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William George Jewsbury | Sources of Order in City Life | The extent to which disorder can be used as a positive response to urban social problems

on Tue Aug 07, 2018 9:14 pm
William George Jewsbury | Sources of Order in City Life | The extent to which disorder can be used as a positive response to urban social problems

An understanding of the root organizational sources within city life first requires the word ‘order’ to be broken from its singular definition, thus allowing it to be considered as a theoretical entity whilst enabling a more concise contextualization of its breadth of application within city governance, urban planning, and societal development. The Oxford English dictionary (2006) defines ‘order’ as ‘the arrangement of people or things according to a particular sequence or method’. Furthermore, ‘order’ is definably ‘a state in which everything is in its correct place’, and/or, ‘a state in which the laws and rules regulating public behaviour are observed’. Therefore, order is a desirable state of being. Its definition is punctuated with ideas of ‘control’, and a state of being in control which is stipulated by arrangements of legislation regarding societal conduct. Similarly, within the city, ‘order’ succinctly relates to urban planning in that it describes a state of organization in which everything is in its correct position. An orderly urban development would therefore be architecturally concurrent with its surrounding, and the built city would possess an organizational appropriateness and purpose according to a particular realization of order. Unfortunately, such an idealist perspective of a singular and wholly respected realization of city order is unequivocally utopian (Thomas, 2000). The first part of this essay will consider order only as an ideal circumstance, and will therefore be more theoretical in its advancement than practical in its case study application. Governance driven realizations of what is required to organize social conduct towards civilized progress within urban space, will be drawn along the dominant lines of capitalist economic rhythms. Furthermore, an analysis of the root cause of capitalism dominance within economics will demarcate the source of conflict between ideas of cohesive city order. By considering the route to development within cities, the link between economic structure and social segregators will denote a key tension between different perceptions, which may either forge a growing social entropy towards governmental attempts at organization, or ‘foster art’ and ‘create theatre’, through the ‘conflicting and co-operating personalities’ which transpire (Mumford, 1937, p.185). Indeed, the city, by definition, cannot be an entirely cohesive development, and any attempt to extrapolate the superior sources of order can become lost within what Massey (1999) defines as the heterogeneous concentrations of convoluted cultural entanglements, burgeoning daily intensities, occasionally conflicting social interactions, and multitudinous overlapping fiscal exchanges, which intersect, combine, and compose city life in an unexacting manner.

Disorderly and conflicting ideas of social organization therefore define city space at least as much as attempts to bestow order. Furthermore, if the city is, as Steve Pile (1999, p.77) suggests, a ‘bubbling Cauldron’ of reactionary ingredients thrown together in one place, then defining a city as entirely open to organization would be to brush over a multitude of factors which purposefully disconnect undesirable elements in order to influence an amicable urban composition. Indeed, this begs the question of whose order really counts?, and in the second part of this essay, the extent of governance will reveal that a generalized rhetoric of what is required to craft an orderly city, is demarcated through the practical limitations of any idealized or utopian views of city life. Accordingly, political, economic and ideological differences may prevail, which control and regulate the spatiality of the city through a marginalization of those considered economically or racially disparate, thus demonstrating that disconnection and disorder may be equally definitive of city existence. Attempts to craft a modernized and economically attractive city image, through urban space re-ordering and policies which try to ameliorate any disorderly expansion, may be seen as superficially imposed, thus enabling some urban areas to become open spaces of innovation and interaction, whilst others are ostracized, disconnected, or abandoned (Mooney, 1999). However, it is perhaps the fiery intensity and conflict between different ideas of order, which breeds innovative responses to social problems and the example of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and Harlem in New York, will denote the possibility of a successful use of disorder within city life.

