David Madden on the Shanghai World Expo



Danish Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo 2010. Source: Gizmodo

“[T]he 2010 World Expo in Shanghai ... suggested that the horizon of politics lies in the development of progressively smarter solutions by an alliance of business, science, and authoritarian state and city governments. The global-urban problematic, from this perspective, is above all a question of efficiency and proper management, where political contentiousness, like pollution, is one more problem to be solved.”

— David Madden in “City Becoming World: Nancy, Lefebvre, and the Global-Urban Imagination,” 2012

This is part of the Polis collection of quotes related to cities.

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Corruption and Cities

by Dieter Zinnbauer

Creative, inclusive and just. Safe, healthy and green. Adaptive, resilient and sustainable. Urbanists frequently articulate these visions for cities, but an important element is missing: integrity.

Mark Purcell on ‘Chains of Equivalence’



Source: New Republic

“Laclau and Mouffe (19852000) understand that if we are to pursue a model of agonistic struggle, existing power differences mean that marginalized and disadvantaged groups will need to assemble creative and deeply political strategies to undo the current hegemony. In that context, they advocate what they call ‘chains of equivalence’: movements made up of allied groups seeking broad transformation of existing power relations. The groups in the chain each have their own distinct relation to the existing hegemony, and each group’s experience and interests are irreducible to the others. Each retains their difference. However, they are able to act in concert around an agenda of equivalence. That is, they see themselves as equivalently disadvantaged by existing power relations. ‘Equivalent’ in this case does not mean identical. They are not disadvantaged in precisely the same way, and Laclau and Mouffe explicitly reject the old-style social movements that reduced participants to a single social position (usually class). Each link in the chain remains distinct, but they operate together, in concert.



“The most talked-about model for this kind of idea is the so-called ‘anti-globalization’ movement that carried out the string of protests in Seattle, Goteborg, Doha, Genoa, Geneva, Quebec, etc. The movement is better understood as an anti-neoliberalization movement, because it involved a range of groups (e.g. labor, environmentalists, anti-third-world debt, human rights in China, etc.) that shared an equivalent opposition to the globalization of neoliberalism. Their concerns were in many ways disparate (outsourcing of jobs, sea turtles, rediscovering jubilee obligations, the occupation of Tibet, etc.), but they strategically defined themselves as equivalent and acted together to oppose the WTO and other institutions committed to neoliberalization (Hardt and Negri, 2004). Each member of the coalition achieved much more than they could have alone, but they did not have to dissolve into a large and uniform collective to do it. While they did not achieve the end of neoliberal hegemony, they certainly succeeded in identifying it and calling it into question.”

— Mark Purcell in “Resisting Neoliberalization,” 2009

This is part of the Polis collection of quotes related to cities.

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A False Rendering of the New Banlieue

by Alex Schafran

Virtually everywhere you go in the Parisian banlieue, you will find large signs drawing attention to "urban renovation" — major facelifts for large housing projects (cités), new public spaces in the centers of villages and towns, better integration with the myriad transit projects currently underway, entire blocks of housing.

Agitation Versus Inequality in Global Cities

by Deen Sharp

In 2012, Trenton Oldfield threw himself into the River Thames to protest elitism in Britain. Oldfield intentionally timed his leap to disrupt the annual boat race between Oxford and Cambridge, yet he may have underestimated the British establishment's love of sport. His act provoked a starkly revanchist reaction: he was sentenced to six months in prison and deemed unwelcome to continue living in the United Kingdom. He is now fighting deportation to Australia.

Placing Sidewalk Vendors on the Map in Ho Chi Minh City

by Noalee Harel, Ruth Sappelt and Jackie Sly

Some urban treasures are hidden in plain sight. The documentary film "On the Map" shows how MIT professor Annette Kim and her research group, the Sidewalk Lab (SLAB), trained themselves to see anew in Ho Chi Minh City. In the process, they helped open the eyes of planners to one of the city's greatest assets: street and sidewalk vendors. Through rigorous observation and cartography, SLAB worked to protect the rights of these entrepreneurs and highlight their positive impacts on the city.

Tubist Trompe-l’Oeil

by Pierre Nadilon

My first encounter with Tubism was at a house party with a large poster of the London Underground hanging in the living room. Looking closer, I found that the Tube stations had names like Semantics, Leonardo Da Vinci and Fordism. The map was full of intriguing references that served as perfect conversation-starters for the many guests who gathered around it that night.

Secret Gardens of Greater Paris

by Alex Schafran

I imagine that most people, when confronted with the end of a two-year sojourn in the City of Lights, would make plans to visit the unvisited museum (Louvre, check), finally scale the Eiffel Tower (soon, surely), eat the uneaten or discover the exhibition that will change history. The 19th century romantic in me feels pulled to Benjamin's passages and Baudelaire's promenades, even if they're overdone as subjects of literary flânerie. Harvey's Sacre Coeur is part of my daily run, part of life on the Hausmannian edges between the gentrified and the gentrifying.

