In Rebel Cities, David Harvey poses the central question of twenty-first century cities as a question of the right to the city, echoing the influential theorist, Henri Lefebvre. “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 life we desire, what aesthetic values we hold,” Harvey writes. “The freedom to make and remake ourselves and our cities is one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights. How best to exercise that right?”
Drawing on a range of theoretical perspectives, this seminar investigates the question at the heart of David Harvey’s Rebel Cities – namely, how best to understand, evaluate and exercise the right to the city. The seminar engages debates over the right to the city through a critical analysis of the contested process of gentrification. Over the last couple decades, the sweep of gentrification has remade many urban neighborhoods. In doing so, it has raised new questions about the rights of long-term citizens to shape their own communities, and the unequal distribution of benefits from the process of gentrification. Despite extensive neighborhood changes, the ghettoization of poverty and a legacy of racial segregation continue to pose unique challenges to the creation of more equitable, just cities. These challenges, many of which are heightened by the process of gentrification, push issues of social justice to the forefront of our conversations about contemporary cities. They raise new questions about inequality, equity and the twenty-first century urban condition.
Through an exploration of the process of gentrification in American cities, this interdisciplinary seminar investigates the ways that we, as urban citizens, can contribute to the creation of more just cities. As David Harvey suggests in Rebel Cities, the ways that cities are shaped, patterned and contested tells us something deeply meaningful about contemporary social relations, power dynamics and political rights. By studying gentrification, this course engages arguments about the right to the city – who has the right to occupy and shape urban spaces, and how conflicts over those rights play out in American neighborhoods – in the quest for a more equitable, just city.
Click here for the Fall 2016 Syllabus.