2013 AAG Session: Austerity Cities: Bankruptcy, Dispossession, Foreclosure, Privatization and Resistance

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.

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