Informal Working Practices and the Governance of Everyday Life

In this blog, CURA’s Adam Fishwick (@Adam_Fishwick) and Valeria Guarneros-Meza (@valguarn) develop three avenues of enquiry relating to urban informality, following a one day workshop held in June 2019.

Informality, although a contested concept, has been considered relevant by interdisciplinary approaches to studying urban and rural environments as it has helped to unpick rapid transitions, change and resilience in periods of economic, political and social crises, while also helping to challenge injustices. For a recent debate see Acuto et al. (2019) 

Urban environments provide dynamic sites for understanding the ways in which the state – intentionally or otherwise – produces and reproduces the informal practices enacted by individuals and communities. The state has played an important role in manufacturing forms of informality, in housing, planning, infrastructure and the other areas of life, as well as in managing, containing or co-opting the everyday practices of local populations, albeit in complex and contradictory ways.

Similarly, informal work plays a central role in political economies across localities in the Global South and, increasingly, Global North. Myriad forms of informal work cut across formal labour markets, contributing to capital accumulation as a cheap and disposable source of labour power, with the state being complicit in its spread and consolidation, again, in complex and contradictory ways.

Informal work provides a means of survival for poorer communities, particularly in the absence and decline of social provision, but, more importantly, it also engenders new dynamics of class formation and reproduction, with opportunities for new forms of collective organisation.

With this preamble in mind, new questions have risen that aim to unpick how different dimensions (economic, institutional/legal and social) of informality intersect with new understandings of work and class formation. Although the rural context is increasingly experiencing drastic changes as a result of capital accumulation and its associated technology, financialisation and precarity, the preference of the workshop upon the urban was justified as a result of austerity policies affecting social policies even deeper than previous decades and of increasing international migration rates that have been putting pressure to urban problems already accentuated by austerity in both global South and North.

These questions formed part of the agenda of a CURA-sponsored one-day workshop in June 2019, co-sponsored by LGRC and POWI. Here we set out three avenues of inquiry that emerged in the course of the discussions among participants and which we believe can guide innovative research, which will be fruitful to achieve through comparative and interdisciplinary collaboration:

Avenue 1: value and commodity chains

Informal work and labour are central to value chains and the production of value across cities. Reflections in the workshop on waste collection across Argentina and Nigeria illustrated the centrality of informal workers to the production of value through their incorporation into existing production networks coordinated by the state and private companies.

Discussions drew out the complexity of value production at the intersection of boundaries between state regulation, private sector accumulation and everyday practices of social reproduction. In particular, these exposed the intensification of exploitation that occurred with the incorporation of informal workers into the “formal” sphere – from state-subsidised waste collectors in Buenos Aires to the navigation of state repression and corruption in Lagos.

Theoretical discussion based on extensive field research in sub-Saharan Africa also focused on the limits of the concept of informality by asking not only how value is produced, but also how different practices are valued. This opened further debate around how we understand what counts within different informal practices, how these reproduce life, and how state actors’ interpretations contribute to their value formation.

Avenue 2: social reproduction and resistance

The spaces that are (re)produced by informal urban practices can enable marginalised populations to survive while, at the same, provide possibilities for new collective action and resistance. This was one of the key discussions throughout the workshop, drawing on diverse cases in Argentina, Mexico, Nigeria and the UK to explain how shared experiences of informality, exploitation and marginalisation enabled novel forms of collective organisation.

Contributions showed how sites of social reproduction were as significant to collective organisation as sites of production, demonstrating how the reproduction of life at the margins of cities can provide resources for resistance. Informal workers in waste collection, for example, pressured local government in Buenos Aires for formal recognition, while migrant workers in hostels in the UK developed new forms of sociality and solidarity as they navigated the “formal” means for their own reproduction.

This blurring of boundaries between production and reproduction was particularly clear when unpacking the working of informal practices of governance. For example, in examining the processes of land tenure and housing in Brazil and London, respectively, discussion centred on how contested processes of formalisation and informal agreements between elites and marginalised populations simultaneously addressed challenges of informal living while heightening the possibility of exploitation through private renting and state policy.

Avenue 3: state reproducing informality

It is widely recognised that the state is a main contributor to informal procedures that build differences in power relations. The discussions unpicked this aspect about the role of the state and the ways it influences the organising possibilities amongst precarious workers whose labour spans between the public (government) sector and informal markets. This was particularly observed in waste management in Argentina, Nigeria and Mexico. 

These cities illustrated how the public sector provides a window for individuals to join the formal labour market, while individuals continue to draw on dynamics that interweave with social struggles based on self-governance to cope with the exploitation that the public sector increasingly applies. The latter contributes to the invisibilisation of waste workers through the beliefs of senior bureaucrats that were consequently reflected in government documents, all of which fed the concealment of informality within the state. 

