Rio’s favela dwellers fight to stave off evictions in runup to Brazil World Cup

Better consultation with residents, not forced demolitions, could lead to peaceful resolution to battle for Santa Marta slum.
MDG : Kids from the Santa Marta favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Campaigners argue that favelas such as Santa Marta in Rio de Janeiro are a model of affordable housing that preserves human diversity. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty

A steep climb leads to the top of the Santa Marta favela in Rio de Janeiro, where the statue of Christ the Redeemer is visible to the right and the ocean can be seen over the roofs of hundreds of homes below. The residents of the cluster of houses on the summit, O Pico, surely have one of the best views in Rio. But they are fighting efforts to evict them and demolish homes that the city says are in an area of risk.

“For years, the authorities did nothing when it was so dangerous to live here. Now that the area is finally safe, they want us to move out,” says resident Veronica Mora, gesturing at the view from steps that wind down a narrow alley outside a two-storey brick house that took her family 20 years to build. Many of the houses are draped with banners reading: “No to removals” and “Santa Marta is not for sale”.

Rio officials claim O Pico is vulnerable to landslides, but residents point out that the landslides that did occur and caused deaths in 1966-67 and 1988 affected no one at the summit

About 2,000 people who had left the community of 6,000 returned afterpolice pacification units (UPP) arrived in 2008 to regain control from drugs gangs, because “now it’s a good place to live”, says Mora. Five relatives from three generations live in her house and none of them wish to leave neighbours or live apart. Hers is among 150 families that dispute claims that O Pico’s steep location brings geological hazards, as cited in the city’s risk assessments that are being used to justify evictions.

The assessments are just one controversial area of the upgrading of Rio’s favelas on the eve of the World Cup this year and the Olympics in 2016. Campaigners argue it should be an opportunity to reconsider these communities as a permanent model of affordable housing that preserves human diversity rather than temporary housing that is unfit, unsafe and only of value to property developers.

“No informal settlements in the world are more stigmatised and have more negative connotations than Rio’s favelas,” says Theresa Williamson, a British-Brazilian urban planner and director of NGO Catalytic Communities. The organisation campaigns for empowerment of the communities that are home to around 22% of the population and are an enduring feature of the landscape, but whose inherently sustainable qualities, she says, are under threat.

“[In the runup to the World Cup] international media are presenting Rio’s favelas either as violent no-go areas or cheap places for tourists to stay. They can’t be both, so which is it?” says Williamson. Rio’s favelas could not only offer a model amid the growing need for affordable housing worldwide but enhance a city already famed for its natural beauty with 600 unique communities with distinct cultures, she says.

Instead, hosting the sporting events has led to a rush for gentrification of many favelas and to displacement for many residents. Removals and evictions linked to the mega-events have been criticised by the UN.

“The UPP programme is basically state funding of gentrification,” Williamson says. Gentrification has brought rent rises, demolitions and evictions in areas such as Vidigal, Tabajaras and Vila Autódromo, where local groups say residents prefer to stay rather than move to public housing that is offered as an alternative.

Rio’s 2013-16 strategic plan envisages a 5% reduction in favelas in Rio.

Charles Heck, an American academic and former resident of Santa Marta, has been researching the city’s remapping of favelas, agrees with Williamson that the UPP programme has recast the priorities for urbanisation. “Post-UPP, urbanisation has focused primarily on land titles and new businesses rather than health, sanitation, education and other infrastructure,” he says.

At the summit, resident Victor Lira is telling some urban planning students crowded between houses built a few feet apart on a sandy path that the city is “denying services”, including lighting and rubbish collection, to O Pico in an attempt to force residents out.

“From the militarisation [UPP] came the greed of people [and] companies, and now they want to take us out of here,” says Lira, who since 2011 has led resistance efforts to fight demolition of homes in the courts and the media.

Williamson says favelas offer an example of sustainable communities – low-rise, high-density communities whose properties mix business with housing and are geared to pedestrians, and who don’t have to travel far for their basic needs.

In a world where the UN estimates a third of the population will live in informal settlements by 2050, we can learn from Rio’s favelas, Williamson says, and they must cease to be seen through “a negative and sensationalist lens”.

A starting point would be better consultation with residents about changes to their communities in which they have invested for decades, and a comprehensive survey of their assets, she adds. “A city cannot be built sustainably in exclusion of large social groups, and a healthy, vibrant city depends on citizen participation and social justice.”

BY:   in Rio de Janeiro

Friday 17 January 2014 12.55 GMT


The power relations in the Spitalfields market regeneration: An assessment through urban regime theory

By Rodrigo Caimanque


Images Source: and, modified by the author


The present essay attempts to address the power relations among different actors involved in the regeneration of the historic Spitalfields market in London, towards an approach which allows to understand how different groups exert power and influences the decision-making process. These relations are analyzed through the lens of urban regime theory (Stone, 1989, 1993) as a conceptual basis for the case. The Spitalfields regeneration and its evolution from the former wholesale market of fruits and vegetables to the current vibrant and attractive place of London provides a context in which power relations change over time due to different scenarios shaped by major economics constraints. These changes gave ground for a complete reinterpretation of the place transformation. More inclusive process of decision-making, triggered by new community movements in the 1990s. However, under the urban regime theory, the idea of stable and long-term arrangements among dominant stakeholders, shows that the economic growth agenda continued being the key driver of the place regeneration.

The structure of the essay is divided on 4 parts, starting with a brief explanation of the urban regimes and its main features. Following that, it will be explain the historical process of the Spitalfields Market regeneration, to continue then with the discussion around power relations in the process of decision-making. Finally, it is drafted general conclusions.

Urban regimes

The complexity of the urban process under the post-fordist structuration involves, among other factors, complex and narrow relations of actors beyond the role of the state and its different levels in decision-making, where the private sector and the civil society become influential stakeholders. To understand the relationships among these actors, urban politics provides relevant approaches by establishing theoretical frameworks to understand how are positioned and what are their role within the structure of power. The United States has been the ground for relevant and rich theories, such as the growth machine (Molotch, 1976) and the urban regime (Stone, 1989), trying to provide more specific approaches of power and decision-making in relation to urban development processes (Harding, 1996).

The growth machine theory refers to the elite’s influence that exerts pressures for growth modifying the land use with the objective to obtain profit (Molotch, 1976, 1993). The mains actors in a growth coalition are primarily the elite society and entrepreneurs, who sets the agenda for urban development in a determinate locality. The urban regime for its part, understand the process decision-making through informal arrangements between public institutions and the private sector interests, working together in a collaborative manner “in order to make and carry out governing decision” (p 6). Although both the growth machine and the urban regimes establish the coalition configuration as the key driver of change, the first rely almost exclusively in terms of economic development while urban regime goes beyond that (Harding, 1994, cited in Van Ostaaijen, 2013), becoming more appropriate especially in the analysis and applications of cases outside the US.

Urban regimes are based on arrangements from different actors with mutual interest which build coalitions and establish a common agenda (Ward, 1997). These actors must be able to provide the necessary resources (monetary investment, skills, information, etc) to pursue the agenda (Stone, 1993, 2005). When Stone (1989) depicts the actors involved to the governing coalition in the public-private frame, the private interest are not exclusively limited to business. Other groups may be organizations, foundations or communitarian leaders, providing a useful approach to understand power relationships among diverse and heterogeneous actors (Lipietz, 2008).

Through the urban regime focus and under specific socioeconomic arenas, public policies are defined by the following factors “(1) the composition of a community’s governing coalition, (2) the nature of the relationships among members of the governing coalition, and (3) the resources that the members bring to the governing coalition” (Stone, 1993, p 2).

