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The Contested Landscape Of Jerusalem

The Review

John Matthew Barlow discusses University of Tel Aviv archeologist Raphael Greenberg's new research on the dig at Wadi Hilweh, and its political and cultural ramifications for Israelis and Palestinians.


  • Contested Jerusalem


    John Matthew Barlow discusses University of Tel Aviv archeologist Raphael Greenberg's new research on the dig at Wadi Hilweh, and its political and cultural ramifications for Israelis and Palestinians.


  • The Occidental Guerrilla

    Book Review

    Michael A. Innes reviews David Kilcullen's new book The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One. A timely and astute synthesis of experience, research and analysis, the author pinpoints the political shear between minority existential threats to US interests and the majority of the world's locally invested guerrillas who just want to be left alone.


  • Architecture & Biopolitics


    Berlin-based writer Daniel Miller's October 2008 interview with Swedish philosopher and SITE Magazine Editor-In-Chief Sven-Olov Wallenstein, on his new book Biopolitics and the Emergence of Modern Architecture (Princeton Architectural Press, 2009).


  • Wired For War


    The second symposium in CTlab's 2009 series, focused on Peter Singer's new book, Wired For War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century (Penguin Press: 2009), ran from 30 March to 2 April. Singer and half a dozen scholars from the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Austria debated the use and ethics of robots in war.


  • The Limits Of "Security"

    Current Intelligence

    Kenneth Anderson explores the link between international financial instability and global security in response to Judy Shelton's recent Wall Street Journal op-ed.



Imagined Slumscapes

This will be the first posting on a topic that I've been pondering for several years, and one that seems to be of interest to those who think about questions of security: the inner-city ghetto or inner-city slum.  I was just flipping through a post by Tim Stevens on his Ubiwar blog on the feral city  and this got me thinking about the issue from another angle, indeed one that coincides nicely with the upcoming CTlab event in London next week.

Stevens is talking about, basically, a post-apocalyptic city, one that's part and parcel of the Hollywood experience (think Escape from New York), a “collapsing urban trashzone”, according to the novelist Warren Ellis.  The landscape of this imagined city is formed from the actual urban landscape of the slum. I want to distinguish this landscape in imagination from actual landscapes; Tim cites Mogadishu as an example.  Mogadishu is a city the Somalian-Canadian rapper K’naan calls “the most dangerous city in the universe”.

At any rate, the inner-city slum is the archetype for this post-apocalyptic view.  The slum has long been a Mulberry Street, Manhattan, Jacob A. Riis, 1890problem for urban reformers, but it was only when they began to problematise the slum in terms of security in the late nineteenth century that urban reform became possible.  Think, for example, of the Danish-American photographer, Jacob Riis, and his work in the notorious New York City slum, the Five Points, in his work, How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York.  Riis, and his co-conspirators in New York and other cities, realised that the slum was a security threat to the rest of the city, especially insofar as questions of public health were concerned.  In addition, Riis appealed to the humanity of his audience with graphic photographic evidence of the squalor and poverty of the Five Points, most notably on the notorious Mulberry Street. 

In Manhattan, Riis and his co-conspirators were successful in cleaning up Mulberry Street, levelling portions of the Five Points, and re-designing the urbanBandit's Roost, Jacob Riis, 1888 landscape there.  This buoyed reformers in other cities.  The slum came to represent everything that was wrong with the city.  The late nineteenth century also saw the growth of the medical profession and the development of scientific methodology.  In this light, then, the slum came to be diagnosed and prescriptions for its cure devised.  The historian Graeme Davidson has noted that the slum, in this conception, portrays the lives of its residents in negative terms: disease, distress, disorder, disaffection.  Indeed, the Bristol, UK-based rapper, Tricky, makes a similar argument in a recent song, “Council Estate”: “they call you council estate/they call you ‘can’t go straight’/they call you crime rate.” 

Thus, Riis and his acolytes around North America couched their fight against the slum within a discourse of urban reform, to cure the city of its ills, to increase the security not of those who actually lived in the slum (who were always secondary in this discussion, though the improvement of their lives was a positive upshot), but, rather, to ensure the security of the city as a whole.  If the slum was cured of its diseases, both in terms of public health and public security, then the residents of the more bourgeois neighbourhoods, especially, would also be safer.

The process led to the first round of slum clearances in North America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  During that time, decrepit, mostly wooden, buildings were torn down, and the urban landscape was redesigned; streets were widened, parks were created, and brick buildings replaced the ramshackle wooden ones.  At least to some extent.  The urban slum, however, didn't disappear.  The fin-de-siècle reformers were not always successful, for a variety of reasons.

In Montreal, they were particularly unsuccessful, largely because they were Anglo-Protestants in a city dominated, at least demographically, by French-speaking Catholics. The reformers had some successes in cleaning up slums inhabited by the English-speaking Protestant working classes, but they were severely limited in the French Catholic, and to some extent, Anglo-Catholic neighbourhoods.  In short, they were distrusted.  In 1885, a smallpox epidemic hit the city.  According to the historian Michael Bliss, in his book, Plague: How Smallpox Devastated Montreal, the epidemic was as destructive as it was because French Canadians in general were sceptical of the newly developed trend of inoculation against disease. 

Epidemiology was developed in England, largely after a cholera outbreak in Soho, London in the 1850s.  The science was then exported to the colonies, including Canada.  And so epidemiology and inoculation came to Montreal.  And whilst the Anglophones of the city tended to accept the new science, and were inoculated, the same couldn't be said of their French Canadian compatriots.  This distrust of the Anglophone leadership of the city was not without merit, given Anglo control of the city’s economy, and, to a large degree, political machinery, to say nothing of the colonial status of francophones in Canada. The smallpox epidemic of 1885 blew through the city’s working class francophone neighbourhoods and slums in the east end of the city, before spreading from there. Thus, Montreal wasn't part of the larger North American trend of slum clearances in the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries. 

In my next post, I'll look at the second wave of slum clearances in North America in the middle decades of the twentieth century, and explore their ramifications for urban security and the urban landscape.

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