Friday, September 20, 2013

New blog: 'politics of location'

London 'Spy Bin' ... now disabled.

As I've mentioned before, I'm starting up some research on the ways in which applications of locative media are being put to work in urban governance by a range of actors in cities. There are lots of incredibly interesting and important things happening at the digital-urban interface ... indeed, it's kinda hard to keep up!

The first phase of the research is primarily information gathering ... and given that we are being generously funded by the Australian taxpayer to gather the information, it seems only fair to share. So, as Sophie Maalsen and I find interesting stuff, we are going to post about it at a new blog called 'The Politics of Location'. It's a good way for us to talk to each other, and hopefully might be useful to others too. There's a bunch of posts over there now, including an introduction piece here.

So, if you're interested in that kind of thing, check it out and say hi....

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Building a City for 'The People': the green bans in pictures

I'm very excited to say that I've got an article on the green bans coming out soon in the journal Antipode. The article is part of a Special Issue on Grammars of Urban Injustice that has been put together by Gordon MacLeod and Colin McFarlane -- big thanks to Gordon and Colin for including the piece. Here's the abstract:
How can we act to contest urban injustice? This article grapples with this question through an analysis of the green ban movement that emerged in Sydney in the 1970s. For a time, this unruly alliance of construction workers, resident activists, and progressive professionals powerfully enacted a radical right to the city, blocking a range of unjust and destructive “developments” worth billions of dollars and proposing alternative development plans in their place. Drawing on archival research, I demonstrate how the figure of “the people” was crucial to their action. The article examines the rights and the authority that was invested in “the people” by green ban activists, and traces the work of political subjectification through which “the people” was constructed. “The people” was not invoked as a simple majority or as a universal subject whose unity glossed over differences. Rather, in acting as/for “the people”, green ban activists produced a political subject able to challenge the claims of elected politicians, bureaucrats and developers to represent the interests of the city. The article concludes with reflections on the implications of this construction of “the people” for urban politics today.
The article is available on now on Antipode's 'early view'. If you want to read it and can't access that, please get in touch!

Anyways, this post is not (just) an exercise in self-promotion. There was no room to include any illustrations with the piece, and I promised in the article that I would post some illustrations here at Cities and Citizenship. I think these images add quite a lot to the story. They're annotated here with some basic notes, so they might be of interest regardless of whether or not you read the article. These images are all courtesy of the very generous Meredith Burgmann, who has made her papers on the green bans available for researchers at the Noel Butlin Archives in Canberra, and who also shared some pictures with me. Enjoy...

Demonstrators stopping demolition at The Rocks, 1973. Jack Mundey (who was at that point Secretary of the NSW Branch of the Builders Labourers Federation) in foreground, Meredith Burgmann on right of picture wearing very snazzy suit. The green ban at The Rocks was one of the most dramatic and successful of the bans ... although as Evan Jones has written recently, working class housing in the area is once again under threat.

Jack Mundey gets arrested at The Rocks, 1973.
NSW BLF Journal article about the green ban in the Rocks ... "People or Profits"? A big part of my article talks about the way that various green ban activists invoked the needs of 'the people', and considers the importance of this figure in the building of alliances between building workers, residents, and others.

Joe Owens (Secretary of the NSW BLF who took over from Mundey in 1973) negotiates with police in Victoria Street, Kings Cross, January 1974. The Victoria Street ban was another of the most high profile bans, and involved squats and barricades against developers and their hired thugs. For a great accounts of the squat, visit Ian Milliss' webpage, where there copies of a couple of great articles from the City Squatter that he wrote at the time.

Juanita Nielsen, Victoria Street resident and editor of the community newspaper Now!, disappeared in 1975 at the height of the conflict over Victoria Street.

Joe Owens (NSW BLF Secretary) and Bob Pringle (NSW BLF President) speak with BLs occupying a crane at Institute of Technology site, Broadway. The crane was being occupied in a dispute over coverage between the NSW Branch and the Federal Branch of the union, which launched an 'intervention' against the NSW leadership in 1974.