Concealment extends to areas of state violence, for example, in London and Madrid the cleansing activities that the state uses to eradicate stigmatised communities of immigrants in housing and the increasing coordination with policing and immigration enforcement agencies.  However, the informality of the state can produce positive results. For example, during the period Barcelona was ruled by Barcelona em Comú, bureaucrats were closely involved in the social struggle aiming to change government’s informal practice in the fight against the austerity of social policies.   

The authors are grateful to the workshop speakers and other participants for the ideas developed in this post. The speakers include:

  • Dr Begoña Aramayona (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid)
  • Dr Maurizio Atzeni (Centro de Estudios e Investigaciones Laborales, Argentina)
  • Dr Precious Akponah (University of Leicester)
  • Raphael Bishof (De Montfort University/ Universidade Federal do ABC, Brasil)
  • Theodor Born (Queen Mary, UoL)
  • Dr Adam Fishwick (De Montfort University)
  • Dr Valeria Guarneros-Meza (De Montfort University)
  • Dr Louise Guibrunet (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México)
  • Prof. Vivien Lowndes (University of Birmingham)
  • Dr. Colin Marx (Bartlett Development Planning Unit, UCL)
  • Jacob Nielsen (University of Liverpool)

 

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CURA’s Visiting Fellowship Scheme Open

The Centre for Urban Research on Austerity at De Montfort University is pleased to advertise its 2019-2020 call for short-visit fellowships. Proposals are welcomed in any area of research expertise identified by CURA including:  impacts of austerity, retrenchment and neoliberalisation on urban living  and alternatives that enable and empower grassroots democratic participation.

Deadline: 2 December 2019.

For further details, please see the guidance for applicants below, or contact valeria.guarneros@dmu.ac.uk for an informal discussion.

 

CURA SHORT-VISITING FELLOWSHIP SCHEME

GUIDANCE FOR APPLICANTS

The Centre for Urban Research on Austerity, De Montfort University, is pleased to announce its Short-Visiting Fellowship scheme for the academic year 2019-20

About The Centre for Urban Research on Austerity (CURA)

Centre for Urban Research on Austerity (CURA) explores the impact of austerity. This includes examining variegated impacts of austerity, retrenchment and neoliberalisation on urban living; the responses of those subjects to effects, and identifies ways that research can help support truly sustainable development, including eliminating poverty and inequality and giving voice to the marginalised and dispossessed. We seek to contribute to a radically new research-informed policy landscape, which will enable and empower grassroots democratic participation, and foster discussions on, and solutions to, intersecting inequalities in urban contexts.

About the Visiting Fellowship Scheme

The scheme aims to:

  • Provide support to early career scholars from across the globe with relevant subject expertise to pursue innovative and interdisciplinary research
  • Develop networks with outstanding early career researchers
  • Facilitate collaboration with senior academic staff and early career researchers

The scheme is open to early career researchers (with a PhD award letter). Applications are welcome from outstanding candidates wishing to develop a project of empirical research and conceptual innovation in CURA’s areas of interest. Particularly we welcome candidates who have peer-reviewed journal publications or/and can demonstrate a significant engagement in knowledge exchange activities relating to their research.

The scheme offers funding for a short visit to CURA (ca. 2 weeks or equivalent) and applicants may request funding for up to £1,500 to support travel and subsistence expenses for the duration of the visit. Fellows shall comply with DMU staff travel policies (https://demontfortuniversity.sharepoint.com/sites/DMUHome/org/SIPS/Pages/Staff-Travel-Guidance.aspx

 Responsibilities of CURA Short-Visiting Fellows

  • To explore avenues for further research collaborations with CURA (idea for post-doctoral proposal or another academic activity)
  • To deliver a seminar to academic staff and research students
  • To write a blogpost for CURA website on the applicant’s research
  • To observe the policies, procedures and processes of CURA and De Montfort University, including but not limited health and safety, travel, equality and diversity. Copies of such policies and appropriate guidance will be available to Fellows upon arrival to CURA.

Facilities available to Fellows

Fellows will have access to shared office space (including: email/internet, stationary, printing, photocopying for research-related purposes) and a mentor to work alongside the visit.

Entry to the UK

DMU will provide a letter of invitation to successful candidates on request. Successful candidates are responsible for fulfilling UK entry visa requirements.

