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« Novelty and the Materiality of the Soul | Main | Urbicide or Psychecide? »

Normative Urbicide [and the Politics of (In)Visible Destruction]? 

First, forgive the length of this post (it reads more like a list in search of a pattern). Second: this post sort of builds on Martin Senn's commments about Delimiting Urbicide. Thirdly - congrats Martin on all of this, very well done!

I’d like to see some assessment of how urbicide may be evolving along a less descript trajectory through the course of more daily urban actions (and inactions that may serve the logic of urbicide the same way, i.e. destruction of the built environment as a tool of cleansing). My concern is how urbicide is manifesting in less egregious terms under the surface of the normal integral spatial workings of society; a mainstream urbicide, if you will, that not only claims power in non-war effected space but challenges public agency through a politics of (in)visibility as well as destruction. I fear a generic, more pervasive urbicide at work so constitutive of our urban norm that most people don’t even perceive it as political violence materialized in built form. Does urbicide need to be uprooted on a more genetic level first?

I'll try to expand.

In addition to the more obvious practice or urbicide today: Israel’s wholesale destruction of Lebanon and Gaza, the regular demolitions of Palestinian housing and overall destruction of Palestinian space, Israeli settlements, 9/11, all the major metro terrorist bombings you detailed, Martin, in your article (‘Network-centric violence’), not to mention the consistent destruction of urban infrastructure in the ‘War on Terror’ in cities from Baghdad to Afghanistan, etc. – given that scale, what are your thoughts on how urbicide persists yet in a less visible spectrum of normal societal activity?

A few examples: the US Dept. of Homeland Security contracted Boeing to build a part of the border fence with Mexico in Arizona, and in doing so its contractors dug up 69 sacred ancestral graves of the Tohon O’dham nation. DHS and US courts waived all federal laws to protect Native American sacred grounds and the environment to allow the fence’s construction at San Pedro. While not an act of war (and while those graves aren’t urban objects), and while some could argue the exhuming was entirely inadvertent – does the construction of the fence constitute an act of urbicide by its removal of ancient Native American cultural remains? I understand the 'exhuming' is perhaps the issue and not the fence building, but there is a legal link between destruction and construction that urbicide seems to straddle for its own benefit in other contexts that I am also curious to trace.

Along this same line, on California's pacific coast, Friendship Park has for years served as a bi-national meeting place for people on both sides of a fence that pokes into the ocean, where divided immigrant families could meet and talk through gaps in the fence. This area has now, after serving as a key cultural space for Mexican immigrants and bi-cultural activism, been taken away through current expansion of the border fence project. It is, whether indirectly or not, a huge blow to that community that has gathered there to 'connect' through a national barrier, and to oppose the border security regime.  Public access to this space has been totally eliminated like many other nodes of activist space along the border. Is this a realm of urbicide?

I think about the general land use politics of urban development and the intrinsic sabotage in American real estate, the silent wars on the poor that come at the end of a wrecking ball, an eviction notice, an arrest, secret arson, the demolition of a small ethnic cultural center to make way for a Hilton Hotel.

I think about Mugabe’s constant scraping away of the shacks and shanties of the poor communities in Zimbabwe that opposed his regime for years.

Campaigns against squatter rights in Brazil, India, Kenya, the rest of the world.

I think about the raising of a single homeless encampment in the park in Oakland, or the much more dangerous anti-homeless policy of San Francisco that breeds homeless recidivism.

The lack of responsible ‘official reaction’ to Katrina in New Orleans; or, how New Orleans was not properly safeguarded against flooding, and therefore left out on an 'urbicidal slab' for nature to do the dirty work of developers perhaps anxious to remove the poor communities from the city.

There are so many underlying strategies at work to re-draw the demographics and urban complexion of the city. I think about shopping malls, the banality of urbanism, not being tied to a particular culture per se but to the territoriality of commerce itself, with no allegiance to an ethnicity but a capitalist agenda instead, which asserts itself at the expense of the richness of true cultural site production. Urbicide in the form of banality’s spatial monopoly.

Can urbicide be as regular as a dispute over land rights that is perpetually held up in the court system?

Or, the federally forced buy out of private property – ‘eminent domain’ as an arm of urbicide?

How does the prison-industrial complex produce its own brand geography of urbicide?

