Politics and the City

Chapter five introduced the idea of politics and the city.  The chapter opened by expressing that there is no really set definition of what a city actually is. Surprise! This is yet another concept in the book that has no clearly defined borders as to what a city actually is. However, our generalized perception of what we consider a city is generally correct. Painter and Jeffrey noted that a city today would look like the one that developed several thousand years ago in medieval Europe and would serve as an administrative, political, and economic center. The book also mentions that modern cities are often large, sprawling, increasingly fragmented, geographically dispersed, and diverse both socially and culturally. From here, Painter and Jeffrey started to incorporate the term ‘urbanism’  and the idea of urban politics. One thing I took note of in the book was the relative functions of cities. As mentioned in the book, Peter Taylor and his colleagues at Loughborough University’s Globalization and World Cities mention that the largest cities are big, not due to population, but because of their functions within the world economy. When looking at what a city is from this perspective, one can really see how power starts to play a role in the idea.

Continuing on, infrastructure was another important factor when looking at cities. Painter and Jeffrey mention that technical infrastructures are entwined with social and political practices. The leading sociologist, Manuel Castells, proposed that ‘collective consumption’ constituted the core of urban politics and said this was the result of political conflicts. For example, the book emphasizes on Mumbai and its problem with infrastructure and how half of the population lives in informal settlements, most commonly known as slums. Basic sanitation needs are hard to come by and it is only continuing to grow worse with the increasing population. This is where the idea of gentrification can come into play.

Gentrification is mostly referred to with housing situations and the book defines it as a process of movement of middle-class households into working-class or former industrial parts of the cities. Infrastructure definitely plays a key role in this process. Deteriorating infrastructure became evident in poor areas of cities and as these areas were receiving money to improve the areas, wealthier people began to take over these newly “renovated” areas. This causes the poor to be pushed out of these areas because they can no longer afford to live there. This relates back to the idea of the beginning of the chapter with the example of the homeless people being pushed out of the park in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

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