THe Blog

December 03, 2015

Inclusive Cities. Or Not?

In this Guardian piece, Suketu Mehta writes "New York, like Rio, like Mumbai, is booming. Things seem to be going well for these cities. But who exactly is it going well for? To build a great city, a just city, we have to look at who’s included and who’s excluded. Then we should follow three principles: don’t exclude anybody from the law. Don’t exclude anybody from the conversation. And don’t exclude anybody from the celebration....

 

...The most important form of exclusion these days is in housing: who gets to live in a city? The great success of New York also begs the question: what happened to the good people who stayed through the bad times? What happened to the people in Fort Greene, Astoria, Bedford-Stuyvesyant, who kept faith with the city through decades of crack, bankruptcy, and garbage strikes?

 

....All around lower Manhattan, older buildings – often rent-controlled tenements, artists’ lofts, or garment factories – are being torn down, and condominiums coming up: in the West Village, on the Bowery, in SoHo. And across their facades, in prominent fonts, the city’s inequality – and your poverty – gets rubbed in your face: “12 INDIVIDUALLY CURATED RESIDENCES STARTING AT $3 MILLION”.

 

Where thousands once worked, a dozen will now get to live. And they won’t even live there full-time; many of the owners have multiple such residences around the world, so very few of the lights will be on in the building at any given time....

 

Can a city be too successful for its own good? Where the crime is low, the subways run on time, the culture is world-class, the restaurants Michelin-starred? Yes, for that means you won’t be able to afford living in it. It is one thing to be excluded if you’re a newcomer to the city; it is another to be excluded in the city where your family has lived for four generations, by people who are just getting off the plane from Berlin or Paris...

 

..We need to take a look at who is included and excluded from the law. Great cities flourish when they permit an accommodative illegality. The problem right now is that the law can be stretched or even outright flouted by the rich – as we see in the epic land grab taking place in the Mumbai mill areas, a land grab retroactively approved by the supreme court – but is inflexible for the poor. The poor live in a state of permanent legal insecurity, never knowing what law will be enforced when....

 

....I am arguing for the critical importance of the urban planner as public intellectual. Because without political will, all our grand city plans will remain on the drawing board. And political will can only be generated if we get the public informed and excited about planning. The public is ready, because they’re already excited to be in the city"

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