The great transformation: restructuring the source of social city order
Cities are symbolic of civilization; they are the ‘geographical plexus’ of multiform interaction networks (Mumford, 1937, p.185), and ‘the catalysts for technological innovation and economic advancement’ (Jacobs, 1969). In sociology, urban centers have been characterized as social magnets which attract new forms of creativity by encouraging individuals to interact and collectively associate (Carter et al, 2008). Whether in the North or the South, cities are places which are full of opportunity for millions of resourceful people, however, they are not without their disorders, as Beall (2000, p.425) describes with ‘sweatshops, waste dumps, skyscrapers and heaving markets’, embedded within close proximity. The success of city developments is therefore a heavily contested issue with some analysts pointing towards the benefits of urbanization, whilst others such as Rees (1992, p.121) highlight the city’s vast levels of environmental exploitation and growing ‘ecological footprint’, caused by an ever increasing ‘metabolism’ of innovative production alongside insatiable consumption (Jopling and Girarder, 1996). Therefore, a person’s view of whether urban development is orderly or disorderly will depend entirely upon their personal situation within the city, and their adaptation to the ‘dominant rhythms’ of that particular city’s lived experience. (Allen et al, 2000). Sassen and Patel (1996, p.1) concur, stating that those who perceive the city as a predominantly disorderly place of ‘dense slums, squatter settlements, and pavement-dwellers’ omit the fact that the ‘slums and crowded spaces of megacities are also productive areas’ with unique possibilities and huge potential, limited by the organizational structures of city governance. This poses the question of what precisely are the organizational sources which form the dominant rhythms and order within city life?

Karl Polanyi (1944) asserts that since the late nineteenth century, Western European cities have undergone a ‘great transformation’, which has since spread across much of the world. Within his analysis, Polanyi (1944) writes that huge social transformations have occurred due to the rise of modernity which is consequential of processes towards industrial capitalism. Into the twentieth century, and with the establishment of the ‘self-regulating market economy’ in which issues of supply and demand cause price fluctuations, Polanyi (1944, p.55) describes that new economic liberalism fundamentally altered the structure of society, which challenged old models of city social organization. Prior to the self-regulating market, the economy had been embedded in social relations and exchange. However the new independence of market forces required a social detachment in order to enable supply and demand fluctuations to operate correctly. Polanyi (1944, p.57) writes that ‘instead of economy being embedded in social relations, social relations are now embedded within the economy’. In concurrence, geographer David Harvey (1973) describes that this changing relationship has caused an alteration within social organization of urban form. In hierarchical societies, the accumulation of surplus is redistributed, allowing a flow of goods or rights of production to be outsourced for the purpose of capital gains, which ‘support the activities of the urban elite’ (Harvey, 1973, p.427). Indeed, the city is the spatial centre of this process, and so the source of order which predominates within the capitalist system. This sees the city being socially developed according to economic guidelines, which stipulate the requirement of what Castells (2000, p.412) describes as a ‘coordinating hub of market flows’.

There is little doubt regarding a ‘great transformation’ in societal conduct within cities, caused by the radical changes in organization due to capitalism (Harriss, 2000, p.338). However, what is controversial are the geo-political relations of power within the city, particularly economic power, with many relationships notably founded upon existing social inequalities (Harvey, 1997) Furthermore, the advent of a widespread spatial stretching of social, political, economic, and cultural world relations through processes of globalization, led many analysts to suggest that cities are now a ‘space of flows’ rather than a ‘space of places’ (Massey, 1999, p.167). In other words, the city’s order is definable by its breadth of interconnection, its global ‘flows’, in which multinational companies break down national barriers, transcending geographical space, and arguably creating new spatial tensions, as local traditions, cultures and businesses are increasingly undercut by somewhat generic global brands (see Figure.1) (Massey, 1999). In concurrence, Castells (1996) suggests that it is these neo-liberal city’s redefinitions of social and relational networks through globalization, which has seen people increasingly judged by wealth rather than religious merit or cultural morals. This increasing tension between the empowered, affluent urbanites, and those of relative poverty, has heightened the disparity between urban rich and poor, which in turn has re-restructured parts of the city, as businessmen increasingly choose to protect their advantageous positions by enclosing themselves within ‘communities of similarity’ (see Figure.2). Bauman (2003) suggests that this spatial shift is a transition from ‘moxophilia’ to ‘mixophobia’, as citizens become reluctant to live alongside the highly differential populace. Affluent people are then driven towards such ‘purified communities’ (Sennett, 1994 p.124) due to ‘psycho-social fears’, and perceived threats from the strangeness, unknowability, and possible criminal ability of the financially unempowered (Bauman, 2003 p.115). Castells (1996) articulates that such actions lay at the confluence of a ‘second great transformation’ in human interaction and urban development within the city, where organization of infrastructure and social stratifications are based upon neo-liberal governance which favors the educationally and/or financially empowered for prime city position, whilst marginalizing those of limited economic initiative (Allen, 2000).