Urban regimes, according to Harding (1996) establish links with pluralism, as a position to understand and establish who are the actors involved in the governing process. Although Stone (1993) recognized that both pluralism and urban regime are based on coalition-building, and states the importance of politics, there are several differences that help to shape the purpose and scope of urban regime. While pluralism gives special importance to the electoral process and democratic control through votes, urban regime transcend the barriers of a particular government cycles, being the regime’s stability in larger periods of time a key factor to its success. From pluralism, decision process “takes shape in the same plane” (Stone, 2005, p. 311) in a system that is open and penetrable. Urban regimes recognizes the multiple levels of political decisions and question the idea of penetrability, especially considering the existence of class and its stratifications that triggers social and economic inequalities (Stone, 2005).

There is a permanent debate on the applicability of the theory in the United Kingdom (and Europe in general), with various attempts to adapt it to this context (Mossenberg & Stoke, 2001). There are also approaches which establish that is not possible to use those theories for being too related to the U.S. reality (Wood, 2004), where the local level decision-making has more autonomous features, in contrast with the UK system with a strong concentration of power in the central government (While et al, 2004). However, the recognition of differences should not deny the existence of “signs of convergence between the two countries” (Harding, 1995, p 47). Indeed, empirical research such as Dowding et al. (1999), applied the urban regime theory at London Boroughs level, which helps to support the analysis of the Spitalfields regeneration.

Moreover, considering urban regimes analysis has been a concept intensely discussed by several authors over time, with different approaches and application to understand it (Van Ostaaijen, 2013), it is clear there is more ground towards new interpretations for particular cases. In fact,  Stone (2005) establishes, in a more recent review of urban regime, an approach which seems more flexible in terms of, for instance, how coalitions work. Within a coalition,  there are no fixed actors, who are basically determined according to the agenda that wants to be addressed, in a problem-solving perspective[1]. Therefore, from a still open debate, the aim of this essay is suggest the existence of some of the elements that might establish a regime coalition in the Spitalfields experience rather than set the process as a literal expression of the theory.

The Spitalfields regeneration

The ward of Spitalfields is located in the fringe of the City of London, specifically in the east boundary of the city, in the Borough of Tower Hamlets. The area has been appointed as one of the most deprived and poorest in London (Fainstein, 1994) but also has been the settlement of successive waves of immigrants for over 300 years (Jacobs, 1999). Currently is a zone characterized for the presence of Bengali people, especially located around the area of Brick Lane street. Within the ward is located the Spitalfields market, the former wholesale place of fruits and vegetables of the East London. It was one of the oldest market in the city becoming a key area for redevelopment since 1986, starting a long process which finished on 2002, though with important effects for both the place and the city at present.

The changes in the Spitalfields market have echoes in the radical transformation of the Greater London in the last 40 years, changing from an economy based in industrialization to a new one related to services (Hammet, 2003).  Forman (1989) argues that despite the proximity of Spitalfields with the city centre of London, there had always been a social barrier between these areas which begun to change with the rise of the speculative model of cities’ development, changing Spitalfields from a non desirable to a profitable area from both public and private interest. In this context, the political alternation of power at national level increased the speed of changes under the conservative period in the 1980s, wherein the market role began to influences the policy-making, affecting the planning system as well (Fainstein 2001, Hammet, 2003).

First stage of regeneration: A physical development approach

The market-led decisions of this period and the high demand for services provoked a sharp increase in needs for new office buildings. Considering the relaxation of the regulatory role of planning, adding the abolition of the Greater London Council in 1986, the central government had enough power to set a pro-growth agenda over local government decisions (Forman, 1989). The interest to redevelop the Spitalfields market lay in needs for growth beyond the city ‘business district’ boundaries. Both the pressure of elite groups and the pro-growth context settled the scenario in which The Corporation of the City of London, owner of the land, issued a tender document to redevelop the market in 1987 (Fainstein, 2001, p 141). Finally the proposal of the Spitalfields development Group (SDG), a consortium of developers, was selected.

The proposal consisted in the removal of the market and the building of a large-scale offices and retail complex. However, during the process of planning permission, pressures for conservationist groups (Spitalfields Historic Building Trust), expressed their concern about the project impact, though still expecting the improvement of the area, surrounded by the Georgian architecture heritage, through the relocation of the market (Jacobs, 1999). The Bengali community and Labour politicians strongly opposed to the proposal considering the consequences associated to the impact of the local economy and gentrification caused by the new use of the area (Fainstein, 1994). As a response of those pressures the project was redesigned, basically calming down the middle- and upper-class concerns about the place ‘aesthetics’. The SDG plans began, and in 1991, the market was finally relocated (the economist, 2001).

The regeneration of the Spitalfields market came into a dynamic of negotiations in which the local government finally agreed with the SDG proposal, in a deal where SDG besides paying the removal of the market, they added the transfers of 127 properties within the site to housing associations, besides resources spending from contributions for charity and job training compromises (Fainstein, 1994).

At that moment, the decision-making process was mainly driven by private interests associated on one hand by middle-class and upper-class groups who made the initial pressure for relocate the market and the redesign of the proposal. On the other hand, the property developers and the land owners which aims were basically to take advantage of the city centre growth phenomenon, becoming the Spitalfields Market in an attractive land to these purposes. In addition, the context provided by the state policies, supporting market interest leaving the local authorities with fewer chances to influence, except for the planning permissions, increased the interest on the land. The civil society had been less relevant despite their opposition to the redevelopment, where the outcomes did not vary in a wide sense from the planned, apart from some social benefits negotiated.

Second stage of regeneration: a social approach? the role of community engagement

The economic downturn in the early 1990s froze the attempts to allocate office and retail projects in the old market site, even when the planning permission were approved in 1992 by the borough Council. Under that context, two main situations occurred (Fainstein, 2001): firstly, the SDG attempted to sell part of the land and with lack of success, hence it was the City of London Corporation which obtained the land, involving significant monetary losses for the consortium. Secondly, the SDG decided to develop part of the remained land within the market with new ‘interim uses’. After that, the original development plan was modified, triggering different configurations of power relations among the involves actors.

According to Fainstein (2001) the absent of any major development gave way to new small scale enterprises which together with regeneration initiatives as City Challenge, and its continuation, the Single Regeneration Budget (SRB) through the program Cityside, start to produce changes in the place, beyond the initial physical approach. This kind of investment, based on the Thatcher’s entrepreneurial model (Shaw et al. 2004) provided flexible funding for specific areas through competition for bids. Those initiatives encouraged negotiations among local government, the private sector and communities in local decision-making, working in physical improvements, diversification and skilled development for labor programmes, fostering small business for local communities and promoting attractive places for visitors.

Once the economy gained momentum again, part of the wholesale market had already changed its use, with the allocations stalls for craftsmanship, sports, and ethnic food, filling the land and consolidating the place as “one of the most thriving indoor spaces in London” (The economist, 2001). With this new scenario, the SDG was forced to rethink its development strategy. Considering the popularity of the new use which provided 1000 local jobs, mainly local residents (Fainstein, 2001), the civil society gains enough power even to reach the courts and provoke in 2000 the SDG decision to withdraw the original planning permission for a renewed submission (The Guardian, 2001a).

