How Utopia Became a Real Estate Leaflet ?

As Edward Said (1994, p. 6) once said, “none of us is completely free from the struggle over geography”, including financial capital. Said (1994, p. 6) continues, this struggle “is not only about soldiers and cannons but also about ideas, about forms, about images and imaginings”. Discursive formation of real-estate futures has long been part of this struggle. From London to Istanbul, various everyday life images and spatial representations are replicated in promotional materials of real-estate projects such as in advertisements, catalogues and billboards. These all together form a discourse of the ideal everyday life that people dream of. This paper focuses on the case of branded housing projects which are developed as a version of housing enclaves in Istanbul following the deepening of neoliberal urbanisation in Turkey. It discusses the role of the representations and images in the project catalogues and advertisements in imagining of future everyday life from a Lefebvrian-Gramscian perspective. The paper presents a comprehensive critical discourse analysis and challenges the idealisation (and normalisation) of everyday life practices offered in these hyper-controlled, under surveillance and commodified urban spaces. It concludes that the struggle of hegemonic and counter-hegemonic discourse over everyday life is a key for reclaiming utopia, therefore, future imaginings.

The talk was given in scope of the Planetary Futures Conference: Imagining the Future – Financial Capitalism and the Social Imagination @ Institute of Advanced Studies, UCL, London, 11 July 2017

For the programme of the conference and the abstracts click here.

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Image Credit: Robert Almonte

Doing Architectural Research Socio-political Perspectives on Theories, Methodologies and Praxis

Since the 1970s, cities have become core areas for neoliberal restructuring strategies, policies and processes (Peck et al., 2009). Brenner et al. (2010) stress that different neoliberalization practices share the ambition “to intensify commodification in all realms of social life” (Aalbers 2013, 1054). In addition, prominent critical scholars including Lefebvre, Harvey and Castells agree upon the fact that “capitalist cities are not only arenas in which commodification occurs; they are themselves intensively commodified” (Brenner et al., 2009, 178).

The talk methodologically asked the question:

How can we investigate this multi-layered phenomenon which includes dynamics of production and commodification of space as well as everyday life ?

The talk was given in scope of The Centre for Urban Conflicts Research Workshop exploring and questioning what constitutes architectural research, specifically research from socio-political perspectives.

UK Housing Crisis: (Anti)Social Housing Associations’ New Low

UK housing crisis is not news for many living in the UK and also for many working on housing. It is mostly discussed as a problem of deficiency of the quantity of housing: There is not enough number of houses, soo let’s build more and more. However, it is not just quantity, but the quality of housing, especially newly built ones are crumbling as well.

 

According to Guardian investigation, people living in housing projects built by Catalyst, Sanctuary, Notting Hill Housing, Wandle, and the One Housing Group raised that major maintenance issues are not tackled such as damp,  rat infestation, the lifts left broken for a week or so, security failures, and no hot water.

The situation getting worse when hearing more stories from people living in houses built and run by housing associations:

“When we moved in, we turned on the taps in the kitchen sink and water flooded everywhere, including into the flat below us. And the boiler went almost immediately. We’d be without hot water for two, three weeks at a time. At one point, three flats would give each other their kettles so we could run ourselves a bath.” (Guardian)

Orchard Village has been the focus of hundreds of complaints from its residents. These include extensive leaks, damp and mould, staircases that have come away from walls, broken heating systems, inadequate fire-proofing and absent insulation. People are also concerned about alleged high levels of methane and hydrogen sulphide, which some claim may have had a direct impact on their health. (Harris)

Residents have a dossier of problems drawn from more than 50 homes: “holes in roof of landings”, “mould in bedroom”, “balcony door broken”, “cold house”, “lawn dying after no drainage installed”, “no fire break in between properties”. Some annual heating and hot water bills are said to be three times more than people were led to expect. There are also endless claims about treatment of residents by Circle and its contractors: “Waited three years for repair of stairs”; “staff ignore telephone conversations”; “no response to complaints”. (Guardian)

The problems have roots in the public-private characteristics of housing associations which are promoted as a ‘third-way’ solution. The associations are supported by public money, however, act as private developers. Kind of best of both, aren’t they? Well, the result is low quality and unhealthy buildings, nearly non-maintenance, and angry residents.

Note: Guardian is still continuing the investigation on problems in the housing schemes developed by housing associations. If you experience one refer to the link.

“No Water or Gas, If You Don’t Pay Your Monthly Fee.” Says the Management

 

In my PhD research, I criticised private provision of housing enclaves in Istanbul and argued that this practice gives too much authority in the hands of private management companies and passivate the residents of these areas.

Usually, municipalities deliver urban infrastructure and services, and citizens pay tax in return. In this practice, private management companies are responsible for delivering urban infrastructure including water, sewage and gas networks, landscaping and roadworks within the confines of the projects. In return, the residents have to pay a monthly fee to these companies. The problem is that while municipalities are subject to many controls for their practice, taxation, and spending, these companies are like just any private company operating in the market.

I have come across this recent case, for example. It is very striking. Some families living in a luxury housing enclave were unable to pay the total amount of their fees, but they did pay their bills for water and gas. The private management company’s response was brutal: The water meters of the houses were removed and gas was cut in the middle of January.