Community Aesthetics in Heliópolis

by Teresa García Alcaraz

Heliópolis is known as one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in São Paulo, with 120,000 people living in an area of less than one square mile. Legend has it that architect Ruy Ohtake once called it the ugliest part of the city, prompting members of the UNAS community organization to ask him to help make it beautiful.

Reversing the Panopticon

by Dieter Zinnbauer

The infamous Panopticon, conceived by Jeremy Bentham and thoroughly analyzed by Michel Foucault, is emblematic of architecture's role in surveillance and discipline — a blueprint for the perfect prison. It allows a watchman to observe inmates without them being able to tell whether anyone is actually watching them, generating an eerie sense of being monitored all the time.

Moscow’s Protected Landscapes

by Svetlana Samsonova

My home town, Moscow, has earned its reputation for abandoned industrial zones, flashy business districts and traffic jams. Visitors are often surprised to discover that it is also a green city.

Injustices of Informality

by Andrew Wade

William Hunter is an architect, urban designer and teaching fellow at The Bartlett Development Planning Unit (DPU), University College London. I recently caught up with him to discuss his new book, "Contested Urbanism in Dharavi: Writings and Projects for the Resilient City," a collaboration with Camillo Boano and Caroline Newton. Dharavi — perhaps the most famous informal settlement in the world — has featured on Polis many times and we're excited to return via William's experience.

Contested Space, Contested Identity

by Max Holleran


Source: Max Holleran

In cities around the world, public space is an essential platform for voicing calls for change. Whether Madrid's Puerta del Sol, Athens's Syntagma Square, or Tahrir Square in Cairo, this space is the hippocampus of the nation: the first to experience unsettling tremors in the body politic.

One of the most fascinating things about the occupation of Istanbul's Gezi Park was that many of the issues were tied to the use of urban space to promote a contentious version of national identity. It was an expression of widespread frustration with an autocratic urban transformation that has raised questions over which heritage represents the nation in the 21st century.


Protesters react to tear gas on June 15. Source: Enca

Protesters were brutally suppressed after attempting to use Taksim Square as an agora to address urban and national concerns. Over the past decade of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's rule, the Turkish economy soared as Istanbul experienced increasing class segregation and an "Americanization" of the built environment in the form of gated communities and horrendous traffic jams.

Real estate development has been accompanied by wholesale demolition of historic neighborhoods and removal of Roma communities in Istanbul. The plan to place a rebuilt Ottoman military barracks and shopping mall in Gezi Park was a major spark for the protests. Another was construction of a third bridge across the Bosphorus, named after an Ottoman sultan known for massacring people of the Alevi religious minority. The barracks and mall are fitting symbols of the AKP's urban transformation, in which Ottoman cultural heritage is used to build regional support for aggressive market-oriented development.


Source: France 24


Reconstructed Ottoman military barracks and mall planned for Gezi Park. Source: KH

The protests focused national attention on the AKP's increasingly oppressive desecularization of society. The party's deputy chairman recently denounced the reforms of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who brought an end to the Ottoman Caliphate and established the modern republic. While such jibes have been isolated and oblique, there have also been more-direct attacks on Atatürk's secular policies.


Turkish flag with a portrait of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Source: Kathimerini

Portraits of Turkey's great modernizer still adorn public buildings and private shops in Istanbul, and many of the Taksim protesters feel a connection between their efforts and those of the national patriarch. Flags with his photo have been used as symbols of what's at stake if Erdoğan is given a free hand at widespread reforms.

Members of the AKP suggest that, while acknowledging Ataturk's achievements, they believe his policies were pushed through too quickly and the country must now reclaim its soul. Many in Istanbul feel the same way about Erdoğan's urban transformation.

Max Holleran is a doctoral candidate in the department of sociology at NYU.

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Conflict Over Natural Resources in Cities

by Georgia Silvera Seamans

When thinking of conflicts over natural resources, we tend to think of rural resources: oil in South Sudan, deforestation in Bolivia, dam building in the Brazilian Amazon, blood diamonds in Angola. In the United States, one might recall the Spotted Owl or, more recently, the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline campaign.

Natural resources permeate cities as well. They include street trees, parks, beaches, rivers and creeks. As Alex Schafran reminds us, it's important to remember the urban when thinking of the protests in Turkey. Likewise, we shouldn't forget the urban in conflicts over resources.


