A Space That Is Not the Battlefield

by Patrick Sykes

The dust is settling on Shura City, yet not a single brick has been laid. Since this proposal for a drone-proof city emerged, its creator, Asher Kohn, has attracted the unexpected attention of architects, allies and antagonists alike. I spoke with Asher and Hiba Ali — the visual artist who created a virtual model of the city — as they developed plans for Shura's interior spaces.

Podcast: Walking Through London’s East End

by Cristiana Strava

London’s East End needs little introduction. Though nestled between the largest financial hubs in Europe (Central London to the west and Canary Wharf to the south), it has traditionally been one of the city’s least affluent areas.

Community Engagement in Mexico City

by Wangũi Kamonji

An innovative urban development program is activating positive change in low-income neighborhoods across Mexico City. Despite winning the World Habitat Award in 2011, the city government's Programa Comunitario de Mejoramiento Barrial (Community Program for Neighborhood Improvement, or PCMB) is surprisingly little-known outside Mexico.

To Replenish a Sense of Wonder

by Min Li Chan

In a radio interview with Eleanor Wachtel of Writers & Company, Gail Jones reflects upon urban experience and its centrality to her novel Five Bells. The conversation is insightful and eminently quotable, with many passages that threw new light on my old urbanist ways. Jones urges us to be aware not only of a city's physicality, but also of its intangible atmospheres:
I'm very interested in psychogeography, and the idea that we must walk around our own place with an active intelligence and a degree of radical attention to what is there. ... We ought not be the flaneur who is idly and languidly consuming the sights of the city, we must look at its shapes, at its motions, attend to its sounds, corridors between spaces, the unexpected things looming up or falling away as we turn a corner.

A Tramway Arrives in Casablanca

by Cristiana Strava

As Morocco’s largest city and business center, Casablanca suffers from infernal traffic congestion, related air pollution and insufficient public transit. The municipal government has yet to realize longstanding plans for a subway system, but has recently completed a $1.6 billion tramway that connects much of the city’s east and west sections via the center. Such lines are becoming a global trend, promoted as environmentally sustainable and socially equitable urban renewal.

Isolation to Eviction for Nile Island Dwellers

by Abdelbaseer Mohamed

Greater Cairo, which includes the city of Giza, is spatially fragmented and heavily oriented toward private transit. Low-income residents are disproportionately isolated from essential infrastructure, services and job opportunities. Segregation is especially acute on Gezirat Al Warraq and Gezirat Al Dahab, large islands several kilometers from central Cairo. Efforts to solve this problem have encountered resistance from proponents of sustainable development.

Myanmar’s Instant Capital

by Jordi Sánchez-Cuenca

In 2007, Siddharth Varadarajan described the city of Naypyidaw (Abode of Kings) as "the ultimate insurance against regime change, a masterpiece of urban planning designed to defeat any putative 'colour revolution' — not by tanks and water cannons, but by geometry and cartography." Less than two years prior, this brand-new outpost became the capital of Myanmar through a process shrouded in mystery.

Replacing Industry with Green Housing in Stockholm

by Rebecka Gordan and Peter Sigrist

“Sustainable architecture and urban development can never be solely technical issues or be reduced to a matter of points on a certification scale, but need to begin with fundamental social issues: How are we to live together and how can architecture and the city create best possible conditions?”

Henrietta Palmer in “Art and Institution: A Contradiction?” 2010

Happy Fifty Years, Gentrification!

... Does Gentrification Gentrify Without Gentrifiers?
by Javier Arbona
Gentrification doesn't need to be something that one group inflicts on another; often it's the result of aspirations everybody shares. All over the city, a small army of the earnest toils away, patiently trying to sluice some of the elitist taint off neighborhoods as they grow richer. When you're trying to make a poor neighborhood into a nicer place to live, the prospect of turning it into a racially and economically mixed area with ­thriving stores is not a threat but a fantasy. As the cost of basic city life keeps rising, it's more important than ever to reclaim a form of urban improvement from its malignant offshoots. A nice neighborhood should be not a luxury but an urban right. – Justin Davidson, 2014

Democratic Commissioning for Urban Renewal

by Joe Penny

Most people wouldn’t call public-service commissioning exciting, if they even know it exists. Commissioning is the process of coordinating financial support based on assessment of local needs, aspirations and assets. It includes processes of contracting, procurement and outsourcing. It sounds dry and remote from our daily lives, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Territory and Transgression: An Interview with Stuart Elden

by Peter Sigrist

Stuart Elden, professor of political theory and geography at Warwick and one of the editors of the journal Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, has published volumes of groundbreaking research on geopolitics and spatial theory over the past decade. His research addresses topics of critical importance to cities today, including globalization, territory, terrorism, power relations and place. It engages with the thinking of Martin Heidegger, Henri Lefebvre and Michel Foucault, along with many of their lines of influence.

