s control coming from more explicitly anarchist perspectives which are critical of the role of the state (Holloway 2002)? To what extent do they represent real urban utopias (Olin Wright 2010)?

• What can we in the UK learn from agendas being developed elsewhere?

Photo: Movimiento de Pobladores y pobladoras Venezuela. Jornada de trabajo solidario. El Algodonal, Distrito Federal. Abril 2019. 


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