Protesters under the canopy of sycamore trees in Gezi Park. Source: Adam David Morton

Carl Pope, former chairman of the Sierra Club, argues that efforts to preserve the sycamores in Gezi Park illuminate regimes of access to and control over natural resources in Turkey. He adds that trees become "a tangible symbol of the common space which autocrats claim to serve, but actually destroy." Andy Revkin riffed on Carl's piece at Dot Earth, and Naomi Sachs riffed on Andy's at the Therapeutic Landscapes Network.

At local ecologist, I reviewed several local (NYC) conflicts over natural resources: Rudy Giuliani vs community gardens, the Sexton NYU 2031 Plan vs Greenwich Village, and Major League Soccer (MLS) vs Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens, though the latter may soon be MLS vs the Bronx.

In a political ecology course I took at UC Berkeley, the professor asked us to consider how the "materiality of a resource" influences conflicts over its management. In cities, a spatial characteristic of many resources is boundedness. A park, for example, has definite material boundaries. If someone builds on it, they change the boundaries in significant ways. They diminish public access. They change the way benefits are derived, and by whom.

Privatization of public resources — from Istanbul to NYC — diverts their benefits to the few who can afford them. When this takes place undemocratically, it is an injustice to be fought with the collective strength of many.

Georgia Silvera Seamans is an urban forester and founder of local ecology. More of her writing can be found at local ecologist.

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Remembering the Urban in the Turkish Uprisings

by Alex Schafran

The occupation of Gezi may be over for the moment, but the ongoing impact of what has transpired and continues to transpire in Istanbul and other Turkish cities will be with us for some time. Amidst a hail of images of unrelenting police brutality and anti-democratic state action, there is a tendency for the urban issues that sparked the uprising to fade into the background. But, as Cihan Tuğal argues in his must-read piece for Jadaliyya, understanding both the urban roots of the revolt and the tendency to immediately forget them "sheds much light on what is happening in Turkey and why."


A development on the Asian side of Istanbul. The national housing agency has been building en masse, often by erasing portions of longstanding neighborhoods.

No small part of the power of recent events comes from Istanbul itself — I know few who've spent time there and haven't been enamored. It is a magical place whose centrality from both a historical and contemporary perspective is without question. However, love for Istanbul is quickly tempered by rampant injustice and an authoritarian transformation that shames a glorious city. This transformation ignores basic quality-of-life issues that could positively impact the lives of millions.


Istanbul love (left) and Kanyon shopping center (right), which is one of the most symbolic of the new spaces of wealth in the city.

Central to the tragedy in recent events is that Prime Minister Erdoğan is partly right — urban transformation is critical to the nation's future, and Istanbul must be the center of that transformation. Sadly, the transformation he has in mind is precisely what isn't needed. It goes far beyond Taksim Square and the ecological time bomb known as Turkey's "third bridge." Istanbul's urban development binge calls to mind recent experience in Spain and the United States, where credit- and derivative-fueled building led directly to economic crises followed by political unrest. In Turkey, the primary difference is that the political has come first.

For many of us, the initial takeover of Gezi was a hopeful sign of what Pelin Tan called the "sound of the revival of urban Istanbul," a revival that instead has been transformed into what Mustafa Dikeç calls an "urban stasis." Yet as urban scholars and activists, we must not let the stasis deter us from reminding our fellow citizens of just how important the urban is to this situation, and that it is too quickly forgotten amidst broader issues of government, democracy and religion.

One of the challenges of an urban focus is that Gezi has exposed two separate but related schisms regarding the urban in contemporary society. One is the debate about development, about what gets built where, for whom and at what cost, about how systems are maintained or connected. This is the debate we need to be having, but one that Erdoğan would replace with another urban divide, one that is more pernicious but equally classic — the division of peoples into urban and non-urban. Erdoğan is attempting to rally his rural base with fiery language about urban elites, pinning his hopes on what he claims to be his majority.

The use of "urban" as a geography that divides people from each other has a long and ignominious history, whether dividing city from country or city from suburb. Listening to Erdoğan reminds me of a half-century of demagoguery that used the urban-suburban divide to sow racialized fear in Americans, creating a highly unsustainable and unequal urban system. But, as in the United States, the "urban" in Turkey is no longer what it was demographically, and many of the people being trampled by Erdoğan's urban regime are members of this previously "non-urban" base.

The challenge now is to push against use of the urban as a dividing concept and focus people's attention instead on development. The idea and possibility of urban development must be disentangled from the authoritarianism, inequality and ideology that cause many to question the value of investing in cities. All places need transformation to survive and thrive, just not the kind that Erdoğan and other powerful men and women have been selling around the world.

Credits: Photos by Alex Schafran.

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Terror Defused as Public Art

by Gabrielle Lipton

"Moloch! Moloch! ... monstrous bombs!" – Allen Ginsberg, "Howl"

On a plot of soil in Manhattan's Tompkins Square Park, a bomb sat in plain view. Four large tubes painted fire engine red stood wired to a digital timer that counted down from 99 minutes. It beeped, reset and started again, never harming anyone. It was fake.