Joe Owens addresses a crowd, with Bob Pringle (NSW BLF President) looking on (on his right as you look at the picture)

Graffiti in Woolloomoolloo

Anti-expressway graffiti, Glebe

Col James, an architect/planner who worked closely with residents to develop People's Plans and who died recently, with Mary Kristensen, Woolloomoolloo, 1974. The green ban here bought previous time for the development of alternative plans which did not evict low income residents from the area. Col was funded by the Commonwealth Department of Urban and Regional Development to work with 'loo residents to come up with alternative development plans for the area.

NSW BLF Christmas Card, 1971, listing a range of causes to be supported in the following year. Right on...

Female BLs march at International Women's Day March 1974, Left to Right: Glenys Page, Lyn Syme, Rhonda Ellis, unidentified, Michelle Fraser, Janne Reed, Caroline Graham. The NSW BLF was very active on women's liberation issues, including the 'working in' of female workers onto building sites that I describe in more detail in the article.

'Moratorium for Black Rights' banner flying from crane. The NSW BLF were also very active supporters of Aboriginal rights. This included enabling activists from the Aboriginal Tent Embassy to address workers on building sites to talk about their protest and raise money for their cause.

Broadsheet newsletter produced in support of the green bans, 1973
Broadsheet newsletter produced in support of the green bans, 1973. Here again, we see the explicit reference to the people. If you click on this picture, it should be large enough to read...
Master Building Association full page anti-BLF advertisement, 1973. During a very fractious dispute in 1973, the Master Builders Association took out several full-page newspaper advertisements against the NSW BLF. Coupled with editorials in some of those newspapers, these constituted a sustained attack on the goals and tactics of the union.

Master Building Association full page anti-BLF advertisement, 1973

Master Building Association full page anti-BLF advertisement, 1973

Master Building Association full page anti-BLF advertisement, 1973
Mick Fowler, one of the residents of Victoria St in Kings Cross, entertains a crowd at an anti-Gallagher rally. Norm Gallagher was the Secretary of the Federal Branch of the Builders Labourers Federation that expelled green ban activists from the union after working with the Master Builders Association to have the NSW Branch of the union deregistered.
Advertisement in support of NSW BLF, 1974. This advertisement exemplifies the way in which the union had become a 'pole of attraction' for many dissident groups in the process of alliance-building, to quote Sydney Gay Liberation activist Richard Wilson.
Protesters in support of NSW BLF outside Master Builders Association office, Sydney. Their banner reads "The Master Builders and Gallagher are colluding to destroy the only socially conscious union in Australia. NSW Builders Labourers care about people. So we care about NSW Builders Labourers"

Flyer advertising rally in support of NSW BLF, 1974

Builders Labourers for Democracy was formed by supporters to try to protect the NSW Branch against the Federal Branch intervenion

Advertisement taken out by expelled NSW BLF leadership after the Gallagher intervention

Badges in the Bob Pringle collection at the National Library, Canberra

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Sydney University Forum on the Green Bans

A couple of weeks ago, I had the very great pleasure of participating in a panel discussion on the Green Bans that was organised by the Sydney University Greens.

The forum had a particular emphasis on the connections that existed between the wider Green Ban movement and students and staff at the University of Sydney. I was on a panel alongside Liz Jacka, who talked about the struggle of feminist philosophers and students to get the University to allow them to teach courses on feminist philosophy. At the time, the NSW Builders Labourers Federation placed a ban on building work at the University in support of their struggle. Frank Stilwell talked about the parallel struggle of heterodox economists to establish courses in Political Economics. And finally, Jack Mundey was on the panel to talk about the green ban movement more generally and its implications for today. Jack was the high-profile Secretary of the union when the green ban movement kicked off ...  and it was a pretty big thrill to be on the same panel as Jack!

