Cities, on the surface at least, seem stable. The imposing physical materiality of concrete, steel and glass projects an endurance that is ‘built to last‘. Yet decades of urban critique have elucidated the fluidity of cities. From Walter Benjamin’s Arcades, through Cedric Price’s Fun Palace to Nigel Coates’ Ecstacity, people have been envisioning cities that are mobile, mutable and malleable. These concepts of literature, art and architecture articulate cities that are far from static; they are fluid assemblages that wax and wane in response to cultural representations, economic global processes and social practices. And one only has to take a short walk through seemingly any city today before they encounter some construction or development of some kind. This affirms that the urban landscape is constantly changing in response to development pressures, policy tweaks and financial speculation. The ‘stability’ of cities is hence only an illusion; there is far more than meets the eye… Continue reading
The exit poll that the BBC announced at 10:00:01pm on Thursday started it. By midnight it wasn’t really sinking in. By 3am it was becoming increasingly apparent. By 6.30am, it was all but confirmed. By 7.30am, I was on my way to RHUL Towers with an overbearing sense of an impending macabre future. The 2015 general election result was one of the most surprising, but also most harrowing of my short voting life, not because of any party political allegiance I (don’t) have; but because of the knowledge that the preceding five years of feelings of injustice, frustration and disgust at the current state governance was going to carry on, and indeed intensify for the next five. The carcass of the political system is being picked over by the social media and op-ed commentariat, while no more than 5 days after the event, the harbingers of an evermore neoliberalised society are already in place (not least with some of today’s cabinet appointments).
For a few hours then over the weekend, I was giving some thought to emigrating, jacking it all in, giving up. But a series of conversations with colleagues, a few inspiring tweets (yes, they do exist) and a stiff drink or two later, it became clear that such a defeatist attitude went completely against the grain of my
being becoming. In order to break the malaise and the lift the inner-pother that I certainly embodied over the last few days (and no doubt many other people from “across the political spectrum” (to use a horribly reductionist phrase)) – there needs to be a renewed vigour to encounter the oncoming deluge of marginalising and polarising policies and tests their limits of justice via empirical and theoretical contestation; there needs to be a groundswell of collective organising (of what Lefebvre has called autogestion) so that the formulation of predatory formations are not given the freedom to carry out their potentially domcidial tendencies; there needs to be unfettered rejection of the poisonous ideology of individualism; there needs to be a reclamation of civic life and the streets in which it is formed; there needs to be a realisation that it is those at the margins of society who most readily show us what future and progress looks and feels like, not those in the centre who champion more of the same; in sum, there needs to be a greater effort to enact radical democracy.
Easy to say of course, far more difficult to enact. Which is why, perhaps now, it is even more important to take that difficult decision to act, rather than to be passive. To go on that march, to join that collective, to help your neighbour, to question authoritarianism. So apologies if it all sounds a little preachy and ranty (maybe there’s an element of catharsis going on here), but ‘sticking your neck out’ is part and parcel of what needs to be done. So you may find me being slightly more vocal, active and yes, probably (even more) annoying in the next five years; and if you’re one my students reading this, I can only apologise…
The Annals of American Geographers annual conference this year was in Chicago, and as usual, was a hectic 5 days of sessions, networking, partying and pontificating. The ante seemed particularly high this year, there was a heightened sense of a complex mix of emotional states; excitement (perhaps a symptom of being in such a great city), enjoyment (plenty of people seemed to have beaming smiles), anger (name-calling was heard), insecurity (lots of discussions about academic precarity) and exhaustion (no-one I spoke to seemed well-rested). I targeted a route through the sessions that was focused on my current and future research plans, namely critical urbanism, activism and subversion, and so I found myself gravitating to sessions with ‘neoliberalism’, ‘activism’, ‘urban justice’ and ‘subversion’ in the title. Some were fantastic, others less so, but that is an inevitable consequence of the AAG’s policy of excepting all abstracts. One of the major themes though that I took home was that critical urban theoretical discussions are slightly laboured, a bit tail-chasing, and while important to provide a conceptual framework for activism, still seems not as connected to ‘on the ground’ experience, marginality and radical politics as it could be. Continue reading
There is a current wave of student occupations across London. KCL, LSE, UAL, Goldsmiths have all been targeted, and I’m sure more are brewing. The LSE occupation was the first (that I noticed anyway) and they are calling for a “Free University of London” and aiming to create an “open, creative and liberated space, where all are free to participate in the imagining of a new directly democratic, non-hierarchical and universally accessible education”. There has been plenty of coverage of these occupations in the relevant media outlets, not least UAL’s rather terse response in particular. Whatever the politics of these occupations and your views on the provisioning of higher education in this country (I happen to agree with their position), what I think is equally as important about these ‘events’ more broadly is that it is students as a cohort that are leading these protests.