#OccupyGezi Fights to Save Historic Istanbul Park

by Cristiana Strava


Source: #OccupyGezi

On May 28, protesters occupied a central green space in Istanbul to stop bulldozers from razing it to the ground. The demolition is part of a government redevelopment plan that includes construction of a new mall and luxury housing.

Local authorities sent riot police to disperse those gathered in Taksim Gezi Park, authorizing the use of water cannons and pepper spray. Newspapers reported that several protester tents were set on fire, which increased the resolve of those gathered in the park.


Source: Osman Orsal

According to unconfirmed reports from protesters on the ground, more than 10,000 people are now occupying the square. Several members of parliament have visited the site, calling on Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbas to halt demolition plans and engage in open dialog with the protesters.


Source: Funda Erygit

Gezi Park is no larger than a traffic island, but in a city that suffers from congestion, rampant real estate speculation and lack of green space, many see its destruction as unchecked privatization. Protesters are decrying the lack of transparency about plans for the area's redevelopment, and see it as part of a growing trend that privileges global investors over local residents. They see the redevelopment of Gezi Park as the latest in a chain of urban development projects — such as Galataport and a third bridge across the Bosphorus — that threaten to displace working-class communities and degrade local environmental conditions.


Taksim Square and Gezi Park. Source: Louis Fishman

Activists are using Twitter to gather support. The hashtag #DirenGeziParki has been tweeted over 50,000 times in the past three days, and #OccupyGezi is being used to attract international attention. Photos from the occupation are appearing daily on the Occupy Gezi Tumblr site.

In an age of increasing privatization of public space, parks are important sites of resistance. From Zucotti to Gezi, people are enacting their right to the city, a right to participative and consultative urban development.

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Creative Gravitation

by Vivien Park



Artists and bohemians have been flocking to Berlin since the wall came down in 1989. Affordable rents and vacant spaces allowed room for experimentation, as diversity in numbers created a dynamic infrastructure for cultural exchange.







Today, many creatives in Berlin face the struggle of earning money by selling to other creatives who earn just as little as they do. Some have successfully used the city's cultural appeal to attract global sales. For those who simply seek appreciation, Berlin is still a good environment for creating and expanding their oeuvre.



"In the Belly of A Whale," a documentary by Andreas Lamoth and Frederic Leitzke, provides a close look at the creative gravitational forces of Berlin, where culture producers of many different kinds have found a place.

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Credits: Images captured from the film "In the Belly of a Whale."

The Sharing Economy: A Conversation with Neal Gorenflo

by Emily Marsh

As co-founder and publisher of the online magazine Shareable, Neal Gorenflo aims to bring the "sharing economy" into the mainstream. This model — also known as "collaborative consumption" — promotes efficient use of resources, environmental care and strong communities.

Mapping the Aftermath of Historic Storms

by Jeff Satterly

This year marks the centennial of one of the most devestating weather-related disasters ever experienced in the United States. During the week of Mar. 21-26, 1913, a series of late winter storms formed over the Midwest, spawning tornadoes in Iowa and Nebraska. They were followed by 8-11 inches of rain, which led to massive flooding in Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania. By the end of the week, hundreds of people had died and billions of dollars worth of property and infrastructure lay in ruins.


Ruins of the Diamond Moving Picture show in Omaha, Nebraska, 1913. Source: Mardos Memorial Library (via the National Weather Service)

On Easter Sunday of 1913, an F4 tornado a quarter-mile wide ripped through Omaha at around 6 p.m. In its wake, some 115 people were dead and over 400 injured. More than 2,000 homes were completely leveled. Meanwhile, over 10 inches of rain hit the already saturated Great Miami River watershed in Ohio. The resulting runoff flowed into the Great Miami River, setting the stage for severe flooding that would devastate parts of Indiana and Pennsylvania and leave the streets of downtown Dayton full of water up to 20 feet deep.


Fourth and Main Streets in Dayton, Ohio, 1913. Source: Dayton Metro Library Local History

The levees in Dayton failed at around 6 a.m. on Mar. 25, and by the next day more than 14 square miles of the city were under water. Many residents, caught by surprise and unable to flee, were forced onto their rooftops to await rescue by boat. This was an extremely dangerous predicament for volunteers as well, who had to contend with currents so strong that they ripped many homes and businesses off their foundations and carried them away.

When the water finally receded, more than 360 Dayton residents had perished, 65,000 lost their homes, and the city sustained close to $100 million in damages (close to $2 billion today). The cleanup effort took more than a year to complete, and the city's economy struggled to recover to its pre-flood state for the next decade.

