Politics and the City

Immediately at the beginning of chapter five, Politics and the City, Painter and Jeffrey tell us that the definition we have of city, as per usual, is incorrect, and that urban politics is hard to define, because it is difficult to define what is, itself, urban. This is compared to David Harvey’s idea of urban function vs form, which is that the city is defined mainly by a struggle between the employers and an urban workforce, which is represented by two deviations from the  theoretical model of a perfect competitive market, that there is a leaning toward “structured coherence”, the idea that citizens rely upon both physical and social infrastructure to influence them, and that coalitions can, and often do, arise.

Also important is the concept of the “mega-city”, a city defined not only by its immense size, but its relationships with other cities and its own functions. While it seems contradictory to do so though, these few cities must be put on equal footing with all others, called ordinary cities, so that bias is prevented and city function diversity is focused on. Going back some, infrastructure is expanded upon, noting that all are intertwined, and conflicts about them is the central core of urban politics. Given Mumbai, India, as an example, in particular the toilets, it is explained that Mumbai’s slums have generally poor access to both public and private sanitation facilities, which are failing to be maintained, even with a monthly subscription fee. The solution to the conflict was to be the Mumbai Slum Sanitation Program, combining the citizens and the state in a partnership, where once the facilities were built using money from the World Bank, they would be paid back by the fees charged to the locals who would use them. Problems, however, arose quickly, when the demand for the toilets was lower than expected, causing a lack of participation and the plan to go downhill quickly.

While Mumbai’s problems indicate the struggle over space between rich and poor regarding infrastructure, the following section talks about the same struggle, framed using the idea of gentrification, that is, the shift towards wealthier residents and businesses, often forcing the poor out of an area. The idea of increasing property value is nothing new though, as the book goes so far as to call explain that gentrification itself has more to do with economics than it does with any conflict of interest with the poor, putting the land to its “highest and best use”. The issues begin to arise, however, when the land is already occupied and to improve it, the lower class must be removed. This is seen by some to be the heart of gentrification, the replacement of classes, often because the poor are of a separate race than the rich, and that those who want to gentrify an area are nearly as vocal as those who oppose it. The exception to this is the policy-makers themselves though, who, though approving of it, never refer to it as gentrification. Gentrification recalls informal politics as well, such that the process itself is not done by the government, but by elite citizens.

The final section is fairly short, mostly reiterating the previous subjects, but also manages to talk of one more important concept, the three aspects of publicness, the context, or public space, the action done there, and the people doing it, which can all be either public or private, being combined in any form, such that public things can be done in private settings, or that private groups can do public things, for example.

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