At the same time that the nation tuned into the first TV debate of the 2015 general election, the Aylesbury Estate occupation reportedly ended. One event saw a bunch of lowlifes bickering about how to run a doomed institution, the other? Well….
The intensification of technology is a process that we can no longer ignore. Stephen Hawking recently said Artificial Intelligence could end mankind, televisions are spying on us, Hollywood blockbusters warn of dystopic futures. These ‘big’ ideas about technology are critical to the debate about what it means to be human and have been raging for sometime, but on a more societal, everyday level, our human interactions are evermore being replaced by technological ones. Buying food from a machine, talking to computers on the phone, automated passport controls, searching for friends and soul mates online, sharing a joke with your smart phone’s operating system, checking into hotels via a smart phone – there is a layer of technology that is replacing our everyday connections with the people around us, a layer that is becoming increasingly invisible but all-encompassing.
In light of this, I’m embarking upon quite an ambitious project. It’s a bit experimental, but something I think hugely worthwhile. Essentially, I aim to conduct three social scientific experiments or ‘challenges’ that will test just how far I can go by living solely via technological interfaces. I want to make a documentary film (and write an accompanying book) that explores how technology is making our economic and social interactions more efficient, but also how they are making us interact less with humans for our everyday needs. This has all manner of societal implications about sociality, family life, loneliness, technological politics, workers rights and a host of many other crucial debates.
So I have created a Kickstarter page to try and raise the funds needed to conduct the project. Please consider contributing, because I believe that such a project has the potential to have a vast impact academically, politically and culturally. Please feel free to email me (email@example.com) or tweet me for more information.
One cannot have failed to notice the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall over the weekend. Coupled with Remembrance Sunday, it has created a milieu of memorialisation over the weekend that has invoked process of grief, global strife, hegemonic power, activism & resistance, personal loss and spirituality. There has been a lot of pontification and media chin-stroking about the geopolitical wrangling and consequences of the fall of the Wall in the lead up to the anniversary, but what has always been present in the urban studies literature is the way in which the Wall acts very much within the urban geography of Berlin. I was lucky enough to visit Berlin last month for a very interesting and enlightening Workshop on Controversies of the Creative City, and given the content of my talk (which was, in a nutshell, a 20-min dash through the themes of my book) the inventible question I always seem to be asked is ‘what is the alternative’? If neoliberal capitalism is unjust, damaging and polarising, just what is the answer?** Given that we were in the city that symbolically saw the collapse of one viable ‘alternative’ it seemed like an apt arena in which to have the debate. With the workshop discussions pinging around my thoughts, I took it upon myself to practice what I so often champion which is the act of drifting à la The Situationists, something which can (can) begin to inculcate a more creative city. But of course, this is neigh-on impossible in the contemporary Creative City, so using the old line of the Wall (which is of course now, a recognised tourist route – Berliner Mauerweg, the Berlin Wall Trail), I walked from the SouthEast of the city centre to the North, keeping as close to the line as I could. This practice has been done elsewhere far more vividly that I ever could by Will Self (the flâneur of our time), and my photography skills have a lot to be desired (to say the least – click on the photos to see a larger version). But what follows is a photographic essay which speaks to the changing urban condition in Berlin from a city divided along geopolitical and revanchist lines, but which now has perhaps lost the former in favour of a more global city-inculcated version of the latter. Continue reading