The Dayton Metro Library and historian Trudy Bell have compiled an outstanding archive of photos and stories from the storms of 1913. We've been collecting material from this archive to share at Historic Natural Disasters, a blog that showcases "then" and "now" images from the flooding and tornado damage.


Harrison and Marion Street Crossing in Martinsville, Indiana. Source: Indiana Historical Society


Harrison and Marion Street Crossing in Martinsville today. Source: Google Maps

The idea for Historic Natural Disasters came up when fellow Ohio history buff Robert Muhlhauser and I were examining images from the Great Dayton Flood and trying to find their locations in Google Maps (see the Great Flood of 1913 Map). For the places we weren't able to locate, we thought of seeking help on the web. Robert's friend Jason Reading donated hosting space and helped us set up the site. Robert and I plan to expand the collection to include historic natural disasters from around the world. We'll also continue sharing our research on the history surrounding each photo.

With the help of visitors to the site, we've published more than 50 past and present image pairs from 1913. Jason's company has sponsored a Mapping History Contest to solicit ideas for locations that still haven't been matched. We encourage everyone to help fill in the map.

Jeff Satterly is a local historian and cofounder of Historic Natural Disasters.

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Podcast: Participatory Budgeting in Vallejo

by Alex Schafran


Source: Participatory Budgeting Project

First adopted in Porto Alegre, Brazil, to engage residents in generating solutions to severely unequal living conditions, participatory budgeting has become a popular tool for direct democracy around the world. In 2012, Vallejo, Calif., a highly diverse industrial city on the edge of the San Francisco Bay Area, became the first U.S. municipality to fully adopt participatory budgeting.



Join me for a conversation with the Participatory Budget Project's Vallejo Community Engagement Coordinator Ginny Browne and Executive Director Josh Lerner on the potential in participatory budgeting for strengthening democracy and improving the quality of life in cities.



Online in Public Space

by Anja Wolf

Studying at a cafe recently, I noticed that most of the people around me were sitting alone in front of computers. Others had come to meet and talk, but the majority were focused on their screens. It seems that computers, phones and other devices have not only influenced our concentration capacity but also our behavior in public. We often appreciate sitting in active places but remain absorbed in our digital worlds.

Urban Agriculture in Caracas

by Teresa García Alcaraz


Green space in and around San Agustín. Source: Metro Cable San Agustín

San Agustín, a parish in Caracas, Venezuela, is known for open plots of land where the hillside is too steep for habitation. A group of activists led by artist Natalya Critchley and Rogue Architecture has been working there with school children on urban development projects. Based on a study of local terrain, they've started building garden plots for fresh produce to help reduce the burden of an extremely high cost of living.


Source: Natalya Critchley and Rogue Architecture

Using repurposed pipes from a broken McDonald's jungle gym, the group recently built a small allotment next to an elementary school in San Agustín. Colorful plastic tubes became planters and composting containers filled with biodegradable waste from around the playground. The project included urban agriculture workshops aimed at developing the skills needed to build and maintain the garden. Student groups took responsibility for tending each container.


Source: Natalya Critchley and Rogue Architecture

On Avenida Mexico in central Caracas, next to Bellas Artes Station, there is a quarter-hectare lot where chards, beets, lettuce and other products are grown without chemicals and sold at affordable prices. It is part of a government initiative called AgroVenezuela, which was set up to strengthen local agriculture and reduce poverty. It helps promote urban food production by converting "idle" spaces into productive gardens.


Urban agriculture in central Caracas. Source: Leo Ramírez

Other groups in Caracas grow produce without help from the government. In the Puerta Verde neighborhood, residents created a garden where retirees and volunteers care for flowers and vegetables. It started with the idea of planting herbs for home remedies and soon became a kind of community center. The group uses freely available resources like tires, gabions and plastic bottles to create architecture, including a natural irrigation system. They also help promote recycling and food sovereignty in the neighborhood.


A small orchard in Puerta Verde. Source: Teresa García Alcaraz

In oil-rich Venezuela, gas is heralded as "cheaper than water" and agriculture makes up only 3.7 percent of G.D.P. Corresponding dependence on global food production is especially high in cities. As younger generations lose the skills to grow their own produce, the economic and ecological advantages of local agriculture are not easily reclaimed. Efforts in Caracas to develop these skills through education, policy and grassroots creativity can serve as inspiration in other parts of the world where food production is becoming a lost tradition.

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Developing an Ecosystem for Social Enterprise

by Melanie Friedrichs

Cities around the world are struggling with unemployment, troubled school systems, violence and environmental degradation. Government welfare programs and traditional charitable organizations have been throwing money at the same problems for years. Business initiatives and private sector growth help the few, but leave the many exposed to the perils of the free market. How can cities create sustainable, equitable growth?


