Featured Artist: Douglas Smith

by Alex Schafran

One of the profound challenges in confronting crisis in urban space, as I have discussed in my ongoing series on Detroit, is how to represent it. Well meaning attempts to intervene and call attention to a situation can make things worse, painting a place as one of crisis (and thereby those in it), as opposed to exposing the underlying roots, which may lie elsewhere, i.e. Wall Street, policy, etc. We can also glorify a situation by rendering it beautiful, like much of the decay porn (or ruin porn) that comes out of cities like Detroit. So where does this leave us? Can we neither find beauty in decay, nor show a place in crisis as we have found it?

The photographer Doug Smith, who teaches photography at Modesto Junior College, struggles with questions of crisis, beauty and the trials and tribulations of representation in his recent work documenting the foreclosure crisis which has swept Modesto and the surrounding San Joaquin Valley. As a longtime resident who has seen the value of his own home drop precipitously (like everyone in the region) and who has had friends and students struggle with foreclosure, the lines between reportage and hyperbole, beauty and exploitation are ones that have particular meaning in this context.

It is in the use of beauty that Smith's work is so powerful, both for beauty's umparallel ability to grab attention and for his brave use of it in the face of calamity. Unlike much of the Dresden-esque shots of Detroit's Packard Plant and Central Terminal, often shot with a graininess or diffuse light to make them more ethereal, Smith's use of light and color to show beauty only makes them that much more haunting. You get a true sense of the love and care some of these families put into these homes before they became a statistic in a national tragedy.

The painted walls, the stickers, the pool which was once clean, the flat screen TV which once held court, the toys which were once played with - all in the natural light of the Central Valley, with minimal additional commentary from the artist. "Telling it like it is" is impossible, but Smith manages to show crisis without either exploiting it or necessarily rooting crisis deeper into our conception of the struggling locale. This, like his work, is something to be admired.

Credits: Photos by Douglas R. Smith.

Territories of Spatial (In)Justice

by Andrew Wade

Edward Soja's new book, Seeking Spatial Justice, reawakens thoughts on the critically spatial nature of all social interaction and the inequities that are produced and reproduced through spatial relationships. The term 'spatial justice' has gained recognition in recent years, as reflected by recent workshops and journals. By rethinking the ways in which social justice and the right to the city manifest themselves in the urban environment, it moves further toward a recognition of how physical infrastructure is distributed and appropriated by citizens across the socioeconomic spectrum. This understanding is crucial in modern cities in which the extremes of rich and poor are magnified, embedding the spatial ramifications of increased seclusion and division.

While one method of investigating spatial justice is by mapping urban data, it is essential for such maps to transcend a mere communication of facts, and to begin explorations of resistance and transformation rather than mere representation. At the very least such impositions of data onto an urban grid can bring forward new connections that may have been initially unapparent. Threading socioeconomic relationships into the concrete and pavement of lived, spatial experience has demonstrated the importance of layout and positioning while increasing our capacity to lower injustices via spatial action.

Credits: Aerial photo of Mexico City from Google Earth. Video of 'Mapping Justice' from PopTech.

Indigenous Peoples in Cities, Part One

by Jordi Sánchez-Cuenca

Latin America and the Caribean is the most urbanized region in the developing world with 75% of its people living in cities. According to UN-HABITAT statistics, it is expected that the urbanization rate will reach 85% by the year 2030. This region is also characterized by numerous cultures of different origin living together. For instance, Ecuador alone officially recognizes 14 peoples and nationalities within its small territory and only 14 million inhabitants. In the past four decades, many of these indigenous peoples moved to the cities because of different historical situations.

Despite this migration in Ecuador and in other countries, most Latin America cities, giving continuity to the colonial capitalist development patterns, have been shaped under the exclusive rule and culture of the non-indigenous majority. Despite the existence of laws and policies against discrimination, unbalanced socio economic relations between indigenous and non-indigenous have been reproduced within cities, posing threats to the different cultural identities and traditions. Under these circumstances, most urbanized indigenous peoples live in the poorest and least served neighbourhoods.

