Conflict in the contemporary city: between discomfort, exclusion, and the search for happiness

A homeless woman lies down on a Manhattan street during a heatwave on July 22, 2022.Spencer Platt (Getty Images)

The city is not what it used to be. Throughout history, the city has been a place to survive and co-exist in the company of people we don’t know. As a space in which institutions are created and collective identity is woven. as a stimulus, in its infancy, to various innovations: since the founding of the first urban centers there has been a flood of developments such as the wheel, coinage, alphabet, money, navigation, etc., as Stephen Johnson explains in his book Good ideas (Turner). Of course, as a knot of doing business, domination and power. But in recent decades, the neoliberal city has undergone a profound transformation into a hostile territory for its inhabitants and a cake from which everyone (on a global scale) wants to make a profit. Thus, problems of gentrification, tourism, segregation, inequality, housing, insecurity and misery are produced. Cities have become, in Zygmunt Baumann’s words, “the dumping grounds of globalization”.

Books wanting to understand or research these phenomena multiply: according to the United Nations, by the middle of the 21st century, 80% of humanity will live in cities, so there are many interested urbanites. “There is a particular interest in the urban question, which is noticeable in the presence of housing in the discussions,” says Jorge Dione López, author of the article. unrest in cities (harp). He sees that the city, the place where our existence develops, has become one of the main economic products, and this causes conflict. “There is a struggle for space between the population and what we might call the ‘mobility industry’, but also between different types of population, such as owner and non-owner. In a certain way, the struggle for land ownership has moved from the rural environment to the urban environment,” notes the author.

This includes conflicts with tourism, with the phenomenon of gentrification through which rich classes or investment funds or privileges control urban centers, or problems Managing pockets of poverty and homelessness, whose camps and missing people are already part of the folklore of the big cities. The neoliberal cosmopolitan city, beneath the gleaming luster of modernity, hides inequality and misery. The processes through which the places we live become global financial assets, designed for speculation rather than for living, are studied In defense of housing (Captain Swing), by David Madden and Peter Marcuse (son, the latter, by the way, For the philosopher Herbert Marcuse).

Homeless people forming camps under the Segovia Canal in Madrid.
Homeless people forming camps under the Segovia Canal in Madrid. Louis Civilano

Global city appears: the city described by the sociologist Saskia Sassen (see International City, published by Eudeba), is a planetary node that attempts to attract streams. Capital flows, information or people, wicker to build a story city and compete in the international market for global cities. This is where what is happening in the world is decided, there are the headquarters of large multinational corporations and large financial and political forums. This means that cities all over the planet, always aspiring to this global status, live outside, in a kind of eternal attitude and desire to seduce, offering business, tourism, culture and nightlife to strangers, forgetting the needs of their residents. Basically one: live.

They are a long way from the “right to the city” coined by Henri Lefebvre in his 1968 article of the same name (Right in townAnd Captain Swing), according to which citizens are entitled to actively participate in the formation of the urban spaces they inhabit. Or to the gentle vision and human scale proposed in 1961 by activist Jane Jacobs in The life and death of megacities (Captain Swing), inspired by his fight for the boroughs of New York against the great ideas of civil servant Robert Moses, a big highway promoter on a quest to destroy the fabrics of the boroughs.

But the city is really something else, the place where those rights are weakened. “The most aggressive process is apartheid,” says Lopez, “the spatial separation of rich and poor, which is one of the reasons Frequent riots in suburbs Parisians, such as those recently recorded. For the author, turning a city into a product means that its main function is value creation. It is necessary to “value, monetize, privatize, and create different offers for different requirements.” As if different spaces are available in the supermarket, whether it is residential, work, educational or recreational, for different incomes, for those who have more and those who have almost nothing. Oddly enough, neither inequality nor segregation is an unintended consequence: “It’s not a mistake, it’s the model,” Lopez repeats in his book as a revealing mantra. What is unfair in the city does not happen because of incompetence or improvisation, but rather what is expected on the basis of prevailing economic orthodoxy.

The exclusive city has no future

At least since the advent of modernity, the city has become a place of attraction for the masses (the one that so fascinated the poet trolley Charles Baudelaire), which includes and offers to remain anonymous. Public space for Bowman is precisely one that does not choose who inhabits it and allows people who do not know each other to coexist. We are all welcome. What Fabio Ciamarelli, author of The city of the excluded (Trota), is that the present city, for the first time in history, is a city that is expelled, though its force of attraction upon the flows of people remains intact. This means that large crowds still want to go into the cities…but the cities are no longer willing to admit them into their midst. There is, again, conflict.

Mossos d'Escuadra evicted a protest by housing activists against a real estate fair in Barcelona, ​​October 19, 2022.
Mossos d’Escuadra evicted a protest by housing activists against a real estate fair in Barcelona, ​​October 19, 2022.

Gianluca Batista

“The goal of urban exclusion is first and foremost poverty and inequality. Not only for economic reasons,” says Ciamarelli, “because the main victim of this exclusion is transformative initiative. Exclusionary cities seem doomed to homogeneity of identity, with a tendency towards authoritarianism.” We lost efficiency and innovation. Those who are expelled are those who are not useful for maximum profitability (among the people who arrive, tourists are chosen instead of immigrants). The public space itself, which is increasingly degraded and privatized, is also excluded; But, moreover, the future is excluded, which becomes “simply unthinkable in modernity and its unpredictability. The cosmopolitan city is imprisoned in the present and therefore reluctant to seize the opportunities that the future presents, which it often perceives as merely a threat,” according to Ciamarelli.

In search of the happy city

There are more hopeful insights, such as those shown by Charles Montgomery in happy city (Captain Swing). A happy city is one that “maximizes health, positive relationships, and social inclusion,” in the words of the author, whose vision is to unite people as the city’s main mission. Montgomery adds that these successful cities “draw diverse communities into moments of collaboration, collaboration, and shared joy.”

A young man takes his bike out of a parking lot in the center of Valladolid, on June 21, 2023.
A young man takes his bike out of a parking lot in the center of Valladolid, on June 21, 2023.Monk Emilio

His analysis focuses heavily on Solve the housing problem, which he considers comparable to a public health problem that governments should address through a greater proportion of social housing and the fight against the epidemic of tourist rental apartments promoted by platforms such as AirBnB, a fight to allow workers and students to live in urban centres. It also has an impact on new forms of mobility, beyond the realm of the car, to improve public spaces: “Although half of the daily trips in Spain are on foot or by bike, most of the road space is reserved for private cars,” he explains. “Cities would be healthier, happier, and more inclusive if more space was given to cyclists, pedestrians, and public transportation.”

He cites examples: the commitment to safe spaces for cyclists in Paris, the replacement of motorways with public bus routes in Mexico City or the initiatives for easy access to housing, around citizen-designed parks, in Vienna. “I am optimisticHe says. In his book, alternatives are explored to find models of coexistence in which new relationships and new ideas flow. “This is the great promise of our cities,” Montgomery concludes.

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