The residents took this to the court and get access to water and gas again after having a court order!

In the news article, Cesim Parlak, an expert lawyer on criminal law, argues that expansion of this practice of shared use of water and heating in large housing estates, the estate managements became hegemonic in this practice. According to Parlak, the private management companies acts like car parking mafia. The carpark mafia in Turkey appropriate some places and demand parking fees from the ones who park their cars in those areas, although they have no right to the land they appropriate. So, Parlak says that according to law, estate managements do not have a call for giving or not giving this service to the residents.

Well, apparently, what the management company did was illegal in this case. But, the question is who is controlling what the private management companies are doing in more than 800 branded housing projects in Istanbul? The answer is a big fat no one.

(Image credit: Yeni Projeler)

Advertisement-free Cities

What if we strip our towns from outdoor advertisements, which dominate public spaces for quite a some time..

 

 

CATS – the Citizens Advertising Takeover Service did that for you in London and the result is marvellous.

 

It was funded via Kickstarter by almost 700 people who pledged over 23k GBP to get the project up and running, and as organizer James Turner noted in a blog, “This isn’t a clever marketing stunt. The people behind it are volunteers. We want to inspire people to think differently about the world and realize they have the power to change it.” (boredpanda)

 

Check it out:

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Image Credit: boredpanda

 

The result shows how much our public space is occupied by advertisements, and how they are commodified silently. It also shows potentials to use these spaces for public art (or other good causes) instead of serving for more consumption. Thanks CATS for making a point with out feline friends 🙂

 

Singapore: The Land of Condominiums

A Singaporean politician Kenneth Jeyaretnam once said: “If George Orwell and Philip Dick had an illegitimate child of a theme park, then this would be Singapore” (Huffingtonpost). As a politician defending privatisation of public assets, this allegory may have different connotations, but it has a point in terms of high level of control of mediation in daily life.

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Public Housing Estate in Bishan 

Singapore is an interesting city-state with its high-rise housing developments. Most of the population live in housing estates built by the state, and most of them are home-owners. These estates form seld-sufficient towns providing services and facilities within their confines. In one hand, housing developments in Singapore are famous with successful applications of public housing in term of provision and quality, in other hand it is infamous with control over the daily life of the residents through these.

Housing Development Board (HDB) exercises control over every aspect of the system, not only building and selling apartments, but acting as a mortgage lender. The agency can also operate as an arm of the police. According to Phang, the HDB has the power to withhold keys from residents with unpaid parking tickets, and to evict those convicted of more serious offenses. (Miller)

It is not just the practce of HDB, but strict laws control, at least mediate, daily life in Singapore; even the chewing gum:

The Economist assesses Singapore, where the PAP has run the show for more than half a century, as a “flawed democracy”. The degree of state power that has enabled such extensive and rapidly executed feats of urban planning has also led to policies that appear to the rest of the world as draconian, such as corporal punishment for acts of vandalism, a ban on the importation of chewing gum, urine detectors installed in elevators, and expression-limiting laws of the kind that put Amos Yee on trial. (Guardian)

But, not all public housing estates are equal. Executive Condominiums are built as a superir form of housing estates developed by the public sector. They are enclosed within a gated area with security and exclusive amenities. They are pretty much like private condos.

Visual from an add for a private condo Sturdee Residences

Glasear, who is working on private cities in US, explicit about his admiration of Singapore case: “Singapore is close to the ideal model of land-use planning in the 21st century” (Guardian).

While being far from in agreement with him, I think, we should ask this question: Do we realy want to live in such a world ?

Meet Gurgaon: A Patch-work Private City without Sewage System

Gurgaon is a city in India, where many private housing enclaves are located and run by private management companies. With no municipal services, the private management companies provide key urban facilities only within the gates of the enclaves.

The practice draws a horrendous picture of the piecemeal private provision of municipal services, replacing sewage system with gigantic septic tanks, dumping sewage to public land, replacing police force with the army of private security, dodgy lost spaces between the housing enclaves…

A patchwork of private services emerges, but only within property lines. “If you’re living inside the development, everything looks great. It looks like you have functional sewage, but those lines are not connected to a main line. They go nowhere.” Instead, the sewage collects in a septic tank at the edge of the property. The building’s owner contracts a tanker truck to ferry the sewage to a dumping ground or river.

Gurgaon’s developers can weather shortages in electricity by using diesel-powered generators … which serve only their own properties. They’ve beefed up the city’s 4,000-strong police force with an army of 35,000 private security guards.  (ideas.ted.com)

 

Another controversial topic regarding this developments is their relationship with surrounding slum areas.

Sewage trucks will frequently bypass treatment plants and dump their contents on public land, and while it poses a health hazard to nearby slums, public officials don’t have the resources to counter such infractions.(ideas.ted.com)

What we see here is double exploitation of the urban space: on one hand, exclusive private provision of municipal services is hampering public provision, on the other hand, the enclaves expulse their ‘unwanted’ bits to the surroundings like dumping their sewage on public land.

All in all, we should ask ourselves, if we want to live in such an unsustainable dystopia before it is too late. Because this is what we are heading towards with a speed of light with this level of the commodification of urban space.