Anyways, I've got a piece on the green bans coming out in the journal Antipode in the near future, based on the archival research I've been doing over the last few years. I'm going to post some pictures on this blog some time soon to accompany the article. But in the mean time, here's a link to a video of the forum.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

"The voices of the street": the protests in Brazil

Protesters fill the streets in Rio de Janeiro. Source: The Guardian

"The voices of the street want more citizenship, health, transport, opportunities...": so said Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, in response to several days and nights of protests by hundreds of thousands of people across a number of cities in Brazil.

I'm currently in the middle of writing a piece in response to Paul Mason's book Why It's Still Kicking Off Everywhere for City ... and while I've got my issues with some bits of the book, it's also hard not see recent events in Turkey and now in Brazil as further evidence to support some of his claims about the manner in which things are indeed still 'kicking off' in lots of places as various crises unfold.
Of course, as Mason is first to admit, different instances of contemporary mass protest each demand their own analysis. In Brazil, the grievance that seems to have been the spark for protests was a raise in bus fares, but clearly the protesters are articulating wider grievances about policing, public services, and spending on the up-coming Football World Cup (would it be wrong for me to say 'Go, Socceroos!' at this point?)

So, as with the recent post on Turkey, here are a few quick links to follow for some more information and analysis.

As ever, the Guardian has been a great source of information for me: you can find a page with links to their coverage of the protests, including reportage, analysis, and pictures/videos here.

Marcelo Lopes de Souza, a Professor in the Department of Geography at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, has been publishing some of his work on insurgent social movements in Brazilian cities in English in City and elsewhere. In his 2012 piece for City "Panem et Circenses or The Right to the City (Centre) in Rio de Janeiro" is a great piece for understanding the source of tensions about policing, spending, and displacement that now seem to be spilling onto the streets. He notes in that piece that:
In Rio de Janeiro, the dispute between the favela residents and the sem-teto [squatter] movement on the one side, and the interests linked to the ‘revitalisation’ of the harbour and down-town areas on the other, currently has everything to do with the municipal administration’s gradual implementation of the ‘revitalisation’ project christened Porto Maravilha (‘Marvellous Port’) along with the ‘slum upgrading’ programme Morar Carioca. The implementation of both the Porto Maravilha project and the Morar Carioca programme is taking place in the context of a very repressive policy named by the municipality as Choque de Ordem (‘Shock of Order’). What is in fact going on is the fostering of gentrification and increasing social control on a large scale within the framework of a very conservative urban regime, supported by the state government of Rio de Janeiro and even by the self-professed left-wing federal government under both President Lula da Silva (2003 – 10) and President Dilma Rousseff (2011 – present). The situation has become increasingly tense since 2009.
For a while now, I've also been meaning to blog about James Holston's 2009 piece "Insurgent Citizenship in an Age of Global Urban Peripheries". It's kinda awesome. I still hope to write on it in more detail at some point ... but in light of recent events in Brazil and beyond, it seemed appropriate to share this passage:
"although insurgent urban citizenships may utilize central civic space and even overrun the center, they are fundamentally manifestations of peripheries. In so far as the urban civic square embodies an idea of centrality and its sovereignties, its architectural design, institutional organization, and use represents the hierarchies, legalities, segregations, and inequalities of the entrenched regime of citizenship that the insurgent contests. The forces of centrality are entrenched in the civic square by design and that entrenchment establishes the terms of an official public sphere. Insurgent movements may adopt these terms to frame their protests—property rights, urban infrastructure, justice, even motherhood, for example. But whereas the center uses the structuring of the public to segregate the urban poor in the peripheries and to reduce them to a “bare life” of servility, the very same structures of inequality incite these hinterland residents to demand a life worthy of citizens.
My point is that it is not in the civic square that the urban poor articulate this demand with greatest force and originality. It is rather in the realm of everyday and domestic life taking shape in the remote urban peripheries around the construction of residence. It is an insurgence that begins with the struggle for the right to have a daily life in the city worthy of a citizen’s dignity. Accordingly, its demands for a new formulation of citizenship get conceived in terms of housing, property, plumbing, daycare, security, and other aspects of residential life. Its leaders are the “barely citizens” of the entrenched regime: women, manual laborers, squatters, the functionally literate, and, above all, those in families with a precarious stake in residential property, with a legal or illegal toehold to a houselot somewhere far from elite centers. These are the citizens who, in the process of building and defending their residential spaces, not only construct a vast new city but, on that basis, also propose a city with a different order of citizenship.
Both pieces above examine the nature of centre-periphery relationships in urban life in Brazil. I'm nowhere near educated enough to know just who has hit the streets in the past few days and whether they are from the 'peripheries' ... but the centres are certainly being overrun, to powerful effect. What kind of jolt might this produce in Brazilian politics?