Bestowing urban order: attempts at city planning and governance
It is becoming evident that order within urbanization cannot be entirely separated from disorder, partially because ‘the imposition of an ordering disorders other aspects of city life’ (Mooney et al, 1999, p.248). Although thus far much has been stated regarding the growth of capitalism as a root organizational structure within most world cities, the theory of such has not yet been exemplified through demonstrating a real situation. In practice, Castells (1996) ideas regarding a ‘second great transformation’ in human interaction and urban development, and Bauman’s (2003) suggestion of a social movement from ‘mixophilia’ to ‘mixophobia’, can be seen through city governance projects that attempt to ameliorate the disorderly progress of liberal market policies which tend to emboldened the gap between urban elites and the relatively poor. Glasgow’s attempt to re-order and modernize during the mid-twentieth century begins to show how city governance defines urban planning in order to alter socio-relational networks, and craft a globally amicable and internally cohesive city order.

Initially, an expanding Glaswegian population intensified city congestion, thus prompting an increased need for new infrastructure and a decentralization of urban sprawl. In theory, a planned decentralization of the working class residential areas would lessen city core congestion, whilst making space for a new business district and further capitalist development (Pile, 1999). Therefore, 200,000 new council homes were built in peripheral areas during the 1946 Clyde Valley Regional Plan. Steven Pile (1999) describes that ‘this new layer of social and spatial differentiation was superimposed on previous layers of class segregation’ (p.77). In other words, the city was to be modernized to enable economically beneficial expansions of the central business district and industrial zones, whilst altering the geographies of the relatively poor inner-urban populace. Pushed to the periphery, the working classes forfeited their attachments and ‘close-knit communities’ (Meegan, 1989 p.76), which differentiated their social identity within the city. Subsequently, this new anonymity and relative geographic isolation from main areas of employment and entertainment, led to social dislocations. In adaptation, new identities were forged within Glasgow’s housing estates. Growing lawlessness, poverty, crime, and juvenile delinquency then contested the view of Glasgow’s regeneration. Order effectively became perceived as disorder, as the 1946 utopian plans of housing estates were undermined by a form of urban ghettoization (Mooney, 1999). Mediated as areas of ‘deviants’ and ‘corrosive of the social fabric’ (Devine & Wright, 1993 p.81) Glasgow’s re-ordering clearly denotes how several social problems arise out of governance driven attempts to order a previously socially embedded city space.

Indeed, large scale re-orderings of city space highlight the difficulty is combining social needs with developmental progress. Similarly, any governance driven ideological enactment of ‘utopian’ city order enables a heightened possibility of societal chaos due to an emerging ‘social entropy’ (Bailey, 1987, p.365), and failure of adaptation towards the imposed order of authoritarian plans. For example, figure 3 shows the perfect image of an orderly city. Its perpendicular streets and architecturally cohesive buildings demonstrate an urban plan similar to that of La Corbusier’s (1922) utopian visions (in Jacobs, 1961). However, this city is the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. A city troubled by political turmoil and religious upheaval, especially since the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s authoritarian regimes of city governance. On closer inspection then, the city streets show an attempt to ameliorate some kind of perceived disorder within Saddam Hussein’s particular realization of societal order. This occurred through ‘erasing, standardizing, and suburbanizing’ (Jacobs, 1961, p.460) the city, under the premise that ‘the proper design of things would solve all the problems in the social process’ (Harvey, 1997, p.24). An idea that although at the opposite end of the developmental spectrum, (in that Iraq’s developmental path was authoritarian) bears much relational dynamism with Glasgow’s capitalist inner-city reordering, in that an imposed vision of order by those in power, unintentionally created a social entropy, whilst dislocating the disadvantaged, in an attempt to craft a politically and economically amicable composition of urban space