Finally, after 14 years the SDG new proposal designed by the architect Norman Foster obtained in 2002 the definitive planning permission (BBC, 2003). However, the outcome was totally different from the original design, and the proposal was related towards more discreet offices, and concerns about public spaces with narrow connections to the current market (The Guardian, 2001b). In the new context with the creation of the Greater London Authority (GLA) which also supported the proposal consistent with its aims to set London in a world context (Evening Standard, 2002), Spitalfields and its relation with Brick Lane were consolidated as one of the most thriving leisure hubs of the city.

This second stage of the power relationships changed to the extent that the civil society organized through local coalitions such as Spitalfields Market Under Threat (The independent, 2002) was able to exert pressure over a process mostly dominated by private interest. It seems clear that the broad economic context and the ‘unexpected’ decisions of the landowner triggered the transformation and consolidation in the use of the market. However the community’s capacity to understand the scenario and take the opportunity to become major players was essential to influence in the decision-making process.


As it was explained the Spitalfields market regeneration lay in two stages, split by the economic downturn. In the early period, the power relations identified between elite groups might be identified as a coalition in terms of its composition and agenda setting, which aims were basically growth development. The actors within the governing coalition brought in the resources needed for the agenda fulfillment. The private sector represented in the SDG provides de investment on the land, whilst the local power was represented by the City of London Corporation as owner of the land and the Tower Hamlets Council which despite its poor influence in the process, contributed with resources associated to planning regulation. Other actor that emerged was indirectly the conservationist groups that exerted pressure for develop the land in a ‘more aesthetic way’ to enjoy its potential profitability.

However, unlike the case of the U.S., the strong influence of the national government which sets the rules for a new market-led scenario, is a key factor in the complexity of the decision-making process in Spitalfields, especially in that period where local governments were ‘by-passed’, in order to deliver fast private-led development in UK. This is an important factor to analyze the case through the lens of urban regime, rather than for instance, the growth machine. The growth machine is strongly linked to elite’s pressures at the local level, meanwhile in the Spitalfields case the central government influence must be included to understand the informal arrangements related to the regeneration of the area. Harding (1996) argues that the urban regime it is more flexible and adaptable than growth machine theory to different cross-national contexts, hence the power relationships of Spitalfields under a regime coalition could be fixed in a more accurate manner.

Stone (1993) defines four typologies of regimes: (1) Maintenance Regimes, (2) Development Regimes. (3), Middle class progressive regimes and (4) Regimes devoted to lower class opportunity expansion. Among them,  it could be argue that ‘Development regimes’ has mayor similarities with the case in the first period. This typology is understood as a voluntary process of coalition-building “concerned primarily with changing land use in order to promote growth or counter decline” (p 19), mainly driven by elites isolated from popular control, fostering the change of social and economic patterns within the place.

The second stage, after the economic downturn included a new influential actor, the civil society who despite being fighting to protect the market place in the entire process, the effective influence started to appear in this period. With the renovated market use, sustained in parallel with processes of regeneration based in both physical and social outcomes through state promoted partnerships (City Challenge and the Single Regeneration Budget), the area reached unpredicted strength forcing the private interest to consider seriously the communities’ claims. At this stage,  the coalition tended to change its actors configurations, where positions of empowered organized residents and the consolidation of local commercial stalls alongside with the process of ethnic regeneration in Brick Lane provided a new resource for the coalition: the diversity through the local development of the area.

Aligned with, Ward (1997) provides a pertinent analysis of the link between the Single Regeneration Budget (SRB) and the presence of a regime. It is argued the existence of factors that conform a coalition area framed by institutional selective incentives (resources through competition), encouraging actors to be related among them to engage in the decision-making process. The case of Spitalfields reflects how the coalition established a new and ‘feasible’ agenda, another regime feature, under the rules of the state financing programmes. Thus, it seems that the agenda setting through SRB “is feeding into existing arrangement” (Ward, 1997, p 1503) predetermined by the long-term economic growth focus.

From the typologies of regimes, it seems that the ‘development regime continued at that stage, though might be possible to identify partially some features of a ‘middle class progressive regime’, in terms of major involvement of the community (some groups), and also major level of accountability, adding the development regime “the organizational capacity to inform, mobilize, and involve the citizenry” (Stone, 1993, p 20). Nevertheless, from the case of Spitalfields, remain questions about the degree of effective involvement of communities in the coalition, are they effectively included in the governing coalition? Or rather are temporal actors which emerge to face actions against them, for instance from the risk of displacement?


The power relations around the Spitalfields market regeneration provides proximities with the idea of coalition building of urban regimes, through its public-private formal and informal arrangements for growth. The case of Spitalfields showed that although some relevant changes in the configuration of the coalitions, mainly produced by circumstantial economic constraints, the main agenda remained stable across different alternations of power in the government, both local and national level. However, coalitions are developed essentially at the local level, and once the agenda is defined, are flexible in relation with the interested parts as well as the nature of their relations. Hence it might be possible, despite strong national framework influences as in the case of UK, move towards more democratic and participatory arrangements locally.

Urban regimes comes from the base of political economy (Stone, 2005) and according to Fainstein (2001) regime theory is situated as a synthesis of the structuralist and liberal pluralistic understanding of power. Hence, being recognized the control of capital as the key expression of power, it also recognized “the logic (of capitalism) is itself fabricated through human activity, including resistance by other groups to capitalist aims” (Fainstein, 2001, p16)

Resources are relevant to exert power and to have effective representativeness in the coalition, but also reflects an expression of the inequalities in the society. The second stage of the Spitalfields regeneration showed how the part of the community could obtain tools and gain levels of power throughout the process, being at least from a position of resistance, part of the decision-making. This experience provided some evidence about the relevance of community engagement as a manner to move towards more just developments. However, profound political changes and new institutional arrangements, including those related to planning are still needed for build effectively representative coalitions and democratic spaces of decisions.

[1] Problem-solving does not means that urban regime agendas are focused only in short-terms goals. Stone (2005) clarifies from his book in Atlanta’s regime, that what he calls as selective material incentives in the city redevelopment, responds and depends on long-terms objective and agenda setting.


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Naomi Klein: How science is telling us all to revolt

Waste land: large-scale irrigation strips nutrients from the soil, scars the landscape and could alter climatic conditions beyond repair. Image: Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto/ Flowers, London, Pivot Irrigation #11 High Plains, Texas Panhandle, USA (2011)

In December 2012, a pink-haired complex systems researcher named Brad Werner made his way through the throng of 24,000 earth and space scientists at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union, held annually in San Francisco. This year’s conference had some big-name participants, from Ed Stone of Nasa’s Voyager project, explaining a new milestone on the path to interstellar space, to the film-maker James Cameron, discussing his adventures in deep-sea submersibles.

But it was Werner’s own session that was attracting much of the buzz. It was titled “Is Earth F**ked?” (full title: “Is Earth F**ked? Dynamical Futility of Global Environmental Management and Possibilities for Sustainability via Direct Action Activism”).

Standing at the front of the conference room, the geophysicist from the University of California, San Diego walked the crowd through the advanced computer model he was using to answer that question. He talked about system boundaries, perturbations, dissipation, attractors, bifurcations and a whole bunch of other stuff largely incomprehensible to those of us uninitiated in complex systems theory. But the bottom line was clear enough: global capitalism has made the depletion of resources so rapid, convenient and barrier-free that “earth-human systems” are becoming dangerously unstable in response. When pressed by a journalist for a clear answer on the “are we f**ked” question, Werner set the jargon aside and replied, “More or less.”

There was one dynamic in the model, however, that offered some hope. Werner termed it “resistance” – movements of “people or groups of people” who “adopt a certain set of dynamics that does not fit within the capitalist culture”. According to the abstract for his presentation, this includes “environmental direct action, resistance taken from outside the dominant culture, as in protests, blockades and sabotage by indigenous peoples, workers, anarchists and other activist groups”.