Elizabeth Blackmar on Public Space

Source: Te Aria Nui Charitable Trust

“The scholars’ contest over whether ‘the commons’ would be understood as a historical set of social relations, as a metaphor for a primitive past that spawned an enlightened future, or simply as a scenario for decision making was overtaken in the 1960s with the rise of a new trope, which continues to circulate to this day. In a 1968 article in Science magazine, the biologist and environmentalist Garrett Hardin illustrated his argument on behalf of regulating population growth by describing a ‘tragedy of the commons.’ ...

“A loosely defined ‘property rights movement’ ran variations on the theme of the ‘tragedy of the commons’ as it fashioned solutions that ranged from ‘free market environmentalism’ to World Bank-sponsored ecological management. At the same time, although efforts to privatize state services and property received their greatest boost from the hard facts of fiscal crisis, that movement also scored points off the trope of commons in ways that helped usher in the public-private partnership as a model for governance of public property and hence public space. ...

“Some have suggested that the fantasy of limitless private wealth has distorted the vision and values of propertied Americans, turning self-interest into a crabbed and literal-minded miserliness. Cold War anticonmmunism, the economic trauma of deindustrialization, and the political disruptions and gains of social movements in the 1950s and 1960s left economic elites fearful rather than confident in the assimilative powers of public institutions. And, as was true among environmental activists, leftists as well as libertarians thought that public officials could not be counted on to protect or advance the common good. Some scholars suggest that with abundance, Americans outgrew their collective need — even their capacity — for a public realm. Others argue that the public itself was felt to have become too large, too inclusive, its rewards too widely disseminated in too many forms — too democratic. Whatever the cause, the demise of the idea of a democratic public domain in the United States is a loss that extends beyond its borders.

“It is not possible, of course, to construct a global public; at a global scale, the ideas of democratic access and accountability associated with public space stretch beyond recognition, for people do not live their lives as members of abstract communities or spaces. Of necessity, common property regimes around the world are represented as sharply bounded, local, and delimited, usually with reference to particular kinds of resources, such as fish, land, and forest. The discourse of property rights has created ways of imagining that those independent systems of allocating property rights and sharing resources might continue at the sufferance of international proprietors — the NGOs who are taking figurative ownership of the globe’s ‘future’ and who in their capacity as guardians have set about evaluating the efficacy and efficiency of any given system to determine which should be left in place and which should be reformed. Local practices can create their own space for unexpected contingencies, new openings that can redirect strategic calculation on a larger scale, of course. But without larger institutions of government, there are not many ways most ordinary people with limited means can collectively deliberate over what they wish to control or leave for their descendants by way of shared resources, institutions or public spaces.

“Historically, public space was created as public property, and if that institution has run its course, if there is no language or theory that affirms that people can build and maintain governments that can build and maintain public space, we should all pay attention, for we have observed one more tragedy in our own time.”

— Elizabeth Blackmar in “Appropriating ‘the Commons’: The Tragedy of Property Rights Discourse,” 2006

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

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Data Collection in the Moscow Metro

by Gulnaz Aksenova and Artur Shakhbazyan

In the words of John Holland, "the city is a pattern in time." Yet actions within its boundaries leave traces. Whether crossing the street, making a phone call or entering the subway, our traces are retained in the city's memory.

Housing Demolition and the Right to Place

by Tony Roshan Samara

There is no small irony in the fact that the most notable achievement of affordable housing policy in the United States over the past two decades has been the systematic demolition of affordable housing stock. To understand this upside-down world of housing politics, at least as it collides with the lives of the urban poor, we have to understand the moral panic that has developed around the concept of concentrated poverty. Over time, this panic has hardened into a consensus among the urban policy elite. For its members, most if not all social ills associated with cities and poverty stem from too many poor people being gathered in one place.