Indeed, the embedded geographies of differentiated communities, contest the very definition of order and disorder within the city, whilst simultaneously challenging the plans of those in power (Robinson, 1999). Mediated and socially constructed as pathologically deviant areas, the council estates of Glasgow, hold several similarities with the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, or the communities of Harlem. Wacquant (1997) writes that ‘far from being disorganized’, these places are ‘organized according to different principles, in response to a unique set of structural and strategic constraints’ (p.346). In other words, these areas of the city have a complex network of relations, with their own unique conceptions of order. Harlem, a New York City neighborhood of inner-city Manhattan, has long been divided from the city’s core relational networks. It is an area which consists mainly of black African-American’s, who have found themselves socially marginalized by racial exclusion throughout history (Smith, 1987). In effect, Harlem was divided from the core city, relationally distanced due to the colour differentiation of its inhabitants. Harlem’s ghetto status was then further confirmed by its relative economic disconnection, with a deprivation of investment compared to other parts of the city. Similarly, Perlman (1976) argues the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, are stereotypically portrayed as ‘disease-ridden’ disorderly locales. Social labelling is used as a ‘political weapon’; to further justify divisive policies which increase stigmatization and marginalization of the favela inhabitants (p.242). However, what the favelas of Rio, and the black African-American population of Harlem have in common more so than their assumed relational distancing from the city, is their ability to contest and undermine the boundaries drawn around them. In the case of Rio de Janeiro, Perlman (1976) argues that although spatially decentralized (see Figure 4), the favelas are central to Brazilian culture. The samba, contemporary arts, religious cults and colourful slang all originated in the favelas, contributing to the identity, vitality, and intensity of city life. In concurrence, Harlem has fostered a remarkable period of cultural creativity. Power (1997) writes that during the 1920s, black ‘cultural confidence began to stretch beyond the borders of Harlem’ and ‘into other black communities of the Western world’ (p.17), becoming a city within a city, with unique global connections. White supremacy then became challenged out of Harlem, with prominent figures such as Malcolm X and the Black Panthers able to gain political traction (Pile, 1999). Although still fiscally marginalized through lack of investment, Harlem flourished culturally, with an intensity of creativity that differentiated it, whilst politically undermining many porous attempts to dividedly order its unique social progression. (Mooney, 1999) The favelas of Rio and the communities of Harlem, thus demonstrate an alternative vision of order within the city. A social order where the ostracized and highly differentiated populace of the city can be seen as self-organized communities, with well developed alternative networks of social, political, and cultural union. Therefore, the city’s perceived social disorders, which paradoxically can arise from attempts at reordering city space, may represent a positive response towards a negotiation of social problems by adding a confliction driven creativity, vitality, and intensity to city life.

The uses of disorder: a positive response to social problems?
Richard Sennett (1996) suggests that a further mixing-up of people and culture within the city would disintegrate many social problems which occur due to weak socio-economic class relations and ethnic variations. This would imply that a further disordering of city space might be beneficial, in that ‘if the permeability of cities’ neighborhoods were increased’ then disparate populations may ‘become more comfortable with people unlike themselves’. In the US city of Boston, Sennett (1996) observes that ‘fear of deviance and conflict’ is greater in the spatially separate Irish part of the city than it is in another Irish neighbourhood where ‘blacks and college students’ permeate (p.189–98). Indeed, it is these ‘psycho-social’ fears of those who are perceived as socially, culturally, economically, and/or racially disparate, which profoundly organize the ways in which city life is conducted (Watson, 2008, p.120). Furedi (1997, p.147) articulates this fear as a psychological calculation of risk, in writing that a world view has developed, ‘which equates the good life with self-limitation, and risk aversion’. Therefore, the exposure of city inhabitants to difference can threaten their internal sense of ‘ontological security’, causing them to retreat from questioning the stipulated city orderings of those in power (Watson, 2008, p.121). However, Sennett (1996) argues that it is this blasé acceptance of plans to order the city according to the realizations of the powerful, which causes many social problems. In continuance, Sennett (1996) states that a purposeful disorder raised against the lack of investment and social problems in a marginalized part of the city, may form ‘a desirable state of people seeking to govern themselves’ (p.189–98).

   ‘Take conflict in the public arena away, and you revert to the idea that a broad swatch of urban society can have its best interests ‘managed’ for it by impersonal bureaucratic means. This godlike presumption about other peoples lives on the part of planners only builds up steam for violent disruption.’(Sennett, 1996, p.198)

In response to civil unrest, a democratic governance response to the needs of the disadvantaged urban populace, would likely occur, in order to curb the complete dystopian turmoil threatened by a deepening social entropy. In this instance, societal disorder would prove purposeful in its chaotic attempt to ameliorate a commonly perceived wrong (Mooney et al, 1999). However, presenting somewhat of a paradox is the fact that disorder itself needs organizing, but only in so far as it acts cohesively against the marginalizing plans of the affluent city developers. In concurrence, Fisk, (1999, p.11) writes that ‘to revolt against an imposition of order for the sake of it is to revolt against ourselves’.