Serious scientific gatherings don’t usually feature calls for mass political resistance, much less direct action and sabotage. But then again, Werner wasn’t exactly calling for those things. He was merely observing that mass uprisings of people – along the lines of the abolition movement, the civil rights movement or Occupy Wall Street – represent the likeliest source of “friction” to slow down an economic machine that is careening out of control. We know that past social movements have “had tremendous influence on . . . how the dominant culture evolved”, he pointed out. So it stands to reason that, “if we’re thinking about the future of the earth, and the future of our coupling to the environment, we have to include resistance as part of that dynamics”. And that, Werner argued, is not a matter of opinion, but “really a geophysics problem”.

Plenty of scientists have been moved by their research findings to take action in the streets. Physicists, astronomers, medical doctors and biologists have been at the forefront of movements against nuclear weapons, nuclear power, war, chemical contamination and creationism. And in November 2012,Nature published a commentary by the financier and environmental philanthropist Jeremy Grantham urging scientists to join this tradition and “be arrested if necessary”, because climate change “is not only the crisis of your lives – it is also the crisis of our species’ existence”.

Some scientists need no convincing. The godfather of modern climate science, James Hansen, is a formidable activist, having been arrested some half-dozen times for resisting mountain-top removal coal mining and tar sands pipelines (he even left his job at Nasa this year in part to have more time for campaigning). Two years ago, when I was arrested outside the White House at a mass action against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, one of the 166 people in cuffs that day was a glaciologist named Jason Box, a world-renowned expert on Greenland’s melting ice sheet.

“I couldn’t maintain my self-respect if I didn’t go,” Box said at the time, adding that “just voting doesn’t seem to be enough in this case. I need to be a citizen also.”

This is laudable, but what Werner is doing with his modelling is different. He isn’t saying that his research drove him to take action to stop a particular policy; he is saying that his research shows that our entire economic paradigm is a threat to ecological stability. And indeed that challenging this economic paradigm – through mass-movement counter-pressure – is humanity’s best shot at avoiding catastrophe.

That’s heavy stuff. But he’s not alone. Werner is part of a small but increasingly influential group of scientists whose research into the destabilisation of natural systems – particularly the climate system – is leading them to similarly transformative, even revolutionary, conclusions. And for any closet revolutionary who has ever dreamed of overthrowing the present economic order in favour of one a little less likely to cause Italian pensioners to hang themselves in their homes, this work should be of particular interest. Because it makes the ditching of that cruel system in favour of something new (and perhaps, with lots of work, better) no longer a matter of mere ideological preference but rather one of species-wide existential necessity.

Leading the pack of these new scientific revolutionaries is one of Britain’s top climate experts, Kevin Anderson, the deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, which has quickly established itself as one of the UK’s premier climate research institutions. Addressing everyone from the Department for International Development to Manchester City Council, Anderson has spent more than a decade patiently translating the implications of the latest climate science to politicians, economists and campaigners. In clear and understandable language, he lays out a rigorous road map for emissions reduction, one that provides a decent shot at keeping global temperature rise below 2° Celsius, a target that most governments have determined would stave off catastrophe.

But in recent years Anderson’s papers and slide shows have become more alarming. Under titles such as “Climate Change: Going Beyond Dangerous . . . Brutal Numbers and Tenuous Hope”, he points out that the chances of staying within anything like safe temperature levels are diminishing fast.

With his colleague Alice Bows, a climate mitigation expert at the Tyndall Centre, Anderson points out that we have lost so much time to political stalling and weak climate policies – all while global consumption (and emissions) ballooned – that we are now facing cuts so drastic that they challenge the fundamental logic of prioritising GDP growth above all else.

Anderson and Bows inform us that the often-cited long-term mitigation target – an 80 per cent emissions cut below 1990 levels by 2050 – has been selected purely for reasons of political expediency and has “no scientific basis”. That’s because climate impacts come not just from what we emit today and tomorrow, but from the cumulative emissions that build up in the atmosphere over time. And they warn that by focusing on targets three and a half decades into the future – rather than on what we can do to cut carbon sharply and immediately – there is a serious risk that we will allow our emissions to continue to soar for years to come, thereby blowing through far too much of our 2° “carbon budget” and putting ourselves in an impossible position later in the century.

Which is why Anderson and Bows argue that, if the governments of developed countries are serious about hitting the agreed upon international target of keeping warming below 2° Celsius, and if reductions are to respect any kind of equity principle (basically that the countries that have been spewing carbon for the better part of two centuries need to cut before the countries where more than a billion people still don’t have electricity), then the reductions need to be a lot deeper, and they need to come a lot sooner.

To have even a 50/50 chance of hitting the 2° target (which, they and many others warn, already involves facing an array of hugely damaging climate impacts), the industrialised countries need to start cutting their greenhouse-gas emissions by something like 10 per cent a year – and they need to start right now. But Anderson and Bows go further, pointing out that this target cannot be met with the array of modest carbon pricing or green-tech solutions usually advocated by big green groups. These measures will certainly help, to be sure, but they are simply not enough: a 10 per cent drop in emissions, year after year, is virtually unprecedented since we started powering our economies with coal. In fact, cuts above 1 per cent per year “have historically been associated only with economic recession or upheaval”, as the economist Nicholas Stern put it in his 2006 report for the British government.

Even after the Soviet Union collapsed, reductions of this duration and depth did not happen (the former Soviet countries experienced average annual reductions of roughly 5 per cent over a period of ten years). They did not happen after Wall Street crashed in 2008 (wealthy countries experienced about a 7 per cent drop between 2008 and 2009, but their CO2 emissions rebounded with gusto in 2010 and emissions in China and India had continued to rise). Only in the immediate aftermath of the great market crash of 1929 did the United States, for instance, see emissions drop for several consecutive years by more than 10 per cent annually, according to historical data from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre. But that was the worst economic crisis of modern times.

If we are to avoid that kind of carnage while meeting our science-based emissions targets, carbon reduction must be managed carefully through what Anderson and Bows describe as “radical and immediate de-growth strategies in the US, EU and other wealthy nations”. Which is fine, except that we happen to have an economic system that fetishises GDP growth above all else, regardless of the human or ecological consequences, and in which the neoliberal political class has utterly abdicated its responsibility to manage anything (since the market is the invisible genius to which everything must be entrusted).

So what Anderson and Bows are really saying is that there is still time to avoid catastrophic warming, but not within the rules of capitalism as they are currently constructed. Which may be the best argument we have ever had for changing those rules.

In a 2012 essay that appeared in the influential scientific journal Nature Climate Change, Anderson and Bows laid down something of a gauntlet, accusing many of their fellow scientists of failing to come clean about the kind of changes that climate change demands of humanity. On this it is worth quoting the pair at length:

 . . . in developing emission scenarios scientists repeatedly and severely underplay the implications of their analyses. When it comes to avoiding a 2°C rise, “impossible” is translated into “difficult but doable”, whereas “urgent and radical” emerge as “challenging” – all to appease the god of economics (or, more precisely, finance). For example, to avoid exceeding the maximum rate of emission reduction dictated by economists, “impossibly” early peaks in emissions are assumed, together with naive notions about “big” engineering and the deployment rates of low-carbon infrastructure. More disturbingly, as emissions budgets dwindle, so geoengineering is increasingly proposed to ensure that the diktat of economists remains unquestioned.

