Category Archives: Blog

Gray Space and Creeping Urban Apartheid

Picture1By 2030, 2 billion people will live in unrecognized conditions or “gray spaces.” This proliferation of slums and informal settlements are part of a growing trend across the world, but particularly in the Global South in cities like Rio de Janeiro, Jakarta, and even Israel-Palestine. Oren Yiftachel is a Geography and Urban Studies professor at Ben-Gurion University in Israel. His lecture at the Hagop Kevorkian Center at NYU on February 16th entitled “Gray Space and Creeping Urban Apartheid: Learning from Israel-Palestine” offers an intimate look at the premise of his new book, which analyzes the neocolonialism of modern unrecognized settlements in Israel-Palestine as well as how they mirror larger trends of displacement across the globe. Yiftachel’s call for a more flexible definition of citizenship is put into practice by Karen Lee Bar-Sinai, an Israeli architect who designs urban plans for the two-state solution. Her work provides an urban planner’s take on what these changes can look like. Continue reading

“Aquí estamos y no nos vamos”: Combatting Construction as Tenant Harassment

Diana Reyna speaking at Brooklyn borough hall

A large crowd gathered at Brooklyn Borough Hall on January 31st to relay their experiences and frustrations with tenant harassment to city officials. The event, organized by Stand for Tenant Safety (STS) and their coalition, saw an amalgamation of tenants, family members, tenants rights activists, and government workers. The voices of the aggrieved tenants took center stage as the event began with personal accounts of tenant harassment. The use of construction work as harassment has become increasingly prevalent in recent years as areas in Brooklyn gentrify and rental prices rise. Many of these tenants occupy rent stabilized units, which are protected by the government and stipulate that the rent may only rise by certain state sanctioned percentages and that landlords cannot evict a tenant without proper cause.  However, landlords in search of profits implement illegal practices to remove tenants by making their apartments unlivable through invasive construction. Continue reading

“Carboniferous”: Climate and Social Justice in NYC

5_Carboniferous_SolnitNMNYThe “Carboniferous”: Climate and Social Justice in NYC event––held in November 2016 by the Institute for Public Knowledge and co-sponsored by the Urban Democracy Lab––was an impassioned discussion of climate change, urban housing, and social justice. The question of the night, posited by the speakers, was how climate justice is an issue of social justice, the two inseparable in their complexities. Continue reading

Arts & Democracy Workshops: Cultural Organizing for Community Change

10On Saturday, November 12th, I went to an event sponsored by Arts & Democracy on Cultural Organizing for Community Change. I attended most of the day, and will share the experience of the three workshops I participated in. We all picked one workshop in each session after a brief pitch from facilitators, and every workshop used creative activities to help build a sense of community around NYC. Activists, artists, and community leaders of all sorts joined and expressed their passion and ideas for making the world a better place. Continue reading

The Sustainable Innovations Forum at COP22: Environmental Responsibility for Corporations and for Mass Urbanization

image00The Conference of the Parties (COP 22) was held in Marrakech, Morocco from November 7-18. The largest side event, the Sustainable Innovations Forum (SIF), offered an opportunity for business, NGOs, and government actors to come together to share and discuss our environmental future. Despite the unexpected disruption of election results from the U.S. and the possible threat of a U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, the government negotiations and civilian discourse retained a level of resolve. Lord Nicholas Stern, an economist and professor at the London School of Economics, explained that this momentum is “the story of the future” and these delegates understand the grave reality and the need for alternative futures. Erik Solheim, Executive Director of UN Environment (UNEP) and Under-Secretary-General of the UN, also echoed this attraction to imagining new possibilities. He explained that climate issues are not a burden, but rather an opportunity for a multitude of stakeholders including capitalists. Solheim also reiterated a common feeling among participants, which is if the U.S. does not choose to be a leader in the fight for 2-degrees, the cap for global temperature increases set by the Paris Agreement, other international advocates will rise to the occasion. Continue reading

Hope the Pitanga Cherries Grow: An ethnographic look at Luanda

Hope_The_Pitanga_Cherries_Grow_Tales_Of_Luanda0On November 7th, Angolan filmmaker, poet, and writer, Ondjaki, spoke to students of NYU’s Department of Social and Cultural Analysis about his documentary Hope the Pitanga Cherries Grow. Presenting a vivid portrait of Luanda, the capital city of Angola, and its many colorful inhabitants, Ondjaki explores a focus on the individual under the “weight” of a global city.