Method of application

Applicants must submit their following documents to valeria.guarneros@dmu.ac.uk by 2 December 2019:

  • Short CV – including information about qualifications, stand-out academic achievements, publications, current or recent funded research and/or knowledge exchange activities undertaken.
  • Application form including an outline proposal for the fellowship that could also form the basis for longer-term collaborations (max. 600 words)
  • One Reference – normally from PhD supervisor

Assessment criteria

  • Academic excellence and research potential of the applicant
  • Fit with research excellence and expertise within CURA
  • Extent to which the applicant can demonstrate ideas to contribute to the development of CURA

Applications will be considered by an Internal Selection Panel. Applicants will be notified of the outcome within 2 weeks of submission. Informal queries can be directed to valeria.guarneros@dmu.ac.uk 

 

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CURA Seminar “On Public-Commons Partnerships and a new commons sense” with Keir Milburn on 20 November

Keir Milburn (@KeirMilburn) kicks off CURA’s 2019-2020 seminars with his latest work on the broad theme of New Municipalism entitled

On Public-Commons Partnerships and a new commons sense

Date: Wednesday 20 November 2019

Venue: Hugh Aston Building, DeMontfort University, room HU3.96,

Time: 2-3.30pm. 

Attendance is free, please RSVP to jenni.cauvain@dmu.ac.uk.

Abstract

The collapse of Carillion, and more recently Interserve, have underlined the bankruptcy of the neoliberal model of public procurement and service provision. Public-Private Partnerships, along with the Private Finance Initiative, became key instruments in the roll out of that model. In this paper, I examine the idea of Public-Commons Partnerships as a model that can usher in a quite different model of governance and provision. Building on the debates around the ‘New Municipalism’ and the ‘Institutional Turn’ in British left political economy I suggest the commons as a new direction of travel for institutional change while addressing the problem of how we might construct a self-expansive dynamic in the circuit of the commons to counter the self-expansive dynamic of capital.

Biography

Keir Milburn is a longtime political activist, as well as a lecturer in Political Economy and Organisation at the University of Leicester. He is the co-author, along with Bertie Russell, of the recent report for Common wealth, Public-Common Partnerships. Building New Circuits of Collective Ownership: https://common-wealth.co.uk/Public-common-partnerships.html

His latest book, Generation Left, is now available from Polity: http://politybooks.com/bookdetail/?isbn=9781509532230

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Leon Reichle’s “3 minute PhD” wins top DMU award

In April 2019, CURA PhD researcher Leon Reichle entered the “3 Minute Thesis” competition at DeMontfort University.

The format requires participants to record a 3 minute summary of their PhD project (or a part of it), that would be comprehensible and interesting for a general audience. With a slide in the background, Leon’s presentation was made into a short video, which came first in the University-wide PhD competition.

Leon describes her research as follows:

“My PhD entitled ‘Housing relations: the disruption and emergence of tenants’ relationships in the process of displacement’ explores displacement from rental housing in the post socialist city of Leipzig, east Germany. With an ethnographic approach I am trying to define physical, affective and social notions of displacement and analyse tenants’ potential role within a changing city.”

Follow Leon on Twitter: @leonrrei 

Watch the 3 minute video here:  

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CURA’s Adam Fishwick awarded prestigious International Academic Fellowship by Leverhulme Trust to continue his research on Latin America

CURA’s Latin American research networks are expanded further as  Dr Adam Fishwick is awarded the prestigious International Academic Fellowship by Leverhulme Trust. 
 
Adam’s Fellowship is due to commence in February 2020, when he will be working at CEIL-Conicet in Argentina and OHL-COES in Chile on a project entitled
 
Methodological innovation for comparative labour research in Argentina and Chile”. 
 
The project summary describes the interdisciplinary aims of the six month Fellowship working across the disciplines of political economy, sociology and anthropology:
 
“The aim of my Fellowship is to engage in six months of learning across the boundaries of my own academic discipline of political economy with researchers at two leading international centres in Argentina and Chile. I will observe and acquire novel methodological tools and techniques developed locally in the sociology and anthropology of work and labour, advancing my own research agenda. The intention is to utilise these close collaborations to develop a unique and distinctive comparative methodological approach for working with labour activists to understand the impact of austerity and workplace transformation on labour organisation and mobilisation in these countries.”
 
Talking about his Fellowship application, Adam reflected on the particulars of his personal life as a father of young twins, which means that his fieldwork in Latin America is sequenced to allow him to spend time with family. 
 
To learn more about Adam’s research, you can follow him on Twitter @Adam_Fishwick or visit his blog.
 
 
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Student essay winner: A Transport Solution for Congested Leicester – That’s right, Monorail!

By Chris Whiting / @ChrisRWhiting

CURA is proud to publish outstanding student contributions pertaining to pressing issues facing cities today. In today’s blog, @DMUPolitics MA student Chris Whiting discusses an innovative solution to transport problems in Leicester, asking whether a monorail system, based on the city’s forgotten tram network, could address a wide range of issues in the city.

