Co-organizing with Kevin Ward (Manchester)
Cities in a number of countries of the industrialized north are under increasing fiscal pressure as national governments have sought to ‘download’ austerity budgeting. While for the most part this constitutes continuity rather than change after decades of neo-liberal urbanism it, nevertheless, has increased the fiscal strain on cities. As spending allocations from above have been reduced,
concurrently many cities have seen their local tax revenues dwindle. The cutting of public sector budgets and targeting of the social state in the likes of Greece, Italy, Spain, the UK and the US is, according to Peck (2012), ‘defining a new operational matrix for urban politics.’ In the US a number of cities have declared themselves to be bankrupt, invoking Chapter Nine legislation to
radically reform their budgets. Brought on by the on-going fiscal crisis and the federal government’s responses to it, tightening fiscal conditions have allowed some city governments to settle old scores with labour unions, slashing pay and healthcare benefits for current public employees and retirees. In the UK local services continue to be cut. Facilities are closed, lights turned off, and
provision reduced. At the same time new markets are being created for private providers to ‘fill the gaps’, as city leaders dance to the tune of the Coalition government’s Plan A austerity measures. While those in charge of cities struggle to resist the pressure to balance budgets, the public have in some cases taken to the streets to make their views clear. In Spain the summer of 2012 saw anti-austerity demonstrations in eighty cities. In the US there continue to be examples of local residents pushing back against cuts, such as the campaigns that have taken place in Baltimore over the plans to cut or
privatize one third of all the city’s recreation centres. In Greece, meanwhile, the last two years have been replete with examples of citizens occupying the streets to resist the consequences of austerity measures.
This session includes papers that seek to decode the austerity measures facing cities, the variety of ways in which different cities are responding to these measures and the range of counter and oppositional campaigns that are seeking their push-back.
How going broke became fiscal fix: American cities in crisis?
Since the 2007 financial crisis, all levels of government have faced growing fiscal strain. At the federal level, a burgeoning deficit has become a much debated political issue. At the state level, stimulus monies have ran dry leaving many governors scrabbling to maintain basic services. And at the municipal level declining tax revenues have combined with a “downloading” of responsibilities from the state and federal level. American municipalities have therefore found themselves at the forefront of fiscal austerity. For some cities the situation appears to have become so dire that they have declared themselves bankrupt. This paper examines how the recent spate of municipal bankruptcies has occurred. It traces out the 1930s Great Depression origins of US bankruptcy legislation and explains how the 2008 bankruptcy filing of Vallejo, CA, radically transformed the intended purpose of this legislation. Rather than reading municipal bankruptcies as an inevitable consequence of economic recession, the paper argues that re-interpreted bankruptcy legislation opened a route for municipalities to roll-out a radical, revanchist form of fiscal restructuring. Where this restructuring has taken place, we have seen municipal bond holders and taxpayers pitted against public sector unions and retirees. For those cities that opt to undertake this class violence, the “rewards” might – tragically – include fiscal stability, declines in union power and an ability to reengage with entrepreneurial urban development schemes.
Bankruptcy, Bonds and the alleged legacy of the Zodiac Killer: The implications of Vallejo’s fiscal hypochondria
Since the 1970s cities have been significantly impacted by a growing reliance on debt financing and resultant interactions with capital markets. Cities must now issue municipal bonds in order to implement public works, fund development projects or bridge funding gaps. In the US, municipal indebtedness has meant the price of entrepreneurial failure is Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy. Yet Chapter 9 filings remain rare. As a consequence, municipal bonds are presumed some of the most secure, low-risk investment vehicles in the capital markets. However, in 2008 this presumption was severely disturbed when the City of Vallejo, California, filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection. Vallejo claimed it could no longer honor those labor contracts initially bargained in the wake of the 1969 Zodiac murders. Simply, the city claimed its general fund expenditures, mostly fire and police budgets, had outgrown total revenues. Unlike other recent filings, the most notable being Orange County, California, in 1994, Vallejo’s bankruptcy was not the result of speculative developments and/or highly-leveraged investments gone wrong. In this paper we explore the factors that led Vallejo’s city government to file an unprecedented claim for municipal bankruptcy. This leads us to discuss how institutional actors became mobilized within bankruptcy courts, offering a rare illustration of the structural processes conditioning urban governance. In conclusion we sketch out the nation-wide implications of Vallejo’s bankruptcy with a particular focus upon the ways in which labor has now assumed even more exposure to the risks of entrepreneurial governance.
David Madden (NYU) and I have three sessions running at this year’s AAGs
New Geographies of Publics, Spaces and Politics
The connections between publics, spaces and politics are complex and contradictory perhaps as never before. The twenty-first century has been marked by contentious public political action. Events in Tbilisi, Kiev, Tehran, Paris, Tunis, Cairo, Manama, Sana’a, Madison, Athens, London and scores of other cities have dramatically underscored the continuing potency of outdoor participatory politics and the intense strategic and symbolic significance of public urban centrality. At the same time, the transformative potential of urban publicity has never been more in doubt. New technologies of control and surveillance penetrate ever deeper into everyday life, and political philosophers continue to highlight the absence of a place where political logics can be contested. We are thus witnessing a double-movement, as the end or death of public politics uneasily accompanies its return and reformulation.
In this session we look to assess the state of public space(s). We invite theoretical and empirical submissions that examine a variety of issues related to public space. Suggested topics include (but are not limited to):
- The geographies of public space
- Political theory and space
- Micro-politics and public space
- Privatization and public-private partnerships
- Public parks and politics
- Globalization and global publics
- Aesthetic practice, space and politics
- Crowds and surveillance
- Political economy and publicity
- Revolution and space
- Urban technologies and control
- Urban development and provision of public space
- The commons and publics
- State power and space