Potter (2000) describes that a governance response to social disorder and upheaval heralds the beginning of ‘political accountability’, which is often only achieved within a ‘liberal democratic’ organizational structure (p.365). Korten (1995 pp.178–9) furthers this explanation in stating that empowerment calls for ‘an equality-led transformation of institutions and values to restore community‘, which in turn would benefit the lived human experiences of the poor within cities. A transformation in institutions and redistribution of power is therefore required within democratic order to heighten the communal homogeneity of the city. Indeed, a resistance to current structures can be influenced by a disorderly order that purposefully forms alliances, creating a form of power known as social capital, that enables an adequate representation of a social need (Sen, 1994).This disorderly order of city inhabitants that are able to work together for a common purpose, may then demonstrate a propensity to respond to social problems in a coherent manner. For example, in Beijing city’s transition from the pure communism of China’s past into a more capitalist organizational structure, the liberalization of labour movements, and decentralization of numerous market segments, enabled the formation of social capital, which facilitated disorder and resistance against old communist structures. (Bromley et al, 2002) Subsequently, the social capital of a combined disorder expanded individual capabilities, ‘securing human rights’ and thus ‘empowering some poor people to escape poverty’ (UNDP, 2000, p.73).

   ‘In extracting the city from preplanned control, men will become more in control of themselves and more aware of each other. That is the promise, and the justification of disorder.’
   (Sennett, 1996, p.189–98)

Conclusion: the root source of city order and the empowerment of disorder
Order, with its convolution of entangled meanings, matches the city’s organizational structure in so far as it is hard to define singularly, due to a multitude of different perceptions. It has been found that to understand the source of order; one must look beyond the boundaries of the city, and into towards the extent of interconnection with the wider world. However, it is worth noting that the breadth of this essay is limited as it is mainly concerned with economics, instead of cultural or social factors, in order to attribute the cause of order to a particular source. Despite this, the dominant rhythm of capitalism notably formed the precursor to many urban developments. However, this posed the question of how and why this purely economic structure had forged such a strong social organizational influence within the contemporary city. Therefore, capitalism needed to be understood as a fundamental alteration in societal conduct, which Karl Polanyi (1944) helped to decipher by highlighting ‘the great transformation’ in civilization development. Harvey (1977) added that a changing relationship between the social and economic spheres caused an alteration of urban form, with the city being socially developed according to economic guidelines, that stipulate the requirement of a ‘coordinating hub of market flows’ (Castells, 2000, p.412).

The new situation meant that the power to bestow order lay with the wealthy urban elites, and a deepening marginalization of the unempowered poor became increasingly evident through processes of globalization, which spatially stretched networks of social, political, economic and cultural relations. Those without the financial or educational ability to tap into these new networks, are increasingly ostracized and pushed to the periphery through urban planning. The social dislocations, evident within Glasgow’s 1948 ‘utopian’ housing estate plans, epitomized the ability of social disorder to spark from an attempt to bestow a governance driven realization of order (Mooney, 1999). Bailey (1987, p.365) asserts that these ideological enactments of ‘utopian’ city plans enable a heightened possibility of societal chaos, due to emerging ‘social entropy’. However, it is possible for this disorder to add towards the intensity and creativity of the city. For example, the arts which transpire out of the favelas of Rio de Janeiro are noted as central to Brazilian culture (Perlman, 1976). Similarly, the ability of Harlem’s marginalized populace to influence city politics via the political unrest it fostered, questioned the uses of disorder, pointing towards a possible harnessing of societal revolt as a positive response to social problems.

The work of Sennett (1996) began to unravel the intricacies of an order within disorder, and how disorder can empower the disadvantaged if used correctly. A resistance to current structures may be influential, if a purposeful formation of social capital demonstrates an adequate representation of a social need (Sen, 1994). This would enable the voices of the urban poor to be heard and dealt with accordingly, in order to prevent a deepening social entropy which would spell economic disaster. In this instance, disorder will have worked towards a transformation in institutions and redistribution of power that prevents a dystopian meltdown, and begins a movement towards a heterogeneous mix within the city, that is not adherent to any singular utopian ideal, but communally collaborative in its progression towards a more cohesive city development
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