In other words, in order to appear reasonable within neoliberal economic circles, scientists have been dramatically soft-peddling the implications of their research. By August 2013, Anderson was willing to be even more blunt, writing that the boat had sailed on gradual change. “Perhaps at the time of the 1992 Earth Summit, or even at the turn of the millennium, 2°C levels of mitigation could have been achieved through significant evolutionary changes within the political and economic hegemony. But climate change is a cumulative issue! Now, in 2013, we in high-emitting (post-)industrial nations face a very different prospect. Our ongoing and collective carbon profligacy has squandered any opportunity for the ‘evolutionary change’ afforded by our earlier (and larger) 2°C carbon budget. Today, after two decades of bluff and lies, the remaining 2°C budget demands revolutionary change to the political and economic hegemony” (his emphasis).

We probably shouldn’t be surprised that some climate scientists are a little spooked by the radical implications of even their own research. Most of them were just quietly doing their work measuring ice cores, running global climate models and studying ocean acidification, only to discover, as the Australian climate expert and author Clive Hamilton puts it, that they “were unwittingly destabilising the political and social order”.

But there are many people who are well aware of the revolutionary nature of climate science. It’s why some of the governments that decided to chuck their climate commitments in favour of digging up more carbon have had to find ever more thuggish ways to silence and intimidate their nations’ scientists. In Britain, this strategy is becoming more overt, with Ian Boyd, the chief scientific adviser at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, writing recently that scientists should avoid “suggesting that policies are either right or wrong” and should express their views “by working with embedded advisers (such as myself), and by being the voice of reason, rather than dissent, in the public arena”.

If you want to know where this leads, check out what’s happening in Canada, where I live. The Conservative government of Stephen Harper has done such an effective job of gagging scientists and shutting down critical research projects that, in July 2012, a couple thousand scientists and supporters held a mock-funeral on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, mourning “the death of evidence”. Their placards said, “No Science, No Evidence, No Truth”.

But the truth is getting out anyway. The fact that the business-as-usual pursuit of profits and growth is destabilising life on earth is no longer something we need to read about in scientific journals. The early signs are unfolding before our eyes. And increasing numbers of us are responding accordingly: blockading fracking activity in Balcombe; interfering with Arctic drilling preparations in Russian waters (at tremendous personal cost); taking tar sands operators to court for violating indigenous sovereignty; and countless other acts of resistance large and small. In Brad Werner’s computer model, this is the “friction” needed to slow down the forces of destabilisation; the great climate campaigner Bill McKibben calls it the “antibodies” rising up to fight the planet’s “spiking fever”.

It’s not a revolution, but it’s a start. And it might just buy us enough time to figure out a way to live on this planet that is distinctly less f**ked.

Naomi Klein, the author of “The Shock Doctrine” and “No Logo”, is working on a book and a film about the revolutionary power of climate change. You call follow her on twitter @naomiaklein

Colombia’s internally displaced people caught in corridor of instability

Colombia’s internally displaced people caught in corridor of instability

Despite progressive policies, battles over territory and drug trafficking mean the number of IDPs is increasing

MDG : Colombia : IDP Rosalba Dura in Norte de Santander

Colombia has 4.7 million internally displaced people, according to government figures. Above: Rosalba Duran and her family. Photograph: Obinna Anyadike/IRIN

Rosalba Duran and her family of 11 live in a single-room hut on a patch of government-owned land on the outskirts of El Tarra in the northern province of Norte de Santander, Colombia.

Eight months ago, she had a house in town and her husband a job at a nearby fish farm. But the home in which they had lived for 25 years was next to an army checkpoint that had come under repeated fire by Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) guerillas.

The Durans felt they had no choice but to move to this miserable stretch of mosquito-infested land, without running water, miles from the nearest schools. They are officially part of the roughly 5 million, or one in 10 Colombians, displaced by the conflict waged by the Farc, its revolutionary cousin, the National Liberation Army (ELN), and successive governments since 1964, originally over land reform and social justice.

Norte de Santander, bordering Venezuela, forms part of a corridor of instability stretching across the mountainous northern part of the country to the province of Choco on the Pacific coast.

The prominent graffiti extolling the Farc and ELN throughout these Andean towns, even a banner across the road in one setting the speed limit and levying a fine on those that disobey, underlines this is a contested region, despite ongoing peace talks in Cuba between the Farc and the government of President Juan Manuel Santos.

The mayor of El Tarra, Jota Mario Arenas, is honest about the difficulties he faces in trying to walk the line between the guerillas and the country’s capital, Bogotá, in a town in which the insurgents wield tremendous influence. Central government feels distant here, soldiers nervously patrol the streets, potential targets for the mines and improvised explosive devices increasingly employed by the Farc and ELN. The only doctor at the health post quit recently – the rumour was that he had been threatened.

Clashes over coca eradication

Since June, the Catatumbo region of Norte de Santander has been in turmoil, with clashes between farmers and the army over the government’s periodic coca eradication programme. Farmers say it will deprive them of a livelihood, as no alternative crops are established before the coca is uprooted, while the government accuses the Farc of provoking the unrest and a strategy of confinement – the closure of roads in the area that locks up local communities, affecting their access to supplies.

“I do what I can,” Arenas told IRIN. But it was clear his political survival depends on not rocking the boat in what has historically been a major coca-growing region, where smuggling – petrol from Venezuela included – is routine, a vacuna or unofficial tax, is added to virtually every purchase, and the state struggles to provide services, security and the opportunities that would allow young men to resist taking sides in the conflict.

But it was to the local authorities that the Duran family turned to for help. Although land was provided, it was only 200 metres from an oil pipeline that the guerillas had tried three times to blow up. When IRIN visited, the Durans had received two payments, amounting to $1,100 (£725), and were expecting a third and final instalment from the Victims’ Support Unit. “This is not enough for so many,” Rosalba said.

According to the government’s figures, Colombia has 4.7 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), based on monitoring that started in 2000. NGOs, which begin their count from 1985, put the number at 5.7 million.

For the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha), the significant point is that the numbers are increasing. “There were more people displaced in the first quarter of this year than over the same period last year. Although they’re talking peace in Havana, there are still growing numbers of IDPs, more people affected by mines than in Afghanistan, and a reduction in humanitarian funding,” Ocha’s head of office, Gerard Gómez, told IRIN.

The IDP system

Colombia’s IDP policy looks progressive, strengthened by Santos and key court rulings. It recognises their rights, including to emergency assistance, social support and land restitution. “Unfortunately many of these rights are routinely violated,” assistant director for policy at the Jesuit Refugee Service/USA Mary Small wrote. “In general, programmes for IDPs do not cover all IDPs, are uneven in quality, end too soon and are underfunded.”

“They are great laws, but the problem is implementation,” Gabriel Rojas of the NGO CODHES (in Spanish) said. How IDPs are registered – and the trust required in the authorities to include your name – is one area. Until a constitutional court verdict earlier this year, the law did not recognise the casualties of the expanding violence of the rightwing former paramilitaries known as Bacrim, which will increase the demands and costs of the programme.

The shortfalls of the system also include a crisis of protection, where IDPs pushing for rights to land restitution have been attacked, especially by paramilitaries in league with the new landowners; bureaucratic undercapacity worsened by the tangle of the various programmes; and the basic problem of implementing care and support in the middle of a conflict where the government has incomplete control of the country.

