The City is the Factory Panel Discussion

The City is the Factory from Cornell University Press.
The City is the Factory from Cornell University Press.

On Monday November 6th, Gallatin’s Urban Democracy Lab (UDL) hosted Miriam Greenberg, Penny Lewis, and Daniel Aldana Cohen, contributors to the new book, The City is the Factory: New Solidarities and Spatial Strategies in an Urban Age. The conversation dived deeply into what would constitute a truly sustainable city. This panel honed in on the exciting prospects of progress that exist in the future of cities, focusing on the connection between urban longevity, labour rights and disaster relief response. 

The event began with an introduction from Penny Lewis. Lewis spoke to the book’s title, explaining the authors’ choice behind analogizing the city as “the factory”. This stylistic choice is used to compare and contrast the needs of workers within modern neoliberal cities versus the past needs of those within urban factory systems. Lewis then extrapolated on the process of coalition building and creating cross-sectional labour demands that are rooted in the worker’s “Right to the City”, some examples being the right to affordable housing and clean water. Lewis also covered the topic of “spatial strategies” and the use of public space for protest, such as Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter.

Miriam Greenberg was next to speak, covering the meat of her chapter, “Radical Ruptures: Crisis Organizing and Spatial Politics of Uneven Redevelopment”. Greenberg’s section covers the work she had done following Hurricane Katrina, raising the question of where the “prehistories of crises” fall regarding redevelopment and disaster relief policy. Greenberg’s chapter also discusses urban centers’ historic disaster relief efforts and whether established practices of disaster relief actually ameliorate or exacerbate the crises faced by low-income individuals in urban areas. An example is seen was seen in the “uneven” disaster relief responses to communities in New Orleans post Katrina and New York post Sandy. Aid was allocated to wealthier, whiter neighborhoods as well as lower-income communities of color by state and federal forces though the ability for these communities to combat the effects that the storms had wrought upon their communities varied as a result of their financial situations before the storm. The inherently “uneven” socioeconomic statuses of individuals within New Orleans and New York City before hurricanes Katrina and Sandy led to an uneven recovery. This leads one to question the effectivity of blindly providing monetary and/or other forms of aid to communities who have historically suffered from patterns of inequity. This line of questioning is a guiding theme within Greenberg’s “Radical Ruptures”.

The panel concluded with a presentation by Daniel Aldana Cohen who spoke on the dire need to limit carbon emissions and the connection between housing and labour rights (those that fall within workers’ “Right to the City”) and environmental justice. Cohen made this link distinctive by addressing the fact that, in arguing for lower emissions and the right for workers to work, one also addresses the gentrifying forces that push these low-wage workers outside of the areas they find work. Thus, in fighting for labourers’ right to live downtown, near their place of work, one simultaneously fights for housing rights and climate justice, by seeking lower carbon emissions.