Sunday, June 02, 2013

Right to the City

The group that started it all in Turkey was Istanbul Right to the City. The U.S. has a Right to the City too. The slogan has been around for a while. David Harvey wrote about it in a broad economic context here in the New Left Review. It raises a question: right to the city for whom? Of course, it's for residents, not for capital which preys on them. But which residents? Labor? The dispossessed? The disempowered? Artists? Professionals? Students? Gentrifiers?

The protest in Istanbul began with a confluence of middle-class interests including park conservancy and community groups: Taksim Gezi Park Protection and Beautification Association along withTaksim Solidarity and RttC, according to Jadaliyya. So do the middle-class have a right to the city? Is resistance in itself a progressive act against the powers that be, be they corporate or government or the collusion between them?

No. Community self-determination can be racist or reactionary. And it can be both regardless of class and income. I know upscale NoHo residents who support a new measure that will harass street vendors with hefty fines. (When I asked why, the answer was, there are too many. Sort of begs the question.) I attended a CB2 meeting at which Greenwich Village gentry angrily protested a small school's proposal to use a street for a playground during the day. Too much noise. I attended a meeting of low-income, subsidized residents who did not want a low-income assisted living facility next to their property. Beyond NIMBY, they asked that the facility be built in someone else's backyard a couple of blocks north -- it goes without saying that they didn't consult those residents. It made no difference to them that this assisted living facility was needed in the wider community, that two large senior facilities had just been closed not far away, and that this facility was dedicated to the disempowered and the dispossessed. Residents can be harsh and selfish. "Right to the City" is a romantic slogan. In reality, it can mean anything to anyone.

The credit goes to Istanbul RttC for seeing the park issue as more than a NIMBY issue, connecting it to a broader empowerment issue. That's what I see in NO711 -- the city-wide zoning amendment allowing community resistance to giant corporate control from afar, restricting access to capital, the Right to the City as Harvey means it, not just another reactionary NIMBY fight.

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