Leicester’s Urban Transport Problems

If you have anything to do with Leicester, you will know one thing; being beaten by Nottingham at literally anything is totally unacceptable – yet it is the reality on transport.

The seven miles from the outskirts of the Leicester urban area (UA) to the city centre takes around 58 minutes by bus. In Nottingham, where public transport is more readily provided by an extensive tram network, the same journey will take just 32 minutes. As well as this, Nottingham-dwellers can use these service roughly every 10 minutes whereas those in places like Cosby are forced to wait up to 45 minutes between journeys.  

In fact, it isn’t just Leicester’s regional rival having an easier time with transport. Of the thirteen major urban areas in the UK, Leicester is one of only two to not have an urban rail system, with the other being the incongruously centred Southampton-Portsmouth UA. This deprivation in reliable public transport means Leicester is the 9th most congested city in the UK and in the top 100 worldwide[1].

With this lack of available transport comes a myriad of issues for Leicesterians; little affordable housing, even less suitable housing stock, a disassociation with the urban community and concentrations of wealth and deprivation. As the city council ploughs ahead with its flagship waterfront redevelopment project, concerns over working class displacement and detachment with the city centre have mounted, as was warned in 2017[2].

Worse yet, with other transport solutions, such as the new A46 expressway connecting Hinckley with Charnwood via Eastern Leicestershire, there are concerns that green space on the urban fringe could be sacrificed to accommodate for lazy solutions to transport capacity problems[3]. This problem alone should encourage the city to look to less environmentally destructive, and more innovative transport solutions.

Monorail – solution and challenges?

With these things in mind, it is crucial that the city addresses the issue of poor connectivity to its urban centre, without limiting urban space or undoing the council’s admirable push for pedestrianisation – but how? Simply, Leicester should reconsider the visionary idea of 1960s city planner Konrad Smigielski and construct an urban monorail system.

The benefits of this specific type of urban rail system compared to others are two-fold; one, its elevated operation means that already limited street space does not have to be surrendered to install it and, less importantly, its uniqueness among UK UAs would make it marketable from a touristic perspective.

More generally, however, A 2007 ESPON report gave Leicester score of 3.33 (out of 10) for transport, embarrassingly less than much smaller towns like Ipswich, Newbury and Rugby[4]. In fact, Leicester’s transport rating was the joint-worst of the aforementioned ‘big thirteen’ UAs, and third-worst among the country’s 16 largest metropolitan areas (see Figure 1).






Figure 1 – Transport Score of the 16 Largest UK Metro Areas
Source: https://web.archive.org/web/20150924002318/http://www.espon.eu/export/sites/default/Documents/Projects/ESPON2006Projects/StudiesScientificSupportProjects/UrbanFunctions/fr-1.4.3_April2007-final.pdf.

Whilst increasing the road capacity of Leicester’s metropolitan area may be the most conventional response and recovering the forgotten Leicester tram network (see Figure 2) would be the easiest, the installation of a monorail system would address more of the multi-faceted problems of modern Leicester where the other two ‘solutions’ cannot. For instance, a monorail would be less disruptive to the preservation and future expansion of Leicester’s limited green space.

Better yet, Leicester and Leicestershire’s Transport Board only scores two out of ten points for providing choice in modes of transportation, and 4.4 out of 10 for sustainability. An electrified rail system would make great strides to addressing both of these shortcomings. However, what is the most debilitating hindrance to such a project is the lack of funding for local transport. In the 2015-19 period, the central Department for Transport budgeted just £16.1m for Leicester and Leicestershire’s transport schemes, a tenth of Greater Manchester’s budget[5].

Of course, the confidence to pursue such a radical re-imagination of a city’s transport network is contingent on examples of success in other cities. In the pacific north-west of the United States, Seattle has reaped tremendous rewards from the introduction of its own monorail system. The rail’s newest line generates an 8% economic return, is more than twice as fast at peak times than the bus, and because of its elevated status reduces disruption to road users, and costs less in land acquisition than other forms of urban rail, like a tram[6].

The cost-effectiveness of their scheme even expands to reductions in costs associated with road accidents, parking charges and returning more time for users to be economically active elsewhere. Given, it would be a huge public investment, Seattle’s success was contingent on winning public support for the project, as the report showed. Leicester would need a similar seal of approval from its citizens but examples of monorails in similar sized urban areas like Wuppertal and Dresden indicate that it is achievable.

After all, Leicester’s city centre population has risen by 145% between 2002 and 2015 – the sixth highest rate of growth in the country[7] – and is now home to 14,700 people. This has several substantial effects; namely, the reduced capacity in the city centre means many residents are either pushed away from the urban centre or, to accommodate for them, space in the city is severely restricted instead.