Students of the Afghan Institute of Learning, a social enterprise that provides education and health services to over 350,000 women and children each year. Source: Ashoka

Social enterprise is a compelling answer. Unite market and mission with organizations that work to address social, environmental and economic problems through earned-income strategies. Target root causes and seek structural change through innovative solutions to old problems. The dream of social enterprise has captured hearts in many fields, appearing in books like "How to Change the World," by David Bornstein, and features like "Faces of Social Entrepreneurship" in the New York Times Magazine.

But wait, there's a catch: starting a successful social enterprise isn't easy. Funding is especially challenging because such ventures don't qualify for grants from many charitable foundations or offer the profit potential sought by investors. They also don't quite fit within current legal systems. While best practices for starting a business or non-profit have been tested for years, experience-based advice for mixed models is rare. Infrastructure for meeting the needs of social entrepreneurs is still in formation.


Social enterprise ecosystem builders. Source: Melanie Friedrichs

Social enterprises need a fertile "ecosystem" to grow, including:
  • capital: innovative funding mechanisms
  • advocacy: initiatives to raise awareness
  • incubation: tailored mentorship and training
  • network: opportunities to collaborate and scale
  • education: support for young social entrepreneurs
This takes concerted effort and collaboration from a wide range of players, but success can turn the dream of social enterprise into a powerful driver of economic development.


The 2012 SEEED Summit. Source: Brown Daily Herald

The Social Enterprise Ecosystems for Economic Development (SEEED) Summit is a national conference that brings social entrepreneurs together with related actors to share experience and ideas. SEEED aims to build a national ecosystem and support local ecosystems, encouraging students, academics, professionals and anyone interested in learning more to attend.

Last year, the first SEEED Summit featured talks by Diana Wells, president of Ashoka, Michael Brown, co-founder and CEO of City Year, and Christopher Gergen, president of Bull City Forward. This year we'll hear from Ira Magaziner, president of the Clinton Health Access Initiative, Carla Javits, president of the Roberts Enterprise Development Fund (REDF), and many other exciting participants.


The 2013 SEEED Summit takes place on April 26-27 at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Details and registration are available at seeed.org.

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Alternative Globalization in ‘Ordinary Cities’

by René Boer


Tunis, Tunisia, site of the 2013 World Social Forum. Source: Paix & Développement

On Tuesday, hundreds of thousands of people will gather in Tunis for the World Social Forum (WSF). They plan to discuss alternatives to capitalist globalization, in response to widespread economic and ecological problems wrought through market-oriented development over the past thirty years. The WSF has taken place annually since 2001, inspiring national and regional versions in cities throughout Africa, Europe, Southeast Asia and South America. These forums have become important congregation points for the alter-globalization movement, and their locations reveal a striking counterpoint to those of "global cities."


A map of World Social Forums (green) and their regional counterparts (pink), by René Boer.

Saskia Sassen coined the term "global cities" in reference to increasingly interconnected nodes of worldwide economic and political influence. Periodic reports like the Globalization and World Cities (GaWC) Classification or the Foreign Policy Global Cities Index tend to designate London, New York and Tokyo most influential, followed by cities like Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Paris, Zurich, Chicago and Seoul. Cities in lower-income countries are disproportionately scarce among the top 25, which contrasts sharply with the nodes of global social movements.


The 2011 World Social Forum in Dakar. Source: Abdullah Vawda

Jennifer Robinson, Aihwa Ong and Ananya Roy criticize "global cities" rankings that concentrate on the development trajectories of relatively few cities in the highest-income countries. Such hierarchies dominate contemporary thinking on urbanization and shape policy in not-so-global cities, aimed at "catching up" with the command centers. Robinson's notion of "ordinary cities" highlights the unique histories, current situations and future possibilities of all urban areas. While not discounting the importance of examining global cities, this idea opens a much wider range of options for research and policy.


The 2004 World Social Forum in Mumbai. Source: Claudio Riccio

Research on less-dominant cities often takes the form of local case studies with limited scope. Broader lateral networks, interactions and mutual experiences among them receive less attention. Robinson points to alternative globalization processes taking shape among ordinary cities and shaping their development paths. Migration patterns, criminal networks and religious movements, for example, forge new relationships between cities and exert considerable influence at local scales. In a similar way, the recent emergence and distribution of social forums has created an alternative urban constellation. The networks of activists meeting in ordinary cities of different sizes, cultures and regions prove that these places can be "global" in their own way.

René Boer (@rene_boer_) recently graduated from the University College London Urban Laboratory and currently works for Failed Architecture in Amsterdam.

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Suburban Transit Revolution

by Laurent Vermeersch

Paris is on the verge of a massive transportation upgrade, largely for the benefit of its long-neglected suburbs. The Boulevard Périphérique is currently a physical and psychological border between two unequal worlds. The 2.2 million residents of Paris intra-muros rarely set foot in the banlieue, home to a primarily lower-income and more ethnically diverse population of 9.5 million.

