Right To The City issue Editorial

Right To The City

This is excerpted from Fightback’s latest magazine issue. To subscribe, click here.

Editorial by Daphne Lawless, a Fightback/MARRC member living in Auckland with her wife and daughter.

The growth of cities as the dominant social and economic form of human life on the planet is a distinguishing feature of the capitalist era. Before capitalism, cities were trading posts and places where the rich spent their wealth; but most wealth was produced in the fields, forests and mines of rural areas. This all changed with the Industrial Revolution, when the new factory cities began to be where wealth was produced as well as spent. Later, as industrial production shifted globally to the rising Asian economies since World War II, so the older developed countries shifted to “post-industrial” (information and knowledge-based) forms of production. Importantly, despite predictions that this would lead to a new de-centralisation, it’s been shown that information and technology workers produce more (and are happier) living, working and playing together in dense cities, rather than the isolated suburbs which sprang up during the cheap-oil eras.

All this just goes to show that cities aren’t going anywhere, despite some of the fond dreams of “back to the land”-ers, or the dreamers of suburban utopia. As long as big cities are where society’s wealth is produced, so (following Karl Marx’s political economy) that’s where the possibility of social revolution is to be found. Additionally, in the globalised era, the big cities are where the migrant workers and the refugees from war, poverty and climate change gather, interact with local workers, and thereby create a new global culture. Contrary to the reactionary musings of the “conservative left”, this cross-cultural intersection brings power and strength to the workers’ movement – if only that movement knows how to organise itself.

As Daphne Lawless pointed out in her 2015 article for Fightback – reprinted first up in this issue – big cities may (perhaps counter-intuitively) be our only feasible solution to the global climate crisis, as urban living (planned properly for need rather than greed) offers the cleanest and most efficient use of resources for both housing and transportation. Tāne Feary develops this idea further with his discussion of eco-cities and Transition Towns.

Aotearoa / New Zealand has no equivalent to the sprawling megacities to be found overseas. But we do have Tāmaki Makarau / Auckland, population 1.5 million and rising. So this edition of Fightback on Urban Revolution and the Right to the City makes no apology for concentrating on the “City of Sails”. We are privileged to run an extended piece from TransportBlog’s PeterNunns, in which he uses facts and figures to explain in detail precisely what kind of urban development a sustainable and liveable Auckland would need. Of course, the housing and public transport issues run together. We feature a piece from veteran South Auckland campaigner Roger Fowler arguing that zero fares (free public transport) is the revolutionary step that Auckland needs – with a few counter-arguments from TransportBlog’s Patrick Reynolds, to set us thinking.

Of course, development can never be thought of in the abstract. The current leadership of our city – with Phil Goff carrying on the general approach of his predecessor as Mayor, Len Brown – pays lip-service to bringing all Aucklanders along with the development of our new global city. But this has not been the history of what has happened in Auckland, where time and again the working classes (in particular the tangata whenua, as well as Pasefika and other migrant groups) have been made to pay for the dreams of their social betters. Daphne Lawless explains the intertwined history of Auckland’s “motorway madness” and the gentrification of the inner suburbs, which created an asset-rich Pākehā layer at the expense (in more ways than one) of Pasefika lives, and actually created today’s permanent gridlock. Two other writers expand on how this process is still going on, with Vanessa Day talking about the fight against dispossession by gentrification in Glen Innes, and Bronwen Beechey adding updates from Avondale, which could well become the Grey Lynn of the 21st century.

Turning to the rest of the country, Byron Clark lets us know about the wasted opportunities in Ōtautahi / Christchurch, where the post-earthquake rebuild has led to the same old suburban sprawl and petrol-driven traffic chaos. Patricia Hall contributes an eloquent plea for the cities of the future to be truly accessible – just as fighting racial and gender inequality benefits all working people, she argues, so fighting for accessibility is not just for the benefit of the physically or mentally impaired. Finally, Ani White looks back on a documentary from the 1975 Māori Land March, concentrating on the alliances between urban and rural tangata whenua that made it happen. With “back to the land” mythology still strong in the tino rangatiratanga movement, this is a timely reminder that the power of indigenous people in the globalised era lies in the cities as well.

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