Given the multicultural nature of cities anywhere in the world, indigenous pe0ples in cities should not have to face such inequality and threats; they should rather be an opportunity for enhancing the cities' cultural, socio-political and economic wealth.

Image of Indigenous protests in Quito, from Ecuadorpordentro.net. Image of a Quechua woman and child in Quito, from Seth Wallace (taken from Picasa). Image of a Quichua family in Quito's historical centre from Dan Heller.

Garden Center on Path to LEED Platinum

by Peter Sigrist

I recently visited the new Brian C. Nevin Welcome Center at Cornell Plantations. It rests comfortably at the base of Comstock Knoll — a small glacial deposit next to Beebe Lake. When the center opens in January, it will provide exhibition space, divisible conference rooms, a cafe, a kitchenette, and a gift shop in a compact two-story shell.

The building, designed by Baird Sampson Neuert, has a chance of reaching LEED platinum. It minimizes fossil-fuel consumption and carbon emissions using solar panels, a living roof, and low-energy lighting and temperature controls. A bioswale filters runoff from the parking lot. Trees around the lot are planted in Structural Soil to foster healthy root growth. They've also been added to the plantations' Urban Tree Collection, which allows researchers in the department of horticulture to evaluate their ability to thrive in difficult conditions.

I found the center comfortable and inviting — distinctly modern without feeling incompatible with the surrounding landscape. It curves gently around the knoll, leading walkers into a breezy atrium or further along to the botanical garden, arboretum, and other natural areas. It will be a perfect setting for community events and educational programs, or for having tea while looking out onto the gardens. Here are some photos from a brief walk inside and around the building.

Credits: Photos by Peter Sigrist.

Present Images of Rio

by Rebecka Gordan

During the last violent week in Rio de Janeiro, major media-channels have been talking about an urban war, describing the favelas as notoriously dangerous shanty towns, and interviewing commuters rather than the people in the affected neighborhoods. As Amnesty International is urging the Brazilian authorities to act proportionately and respect the human rights, additional images of the capital to be spread towards the international community are indispensable.

The 2010 film The Samba That Lives Within Me takes the audience to a Rio de Janeiro beyond favela drug wars and glossy carnivals. In this engaging documentary, the Brazilian director Georgia Guerra-Peixe interviews a number of inhabitants of the Morro da Mangueira neighborhood, from the old woman with 168 great-grandchildren to the man who never left the site, but hopes to someday make a difference.

As the samba parade flashes by on the tv-screen in the local bar, the Mangueiras unravel their life stories. "I didn't get any information without exchange," Guerra-Peixe said after the Monday screening this week at the Stockholm International Film Festival. "I told them about my life, and they told me about theirs."

Focusing on details of everyday life, the photo is one of present stillness. In combination with the director's determination of sharing also her vulnerability, it makes an important addition to the 2010 image of Rio. "Where were you watching my film?" Guerra-Peixe asked the festival audience. "Did you feel like spectators, or did you stand on the street?" The latter, we answered. "Good," said Guerra-Peixe.

Credits: Images from Bossa Nova Films.

Stephen Johnson on the ‘Crowdsourced Metropolis’

“[T]he hundreds of millions of calls also represent a huge pool of data to be collected, parsed, and transformed into usable intelligence. Perhaps even more exciting is the new ecosystem of startups, inspired by New York’s success and empowered by 21st-century technology, that has emerged to create innovative ways for residents to document their problems. All this meticulous urban analysis points the way toward a larger, and potentially revolutionary, development: the city built of data, the crowdsourced metropolis.”

Stephen Johnson, from “What a Hundred Million Calls to 311 Reveal About New York,” in WIRED Magazine, 2010

This is part of a collection of featured quotes on cities. They don’t necessarily reflect our views, just things that may be interesting. We welcome you to add others.

Credits: Image from WIRED Magazine.