[Note 1: of course, neither author considers the 'periphery' to be a simple geographical designation...]

[Note 2: if you can't access full copies of these articles, get in touch...]

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The green bans, the people, and the right to the city - for Frank Stilwell

A while ago, I mentioned that I had been conducting archival research on the green ban movement -- an extraordinary alliance of building workers and resident action groups that imposed bans on various forms of development that threatened low-income housing and urban environmental amenity in Sydney during the 1970s.

I've now presented an initial paper based on that research in a few places - at an annual meeting of the Institute of Australian Geographers, at a seminar at UCLA, and recently at a conference in honour of Frank Stilwell, a Professor of Political Economy at the University of Sydney who has recently retired (not that retirement seems to be slowing him down!).

There's a longer version of this work in preparation for publication, but in the mean time, I thought I would post this most recent presentation that I gave at the Australian Political Economy conference in Frank's honour. 

A few caveats. It's the script of a talk, so there are few explicit references to other work on the green bans and urban politics that I've used to develop these ideas. Apologies to those folks, of course the references will be in the longer publication!

Also, I've left in a little story I told about Frank -- it's nice to be able to post something about him here, as well as saying something at the conference, because he has been such an inspiration to me and countless others.

If anyone reads this, feedback would be very gratefully received!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Making Space Public in Istanbul (with update 11/6/13)

Turkey protests day five: People in Gezi park
Protesters gather in Gezi Park, Istanbul. Source: The Guardian

Apologies for the long radio silence here ... our industrial campaign for a fair enterprise agreement at the University of Sydney has been soaking up any spare time for luxuries like blogging!

However, I've spent a little time this morning reading about recent events in Istanbul, so figured I could at least share some links.

Plans to redevelop Gezi Park in the centre of the city (including a shopping mall, of course!) have catalysed a significant mobilisation, with mass demonstrations involving hundreds of thousands of people and occupations of the park and nearby Taksim Square, and violent confrontations with police.

As is often the case with such events, the park and plans for its redevelopment have come to stand in for disagreements on wider political and economic issues.

The Guardian has been reporting on events, and you can find several articles and multi-media resources here

The London Review of Books Blog has also posted a couple of very interesting pieces which dig a little deeper into the wider political and economic context in which these events are taking place - one by Kaya Genç is here and another by Çağlar Keyder is here. The latter especially speaks of the 'Islamist neoliberalism' of Erdoğan's Government in Turkey. This seems to be producing quite particular 'regimes of publicness' (to borrow Staeheli and Mitchell's term), with restrictions on the sale of alcohol, memorialisation of controversial religious figures, and commercialisation all impacting on public space and helping to generate interesting alliances in opposition including religious and ethnic minorities, trade unions, intellectuals, and the secular urban middle classes.

The academic journal Environment and Planning D: Society and Space has also put together a 'virtual issue' on the background of these events in Turkey, with free access to five articles until the end of August.

And there is a fantastic piece reflecting on the events by Timur Hammond and Elizabeth Angell called Is Everywhere Taksim: Public Space and Possible Publics here. This piece offers a very interesting analysis of the kinds of new publics that are in formation in the protests, and their relationship to the wider public sphere and the kinds of publics that have been constructed through the infrastructure projects of the Erdoğan Government.

