April 6, 2011
The Right to the City
Methods of Subjugation
Within the piece ‘The Right to the City’, David Harvey explores the methods by which members of the public are manipulated and excluded in order to create subjugation by a ruling or governing body.
Throughout the essay Harvey sites examples of the use of design, for the most part urbanization and large scale development, as a means by which governments can reduce their capital surplus, and in doing this, force terrible acts of creative destruction and violence upon their people.
This essay essentially questions peoples rights to take ownership of, live in, and re-create an urban space; “The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city…The freedom to make and re-make our cities is, I want to argue, one of the most precious and neglected of our human rights”. In saying this I believe that Harvey means that the right to the city is a right which we not only neglect, but have allowed to be taken away from us; it is a right which we have allowed to be almost entirely allocated to the rich and elite classes within societies, leaving the middle and lower classes open to exclusion. If we really need and example of this in contemporary society we need only to look to America and the financial crisis in which banks were handed bail out packages to re-finance [while operating within a competitive market of capitalism] while at the same time foreclosing homes of families who had defaulted on loans which had purposefully been given at impossibly low interest rates.
The trend of gentrification and subjugation is traced through history, with examples given of France, the United States, the United Arab Emirates, as well as areas of Asia and Europe; We can see the variety of methods by which uprisings can be quelled and people returned to a position which is seen as fit by the upper classes and ruling bodies.

“Increasingly, we see the right to the city falling into the hands of private or quasi-private interests”
The problem, I would say, with the right to the city falling into the hands of these types of institutions is that they are not looking out for the welfare of the people who are living within the area, they are governed only by the laws of the government, and those of capitalism. They have an intended demographic in mind which they are trying to appeal to, and besides achieving the goal of appealing to that socioeconomic group, the only concern is profit margins. There are no duties felt which ensure a sense of empathy for those being excluded.

[on the right to the city] “The democratization of that right, and the construction of a broad social movement to enforce its will is imperative if the dispossessed are to take back the control which they have for so long been denied, and if they are to institute new modes of urbanization. Lefebvre was right to insist that the revolution has to be urban, in the broadest sense of the term, or nothing at all”.
Within this last paragraph Harvey hints at the manner in which the people can take back a right which has been stripped from them, and denied them for so long; the same manner as rights and power are always taken, by means of a revolution started by the classes who are being affected the most. This is not to say that a revolution must be a violent assault upon a governing body or institution[no-one needs to be be-headed], but can be an urban scale, organized revolt against the manner in which power and space within a society is allocated to the ‘haves’ and constantly both taken from, and exercised over the ‘have-nots’.

Luke Flanagan

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