Military pressure has pushed the Farc and ELN into hard-to-reach areas like El Tarra, or along the underdeveloped Pacific coast, and an eastern axis covering Arauca, Casanare, Vichada, Meta and Guaviare. Many of these disputed regions are drug-producing, mineral-rich or straddle lucrative smuggling routes. It is terrain shared with the Bacrim, elements of the former death squads, which, after demobilisation in the mid-2000s, re-emerged as rich, networked and ever-ruthless mafias. Along with the guerillas, they have a mutual interest in maintaining the state at arms length and their stake in the illicit economy.

“For the overlapping armed groups of guerillas, neo-paramilitaries, narco-traffickers, and organised crime, the war has splintered into a fight for control of land for large-scale agriculture and ranching, the drug trade, illegal mining and, at the Venezuelan border, the movement of gasoline,” Small said. “As the war has become de-ideologised, all armed groups rely on the strategic use of terror to control communities and silence opposition.”

African-Colombians, indigenes most affected

The violence employed by the guerillas, Bacrim and the military gives Colombia the world’s largest population of IDPs. It is to a great extent a rural crisis, in which African-Colombians and indigenous people are disproportionately affected. Although constituting just 14% of society, they comprised an estimated 83% of those driven from their homes in 2010, according to a Global Humanitarian Assistance report (pdf).

The majority of displacements involve a steady trickle of individuals or families moving to the cities. But major upheavals – of 50 or more people – are on the rise. Notorious gangs like Los Urabeños and Los Rastrojos were responsible for the majority of these displacements in 2011, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.

Intra-urban displacement is also a growing phenomenon, with vulnerable IDPs shuttling between poor and unsafe neighbourhoods controlled by drug-dealing gangs. “They don’t want to leave the cities because at least they have access to services,” Rojas said.

In the remote ore-rich regions, gold, coltan and tungsten is replacing coca as the main revenue generator for armed groups, with only an estimated 14% of the gold produced in Colombia mined legally, according to Ocha. Communities farming the land are in the way, so large-scale forced dispossession is occurring. It can be at the barrel of a gun, a coerced sale at rock-bottom prices or a land grab legalised by a crooked notary.

Colombia’s long history of strong regions, weak central government and astonishing levels of violence by various groups of armed young men, suggests the crisis may not end with the formal demobilisation of the Farc, should the Havana talks reach a settlement.

Colombia is a middle-income country and in many respects has the trappings of a modern economy. But, according to Gómez: “In a country where you have [lucrative] drugs, gold and extortion, you might get a peace agreement today, but in the coming years there could well still be violence.”

• This article was amended on 14 August 2013. In the original, the writer referred to Mary Small as a Central America migration researcher. This has now been corrected. The quote from Small in paragraph 12 has also been amended.

Crossbenching – Interview with Markus Miessen [commonthejournal]

Konjunktur und Krise?, No 2

Federica Bueti: I would like to start from the very beginning, from a simple question that could help us to contextualize your practice. When and how did you become interested in participatory practices? And what interests you in a collaborative approach?

Markus Miessen: I spent three years between 1998 and 2000 in Glasgow after which I moved to Berlin for a year. This moment in Berlin at the tail-end of the 90’s was very interesting; when I moved to London in 2002 for further studies at the Architectural Association, my belief in the potential of architecture had almost diminished and I was hoping for it do be revitalized, which – thankfully – it did. In the late 90’s one could witness a very interesting phenomenon in Berlin, which was that many architectural practices had moved towards participatory approaches, and I was really sceptical of this. In retrospect, one realizes that many of these practises were the result of an economic crisis in architecture: practitioners simply needed to define and inhabit a niche, a margin of opportunity. However, it wasn’t exactly the case that they had originally set out to become social workers.

19 hours at the kiosk, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, 2012; commissioned by Valerie Smith; spatial design and programming by Studio Miessen. Photography by Eugster and Affolter.

19 hours at the kiosk, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, 2012; commissioned by Valerie Smith; spatial design and programming by Studio Miessen. Photography by Eugster and Affolter.

When I finished my studies at the AA, I started a research-project called Did Someone Say Participate?, which I developed throughout my post-graduate work and later in a book, co-edited by Shumon Basar. In it, we attempted to give a non-romantic overview of what we thought of as interesting and challenging practices, which redefine the way in which we look at and understand the production of space today. What they all had in common was that they rethought the relationships between the participatory and their own role as independent actors, they set out to interrogate the often romantic and nostalgic participatory practices that are or were at play. Not in the sense of them inviting others to participate, but in the sense of immediate single-handed involvement, pro-active agency and authorship.

19 hours at the kiosk, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, 2012; commissioned by Valerie Smith; spatial design and programming by Studio Miessen. Photography by Eugster and Affolter

19 hours at the kiosk, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, 2012; commissioned by Valerie Smith; spatial design and programming by Studio Miessen. Photography by Eugster and Affolter

This project provoked a series of projects and on-going inquiries in regard to the subject of participation and collaborative approaches in the fields of architecture, spatial practice and art, from a distance so to speak, from an outsider’s perspective. I am interested in the role of someone, who is not – by default – assuming the character or position of the good-doer, but a passer-by, an observer, who is attempting to understand a particular phenomenon, or cliché one might say – and then to act upon it without being entangled in its intra-politics. I tried this through projects such as The Violence of Participation, which was a project at the Lyon Biennial as well as a publication, ›The Nightmare of Participation‹, a more theoretical work, and ›Waking Up From The Nightmare of Participation‹, which presents a reflective anthology of texts by authors, who are critically dealing with and interrogating The Nightmare of Participation.

19 hours at the kiosk, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, 2012; commissioned by Valerie Smith; spatial design and programming by Studio Miessen. Photography by Eugster and Affolter

19 hours at the kiosk, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, 2012; commissioned by Valerie Smith; spatial design and programming by Studio Miessen. Photography by Eugster and Affolter

The text (NOP) was always thought of as a starting point, a trigger so to speak; to throw something in the ring in order to start a productive conversation around a particular subject. These projects were thought of as a set of different species of work around a single question. I am now working on a book called ›Crossbench Praxis‹, the actual propositional work, which essentially is the PhD I am working on at the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths in London and which will both present a thesis towards an alternative type of praxis as well as a series of examples, which will act as case studies, work that I have produced as an architect. Since 2002, when I was still studying at the Architectural Association, I have been working through a sort of agency or platform called Studio Miessen, through which I have been collaborating with a very differentiated set of practitioners. The way that I tend to work is instead of pre-empting project-teams or working with a set structure in an office, I assemble working groups in order to approach every context with the necessary specificity.

Participation, collaborative practices, self-organized practices, autonomous, independent and community-based practices, are all terms used to describe working modalities in the cultural field. However, this seems to be the mantra of the moment, collaboration is somehow what and how we are expected to work in seemingly open neoliberal working environments. What I found interesting in your approach is that you try to destabilize the dominant consensual model of collaborative practices by introducing the figure of the uninvited outsider. How does this figure function in relation to the neoliberal demand for collaborative labour?

I think there are two things to recognize here: one is that we need to be very careful when considering participation and collaboration as practices per se. What does this really mean? There is often a slight romanticization involved, which goes hand in hand with a nostalgia that relates to and calls for the 1960s and 70s. My understanding of collaboration is neither one of auto-exploitation nor one, which exploits others. I think everyone is responsible for him- or herself. As a collaborator, you should always follow your own, opportunistic agenda. You can always say no. Only when people with different agendas meet there is actually a productive outcome, which produces new ideas or concepts. One has to set up professional frameworks and working mechanisms in order for this dynamic to eventually turn prolific.
To get back to your question regarding collaboration, what I would like to promote is a frictional and potentially dissensual production towards a common goal, which is in fact the whole point about collaboration in the first place: working with friendly enemies. In each project the force-field of actors needs to be redefined. Otherwise one should rather think about partners as pre-empted consensual colleagues to cooperate with over a longer period. The creation of the role of the Uninvited Outsider and Crossbench Practitioner is an attempt to propose a model in which participation is radically rethought: moving away from the romantic idea of all-inclusive democratic processes, where everyone is invited to the round-table to add one’s point, which – from my point of view – ultimately will lead to watered-down and weak consensus. I think we need to work towards the notion of the first-person-singular actor, an independent actor with a conscience. Collaboration can only work if there is something in it for everyone. But this does not mean that it needs to turn into uncritical and consensus-oriented cooperation.