This Gentrification Will Be Televised

by Alex Schafran

New York filmmakers Allison Lirish Dean and Kelly Anderson's recent film, Lasting Scars, is remarkable for more than just it's thoughtful consideration of the ongoing City-led transformation of one of Brooklyn's most vibrant African-American shopping districts, Fulton Mall. Lirish Dean, a planner and journalist whose work spans print and video mediums, and Anderson, an experienced documentary filmmaker, use the film's website, lastingscars.com, as an ongoing chronicle of media coverage about Fulton Mall's continuing saga.

Recognizing that the issue is not dead once the film is shot and edited, they are using the flexibility of the internet to both promote the film and keep people informed about related issues, new writings about Brooklyn, and perhaps most critically, some of the problematic coverage of Fulton Mall in the local media. Their recent posts about how the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal portray Fulton Mall, especially the latter's nostalgia for the old (white) heyday that was replaced by the "grungy" (read black, lower-income) days of today, are critical to exposing the powerful discourses of decline and obsolescence that enable city government, redevelopment agencies and private capital to deem certain uses and certain people irrelevant to the modern city.

Far more pernicious than the oft-mythologized artist-led gentrification or hipster invasions, state-led, developer-driven and media-enabled whitewashing lies at the heart of the ongoing race and class transformations at the center of so many global cities today.

Credits: Lasting Scars Trailer (August 2010) from Kelly Anderson.

Sharing the City: On Knowledge and the Academy

by George Carothers

In my recent readings I’ve come across a growing pile of fascinating articles on the city. Blogs and social networks have allowed us to access information from the furthest corners of the globe, and now both you and I can read about the latest development plans in New York before glancing at the progress of slum redevelopments in India or South Africa. With the “Rise of the Network Society” we have seen an unprecedented exchange of knowledge across social, political and cultural boundaries. The growing breadth of writing on urban space and the people that live within it is a testament to this exchange of knowledge, and more subliminally, a commentary on the inspirational qualities that cities have sketched onto a growing number of writers.

This free-flowing arena of knowledge is comprised of different people from different places, each one holding an identity with an institution, collective, household, bedroom desk or table at a cafe. Some are practitioners while others are creators of knowledge and theory. Others simply wish for their opinions to be heard, or for their social concerns to be echoed to larger local and international audiences. These writers have formed an “urban society of intellectuals” that share their deepest of thoughts and concerns with the public; an audience that has become increasingly interested in the functionality and development of their own cities and other cities around the world.

This “urban society of intellectuals” may choose to engage with “specialized producers” of knowledge, whether it be at a conference or through an appraisal of academic writing. These “specialized producers,” the elite experts on the city, may choose to participate in the conversations of this larger urban society, offering personal insights and challenges as they see fit. However, these elites play a more integral role in city-building, as they are called upon to investigate the concerns of practitioners and publics, advising governments and businesses on long-term strategies and solutions while taking part in a constant self-criticising process of reflection and refinement. This elite knowledge is produced with rigor. It has been peer-reviewed and therefore it will stand the test of time in academic circles. This gives it the credibility it needs in order for it to be used in practice.  But is all of this incredibly well-formulated, well-researched work actually consumed by anyone in this new “urban society”? For that matter, is it actually used in practice?

I recently attended a conference at University College London (UCL) entitled, “Alternative Urbanisms.” Here I was, a new PhD student, at one of the most liberal institutions in the world, having a discussion with the elite producers of knowledge on the city, “exploring alternative ways of organising, practising and imagining cities.” The conference was both exhilarating and rewarding. I felt honoured to have been able to take part in such an event. There were interesting case studies from London and other parts of the UK. Some researchers presented new observations from India and various parts of Africa. Others took the opportunity to invoke critical discussion on some new theoretical injections. Personally, however, I felt as though they saved the best for last.