Figure 2 – A Map of Leicester’s former Tram system
Source: Wikimedia Commons (2012). File:Leicester Corporation Tramways.jpg. [image] Available at: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Leicester_Corporation_Tramways.jpg [Accessed 8 Mar. 2019].

And as city centre living becomes the only viable choice for those making their lives in Leicester, the price of housing booms and displaces those on low incomes – a monorail would go some way to lessening those impacts[8] by making the idea of commuting from outside the UA far more viable than it is currently[9].

Whilst, Leicester itself is locally infamous for its often frustrating design, a monorail would promote the formation of an integrated hub of intelligently designed towns, suburbs, and the city itself. This radical congestion solution is exactly the sort of innovation that encompasses the thinking behind 1993’s Congress of New Urbanism.

The theory of New Urbanism is premised on the idea that amenities and culture be almost immediately accessible to all urbanites no matter their income bracket[10]. The resurrection of Leicester’s urban rail system would offer that and even provide incentives for greater cohesion between the city’s often fragmented points of interest instead of digressing with the ‘geographies of nowhere’ that have informed Leicester’s urban sprawl[11].

Where amenities are not immediately accessible to the urban population and commuting in and out of the city centre to access them is considered too much of a chore, Leicester begins to fail on several metrics. A monorail system is not a one-size fits all solution for Leicester’s extensive issues, but would be far from a marketing gimmick in turn.

New Urbanist thinking calls for cities to reform as ‘regionally important’, ‘culturally diverse’ and ‘transit-oriented’ – Leicester is only lacking in the latter category[12].

Of course, in the age of austerity, a new urban rail system will be hard for local authorities to devise but should financing arrangements be made by a purportedly supportive central government[13], Leicester could make real progress in alleviating some of its crucial problems with a single word – that’s right, monorail! 


[1] Traffic Index 2018. 2018. Ebook. TomTom. https://www.tomtom.com/en_gb/traffic-index/ranking/?country=UK.

[2] “Leicester Has An Opportunity ‘To Do Regeneration Differently’ — University Of Leicester”. 2017. Www2.Le.Ac.Uk. https://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/press/press-releases/2017/march/leicester-has-an-opportunity-2018to-do-regeneration-differently2019.

[3] “‘A46 Expressway – The Road To Ruin’ Says CPRE – CPRE Leicestershire”. 2019. Cpreleicestershire.Org.Uk. http://www.cpreleicestershire.org.uk/campaigns/strategic-growth-and-a46-expressway/item/2299-a46-expressway-the-road-to-ruin-says-cpre.

[4] EPSON. 2007. “ESPON Project 1.4.3 Study On Urban Functions”. EPSON. https://web.archive.org/web/20150924002318/http://www.espon.eu/export/sites/default/Documents/Projects/ESPON2006Projects/StudiesScientificSupportProjects/UrbanFunctions/fr-1.4.3_April2007-final.pdf.

[5] Where The Money’S Going: Are The New Local Transport Bodies Heading In The Right Direction?. 2013. Ebook. Campaign to Protect Rural England. https://bettertransport.org.uk/sites/default/files/research-files/LTB_report_250913_web_FINAL.pdf.

[6] Bisers, Dan. 2010. “Monorail – Transportation Benefit-Cost Analysis”. Bca.Transportationeconomics.Org. http://bca.transportationeconomics.org/case-studies/monorail.

[7] Mukadam, Ash. 2018. “Leicester Has Sixth Fastest Growing City Centre Population In UK”. Leicester Updates. http://leicesterupdates.com/leicester-sixth-fastest-growing-city-centre.

[8] Pegden, Tom. 2017. “Why House Prices Have ROCKETED In Leicester”. Leicester Mercury. https://www.leicestermercury.co.uk/news/business/leicester-house-prices-rocketing-75-944285.

[9] Martin, Dan. 2017. “‘Eye-Watering’ Numbers Of New Homes Needed Across County Revealed”. Leicestermercury. https://www.leicestermercury.co.uk/news/leicester-news/revealed-eye-watering-numbers-new-753730.

[10] Carswell, A. (2012). The encyclopedia of housing. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE Publications, pp.513-516.

[11] MacLeod, Gordon. 2013. “New Urbanism/Smart Growth In The Scottish Highlands: Mobile Policies And Post-Politics In Local Development Planning”. Urban Studies 50 (11): 2196-2221. doi:10.1177/0042098013491164.

[12] González, Erualdo Romero, and Raul P Lejano. 2009. “New Urbanism And The Barrio”. Environment And Planning A: Economy And Space 41 (12): 2946-2963. doi:10.1068/a41360.

