Tuesday, October 23, 2012

On Fighting Against Hegemonic Urban Development

Jacob Sloan

BayOfRage reveals infrastructure and redevelopment projects in Oakland (and beyond) as a means of reshaping cities for social control:
Further development will not open space for meaningful social activity and will only constrict it — In the slew of development projects coming down the pipe, residents will be free to consume, travel to and from work, or stay inside to not bother anyone.
Mistakes in architecture will never be repeated in future developments. The UC system learned the danger in building large plazas where dissident students could gather during the free speech movement at Berkeley. University of California campuses built since the sixties are subdivided into a number to smaller campuses, to better contain and neutralize student revolt. Housing projects are built to make the space transparent and easily surveillable, often by the administrators of social services. Likewise, we can be entirely sure that the city of Oakland will never allow the construction of another space like Oscar Grant Plaza, where thousands of people were able to gather, meet their needs and organize an assault against capitalism.
Development, on its own, is only the evolution and transformation of the metropolis: The adaptation of the city to its present circumstances. This evolution is often predicated on facilitating new techniques of control and policing. That is to say, behind the smokescreen of politics, power is every day being consolidated, the production and reproduction of life is being controlled in the physical space of the city. New neighborhoods are being built to be better policed. Narrow pedestrian walkways and alleys are being replaced by wide paths for wheelchair access, yes, but also for police vehicles. Broad boulevards and gridded neighborhoods exist to simplify and reduce traffic congestion, yes, but also to mitigate potential urban uprisings.
As the entire physical space of the metropolis is constructed to reproduce a certain set of relations (capitalist, patriarchal, alienated), the entirety must be destroyed or subverted. In other places in the world, social antagonists have understood the need to attack infrastructural projects.
NO TAV activists in Italy have been opposing the development of a high-speed rail line since the mid-90′s. In Canada, indigenous communities have responded to attacks on their autonomy with rail line and highway blockades. More recently, in Greece, the opposition to a garbage dump in Keratea that was mandated by the IMF did much to destabilize the economy in that country. Current anti-colonial struggles reveal the same set of practices. The Afghan War Logs released by Pfc. B. Manning show a strong pattern of infrastructural sabotage by insurgents in Afghanistan, primarily of transmission towers and oil pipelines. The question to pose locally: How can we shift a narrative of struggle against gentrification to one of attack against development, and how can we expand that struggle to take on anti-infrastructural dimensions?
By focusing on the material situation in the city, we can direct our attacks against the apparatuses that reproduce society. The power to reproduce the misery of society is exchanged in the material realm, not in politics. The success of anti-infrastructural projects is that they actually disrupt the spread and strengthening of empire, rather than engaging on a spectacular level.

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