The keynote speaker, Michael Edwards of the Bartlett School of Planning, concluded the conference with an inspiring presentation on “A London Utopia.” In his introductory remarks before his “utopian” presentation, he offered a frank observation on the elite urbanists within academia, and the practicality of research produced in these exclusive circles of “experts.” He made a simple point; he observed who was at the conference. The response was a large group of academics and academics in the making. No bloggers, no planners, no policy-makers or developers. No people from the cafés on Tottenham Court Road, no community organizers from Shoreditch or Elephant & Castle. (It is here where one might ask themselves why it is that we continue to have developers and planners who are seemingly unaware of what we have gained through academic research over the past 30 years. The conference attendance list may have something to do with it.) Edwards asked the audience about the fluidity and accessibility of knowledge from the Academy. How do we, the fellow elites in the production of urban knowledge, gain access to this incredible work that we produce? Well, through our enormous, multiple-figure ($$$$$$) institutional e-journal subscriptions, of course...

How does an influential blogger read the latest academic article on planning in journal A? How does a professional planner read an urban geographer’s appraisal of this article in journal B? For that matter, a politician? A retired teacher and community activist? An architect? In simple terms, Edwards notes that many of them can’t. Many more have no idea as to how to go about finding these articles in the first place. If they did, Edwards hinted that an even greater number would have such trouble dissecting the vocabulary that it would be rendered incomprehensible. What Edwards highlights is that much of the academy’s work has become utopian simply due to the limits of its reach in an increasingly accessible world. The “experts” of the past are losing their influence due to the sheer magnitude of distribution that is harnessed by the pop information-producers of today. The exclusivity of the academy has produced a bubble around some of the most interesting, mode-shifting research in existence, and while the legalities around copyright reign over the production and procurement of this new knowledge, the accessibility of work from incredibly inspiring (though sometimes ill-informed, or under-researched) bloggers is circulated and promoted to millions of users within a matter of minutes.

How might the academy enhance its participation in this growing and accessible “urban society of intellectuals”? Many academics themselves have put their necks out on the line by breaking agreements and distributing their articles freely on their own websites. This isn’t the norm, however, and is certainly frowned upon by publishers. Perhaps the “owners” of academic knowledge could play a part in this transformation. The first step may be towards a new distribution of knowledge, without the dreadful attachments of copyright and illegality. If this isn’t the case in the not-so-far future, us “academics,” or “experts,” may need to consider finding another job.

Credits: Photo of New York from Caruba. Image of “Blog” from Lady Madonna. Photo of UCL from Steve Cadman. Image of LSE Library from Mal Booth.

Where Is the Press Free?

by Katia Savchuk

Where in the world is it best to be a journalist? Scandinavia, hands down. Japan’s pretty good, the United States is alright. Better to be in Jamaica than Poland or France, and South Korea is far preferable to Turkey or Russia. Journalists in Eritrea fare the worst, with those in Iran and North Korea not far behind.

These are the findings from the 2010 Press Freedom Index, released last month by Reporters Without Borders. The annual rankings assess freedom afforded to journalists and news organizations in almost 180 countries. The organization compiles the index by measuring violations against journalists and the news media, as well as considering the legal framework for media and incidences of “self-censorship.”

It’s unclear how reliable the methodology is in assigning specific rankings, but it is surprisingly clear that there is no strict correlation between press freedom and level of economic development, geography, religion or, to some extent, political system.

 “More than ever before, we see that economic development, institutional reform and respect for fundamental rights do not necessarily go hand in hand,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said.

Many European countries have been dropping in the rankings, with Italy ranked 49th, Romania 52nd and Greece and Bulgaria tied at 70th.

Of course, a free media is crucial for keeping people informed, presenting competing views of development and keeping decision-makers in check. It makes you realize that a free press shouldn’t be taken as a given in more developed countries, even those that gave birth to modern democracy.

Credits: Map appears courtesy of Reporters Without Borders.