[13] Martin, Dan. 2018. “Plan Unveiled To Build City Tram Network – If Tories Win Election”. Leicestermercury. https://www.leicestermercury.co.uk/news/leicester-news/plan-unveiled-build-tram-network-1478321.

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Student essay winner: The Cost of the Jewels in Crown Heights

How the sharing economy hollowed out Brooklyn?

By @DMUpolitics student Michaela Cracknell /@kyliecracknell

CURA is proud to publish outstanding student contributions pertaining to pressing issues facing cities today. In this blog, MA Politics student Michaela Cracknell explores the relationship between gentrification, Airbnb and tenant displacement, in an historic neirbourhood known as Crown Heights in Brooklyn.

Tenant union activists demonstrating in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, for affordable housing.

Image from: https://www.bsdcorp.org/2016/03/bridge-street-is-at-the-forefront-of-preventing-tenant-displacement/

“I’ve seen it when nobody wanted to live here,” she said. “As soon as I started to rent an apartment, the rents went up, and now it’s like we’re not even good enough to stay in the neighborhood anymore.” These are the words of long-time Crown Heights resident Angelique Coward from an opinion piece interview in the New York Times.

Ms. Coward is one of many residents from the Crown Heights community that was forced out of her home by rising rents (a 39% increase from 2010 to 2018[1])[2] and pressure from landlords to make room for those with deeper pockets.  

Gentrification in this historic Brooklyn neighborhood has made it a desirable location for further investment into the tourism industry including a spike in ‘AirBnB’ rental properties. However the increases in this sector of tourism has had a negative effect on the amount of affordable housing in the area.

Gentrification in Crown Heights

The gentrification issue is effecting formerly low income neighborhoods all over the world, Crown Heights is just one example of the issue at its worst. But what do we mean we say the “gentrification issue”? Clinical Psychologist David Ley simply defines it as “a transition of inner-city neighborhoods from a status of relative poverty and limited property investment to a state of commodification and reinvestment.” [1]

In Crown Heights we can see this transition by looking at the rise of expensive bars and restaurants, art galleries, and coffee shops that are replacing food markets and affordable corner stores.  We can also look the aforementioned rising rent costs in the area. According to an MNS market report, from 2015 to 2016, Crown Heights saw the largest increase in rent of any Brooklyn neighborhood (7.6% increase).[2] But is gentrification a bad thing? Urban theorist Loretta Lees would say yes, citing that gentrification leads to deeper social segregation and displacement[3].

For Crown Heights, that has become reality with poorer minority groups being forced out of the inner city to make room for a growing affluent presence. This displacement of these groups in larger cities contributes to an acute friction in social and racial relations that already runs deep in the United States.  This tension can be even further amplified when areas that once served as havens for those surviving on lower incomes are turned into profitable epicenters for wealthy investors and developers.

The Role of Airbnb

 Gentrification also often leads to an area becoming more popular to tourists and this can open the door for in investors in different sectors of tourism industry like for example the hospitality/accommodation sector of the ‘sharing’ economy.

This new ‘sharing’ economy can be defined as a sharing, exchanging or renting of goods, services and properties by individuals. Meaning individuals are able to share what they own or a service they can provide with others for a profit. This could be something as simple as washing someone’s car or renting your home out to tourists.

Some economists, like Martin Weitzman, argue that this new economy could end stagflation effect and create an equilibrium among wages[1]. While we can‘t ignore the positive benefits of this new system on the microeconomics of the urban area, what are the costs? In the case of Crown Heights, it’s displacement due to a lack of affordable housing.

‘AirBnB’ is just one of many popular platforms for the sharing of individual’s properties as temporary holiday rentals for tourists and travelers. These types of accommodation are becoming increasingly popular in desirable global cities like New York. AirDNA has compiled extensive data on ‘AirBnB’ properties in Crown Heights. Their data reveals that since 2010 there has been a nearly a 25,000% increase in AirBnB rentals in the neighborhood. With rental properties exploding and rents rising in Crown Heights, it leads one to ask, where can people actually live, affordably?


According to AirDNA, there are currently 1,090 active ‘AirBnB’ rentals in Crown Heights
https://www.airdna.co/vacation-rental-data/app/us/new-york/new-york/crown-heights/overview

Challenges to Gentrification

The answer to that question, unfortunately, is nowhere. Of the 1,090 active Airbnb rental properties in Crown Heights over 50% of them are entire home rentals. Meaning that properties that could serve as much needed affordable housing, are being used as strictly for-profit holiday rentals. This is where we see the correlation between Airbnb and displacement.

