Pick of the Day: “Rebel Cities” by David Harvey
Marxist geographer David Harvey, whose star has been rising in the last few years, uses the Occupy Wall Street moment to frame an investigation into cities as spaces of accumulation and struggle in “Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution.”
Peter Wirzbicki, writing at Ph.D. Octopus, is intrigued by Harvey’s ideas about capitalists capturing monopoly rents based on the unique qualities of cities. “This raises an interesting point, though. Who creates what Harvey calls the “collective symbolic capital” that turned Williamsburg (in Brooklyn) into a real estate bonanza? Well a lot of it comes from the collective labor of the thousands of artists, intellectuals, street musicians, freelancers, community-garden tenders, and everyone else who makes the area desirable. The real estate developers, then, act as a parasitic force on our common-labor, growing rich building the condos that will destroy the communities that are the product of our labor and life-activity. ” But he expresses skepticism about Harvey’s ideas about the relationship between cities and revolts, noting that revolts occur in cities these days because that is where the people are, and that important rural rebellions in the U.S., including Shay’s Rebellion and that of Nat Turner, should not be neglected.
Reviewing the book for The Guardian, Owen Hatherley highlights Harvey’s critique of currently fashionable ideas on the left, including horizontalism and localism. Harvey believes horizontalism “can work for small groups but (is) impossible at a scale of a metropolitan region, let alone for the 7 billion people who now inhabit planet Earth.” Furthermore, the obsession with localism as a part of urban design can play into the hands of the likes of Michael Bloomberg, “creating a landscape of capital accumulation and class cleansing that is no longer massive and modernist, but which proceeds through urban traditionalism, small-scale and unobtrusive,” as Hatherley puts it.
Meanwhile, Clive Barnett, at Pop Theory, detects a moderate undertone to Harvey’s political strategy: “behind the rhetoric of revolution, (Harvey) sees left politics primarily in terms of seeking after more just, more equitable distribution of surplus in the here and now (and there’s no reason that this need not encompass more just relations of surplus production). The rhetoric of unified revolutionary transformation is in abundance in this book, certainly, but it is not really supported… This minor key is that of a Polanyian radicalism, not a Marxist one.”
Short URL: http://www.lefteyeonbooks.com/?p=4160