What Makes Cities Tick?

by Vivien Park

An interesting podcast from Radiolab that explored what it is that gives a city its "feel", told from a diverse point of view. There are two physicists who think time holds the key to the driving force of every city; a musician who processes the sounds recorded in his neighborhood; an underground tunnel-digger in Manhattan who lived to tell of a freak accident; and the remaining residents of an abandoned town. In the end there seems to be no universal explanations to what makes cities tick, except the lens through which each group views as most important in their lives: be it knowledge, creativity, duty or a sense of belonging.

Credits: Image of Broadway Boogie Woogie from Euromech Colloquium 484. Podcast of Cities from Radiolab.

Deconstructing the Industrial Age

by Andrew Wade

London's decommissioned power stations on the South Bank of the Thames have undergone a forced and negotiated evolution to maintain their relevance in the modern city fabric.  As iconic industrial monuments, both Bankside Power Station and Battersea Power Station hold considerable meaning in the collective memory of Londoners,  making the redevelopment of these sites a performance of contestation and compromise.  While Bankside has already set the tone for adaptive reuse by reopening as Tate Modern in 2000, the new masterplan for Battersea has just gained planning consent.  After several public consultations, architect Rafael Viñoly's glass tower has been removed, and a new vision for the site has been revealed by Treasury Holdings, a major shareholder in developer Real Estate Opportunities.

As a mid-20th century engine room of the city, Battersea Power Station and its future redevelopment carry with them an implied statement of intent not only on energy production and consumption but also on the prioritisation of interests between the developer, community organisations, and the city government.  The beautiful ageing materiality of the building will compete with the need for modernisation and adaptation in the re-creation of meaning through collective memory.  As the site begins its physical transformation in 2012, will it turn into an economically exclusive playground or a vital and unique community with a clear historical thread?  What will be the social outcomes of the £5.5 billion investment in the site's redevelopment?  Furthermore, how will value creation be measured and therefore drive design decision-making?

Credits: Image of Battersea 'A' Station under construction from Wikipedia CommonsImage of current interior of Battersea Power Station from Wikipedia Commons. Video of '1000 Individual Chairs' from Zakary Kinnaird. Video of 'Design the Vision' from The Bespoke Film Company.

Graffiti: Art and Vandalism

by Jordi Sánchez-Cuenca

Graffiti art is an important worldwide urban cultural movement, as Anna Fogel nicely documents in previous Polis posts. Loyal to its origins, in most cases graffiti art has an underground character, and much of it is subversive and even transgressive. Some graffiti art and artists, such as Banksy and Sharik from Ukraine, have been widely recognized and documented. Graffiti has long been a subject of interest and debate in the most famous modern art museums, such as MoMA and TATE Modern. Many graffiti performers play the role of messengers of political or philosophical ideas. Other simply write names or symbols.

As in any art, some performances are considered better than others. The difference with graffiti is that it somehow imposes itself in the city’s image, and when it shows little sophistication or smartness, it crosses the line into vandalism. Simple graffitis cross further such line when they are drawn directly on buildings.

Unfortunately, vandalistic graffities largely outnumber artistic ones. I am unaware of the urban culture and motivations behind vandalistic graffities, but it is evident that they are a form of expression for many urban young, and it would be worth researching extensively into it.

Credits: Images of graffiti in Quito from Jordi Sánchez-Cuenca

Expanding Access to Thesis Research

by Peter Sigrist

MIT's CoLab Radio and Polis are teaming up to build a collection of Thesis Chronicles, or concise narratives of thesis projects by planning students from around the world. CoLab Radio has envisioned this as a platform for mutual exchange between research and practice. They explain:
Every year thousands of students hand their brains over to their thesis topics. They produce some of the freshest ideas on the world’s most pressing issues: energy efficiency, social justice, media, affordable housing, race, transportation, food distribution and general urban planning, among others. Most of the time, however, the final product lands on a shelf in a university library where few people ever find it or even know to look for it.