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Organizing meeting for the People’s Climate Movement NY

From our friends at The People’s Climate Movement:

The People’s Climate Movement – the national coalition that came out of the organizing of the historic climate march two years ago – is calling for a massive mobilization in Washington, DC next April. This march will come at the end of a six month campaign which starts now!

While focusing on the urgent need for bold action on the climate crisis, this effort is grounded in our commitments to racial and economic justice. During the transition period between the election and the inauguration, and then during the first 100 days of the new presidency and new Congress, we will be calling for speedy government action…and we will be mobilizing people to bring the message directly to policy makers in Washington.
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Dispatch from Habitat III in Quito, Ecuador, October 2016

Courtesy Cancillería del Ecuador
“Travel and meetings facilities, Habitat III” Courtesy Cancillería del Ecuador

For those unfamiliar with Habitat III (also known as the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development), you might be interested to know that this global gathering, bringing together many of the world’s most influential urbanists, took place only a couple of weeks ago in Quito, Ecuador.  Habitat III, so-called because it is the third in a very-occasional series of conferences on the theme (the last, Habitat II, was held in Istanbul in 1996), set forth what it calls The New Urban Agenda, meant to manage urban development for the next two decades.  How much of this agenda and the conversations surrounding it are able to nourish some of its more democratic aspirations remains to be seen.  Our colleague, Prof. Sophie Gonick of NYU’s Department of Social and Cultural Analysis, shared this dispatch from her experience at the conference. Continue reading

Coal, Communism and Borders: Professor Glassheim on the Czech City of Most

image01The city of Most in the Czech Republic was a unique case of socialist urban planning during the communist regime. Old Most was forcibly moved due to the large amounts of coal found under the city, which resulted in the creation of New Most. New Most became a “laboratory for the larger project of socialist modernization” due to its spatiality and industrial nature. Dr. Eagle Glassheim is a professor at the University of British Columbia whose research centers on environmental degradation in the industrial region of former Czechoslovakia. His new book, Cleansing the Czechoslovak Borderlands, offers a look at the the ethnic cleansing that took place on in the border regions as well as the movement of Most. Urban Democracy Lab contributor Kai Bauer sat down with Dr. Glassheim in Prague to discuss his research.

KB: Can you give a brief background of the city of Most as well as your new book?

EG: The book focuses on the borderlands of Czechoslovakia at the end of WWII and the postwar period as well as a city in the borderlands called Most. The city of Most was already an industrial region before WWII, but this accelerated quite rapidly after the war. Continue reading

Housing Research Helps Organizers Understand Williamsburg Issues

The summer research project of one of our 2016 GGFUP students, Tiffen McAlister, was profiled in the September 2016 issue of Williamsburg Now, a neighborhood publication by Southside United – Los Sures. Tiffen, “along with members of the Southside United – Los Sures organizing team combed the streets of the South Side to find residents with housing grievances and collected data to form a more comprehensive understanding of the community.” A scan of the full article, in both English and Spanish, is below (click the image to view full size).


“The Right to the City” and Urban Justice

_MG_6759 - CopyOn October 3rd in the NYU Gallatin theater, MIT scholar Balakrishnan Rajagopal spoke to a group of students, professors and members of the community about the evolving human-rights conception of the “right to the city.” The crowd was largely more adult and professional than the audience at many NYU lecture events, based on the question and answer with the audience, and seemed to include New Yorkers working in areas from community organizing, urban planning, and academia. Many people scratched down notes as Rajagopal elegantly addressed imposing questions about the meaning of “the right to the city” and its uses in the fight for urban social justice. Continue reading