From La Paz to New York to Athens, urban centers have become the loci of struggles for social justice. In his new book, Rebel Cities, Marxist geographer David Harvey frames these uprisings as the proper assertion of public rights to the city against the excesses of neoliberal capitalism—skyrocketing rents, austerity cuts to public services, foreclosure fraud.
Web Editor David Johnson spoke to Harvey before May Day about how the titans of capital are like butterflies, the fetishes of mainstream urban liberals, and whether the Occupy movement can live without occupations.
DJ: You begin the book by discussing French sociologist Henri Lefebvre’s notion of “the right to the city”—that we collectively have the right to live in the city and shape its development. Why think of the city in terms of rights at all?
DH: First off, there is a question of the right of access to all of the resources that, collected together, make up an urban environment, which is both social and political as well as physical. So there’s a question of who has access and whether we all have equal rights of access. But then there’s a question of the making of the city—which is actually much more interesting to me— such as who has the power to remake cities in a different image and in whose image will they be remade. The question of rights comes into that as well: “Who has the right to struggle over what kind of city we want to make?” Because the question of what kind of city we want to make defines the question of what kind of people we want to be. Read More