CoLab Radio wants thesis research to make it out to policy makers and into communities in an accessible form. Even if the right people were able to find your thesis, would they have time to read 100+ pages of the dense academic language that many theses use?  
That’s why we’re inviting any thesis writer from any university in any country to submit a concept for a thesis chronicles series this year.  Knowledge and research generated in academia should be accessible to and co-generated with people working on the ground; a blog series is one piece in making that possible. In addition, you’ll be able to get feedback on your work and be part of a national / international community of urban planning-related thesis writers.

Examples include John Arroyo's "Art, Civic Space, and Urban Design along the LA River" and Gayle Christiansen's "Camden: Small Businesses Transform Place." If you have a thesis project that would be of interest to readers of Polis and CoLab, please contact us at info@thepolisblog.org or colabradio@mit.edu. 

Credits: Images appear courtesy of John Arroyo and CoLab Radio.

A Void in Minsk

by Rebecka Gordan

Its surface is alluring. Meticulously tidied streets, impressive palaces and the broadest sidewalks I’ve seen. Fancy stores, grand squares, verdant parks and a bike lane along the river. The buildings of Minsk shimmer in the dark, illuminated by thousands of spotlights. But there is something missing in the capital of Belarus, and it will take me four days to find this absent core, located in a paved pit on Melnikaite Street.

When Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, Minsk was bombed immediately and soon came under Wehrmacht control. After years of heavy fighting, the city was recaptured by Soviet troops in June 1944. At this point, factories, municipal buildings, power stations, bridges, most roads and 80 percent of the houses had been reduced to rubble. After the war, Minsk was rebuilt, but not necessarily reconstructed. The historical centre was replaced in the 1940s and 1950s by Stalinist architecture, which favored grand buildings in classic style, broad avenues and wide squares. More recently, an effort has been made in reconstructing the old city center, and now everything from convents to market places arises from their original drawings.

On a cold Sunday noon in late October, I am walking down Melnikaite Street in the north of central Minsk. Green fields with modernist housing complexes border the sloping road. Further ahead, I can spot the famous Hotel Yubileynaya, where Belarus’s first casino opened in 1992. I must confess I feel stupid, having imagined something else. Two or three storey brick buildings, narrow inner courtyards, time-stained facades. Just like the ones on my grandfather’s childhood street in Budapest, still standing to this day. But this central street of the old Minsk ghetto, at that time named Radomskaya Street, bears no witness to its painful past.

In 1941, Minsk had a population of around 240,000 people, approximately forty percent of them Jews. Three years later, about 50,000 inhabitants remained. Of the Jewish population, very few survived. Most of them had been temporarily housed in one of the largest Nazi-run ghettos in World War II, and many of them killed within its walls. One of the large-scale murder raids in the Minsk ghetto occurred on 2 March 1942, claiming at least 5,000 victims. Children and adults were shot or thrown alive into a deep pit that had been dug on Radomskaya Street.

Today, there is a memorial on the spot. I am standing in the middle of it. It is a paved pit surrounded by modernist buildings. From this point, they look surreal. Bright colored plastic flowers on the ground. A blackened brass sculpture along the only stairway in the shape of a line of people. A fiddler on top is gazing at me. There are houses missing in Minsk, blocks decided never to be rebuilt. There are people missing in Minsk too. I can feel them underneath my body. I am their daughter and I tell them: I am alive.

Credits: Image of people in the ghetto from Deutsches Bundesarchiv, www.bild.bundesarchiv.de. Images of memorial from Rebecka Gordan.

Sources: www.ushmm.org; www.ne.se; Donald L. Niewyk, Francis R. Nicosia, The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust, Columbia University Press (2003); Lonely Planet: Russia & Belarus, 3rd Edition (2003). Barbara Epstein, The Minsk Ghetto 1941-1943: Jewish Resistance and Soviet Internationalism, University of California Press (2008); World and Its Peoples, Marshall Cavendish Corporation, (2010).