 People who have grown up and lived their whole lives in Crown Heights are being forced into other boroughs, out of New York all together, or on the streets due to lack of affordable housing. A report from New York’s Independent Budget Office found that from 2002-2012 families entering homeless shelters came in largest numbers from East New York, Bedford Stuyvesant Heights and Crown Heights.[1]

But the community is beginning to fight back against this inequality of housing. The Crown Heights Tenant Union, founded in 2014, has become active in protesting to demand protection for low-income tenants, fair rent prices and rights to repairs. They currently have over 40 member buildings and continue to hold peaceful demonstrations to fight against rampant gentrification, displacement, and illegal rental overcharges.[2]

The urban has always been the epicenter of progress and not many would argue that progress is a bad thing. However, often there are those who get left behind as the world marches forward. Crown Heights is becoming gentrified as New York progresses to a more global city attracting people and investments from all over the world. Though these investments, specifically those is the Airbnb market, are causing residents to be displaced due to a lack of affordable housing.


[1] New York City Independent Budget Office (2014). Fisical Report. [online] New York. Available at: https://ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/2014dhs.pdf [Accessed 23 Feb. 2019].

[2] Crown Heights Tenant Union. (2015). Crown Heights Tenant Union – About Us. [online] Available at: https://www.crownheightstenantunion.org/about-us [Accessed 23 Feb. 2019].


[1] Weitzman, M. L. (1986) ‘The Share Economy: Conquering Stagflation’, ILR Review, 39(2), pp. 285–290. doi: 10.1177/001979398603900210.


[1] Ley, D. (2003) ‘Artists, Aestheticisation and the Field of Gentrification’, Urban Studies, 40(12), pp. 2527–2544. doi: 10.1080/0042098032000136192.

[2] MNS. 2016. “Brooklyn Rental Market Report”. MNS. http://www.mns.com/pdf/brooklyn_market_report_feb_16.pdf.

[3] Lees, Loretta, Tom Slater, and Elvin Wyly. Gentrification. Routledge, 2013.


[1] “Uneven Burdens: How Rising Rents Impact Families And Low-Income New Yorkers”. 2018. Blog. Trends & Data. https://streeteasy.com/blog/nyc-rent-affordability-2018/.

[2] Yee, V. (2015). Gentrification in a Brooklyn Neighborhood Forces Residents to Move On. The New York Times.

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CURA Annual Lecture

We are delighted to announce details of CURA Annual Lecture 2019:

Speaker: Dr Sarah Marie Hall  , the University of Manchester

Title: “From ‘community’ to ‘social infrastructures’? Repoliticising social relationships and responsibilities in austere times”

Date: Wednesday 12 June 2019

Time: 6-7.30PM

Venue: Hugh Aston Building, DeMontfort University, room HU0.08

Abstract:

This talk explores the uses and misuses of ideas of ‘community’ in times of austerity, alongside more recent developments around ‘social infrastructures’. Where state involvement, investment and responsibility has been sharply retreated over the last ten years of austerity Britain – and arguably more under the project of neoliberalism – it is to community members that policy-makers often look to shoulder the burden; from elderly and childcare, to community services, to educational and arts institutions. Whether filling the gap as volunteers, informal and formal care providers, or over-stretched public sector employees, this is also an inherently gendered burden, and so too an unequal one. Emerging critiques of the everyday politics of austerity have highlighted concerns about this simultaneous reliance on and erosion of social infrastructures, whereby the majority of state investments remains on physical infrastructure like transport, housing, military – what we might call ‘potholes over people’. This comes at the expense of investment in what Pearson and Elson (2015, p. 26) coin ‘social infrastructure’: the provision of ‘health [care], education, childcare, social housing and lifelong care which benefit all, not just the few’. I argue that the concept of social infrastructures offers further possibilities to connect socio-economic policies with everyday lives, centring the political in analysis, and acknowledging upfront that social relationships, like material infrastructures, require investment. However, critical work by feminist scholars and activists on social infrastructure have to date been typically misinterpreted at best or ignored at worse. I make the case for greater enagement with these ideas, including how an infrastructural approach focuses on interconnectedness and power dynamics between individuals involved in the everyday construction and maintenance of social infrastructures, which are likewise steeped in questions about deep-seated and structural inequalities.

Please contact jenni.cauvain@dmu.ac.uk or adam.fishwick@dmu.ac.uk for further details / enquiries.