Where does the model of the crossbencher stem from?

What I am refering to when I talk about Crossbench Practice is a specific role that I am developing, which works towards an independent and pro-active individual without political mandate, who retains an autonomy of thought, proposition, and production. This role entails that in a given context one neither belongs to nor alligns with a specific party or set of stakeholders, but can openly act without having to respond to a pre-supposed set of protocols or consensual arrangements. Especially in the context of the recent culture crisis in the Netherlands the role of the crossbencher – as they call the independent politician in the über-conservative British House of Lords – becomes increasingly relevant. I am hijacking this role from this conservative setting in order to (mis)use it as an analogy: it proposes a way of acting, in other words a practice, which operates on the basis of alternative and self-governing political parameters. Crossbench Practice aims to open up a fresh debate, not as a theory, but a way of acting politically.

I think what we need today is a new vocabulary to describe our practices. I recently watched a documentary on Bob Dylan, Don’t Look Back‹ and in one scene he complained about that fact Times magazine defined him a Folk Singer, but he wouldn’t consider himself a folk singer. In this sense, there is a fundamental problem of how to define a practice without forcing it to fit a limiting definition or consensual model. Is there any way to define participatory practices differently? What terms do you propose to describe your practice? How would you position yourself in the general field of the discourse around the definition of participatory practices?

I think you are absolutely right; it all comes down to the question of one’s role, and the way in which this role becomes productive from the point of view of praxis. Historically, architecture, as a profession, is very interesting in this regard. During the Renaissance the architect was thought of and taught to be a polymath. In reverse, what we are witnessing today is that architects tend to be, both by education and personal choice, highly skilled and super-specific experts, who are very good at catering for one particular item within the complexity of construction, but are often not equipped with the gear that it needs in order to understand and act upon the complex cultural specifics around a particular project. Someone else can easily replace them; and that makes them expendable. They become office robots. It really reminds me of the great recent movie The Expendables, starring essentially the whole bunch of getting-aged action-superstars, from Sylvester Stallone to Bruce Willis, Arnie and Dolph Lundgren to name a few. This stuff simply does not fly any longer.
I am not so much interested in thinking about what genuine participatory practice may be or entail. From my point of view we have in fact been trying to theorize it too much over the past two decades. What we instead need to do is to force ourselves into contexts into which we have previously not been invited, redefine our position, and demonstrate that we can deal with the cultural complexity that surrounds contemporary spatial production. To rethink participation, I would like to introduce the German word ›Einmischung‹(intruder) to our conversation. Germany’s former minister for foreign affairs, Joschka Fischer, poses an interesting example in this regard. He is essentially a self-educated thinker, who first became active during Frankfurt’s 1969 student revolution in which he played a pivotal role as a non-student. He then, later, decided against armed resistance and became one of the founding members of the German Green Party and their first minister. Under the Labour/Green government led by chancellor Schröder at the tail-end of the 1990s Fischer became minister for foreign affairs. He is really the only person I can think of, who fully physicalized and turned into praxis Gramsci’s notion of the long march through the institutions. Absurdly he was the one that was for a long time the focal point of critique within the German Green Party and the Labour Party, which is quite telling I think. As we know, the Left is best at auto-critique and not so productive in terms of coming up with turning into practice counter-proposals. Although one can of course criticize particularities about his decision-making in the past, Fischer can and should be understood as an interesting case, someone who has been interested in the framework of democratic structures, but not for the sake of the structure itself, but in order to generate and stir change. This also means that the party in which one is a member is only a means to place oneself in the larger formal-political structure, which is the parliament. I do not believe that Fischer was ever very interested in intra-party politics and consensus. In this way, he could be compared to a crossbencher, although he is not, at least not from the point of being a fully independent actor.

Fair point and difficult task. To think about structure, not for the sake of the structure, but in order to generate and stir changes, how does this translate into your practice?

To start to answer this means to start to think about, rethink and interrogate the role of the architect and the role that architecture with a big »A« can and should assume in society today. In order to ask what is new knowledge in architecture today, one must ask or rather define what architecture means in the first place. Over the last two decades the role of the architect, at least viewed from a critical perspective, has been interrogated and developed substantially. The question of what does one consider to contribute to the production of space is one that circulates around the potential effects on space and how those effects and affects are and can be generated, amended and influenced – and who are the people and practices in charge of those proliferating changes. Architecture with a big »A« can only assume relevance again once it assumes responsibility: responsibility in terms of negotiating, mediating and enabling relationships and conflicts that individuals and groups, whether public or private, can perform within space. Anyone interested in a subject of societal relevance will by default realize that any reality is based on complexity. »A«rchitecture deals with precisely this complexity: socially, and therefore politically, and spatially. Where critical and collaborative research, first-person singular participation (i.e. »I contribute«), and individual dedication towards an ethical position question the modalities of practice, new sets of knowledge are being generated. This is the way in which I hope to practice. Sometimes this works more successful than at other times. Some of my projects are dealing with a-physical frameworks, such as a consulting project I ran for the last two years for the Dutch art organization SKOR, together with Andrea Phillips. Here, the main question was how, as an external observer, you could help to redesign the organizational and content-related »software« of an institution.

Miessen_Institution Building_Goerlich

Institution Building; edited by Nikolaus Hirsch, Phillip Misselwitz, Markus Miessen, Matthias Görlich; Sternberg Press,2009; photography by Matthias Görlich

In other words: how can you alter the way in which the institution functions on a day-to-day basis, what is its goal, what kind of programme to they produce, how do they speak to different sets of audiences? Together with Nikolaus Hirsch, Phillip Misselwitz and Matthias Görlich I worked on a project for the European Kunsthalle (Cologne) called Spaces of Production. The project conceptualized, tested, and practically applied a spatial strategy for the European Kunsthalle. The investigation did not result from purely theoretical or conceptual considerations, but was the result of the activities incorporated into the European Kunsthalle’s founding phases’ two-year work practice from 2005 to 2007. Our spatial strategy for the European Kunsthalle was the direct result of applied research – an iterative investigation informed by resonances between theory and practice.

Miessen_Manifesta Backbench

Backbench, Manifesta 8, Murcia, Spain, 2010. Spatial design by nOffice (Miessen Pflugfelder Nilsson). Photography by Pablo Ferao.

In the past I have also worked on several architectural-scale projects for institutions such as Performa Biennial in New York, an archive and film-set for Manifesta in Murcia, an interior for Archive Kabinett, a Berlin-based discursive forum and bookshop. These three projects were done in collaboration with my former partners at nOffice (Miessen Pflugfelder Nilsson).

Miessen_Winter School

Winter School Middle East, nomadic, currently based in Kuwait; founded and directed by Markus Miessen, co-director Zahra Ali Baba;

At the moment I am working on projects with the Witte de With in Rotterdam, Powerplant in Toronto, an office space in New York, the Winter School Middle East (Kuwait), an NGO in Los Angeles, a public forum in Gwangju, and the development of a rural art centre in the greater Frankfurt area.