Again, I wonder how urbicide can be seen as an act of building and strategic construction (tactical urban exclusion: gated communities, eleminated civic space, etc.), as much as an act of destruction. Can post-war nation-building in Iraq, fueled by global disaster capitalism, be an act of urbicide in its limitation of other more locally defined projects, in its unilateralism about what and where things will go in place of the old environment?

Can the international hotels built before the local fishermen’s villages after the tsunami in the South Pacific be construed as urbicide in their delimitation of what was able to locally reemerge there?  What about the widespread foreclosure crisis, people who have almost been swindled out of their homes by predatory lending practice – is it not like soft demolition? Or, the demolishing of thousands of boarded up homes through out the Rust Belt? Detroit’s culture of arson?

What about self-inflicted urbicide?

When the Chinese government walled out blighted neighborhoods from world view for the Olympic games, was there an act of urbicide in there? What about in circumstances where the removal of one cultural space is justified by the rebuilding of a supposed greater collective cultural monument in its place? For example, when cities destroy historic neighborhoods to make way for a new Olympic village, proclaiming these new monuments architectural translations of the highest ideals of a global heterogeneity? But what has been lost -- is that urbicide?

I mean, we don't often equate 'domestic abuse' to torture, but perhaps there is a more insidious urbicidal practice percolating under the surface all the time in our domestic scope of urban phenomena, rooted in the spaces of heterogeneity.

This is obviously taking it too far when I ask: has committed urbicide against the mom and pops bookstores of the world that have had to opt out of their leases and close shop for good now? Have the changes in the marketplace, the rise of transglobal capital, the massive footprints of globalization all come with their own dimensions of urbicide? Is urbicide a normal precondition?

In some ways can't urbicide be seen as a natural part of the built environment’s morphology?  Further, if urbicide is a war on the common and shared spaces of heterogeneity, then what about the more subtle encroaches of surveillance systems and the 'urbanization of security', with all of the privatization of public space under the guises of national security that goes with it? Don't these subtle redactions in some way make for a form of urbicide in how they are redefining the ways public spaces can be used, shared, accessed, profiled, etc., attacking our so-called 'right to the city'?

It just seems to me urbicide is not just a military hatchling but exists at almost every level of the built environment. There are plenty of actions and 'planned inactions’ that might be serving the logic of urbicide all the same, I don't know.  Urbicide against class, not just ethnicity. Urbicide as a war on space itself. Not just a targeting of space, but an assault on what the essence of civic space is all about; biopolitics. Urbicide in the form of occupation, not just space removal.

In other words, as much as urbicide in an 'unmaking' of cultural/vital public space in the built environment, could it also be the blockade to any new making? Could a complicated and bureaucratically nightmarish building code in some ways serve as a tool for urbicide, in that it fosters disempowerment for those wishing to build certain projects which may be of important cultural symbolism – the prevention of mosque building in the US, for example? Can urbicide be an act of building, an act of legal prevention to rebuilding – an act of inaction?

I could go on (and I am repeating myself), and perhaps a lot of these already fit into your rubric as 'collateral damage', 'destruction of cultural heritage', 'balkanization', and 'critical infrastructure attack', but my concern is how urbicide has and still is evolving to a point where it can achieve the same intended effect only without having to technically destroy anything built in its path, and without being seen, and to serve more interests than the military's. I don’t want to say innocuous, but just a subtle form of urbicide that is interwoven into the daily machinations of land use and urban development. A normative urbicide.

I think this follows on your notion of a network-centric violence in the city, taking hold of the entire grid, holding the city hostage, the network binding everything, tying in anything and everything to 'target legitimacy'. But, with increased network violence comes the ability to commit urbicide on a more pervasive scale. The more everything relies on network infrastructure the more susceptible everything becomes to attack, or hack. Which, jokingly, leads me to believe that soon military doctrine will need to include air and 'breathing space' as a legitimate target for warfare.

Forgive the rant, but I really just want to hear thoughts on the notion of urbicide moving to a far less visible spectrum than the 'shock n’ awe' tactics of American militarism, or the terrorist spectacles of urban bombings and more loud infrastructural hacking. It just seems more endemic than that, and likely that urbicide is a larger part of the social-spatial foundations we have used to organize and fabricate society in the first place, and upon which the modern political world has come to rest.

Will internet hackers be the urbicidal practitioners of the future, sinking precise targets of the built world merely by deflating them of their capital buttress?

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