Social housing in Western cities has been deeply reshaped by contemporary capitalism. The current and compelling wave of neoliberal policies is breaching a long tradition of public housing, whilst the welfare state as a social model is silently collapsing. Social housing—the organization of accessible accommodation—seems almost just the tip of the iceberg. While council buildings are being taken down or privatized, there is a bigger picture that we are barely starting to see the scope of.
In a languorous run to profit and ownership, social and political strategies are put into place to ensure effective development with little restraints. As a consequence, we have witnessed our public spaces, institutions, and universities being increasingly dismantled. From the ‘creative city’ model to urban regeneration schemes, spatial planning has become a key element of the political and economic agenda, in which artists and cultural producers are regularly invited to ‘participate.’ Cognitive capital is not only destined to self-exploitation, it has also become a tool to infiltrate the whole public sphere while accelerating the process of urban gentrification. It is worth here recalling the artists, squatters, and working class families in the post-war United States who engaged in urban homesteading and occupation of unutilized spaces. Quickly, they were recognized by government and private investors as viable ways of colonizing neighborhoods in order to drive out the poor, as Martha Rosler has observed in the essay “Culture Class: Art, Creativity, Urbanism.” Clearly, the city has a plan. Does urban society still have one? The last decades have been characterized by a progressive disempowerment of citizens and the nullification of the right to civic participation, replaced by a more populist rhetoric call to ‘responsibility.’ The needs of low-income citizens have been neglected by urban planners and politicians, who saw in the reshaping of cities an opportunity for venturing and experimenting with aggressive neoliberal policies. Speculative bubbles together with civic disempowerment have amplified a general sense of frustration, which has recently culminated in protests and other forms of urban resistance throughout the world.
In this troublesome context, SKOR | Foundation for Art and Public Domain in the Netherlands, proposes a two-day symposium, alongside other activities, to tackle the urgency of the topic. The event, which is part of the Foundation’s ongoing series Actors, Agents, and Attendants, is a chance for individuals, organizations, and practitioners of the arts and cultural sector to gather and reflect on the situation. More than ever, these opportunities are needed to open up the forum, the ‘agora,’ and keep the debate going. …ment, as an independent publishing project, is concerned with the establishment of alternative discursive channels, but also with the task of addressing and participating in ongoing discussions. This reader is a collection of existing and newly commissioned texts that contribute to contextualizing the discussions on social housing and to reflect on the much broader concept of ‘social.’
The city and its inhabitants can only benefit from sophisticated urban planning and neoliberal policies if the ‘community’ is realistically considered the subject and not only a final service’s target. In this sense, revolts, riots, and resistances, regardless of their level of organization, hostility, or direction, express not only a general discontent with the current market-driven system, but also a desire for a radical change directed toward the satisfaction of the interests of the entire collective.
What these movements spreading all over the globe bring into being is a sense of ‘belonging together’ which cannot be targeted as an ideological claim. Instead, it grows and is nurtured by the awareness of our common condition first as human beings and then as citizens responsible for this global society. As we know, every action generates a series of consequences that cannot be ignored and every plan affects those you are meant to be part of. In this regard, while the economist and father of neoliberalism Milton Friedman wanted to transform reality into a tabula rasa where to enroot its aggressive economics formulas, he and his followers didn’t consider that whenever you try to immobilize and narcotize society, one day or another this same society will wake up and reclaim that right to the city and the right to civic participation. Bottom-up modes of resistance are not new phenomena, they have existed and continue to exist where injustices are perpetrated and show themselves in all cruelty and violence. The current protest movements reflect on and exist within a context that has been usurped by speculators and other forms of governmental complicity with the financial system. It is this complicity, and the consequent form of soft authoritarianism derived from it, that has generated frustration and distress. While the welfare state has been eroded to save and thank the financial market for the provoked disasters, what needs to be addressed is this distress as source for a more constructive change.