Balancing social cohesion and urban regeneration
EU research is exploring issues raised by the regeneration of urban areas and the frequent resulting displacement of existing populations, comparing case studies in both Europe and major Latin American cities. Lessons learned will inform future urban restructuration policies.
© Michael Janoschka, 2014
Europes cities are facing increasing challenges because of the pressure being placed on them by austerity, migration and growing social inequality. The contemporary neoliberal approach to urban redevelopment, and the gentrification of specific city neighbourhoods, has not always taken sufficient account of the social aspects of regeneration projects. In fact, many have had a clear negative impact on existing populations. Millions of households have been displaced, denying access to affordable housing and disrupting the social fabric of the community. This raises questions as to who cities are constructed for and how can we ensure that urban development does not come at the cost of social justice.
The EU-funded CONTESTED_CITIES project brought together an international network of researchers from Europe and Latin America to investigate, exchange information on and learn from the social impact of urban regeneration in six European and Latin American cities: Madrid, Leeds, Mexico City, Santiago de Chile, Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro.
The project ran from 2012-2016, a time of unrest following the financial crisis and the application of austerity, explains project coordinator Michael Janoschka, formerly of the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain. Latin America went thorough a similar period of unrest in the late 1990s and we felt there was a lot to learn from the experiences of Latin American cities and how the resulting lessons could inform our European experience.
Rights to the city
CONTESTED_CITIES focused on the negative consequences of public urban redevelopment policies, confronting scientific debates, dialogue among policymakers and discussions arising among urban social movements. This included, for example, research on the Vila Autódromo community in Rio de Janeiro, which suffered enormous displacement pressure due to the transformations preceding the 2016 Olympic Games, and on the eviction of traders from the La Merced Market in Mexico City, Latin Americas biggest retail and wholesale market housing more than 7 000 stalls.
This resulted in highly relevant scientific research published in 44 journal articles and several co-edited volumes. A special effort was also made to bring this research to the attention of the wider public by disseminating information through the internet and social media, the active support of local initiatives and, in particular, the co-production of five documentaries that have been widely viewed and have participated in film festivals worldwide. The project also produced a series of educational materials for high-school teachers, which have found their way into geography and citizenship curricula across Latin America.
In addition, the project provided input for the 2016 UN Habitat III conference policy documents, and team members have established close relationships with local governments, which they hope will help inform future urban regeneration projects.
Some of our publications have now become highly cited in urban studies, thus impacting and shaping the debate on gentrification and displacement, says Janoschka. We believe that CONTESTED_CITIES has provoked a shift within urban studies towards an understanding of cities as spaces in constant conflict, triggering special attention in support of local struggles for adequate housing and the right to the city.