The city, as the noted urban sociologist Robert Park once wrote, is:

"man's most consistent and on the whole, his most successful attempt to remake the world he lives in more after his heart's desire. But, if the city is the world which man created, it is the world in which he is henceforth condemned to live. Thus, indirectly, and without any clear sense of the nature of his task, in making the city man has remade himself."

If Park is correct, then the question of what kind of city we want cannot be divorced from the question of what kind of people we want to be, what kinds of social relations we seek, what relations to nature we cherish, what style of daily life we desire, what kinds of technologies we deem appropriate, what aesthetic values we hold. The right to the city is, therefore, far more than a right of individual access to the resources that the city embodies: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city more after our heart’s desire. It is, moreover, a collective rather than an individual right since changing the city inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power over the processes of urbanization. The freedom to make and remake ourselves and our cities is, I want to argue, one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights.
~ David Harvey, The Right to the City

Department of Geography, Lund University, Sweden
May 28, 2008


Global Cities Project Homepage

"Whose city is it?" is one of the central questions that oriented our Global Cities Project, and one of great importance to me in my own academic work. In the mass migratory trend towards urban centers across the globe we are confronted with the difficult task of how to accommodate such high concentrations of people, many of whom are without regular work, education, food, water, public utilities such as waste management and sewage treatment, etc. These new urbanites are essentially forced to strike out on their own, without the infrastructure of support afforded to wealthier classes of people. In many instances around the world, these new city-dwellers are employed to build-up urban infrastructure and expand city limits. They are no less a part of the city than say a family in a middle-class gated suburb or the city officials who govern their chance at prosperity.

In Medellín, the question of "Whose city is it?", or who has the right to the city (the video lecture on the left by David Harvey gives a good understanding of what that means), is actively contested throughout the greater metropolitan area: from peaceful protests against the proliferation of violence in lower-class neighborhoods to car-bombings of state and commercial targets perpetrated by insurgents. Regardless of the legitimacy of tactics used, all actors involved recognize the city as a space of struggle.

Protesters march Thursday, Nov. 21, 2002, through the streets of the Comuna 13, a neighborhood of Medellin, Colombia's second largest city, to ask for the liberation of three people arrested by security forces last month when soldiers and police launched an operation to oust rebel militias tied to rebel groups. During the operation the police used hooded informants to point out suspected rebels who were taken in for questioning. (AP Photo/Luis Benavides)

A man speaks on his mobile phone at a bank agency destroyed after a small bomb exploded in Medellin, Colombia, Thursday, April 30, 2009. Two small bombs exploded in two bank agencies in downtown Medellin, within minutes, injuring four people.(AP Photo/Luis Benavides)

Police inspect the scene of a car bomb close to the headquarters of gubernatorial candidate Gerardo Canas in Medellin, Colombia, about 155 miles northwest of Bogota, on Thursday Sept. 4, 2003. Medellin police reported one wounded, and no deaths. (AP Photo/ Luis Benavides)

The creative destruction of the car bomb as seen in two of the photos above has a catastrophic history in Colombia, particularly in Medellín, where the infamous Pablo Escobar used to reside. After Escobar's death in 1993, and the eventual downfall of the rival Cali cartel that attempted to snatch up Escobar's market, it was the insurgent FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) that to this day continue the urban legacy of creative destruction that is the car bomb (Davis, Buda's Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb, 115). Despite the ghastly and condemnable results that ensue from the use of car bombs, equally as reprehensible are the terrorists tactics used by state-endorsed paramilitary forces against trade unionists, oppositional journalists and left-wing politicians who demand an end of the disparity between rich and poor in Medellín.

In answering the question of "Whose city is it?", I would have to say that it is openly contested. Just as developers wiped out a lot of the non-religious historical architecture in the early part of the 20th century to build up Medellín's commercial centers, today insurgents actively target these newer transnational structures (another form of creative destruction):

The forces allied with transnational flows of capital must remember that they are not the only ones with the means of creative destructive power. Skyscrapers and symbols of economic strength can be torn down much quicker and with much less effort than it took to construct these pillars of modern capitalism.