Divided Cities: Old and New

Guardian Cities recently released a documentary series called Divided Cities.

As our world grows more polarised, Divided Cities goes beyond Trump and Brexit to tell the story of five cities that reflect big global divisions in surprising and troubling ways.

The series provides a broader perspective on being divided in contemporary times. While it includes a classic example for a divided city through the case of Nicosia – “the UN-patrolled barricade that cleaves the island of Cyprus into a mostly Greek Cypriot south and Turkish Cypriot north”, it also expands it through the case of Memphis – “One of the worst of the country’s so-called “food deserts” is in Memphis, Tennessee, where many neighbourhoods lack what seems a basic right in richer neighbourhoods – a supermarket.”

Although I agree with the Guardian editors that divisions, segregation and exclusion in our cities are rampant, divided cities is hardly a new concept. Cities have been perhaps divided since they have been first founded. Miletos, Jerico, Ur, … they have all produced and reproduced various divisions, segregations and exclusions within.

For our contemporary cities, being spatially divided is perhaps another embodiment of divisions such as class or race. Although in contemporary cities official racial segregation has not been like the case as it was in South Africa and redlining in the US, it continues in more indirect,  or perhaps insidious, ways. Segregation by class, on the other hand, is normalised, accepted and happening full-fledged.

This normalised way of segregation and exclusion creates everyday discrimination against working classes. It becomes visible incident by incident when it reaches a truly outrageous stage. We have seen this in the case of a segregated playground where children living in social housing were not allowed to use the playground in a common area of residential development in London. Another example was the poor door incident, when the poor door practice – providing separate entrances for ‘market’ and ‘affordable’ housing residents in the same building – hit the headlines, it created such a reaction. However, these incidental reactions are hardly providing solutions for the main problem. Although these outrageous attempts might be taken under control, as it happened in London after the segregated playground incident, overall class-based segregation is normalised and accepted in contemporary cities. Otherwise, it would not be possible to displace hundreds of social housing residents to build more condos and so-called luxury housing developments in cities like London and Manchester.

Perhaps the solution lays behind to challenge the common-sense of our times that for the many it is good enough to live in good enough conditions and places, while the few are entitled to live in privileged places.

(Image Credit: The Guardian | Matt from London/Flickr)

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