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Urban Informality: An International Workshop

Linking informal working practices and the governance of everyday life

Thursday 27 June | HU2.37, Hugh Aston Building, De Montfort University, Leicester

This workshop will seek to trace the possible relationships between dynamics of informality that cut across  governance, work and ordinary life. It will explore relations between longstanding community practices of survival beyond (but without excluding) the formal institutions of the state, the persistence and transformation of informal economies and their impact on work, class formation and collective organisation, and the modes of local governance that continually (re)emerge to manage and respond to these features of urban informality. The aim is to understand possible configurations of hybrid practices in informal modes of work and life and the informal practices and institutions that emerge in interactions between ordinary citizens, local authorities and grassroots forms of entrepreneurship, exploring the various means by which individuals and communities navigate these complex formations of urban informality. Please register a place by 21 June, see details below.

Contributions will address these themes by asking:

(1) How do individuals and communities organise their daily lives to survive (or to thrive) in these settings?
(2) To what extent do they construct alternative modes of social, political, and economic organisation to fill gaps left by the withdrawal and/or non-existence of formal institutions?
(3) How far are these intentionally, or not, supported by state institutions and actors?
(4) What connections can be made between these distinctive areas of urban informality at work, in everyday life and in the associated forms by which these are governed?
(5) To what extent does urban informality, developed through the intersections of work, community and life, create identities that help overcome economic, political or social crises?

 

Programme

 Welcome and introduction (9:30-10:15am)

Adam Fishwick and Valeria Guarneros-Meza (DMU)

 Session 1: Living through the boundaries of urban informality (10:15am-12:00pm)

Colin Marx (UCL): ‘Getting between informal working practices and the governance of everyday life’

Jacob Nielsen (Liverpool): ‘Navigating formalisation: migrant hostel dwellers and the banking system’

Begoña Aramayona (Autonomous University of Madrid) ‘Let’s kick out the trash: (In)formal securitisation and Morality by ‘civilised’ residents in a working-class area of Madrid’

Lunch

 Session 2: Urban informality and politics beyond waste (1:00-2:45pm)

Maurizio Atzeni (CEIL, Argentina): ‘Local politics and workers’ organisational practices in the waste collection and recycle chain in Argentina and Chile’

Precious Akponah (Leicester): ‘The social life of rubbish: an ethnography in Lagos, Nigeria’

Louise Guibrunet (UNAM, Mexico): ‘Is there a place for informal workers in the urban sustainability project?’

Coffee break

Session 3: Rule-making and breaking under urban informality (3:00pm-4:45pm)

Ismael Blanco (UAB)*, Vivien Lowndes (Birmingham) and Yunailis Salazar(UAB)*: ‘What is the relationship between formal rules and informal practices within participatory governance, and how has this been impacted by austerity? A case study of Barcelona, 2008-19’

Raphael Bischof (DMU): ‘Secure tenure in a world heritage site: alternatives for housing and protection of landscape in central Salvador, Brazil’

Theodor Born (QMUL): ‘Blurring state prosaics: precarity, bureaucracy, and urban informalities among Latin American migrants in London’

Closing (4:45-5:00pm)

Registration is now open, send your interest in attending by 21 June 2019 to: adam.fishwick@dmu.ac.uk

Only a limited number of participants will be able to register for the full-day workshop.

The workshop is hosted by De Montfort University, Leicester. Co-sponsored by the Centre for Urban Research on Austerity (CURA), People Organisation and Work Institute (POWI) and Local Governance Research Centre (LGRC).

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Concrete Peace: Building Security in Colombia

Austin Zeiderman, LSE

CURA/ PPP seminar

Date and time: 16th May 2019, 4-6pm

Venue: Hugh Aston Building, Room HU2.06, DeMontfort University

Abstract

Public and scholarly debates in Colombia frequently gloss the work required to achieve peace as la construcción del posconflicto, or “the construction of the post-conflict.” These debates usually surround the question of how to build the legal and bureaucratic institutions necessary for transcending a half-century of violence and ensuring a stable and lasting transition. Less attention is being given, however, to the work of building post-conflict Colombia in a concrete, physical sense. Focusing on the nationwide process of development aimed at laying the material foundations of a new society, this article examines the political potency attributed to the built environment at this critical conjuncture. Taking inspiration from a felicitous phrase coined by the Ministry of Transport’s Twitter account, #PazEnConcreto, it highlights the real-and-imaginary work that goes into building a “concrete peace” through the construction of things like roads, airports, and bridges. How exactly can peace be built out of substances like concrete? By examining two infrastructure projects endowed with the power to bring about peace and prosperity, the first objective is to shed light on the model of security and development according to which Colombia’s future is being imagined, designed, and built. The second objective is consider what these cases suggests about the political agency of the material world. Fine-grained analysis of both the political imagination and the lived experience of peacebuilding reveals the relationship between infrastructure and peace, and the capacity of the former to generate the latter, to be thoroughly contingent. Building infrastructure may produce the conditions for peace, it may reactivate latent dynamics of conflict, or it may do nothing at all.

 

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