Abandoned Homes: An Interview with Eve Morgenstern

by Katia Savchuk

Photographer and filmmaker Eve Morgenstern has been traveling throughout the United States documenting abandoned homes — monuments to the human impacts of financial crisis. Her "Facades of Crises" photographic series recently appeared at the Bildmuseet in Sweden. She also makes videos on the aftermath of foreclosure for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Federal Reserve Board. Her current project is a documentary about an Ohio town bought and bulldozed by a polluting power plant. I interviewed her about her experience as a documentarian of foreclosed homes, and about the role of art in periods of economic crisis.

Defense of a ‘Cultural Factory’

by Cristiana Strava

The Casablanca art world has been up in arms since the Feb. 15 print edition of Al Ittihad announced that the city government planned to transform a popular cultural space into a parking lot.


Source: Nafas

The site of Casablanca's old slaughterhouses — known locally as "les abattoirs" or simply "l'batoir" — covers five hectares in the historically industrial neighborhood of Hay Mohammadi. Its buildings were designed by French architect Georges-Ernest Desmarest and completed in 1922. Abandoned 80 years later, the site became a rallying point for local artists and architects with ideas for its reuse. They attracted support from King Mohammed VI and managed to register the slaughterhouses on Morocco's heritage list in 2003. Artist Georges Rousse started a project in one of the buildings later that year, and multidisciplinary cultural events soon appeared.


Source: Cinéma-Maroc

In 2008, Casablanca officials collaborated with officials from Amsterdam on a series of workshops dedicated to connections between industry and culture. Mayor Mohamed Sajid later authorized the architectural preservation society Casamémoire to manage the slaughterhouses with local artists, and they formed the Cultural Factory at the Slaughterhouses Association. Yet despite the Cultural Factory's status as a national heritage site and world-renowned center for the arts, it remains a piece of underfunded city property at risk of ruin and redevelopment. Casamémoire has been trying unsuccessfully to renew its lease, and when government officials began parking on the grounds last month it appeared to indicate a plan to reclaim the space.


Source: Telquel

The arts community mobilized rapidly via online and offline networks. Within 24 hours a petition campaign amassed 1,200 signatures and a "Save L'Batoir" page appeared on Facebook. Blogs and online forums were abuzz with indignation, and young designers created signs for the growing protest movement.


Source: Mehdi Ayache

Authorities eventually issued a statement explaining that the vehicles were there as a temporary measure to deal with overflow in their parking lots. City Council Vice President Ahmed Brija assured everyone that the 260 cars would eventually be removed, and they disappeared within the next two weeks.

A protest stencil reads, "The slaughterhouse is not a parking lot." Source: Zied Ben Cheikh

Supporters of the cultural space are nevertheless on edge, and an "Occupy L'Battoir" movement has emerged to keep the slaughterhouses dedicated to the arts. Despite the massive show of support, Aadel Essaadani — current president of the Cultural Factory — maintains that a longterm solution will require stronger political and financial commitment from the city government.

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San Francisco's New Favorite Bridge

by Emily Marsh

Although the Bay Bridge opened six months before the Golden Gate Bridge, it is widely considered the lesser of the two. The Golden Gate's Art Deco design in striking international orange has made it a global icon, while its silver counterpart is a heavily used expressway connecting San Francisco with its industrial neighbor, Oakland. After 75 years of living in the shadows, yesterday the Bay Bridge came into the spotlight.

Heynen et al. on Urban Political Ecology



Keangnam Hanoi Landmark Tower in Hanoi’s new business district. Source: Melissa García Lamarca

“The central message that emerges from urban political ecology is a decidedly political one. To the extent that cities are produced through socio-ecological processes, attention has been paid to the political processes through which particular socio-environmental urban conditions are made and remade. From a progressive or emancipatory position, then, urban political ecology asks questions about who produced what kind of socio-ecological configurations for whom. In other words, urban political ecology is about formulating political projects that are radically democratic in terms of the organization of the processes through which the environments that we (humans and non-humans) inhabit become produced.


El Molino housing cooperative in Buenos Aires. Source: Melissa García Lamarca


A sign reads “self-management, collective property, mutual aid” in a toy-share space at El Molino. Source: Melissa García Lamarca

“As global/local forms of capitalism have become more entrenched in social life, there are still powerful tendencies to externalize nature. Yet the intricate and ultimately vulnerable dependence on capital accumulation on nature deepens and widens continuously. It is on the terrain of the urban that this accelerating metabolic transformation of nature becomes most visible, both in its physical form and its socio-ecological consequences.