International Street Art

by Anna Fogel

There is something particularly compelling about street art for a city, for expressing a city, or understanding a city. It’s come up a number of times in Polis (I wrote about it as a way of describing some of my experiences in Ramallah, and other articles have looked at the impact of street art on a city, or more recently, at http://www.thepolisblog.org/2010/10/bomb-it-2-tel-aviv.html). You can follow street art throughout the history of New York City, and a recent New York Times articles has some great photos of street art and its historical references in NYC –in the 1970s and 1980s when graffiti seemed to swallow whole subway cars, in the 1990s when they dried to suppress the graffiti which often drove them into the tunnels, and into this decade, when you can see it all over the city. Below are some photos from the New York Times article – and in contrast, some photos of street art from places I’ve been recently:

Tel Aviv, Israel

Lilongwe, Malawi

"not made in china" Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Cinque Terra, Italy

Credits: Images of street art from Anna Fogel.

World Cup in Cape Town: Face of the ‘New’ South Africa?

by Melissa García Lamarca

When South Africa won the World Cup bid in 2004, the game between FIFA, the Local Organising Committee (LOC) and many local to national government players in Cape Town began around where the venues would be hosted. This unfolded in the city through a stand off between two areas vying to have Cape Town’s main stadium, seating 68,000, for the World Cup semi-finals: the black township of Athlone vs. the middle/upper-middle class, largely white area known as Green Point.

Athlone stadium, Cape Town
In the interest of breaking down the segregation and disparities that continue to exist despite South Africa’s now 16-year-old post-apartheid history, for the first few years the frontrunner for the main stadium was Athlone. Located in the Cape Flats – an area where coloured communities and informal settlements (black townships) sprawl eastward from Table Mountain, often mentioned only in relation to its high levels of crime, poverty and astronomical rates of HIV/AIDS – many were proud that a township was to be the face of the ‘new’ South Africa. The world would see how the country was changing when an area and people that were classified, segregated and particularly marginalised under the Group Areas Act in the 1950s – the legacy of which remains strongly ingrained in the urban fabric – would hold the city’s most important stadium for the pride-inspiring World Cup. 

Yet unbeknown to Athlone’s residents, the political tides turned around 2006, and the main stadium site was instead chosen to be Green Point; Athlone would only hold the smaller stadium to be used for World Cup practice matches. The latter site was determined by the LOC and government decision-makers to be ‘too dangerous’ and ‘poor’. Green Point’s location in a largely middle / upper-middle class white neighbourhood and its proximity to the V&A Waterfront – a working harbour and heavily developed consumer-oriented site filled with shops and restaurants, attracting 22 million visitors per year – in the end scored the decisive points for the decision on what South African face would be shown to the world.

Green Point stadium, Cape Town
City planners started creating an urban park Master Plan in 2006 for Green Point, zoning 28% of the ‘public’ space into a golf course and the rest as a municipal park including playing fields, to be completed by 2012. The stadium itself was built on top of a previously existing public one, that used to attract a great diversity of Capetonians for soccer games; this amenity has since disappeared, and one can only enter Green Point stadium by paying about 70 Rand (about $10) on a guided tour. Athlone has fared even worse: aside from not hosting the main stadium, the smaller stadium was built on a space where children used to play – they now play in the cement spaces in between – and it is closed with guards posted around it, as there is no money for the stadium’s maintenance. In the end only two World Cup practice matches were held on this site, and no further developments are planned around the area.

Unfortunately this type of story around who benefits when such mega-events as the World Cup come to countries/cities across the world is not new. South Africa, and Cape Town in this specific case explored here, has a particularly challenging historical legacy of oppression and inequities related to decades of apartheid to overcome. Hopefully time will change the ingrained patterns towards more socially just and sustainable decision-making and action, moving towards breaking down the historical (and continued) spatial segregation in cities across South Africa.

Special thanks and credit is due to the IHP Cities Fall 2010 students, specifically the World Cup Aftermath case study group, for their great presentation on this subject, on which much of this article was based. 

Credits: Image of Athelone Stadium from capetown.gov.za. Image of Green Point Stadium from thefutblog.com.