On van Eijk

Two questions to get started:

More than anything else, van Eijk’s article reads to me as a treatise on the problem of separating the economic from the social: she wants a fuller recognition of the effects that social agendas have on urban policies. And social agendas do not exist outside of or alongside economic realities; rather, the social and the economic are inextricable. How does the author make this point?

How does community play out in this text?

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4 thoughts on “On van Eijk

  1. I really appreciated van Eijk’s take on the interplay between social and economic factors in Neoliberal urban revanchism. One element I’ve been really interested in with regards to how neoliberalism gets played out in urban environments is spatial polarization, or the separation (or segregation) of different people within city space. I’m sure this is true for a lot of ‘neoliberal’ cities, but something that often comes up in my discussions with newcomers to Vancouver is how distinctly polarized its neighbourhoods are: for example, how drastically different walking through the streets of the DTES is compared to Gastown or Kits. Simply strolling down Hastings has been described to me as “walking through different worlds”.

    In researching for a paper I did recently on the Olympics and the alteration of public urban space, I came across a lot of texts that described neoliberal urban revanchism and its effects on the spatial polarization of cities. Most of these texts positioned spatial polarization as strictly motivated by class, and gentrification of spaces as distinctly linked to economic factors. Although economic motivations are definitely heightened in the context of the Olympics and other mega-events, I believe there are also very clear nationalistic discourses that emphasize ‘cohesive community identities’ or ‘national pride’ – that often center around a very privileged, upper middle class, Eurocentric, ‘masculine’ concept of citizenship. It seems clear to me that there are definitely social elements to spatial polarization. People describe feelings of safety and belonging in their privileged neighbourhoods, and often speak about the DTES as a dangerous or ‘sketchy’ place that they avoid. In Vancouver at least, polarization seems to serve what van Eijk describes as a social ordering strategy:

    “The search for ‘safety’ thus is more than demanding absence of crime and decay: it goes together with a search for national unity and identity. Understanding ‘safety’ this way allows us to recognize insecurities about social order and national unity as additional but independent (i.e. not merely a manifestation of economic motives) drivers of exclusionary policies.” (830)

    What do you all think? Are there social elements to Vancouver’s spatial polarization? What might they be? How do the urban policies used in Rotterdam differ from Vancouver’s and how do they both exclude/include people?

  2. Van Eijk raised an interesting point on community that resonated with me: the social construct of an “Other” whenever terms of unity are employed. When asking people in Rotterdam about their feelings of safety, they commonly complained of “antisocial behaviour” (par.23); neighbours not saying hello, newcomers keeping to themselves, and youth roaming in gangs – all activities which gave people the feeling that the “we” of their community was threatened by a “them”. I agree with Prof. Myrdahl that this brought up memories of the “Stranger” concept we have discussed in class before – it seems people’s feelings of belonging and community seem intricately tied to these concepts of “Same” and “Other”. What I am still struggling with is an idea of how we can begin to address these issues? It seems like no matter the situation, if we speak of unity, there must inherently be someone that is left out. This may be pessimistic to say, but won’t there always be an “other” or a “stranger” threatening people’s feelings of security and community?

    • Bailey, you raise some interesting points that I too had been left wondering about after reading Eijk’s article. It seems like othering occurs anywhere there is an ‘original’ group of people and an influx of newcomers/outsiders. It is almost a natural way of making sense of another and protecting one’s self. Almost all of us naturally stereotype others as we try make sense of the world.
      It seems apparent, and Eijk was getting at this, that we live in societies that have a heightened awareness or concern, though not necessarily legitimate, about safety and security especially as a result of globalization, increased immigration, 9/11 and national security/terrorism discourses. It appears on the surface that such exclusionary policies that Rotterdam had implemented were rational considering the context but don’t in actual effect create more secure/liveable/comfortable societies. This is because in the process they demonize, criminalize and scapegoat foreign and newly immigrated ethnic groups. Communities are almost set up for failure because there are already established ideas about the other created by the greatest protector of society that people assume knows best, the state. People are judged before they even have a chance to make an impression.
      Personally the policies in Rotterdam seemed to be systemically oppressive and perpetuated discrimination and racism. I would suggest that tolerance policies and strategies need to be implemented that follow a multicultural discourse rather than an integrationist only model. I think it is possible to have a multicultural society but also allow for integration to work alongside. I do think that having diverse neighbourhoods is positive, but I don’t believe that they way Rotterdam is aiming to achieve that is the best way in the long-run for creating more liveable societies for all. I don’t think it’s ever going to be easy to bring two very different groups of people together but I don’t think that purely integrationist policies are the answer.

  3. Angela, I agree that if we truly wish to find ‘community’ and avoid urban spatialization which often only seems to create distinctions between ‘other’ and ‘same’, we need to adopt a multicultural and integrationist perspective. I think Bailey’s comment: “if we speak of unity, there must inherently be someone that is left out” may sum up our human nature. Unfortunately, I believe tactics of inclusion and exclusion are often the first tactics used before a sense of community emerges. I think it is interesting how young children seem to use these same polarizing processes when first forming their own sense of identity – where often difference means fear and they only reach out to others like themselves – to make friends. When they grow up, they may be less intimidated by difference and enjoy a greater variety of friendships. Perhaps, when van Eijk speaks of urban revanchism, it may be that the changing face of Carnisse is causing its earlier inhabitants to experience similarly polarized attitudes before time brings adaptation to change and, ultimately, later opens up urban spaces which celebrate difference.

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