Sunday, July 10, 2011

Two Cities

      In a talk given by anthropologist AbouMaliq Simone given a couple of years ago, Simone distinguished between the experience of the city in the cities of the periphery that he was focused on and the cities of the core.  The chief difference that he discussed was the ability of the people living in the cities to change the physical structure of the cities they lived in, to place their mark on the city space.  I've been thinking about this recently because of the differences in living in the Twin Cities as opposed to Irvine.  While one may not have the ability to radically transform the city in the ways that Simone discussed, there is still a difference between the ability to transform the city space of Minneapolis as opposed to Irvine.  The former is marked by the small and minute everyday transformations of those who live there, as opposed to Irvine, which is very difficult to change, because of its building codes, its high rents, and the privatized structures that define the space.  For me, the limitations of the later continually make the experience of living their deeply alienating, and perhaps more specifically, hostile.  I may not have had the change to deeply impact the terrain of the Twin Cities, but I can still see the collective transformations of the space created by others.  There's something about that experience that allows me to feel at home in a way that I have never felt at home in Irvine.  I don't want to transform Minneapolis and Saint Paul into some sort of utopian space.  Throughout the city, the kind of structures that I hate so much in Irvine can be seen in much of the recent construction in the cities, gesturing towards a similar logic.  Downtown, in particular, has become a fairly reprehensible collection of expensive bars, restaurants, and  shopping areas.

      The difference between the two cities seems to be defined by the intensity at which the logic of capital has managed to colonize the logic of each of the cities.  The Twin Cities ties back to a long history of class struggle that is linked back to a set of struggles in the 1930's, most notably defined by the Minneapolis General Strike of 1934, while Irvine has no such history, allowing for the privatizing logic of late capitalism.  I think that we can link these three points, connecting our ability to feel at home in the city both with our ability to transform that city and with the modes of resistance to the colonization of the logic of capital.  We can link both the particularity and the multiplicity of these actions to the concept of use value itself, and it's worth noting that these acts of making use are not outside of the commercial logic of late capitalism.  Indeed, the first examples that come to mind are the decorations in small shops such as children's drawings or the store cat of a book store, although one can point to public structures such as parks and libraries to gesture towards a broader logic of the public.  (Irvine technically has public parks, but those parks feel remarkably privatized.)  Use-value is simultaneously embedded within the structures of accumulation that define contemporary capitalism and gestures towards a logic exterior to the the logic that defines capital.

     At the same time, one can see the slow collapse of the social democratic project throughout the city through the loss of services and public resources.  The state is currently closed due to a budget conflict between the Republican legislature and the Democratic governor, which can be tied to a long refusal to continue the social contract produced in the crisis of capital of the 1930's.  In this sense, the experience of the city has a strain of tragedy contained in it.  If the city has value, the qualities that give it that value are being slowly consumed in acts of gentrification and suburbanization.  With very few exceptions, change is defined as change for the worse.

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