The interaction between urban and media/digital space in such events is of particular interest to me at the moment. Apparently in this conflict, police have been using mobile phone jammers to prevent protesters using their devices to coordinate their movements. Turkey's mainstream media has been accused of siding with the government by not covering the events. Nevertheless, social media has once again proved important in circulating information and images of the events in a manner that has contributed to their rapid escalation. In response, the prime minister has apparently branded Twitter 'a menace to society', and some have been arrested in Turkey for spreading false information and incitement to disorder on social media.

The image below is one that has apparently been widely re-circulated through social media - it's an image of Ceyda Sungur, an academic from the town planning department at Istanbul's Technical University, being pepper-sprayed at short range by a police officer. You can read about her and the photo here.

Ceyda Sungur is showered with pepper spray. Source: The Guardian

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A suburban pedestrian crossing, part 1

A new pedestrian crossing for the walking bus...

I have a couple of kids who are now going to our local public primary school. Along with a few other families on our street who also have kids at the school, we've organised a little informal 'walking  bus', in which pairs of parents take turns to walk a group of the kids to school each morning.

We've all got different reasons for doing it. Some of us have jobs to get to in the morning and can now leave the kids with others and get away before school starts (except on the days that we 'drive' the bus!). Some of us are newish to the neighbourhood and think it's a great way to meet the neighbours and build relationships between the kids. Some of us are keen to stay out of our cars and 'model' walking as a mode of transport for our kids. Some of us need the exercise (!). Some of us like the idea of collectivising some of our parenting activities on the street. Some of us just like walking, etc etc.

We're now into our second school year, and on the days when the bus is 'full', we've got a bit of a problem. We have to cross one busy road, and there's no pedestrian crossing on our route. There's a traffic island, but it's pretty freaky standing there with a group of kids while cars, buses and trucks barrel past at speed.

The traffic island (pic taken by Mr B, 7 years old)

Waiting on the traffic island, from a 7 year old's perspective (thanks again to Mr B)

So, we want a pedestrian crossing across that road.

We've been talking about it for a while ... and I figure if I blog about this publicly (hello, public!), I'm more likely to get my ass into gear and do something about it. This, then, is the first of a series of posts in which I plan to document our efforts to get a pedestrian crossing in our neighbourhood.

A plan of attack

Now, like any group of people who want to change something in the city, even something as small-scale as a suburban pedestrian crossing, there are some immediate choices to make about how we are going to approach this.

We could write letters to the local council, stating our case, and hope for the best.

We could take matters into our own hands, buy some paint, and paint one on ourselves in the middle of the night. This form of 'do-it-yourself' urbanism is gaining traction in many cities around the world at the moment. The Hack Your City blog has a post on such efforts here. Here in Sydney, we recently had a visit from the Better Block people that generated quite a bit of interest -- do-it-yourself pedestrian crossings are just the kind of citizen-initiated infrastructure that they've been actively creating and advocating in many cities in the United States, and beyond.

Do-it-yourself pedestrian crossing, Tehran: from

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Right to Strike (and the right to shelves...)

So ... it's been a while since the last post here. Blogging has taken a bit of a back seat to various things, including Enterprise Bargaining at the University where I work. In Australia, working conditions in large workplaces like universities are regulated by Enterprise Agreements struck between employers and unions. Our Agreement has expired, and I'm on the National Tertiary Education Union's bargaining team for the negotiations over our next Agreement.

It's been a protracted process, and I won't go into details here (I'm determined not to let this blog become a place where I navel gaze about working at a university!). If you're interested in the issues, you can check out the Branch website here.

Suffice it to say, after 8 months of negotiations which have not reached agreement, our branch today voted to take industrial action, in the form of a 24 hour strike. And for a blog focused on the right to the city, the right to strike is an issue worth posting about ...

NTEU How to Vote Flyer + Completed Ballot Paper