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Neoliberal Urbanism and Uprisings Across Europe

Part of the Palgrave Studies in European Political Sociology book series (PSEPS)

Abstract

This chapter explores the impact neoliberal urbanism has had on the conflicts and contestations that have erupted across European cities over the last decade. After presenting the concept of neoliberalization and its uneven implementation within Europe, it delineates the characteristic features of neoliberal urbanism, highlighting in particular the strategies with which cities respond to global pressures and crisis developments. City managers have intensified and innovated regeneration and upgrading policies, deliberately valorizing real estate and public space, and politicians have turned, especially since the 2008 financial crisis, to more austere policies and new strategies to displace undesired uses and groups from vibrant parts of the city. As tensions and conflicts have emerged around all of these strategies, different forms of urban resistance have emerged, which themselves have been shaped by the very restructuring processes and policies that the contestations—to varying degrees and in more and less articulate forms—oppose. The third section of the chapter deepens some observations about the contestations around neoliberal urbanism: first, how the field of urban activism has become both larger and more heterogeneous in response to the particularities of urban neoliberalization; second, how struggles against urban upgrading have taken on a variety of forms, covering the spectrum from Right to the City networks and their well-organized campaigns all the way to violent uprisings; and, finally, how the massive societal upheaval that erupted in Greece and Spain provided a context for new grassroots solidarity initiatives to build ‘another city’. The concluding section resituates these findings, particularly the challenge thrown up by the heterogeneity of the contemporary forms of urban resistance, within the conceptual framework of neoliberalization and its being overcome by ‘deep societalization.’

Keywords

  • Real Estate
  • Urban Movement
  • Enclosure Strategy
  • Urban Spectacle
  • Urban Social Movement

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Fig. 2.1
Fig. 2.2

Notes

  1. 1.

    Competing conceptualizations, such as, e.g., those presented by Joseph Stiglitz, who equates neoliberalization with a world-wide homogenization of regulatory systems, or by Elmar Altvater (2009) and Brand and Sekler (2009), who see neoliberalism as having come to an end in August 2008, are less helpful in this regard.

  2. 2.

    They conceive neoliberalization as one among several tendencies of regulatory change that have been unleashed across the global capitalist system since the 1970s, and describe its three major features as follows: (1) It prioritizes market-based, market-oriented or market-disciplinary responses to regulatory problems; (2) it strives to intensify commodification in all realms of social life; and (3) it often mobilizes financial instruments to open up new arenas for capitalist profit-making.

  3. 3.

    When Spain, Portugal and Greece joined the Eurozone, their industries lost competitiveness, the effects of which didn’t make themselves felt as long as real estate booms made up for the losses. This credit- and speculation-driven development led to vastly expanding corruption, which seriously impaired the respective governments’ capacity to act, and EU policies exacerbated these structural problems by supporting traditional elites.

  4. 4.

    Participants of the early anti-austerity demonstrations in Northern European countries, according to various surveys, came mainly from ‘the usual suspects’, such as unions, leftists, anti-globalization, ESF, anti-racist organizations, Occupy and Blockupy, and the Left Party (della Porta, 2015; Peterson, Wahlström, & Wennerhag, 2013).

  5. 5.

    These phases, which roughly, but not everywhere, correspond to the decades indicated, are well described in Peck, Theodore, and Brenner (2009), and austerity urbanism in Peck (2012). The correspondences between these phases and the respective urban movements are presented in Mayer (2012, pp. 65–69) and Mayer (2013, pp. 6–10).

  6. 6.

    Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain.

  7. 7.

    It would require a different analysis to account for the significance of right-wing, populist and xenophobic movements, which have also expanded in the context of, and are sometimes directed against, neoliberal austerity.

  8. 8.

    Cf. the new draconian Spanish safety law, which was passed in June 2015 in direct response to some of the anti-austerity protests sweeping across Spanish cities. Now, demonstrators participating in unauthorized protest near ‘sensitive’ locations can face fines of as much as €600,000 (Minder, 2015; Streck, 2015).

  9. 9.

    This strand of RttC activism has rather depoliticizing effects, as explained in Mayer (2012).

  10. 10.

    Cities in Poland, Croatia and some other CEE regions have also seen Right to the City alliances gain broad support and even enter municipal councils and governments (Poblocki, 2012; Saric, 2012).

  11. 11.

    Both anti-capitalist and conservative groups are concerned with the protection of public space and national heritage against what they perceive as exploitative neoliberal interests. Jacobsson (2015, p. 281) shows that this oscillation between progressive and regressive claims among urban movements reflects the ambivalence that characterizes the ‘post-socialist condition’.

  12. 12.

    Almost a third of the adult Greek population took part in the 2010 anti-austerity protests (Rüdig & Karyotis, 2013).

  13. 13.

    Both this record-high abstention rate and the extraordinary number of blank ballots (2.5 %) reveal the enormous disappointment with and rejection of party politics among broad layers of the Greek population questioning neoliberal policies.

  14. 14.

    Most are full-service clinics, and all are run entirely by volunteers, from doctors and nurses to pharmacists and technical support. Each treats anywhere from a few thousand to over 12,000 people a year.

  15. 15.

    The minister of health has now prepared legislation to permit access to health care for the uninsured, to be voted on in parliament in December 2015. In case the troika prevents passage, solidarity clinics are planning nationwide actions.

  16. 16.

    Spanish unemployment was 27 % at the peak of the economic crisis in early 2013. It has since come down to 23.8 % of the active population in July 2015, but the rate for the under-25-year-olds continues to be around 50 %.

  17. 17.

    PAH called for demonstrations against evictions in 41 cities in late September, and in mid-October, after the Occupy movement has taken off in the USA, a global day of action of the ‘outraged’ took place:, includingdemonstrations in more than 900 cities in 80 countries.

  18. 18.

    Marea Blanca, the white tide, emerged at the end of 2012 against cutbacks in public health, as well as the green tide in education.

  19. 19.

    The three female mayors elected in Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia immediately took similar measures in child welfare, housing and poverty alleviation, and also began to put movement-network strategies of solidarity and cooperation into practice (Flesher Fominaya, 2015; Zelik, 2015).

  20. 20.

    For example, the political responses to the foreclosure and banking crisis have been massive bank bailouts and central banks around the world making cheap credit available, with the ECB embarking on quantitative easing only in 2014. These cheap interest rates meant that enormous amounts of fresh liquidity flooded the global financial system, which, while subsidizing private investors out of bankruptcy, produced a tide of surplus capital, most of which has turned to speculative investment in stocks, bonds and, once again, real estate.

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Mayer, M. (2016). Neoliberal Urbanism and Uprisings Across Europe. In: Mayer, M., Thörn, C., Thörn, H. (eds) Urban Uprisings. Palgrave Studies in European Political Sociology. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-137-50509-5_2

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