5 Cities in a Neoliberal Takeover; 5 Cities in a Progressive Boom

Who holds the keys to the city of the future?

In These Times Editors September 18, 2013

Cities of the future? Change is afoot in (from top L to R) San Francisco; San Jose, Calif.; Atlanta; Chicago and Jackson, Miss.; (bottom L to R) Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Baltimore and Cleveland.

Top-down change has nev­er looked so dif­fi­cult. Repub­li­cans, as agents of the cor­po­rate Right, are increas­ing­ly set­ting nation­al and state agen­das. They con­trol leg­isla­tive cham­bers in 32 states, they can fil­i­buster till Hell freezes over with 46 sen­a­tors and they can mar­shal their 33-seat major­i­ty in the House to squelch the most mil­que­toast reform — a pow­er they wield despite the fact that a major­i­ty of Amer­i­can vot­ers cast bal­lots for Demo­c­ra­t­ic House can­di­dates in 2012

'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.'

Yes, the shark has pret­ty teeth.

So, what are pro­gres­sives to do? One option: Orga­nize and vie for pow­er in our strong­holds — urban areas, where 80 per­cent of Amer­i­cans now live. Or, as French philoso­pher Hen­ri Lefeb­vre put it in 1968, stand up and claim the right to the city.” In a 2008 New Left Review arti­cle, geo­g­ra­ph­er David Har­vey elab­o­rat­ed on Lefebvre’s idea: 

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. It is, more­over, a com­mon rather than an indi­vid­ual right since this trans­for­ma­tion inevitably depends upon the exer­cise of a col­lec­tive pow­er to reshape the process­es of urban­iza­tion. The free­dom to make and remake our cities and our­selves is, I want to argue, one of the most pre­cious yet most neglect­ed of our human rights.

In this pack­age, Rebec­ca Burns reports on Rich­mond, Calif., where a coali­tion of Green and Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty activists are wrest­ing city pol­i­tics away from Chevron, whose refin­ery has long cast a dark shad­ow over the town. Jake Blum­gart vis­its New Haven, Conn., where union-backed can­di­dates took con­trol of the city coun­cil, only to face the chal­lenge of mak­ing pro­gres­sive change in the age of aus­ter­i­ty. And below, we list five cities on the verge of pro­gres­sive uprisings. 

But pro­gres­sives aren’t the only ones look­ing to bring change to Amer­i­can cities. Amy Dean cri­tiques the met­ro­pol­i­tan rev­o­lu­tion” cur­rent­ly being pro­mot­ed by neolib­er­al Democ­rats at the Brook­ings Insti­tu­tion. And we also iden­ti­fy five cities, below, where neolib­er­al­ism is tak­ing hold.

5 Cities in the Midst of a Neolib­er­al Takeover

  1. Chica­go: The city that brought you neolib­er­al edu­ca­tion reform is pio­neer­ing new depths of pri­va­ti­za­tion. after hand­ing over its free­way and park­ing meters to investors, Chica­go is about to become the first metro area to sell off a major air­port. Still on the hori­zon is a new infra­struc­ture trust” that will open the flood­gates of prof­i­teer­ing — er, lever­age pri­vate invest­ment — on pub­lic works projects.
  2. San Fran­cis­co: The city by the bay has court­ed new shar­ing econ­o­my” busi­ness­es like Side­car and Airbnb. But the eco­nom­ic ben­e­fits aren’t, in fact, shared very wide­ly: the city faces a $170 mil­lion deficit, and evic­tions are at a 12-year high as gen­tri­fi­ca­tion con­tin­ues to send rents soaring.
  3. Philadel­phia: When May­or Michael Nut­ter appeared on a Brook­ings Insti­tu­tion pan­el to dis­cuss Philadel­phia as a mod­el for the nation,” res­i­dents were per­plexed. Philadel­phia does bear the dis­tinc­tion of clos­ing 23 schools while build­ing a $400 mil­lion state prison. It is also busy sell­ing off the Philadel­phia Gas Works, the nation’s largest munic­i­pal­ly owned gas util­i­ty, with help from JPMorgan.
  4. Atlanta: A crop of con­tract cities” — which out­source near­ly all pub­lic ser­vices to pri­vate cor­po­ra­tions — has popped up in the metro Atlanta region since 2005. Crit­ics say that they are naked attempts to cre­ate lily-white enclaves walled off from Atlanta, which has the fifth-high­est fore­clo­sure rate in the nation.
  5. Bal­ti­more: The city that gave us The Wire is about to get even more hyper-seg­re­gat­ed, thanks to an enor­mous rede­vel­op­ment project by Johns Hop­kins uni­ver­si­ty and its non-prof­it part­ner East Bal­ti­more Devel­op­ment, Inc. The $1.8 bil­lion raze-and-rebuild has already dis­placed more than 700 families.

5 Cities on the Verge of a Pro­gres­sive Upswing

  1. Jack­son, Miss.: In June, vot­ers elect­ed a new may­or: black nation­al­ist orga­niz­er and attor­ney Chok­we Lumum­ba. Lumumba’s plat­form of self-deter­mi­na­tion and eco­nom­ic democ­ra­cy” won the hearts of Jackson’s res­i­dents, 80 per­cent of whom are African-Amer­i­can, and engaged them through a people’s assem­bly” process that the new may­or plans to repeat every three months.
  2. San Jose: Inequal­i­ty soared in San Jose, as in many tech-indus­try-dom­i­nat­ed cities, dur­ing the past decade. But stu­dents at San Jose State Uni­ver­si­ty, many of them low-wage work­ers, spear­head­ed a cam­paign to help close the gap. Their bal­lot ini­tia­tive man­dat­ing a min­i­mum-wage increase — from $8 to $10 an hour — passed in November.
  3. Cleve­land: Work­er-owned coop­er­a­tives are help­ing revi­tal­ize this rust-belt city. Launched in 2008, the Ever­green Coop­er­a­tives, which include a green laun­dry and an urban-farm­ing ini­tia­tive, are bring­ing liv­ing-wage jobs to six low-income neigh­bor­hoods. The busi­ness­es received start-up cap­i­tal from the city and draw on the pur­chas­ing pow­er of local hos­pi­tals and universities.
  4. St. Louis: Even though pri­va­ti­za­tion of city water sys­tems is often an unmit­i­gat­ed dis­as­ter, it’s pro­ceed­ing apace in many cities. But in St. Louis, a cam­paign by pro­gres­sive activists forced May­or Fran­cis Slay to put the city’s con­tract with Veo­lia, the largest pri­vate water ser­vice provider in the world, on hold this February.
  5. Chica­go: The city known as ground zero for free-mar­ket reform is also home to a vig­or­ous demo­c­ra­t­ic rebel­lion. Fol­low­ing the unpop­u­lar clo­sures of 50 school pub­lic schools this sum­mer, the Chica­go Teach­ers Union and its allies are build­ing a move­ment to unseat May­or Rahm Emanuel and his loy­al­ists in the 2015 elections.

Over the next year, In These Times will focus on places like Rich­mond and New Haven where grass­roots move­ments are fight­ing for the right to the city.” If some­thing is going on in your com­mu­ni­ty that we should cov­er, let us know.

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