Central Detroit, looking towards the GM Renaissance Center. Source: Melissa García Lamarca

“Urban political ecology research has begun to show that because of the underlying economic, political, and cultural processes inherent in the production of urban landscapes, urban change tends to be spatially differentiated, and highly uneven. Thus, in the context, of urban environmental change, it is likely that urban areas populated by marginalized residents will bear the brunt of negative environmental change, while other, affluent parts of cities enjoy growth in or increased quality of environmental resources. While this is in no way new, urban political ecology is starting to contribute to a better understanding of the interconnected processes that lead to uneven urban environments.”

— Nik Heynen, Maria Kaika and Erik Swyngedouw in In the Nature of Cities: Urban Political Ecology and the Politics of Urban Metabolism, 2006

This is part of the Polis collection of quotes related to cities.

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A Collective Approach to Local Entrepreneurship

by Mark Minkjan



Locally owned shops were once cornerstones for products, services, employment and social networks in urban neighborhoods. The rise of automobiles, franchises and Internet shopping has forced many out of business or into niches that don't correspond with the needs of their local communities. However, in some cities they're seeing a resurgence due to creative initiatives that link grassroots activism with public- and private-sector resources.


The Van der Pek neighborhood in Amsterdam. Source: Design as Politics

In February, a special kind of shop opened in Amsterdam's Van der Pek neighborhood. It is called the Wisselwinkel, meaning "shift shop," because it hosts a new local entrepreneur every six months. If this trial period goes well, the entrepreneur receives assistance in setting up a more permanent location in the neighborhood.

Louise Went. Source: Amsterdam Museum
The Wisselwinkel is the brainchild of a young activist collective named Mama Louise. Their identity is a tribute to Louise Went, an influential advocate for public health and social justice in Amsterdam's working-class neighborhoods during the 1920s. Mama Louise organizes D.I.Y. summer markets and other events where people make things, give performances and exchange goods and services. The events strengthen community ties and offer opportunities for entrepreneurial residents to earn income. Mama Louise is now working to create a more permanent platform, and the Wisselwinkel is the first tangible result.

The Van der Pek neighborhood is absorbed in a process of gentrification and large-scale restructuring that threatens to displace many current residents. To help counter displacement, Mama Louise invests in people. Their aim is to uncover the neighborhood's hidden entrepreneurs, connecting local skills with local needs.

There are several conditions for entrepreneurs who wish to set up shop in the Wisselwinkel. They have to live in the neighborhood and show a desire to start or formalize a business. Once running, the shop has to be open at least five days a week and adopt high-quality marketing collateral developed with help from Mama Louise.


Inside the Wisselwinkel.

Designed and constructed by MOS Collectief, the Wisselwinkel interior is flexible so that different startups can use it according to their needs. Along with the storefront, entrepreneurs receive practical guidance in connecting with support organizations, fulfilling legal requirements and attracting customers. Mama Louise also provides a website, a logo, canvas bags and other material with help from Waarmakers design.


Source: Waarmakers

After six months, the entrepreneur moves out of the Wisselwinkel to make room for the next venture. Local housing association Ymere helps viable startups find another location in the neighborhood. Associations like Ymere — which are no longer public entities in the Netherlands — are often criticized as focused primarily on maximizing real estate profits. However, Mama Louise found that Ymere staff took to their initiative with entusiasm rooted in genuine care for resident wellbeing.

In working with Ymere, Mama Louise might be criticized for putting low-income entrepreneurs at risk of taking on insurmountable debt after the trial period. However, they help the Wisselwinkel's tenants become self-sustaining and attract investment. They channel the resources of organizations with a stake in Van der Pek's future toward opportunities for current residents to successfully weather gentrification.


Screenshot of the Wisselwinkel website customized for Rathu's bike shop.

The first entrepreneur in the Wisselwinkel is Rathu Gunawardana, who started out repairing bicycles for friends and neighbors in his backyard. Mama Louise supported his proposal because there was no bike-repair shop in the neighborhood and residents have expressed strong interest in having one. Through the city's Department of Work and Income, Rathu received a micro-loan for welfare recipients interested in starting their own businesses.

Business has boomed for Rathu, who also sells restored bikes and gear. After a few days, his shop became a popular gathering place for local cycling enthusiasts. A teenage boy asked to help and now takes care of smaller repairs. Other informal entrepreneurs have started visiting the Wisselwinkel to apply for six-month residencies and offer their goods and services.

Mama Louise is now building a map of formal and informal businesses in the neighborhood. Upcoming projects include a salon run cooperatively by local hair dressers, masseurs and other service providers. Each initiative is focused on developing commerce, employment, amenities and social ties to assure that current residents share in the benefits of gentrification.

Mark Minkjan is an urban geographer who works as an independent researcher and writer. He is part of CITIES and Failed Architecture, and runs City Breaths.

Credits: Photos by Mark Minkjan unless otherwise noted in the captions.

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