Gwangju Biennial On Site, a community Hub for content production, 2011. A project by nOffice (Miessen Pflugfelder Nilsson). Photography by JomgOh Kim.

But my practice also concerns teaching, writing, editing, sometimes curating. However, I would still introduce myself as an architect. Teaching and writing is very important for me. The constant exchange stimulates thinking in all sorts of directions. Also that one is constantly being exposed to different backgrounds and nationalities that sometimes just laugh at one’s own suggestions is very healthy.

The concept of participation and the term crisis seems to be equally present in current discussion about cultural politics. It seems that the two concepts are closely linked, they complement each other as indispensable parts within contemporary political rhetorics: crisis is the problem, participation the therapy. Do you think that collaborative practices can help to solve‹ or to survive the crisis? How do collaborative practices work in a time of crisis and how does a crisis play itself out within the space of a collaborative practice?

I think your point about participation being understood and used as some form of therapy is brilliant. Modes of participation have, in terms of state politics, but also on smaller, less formal scales, most recently been used as a kind of placebo. Just look at the United Kingdom or The Netherlands. What was once thought of as a pro-active mode of individual engagement has been cleverly revamped as a populist tool to regain a larger consensus, even if agendas do not add up or meet. However, there is the question of what we are really talking about when we talk about crisis? Are we talking about a content crisis or an economic one, which then leaves us with infrastructural changes that have an effect and affect on the cultural landscape? I think there is a danger of calling everything a state of crisis today. This is similar to the danger of refereeing to the notion of urgency. If we only ever deal with the urgent we may in fact forget the important. Collaborative approaches can on the one hand be sustainable while on the other they can produce and foster specificity, which would otherwise be very difficult to achieve.

You have recently been appointed Professor for Critical Spatial Practice‹ at the Städelschule in Frankfurt and on many different occasions you have expressed the need to define spatial practice in terms of a »critical modality«. Could you elaborate on this concept?


Architecture + Critical Spatial Practice, annual newsprints, edited by Markus Miessen, design by Matthias Görlich, Städelschule Frankfurt, 2012/2013,

What I am doing in Frankfurt is to set up a framework through which one can critically think, learn, and pose questions about and around the production of space; not only in terms of a theoretical construct, but also in regard to specific spatial problematics. The most important question in architecture, to me at least, seems to be: how can we, as practitioners, manage to be involved in some of the most pressing societal issues and questions. I think the way to do this is not to get too bogged down on the nitty-gritty of the building or construction processes, but to understand the cornerstones of spatial design and to be able to curate the very complex cultural territory and its processes, the many different stakeholders, interest groups, benefactors, sufferers et cetera. This is where the role of the Outsider comes in as a very productive character. The problem of course is that it is a very thin line: you are either a morally responsible individual with a conscience or a fucked-up autocrat with neoliberal intentions – there is not really too much space that one could inhabit in-between those two polar conditions. What is fantastic at the Städelschule is that it offers me the possibility to open up the process of investigation across different student communities, from architecture, but also from the different art studios directed by Douglas Gordon, Simon Starling, Tobias Rehberger, Willem de Roij or Isabelle Graw, to name a few. Students are coming to my studio with very differentiated personal agendas, which makes it a real pleasure to teach there. It is not about communicating hard skills, but to carefully sensitize the group as to how one can act in space: how one’s individual practice can alter existing and produce new spatial conditions, be they of urban, architectural, or 1:1 scale.

In »the Production of Space« Lefebvre argues that »a Spatial Practice refers to the production and reproduction of spatial relations between objects and products. It also ensures continuity and some degree of cohesion. In terms of social space, and of each member of a given society’s relationship to that space, this cohesion implies a guaranteed level of competence and a specific level of performance.« Lefebvre seems to suggest that to engage with space in a critical mode is a matter of competence and performance. Do you agree?

Absolutely! Competence not in the sense of being authorized to do so, but in the sense of being sensitized and being able to understand the forces and variables that have an effect on the production of space. Not every problem favours a physical solution. There is the legendary quote by Cedric Price that he was once having a client-conversation with a couple, who approached him to build a house for them. His response was that what they really needed was a divorce.

Markus Miessen is an architect, consultant and writer. The initiator of the Participation quadrilogy, his work revolves around questions of critical spatial practice, institution building, and spatial politics. His practice, Studio Miessen, is currently working on projects for an with Bergen Assembly, Performa Biennial, Witte de With, Kosovo National Gallery, Weltkulturen Museum, and the artist Hito Steyerl. Their largest project to date is a strategic framework and new Kunsthalle building for a former NATO military site in Germany. In 2008, Miessen founded the Winter School Middle East. He is currently a professor for Critical Spatial Practice at the Städelschule, Frankfurt, and guest professor at HEAD Geneva as well as USC Los Angeles”


Mapped: Every Protest on the Planet Since 1979 – By J. Dana Stuster | Foreign Policy

Mapped: Every Protest on the Planet Since 1979 – By J. Dana Stuster | Foreign Policy.

“Mapped: Every Protest on the Planet Since 1979

From Cairo to Wall Street to the West Bank, plotting a world of upheaval.


This is what data from a world in turmoil looks like. The Global Database of Events, Language, and Tone (GDELT) tracks news reports and codes them for 58 fields, from where an incident took place to what sort of event it was (these maps look at protests, violence, and changes in military and police posture) to ethnic and religious affiliations, among other categories. The dataset has recorded nearly 250 million events since 1979, according to its website, and is updated daily.

John Beieler, a doctoral candidate at Penn State, has adapted these data into striking maps, like the one above of every protest recorded in GDELT.”

Visualizing a Walkable City [polis]

polis: Visualizing a Walkable City.

by Eduardo Ares

A public square in Pontevedra, Spain. Source: Turespaña

The city of Pontevedra in northwest Spain has become a leader in walker-friendly urban policy over the past 15 years. In light of its relative anonymity and population of 83,000, one might find it difficult to imagine the traffic congestion that prompted this transformation. However, as the capital of its province, county and municipality, Pontevedra attracted enough automobile commuters each day to overwhelm its antiquated streets.

Instead of razing old buildings and constructing bigger roads, the city council began taking proactive measures to reduce traffic. They widened sidewalks, established a free bike-lending service, installed speed bumps and set a speed limit of 30 kilometers per hour throughout the city. They even banned motorized transport in sections of Pontevedra. Walking zones now extend from the historic center to streets and squares in newer neighborhoods. Although the driving ban initially faced resistance, it is now broadly supported and has become an essential part of the city’s identity as an attractive place to live.

Pontevedra’s Metrominuto Map. Source: Pontevedra City Council

To further improve walkability, Pontevedra’s city council produced a map that visualizes the distances and travel times between key places on foot at an average speed of five kilometers per hour. Known as Metrominuto, the map has color-coded lines that resemble those of a subway guide. The pink line from Peregrina Square shows that it takes about 14 minutes to walk from there to the train and bus stations. Free parking areas are marked to encourage visitors to leave their cars outside the city center. According to the map, someone who parks in the free lot near the police station can get to Peregrina Square in less than eight minutes via Santiago Bridge. Metrominuto reminds residents and visitors that many automobile trips can be made in a more convenient, environmentally friendly and healthy way by walking.

A banner listing distances and travel times from the Metrominuto Map. Source: Eduardo Ares

The Metrominuto initiative recently won an award from Intermodes, the organizers of an international transport convention for the European Congress, who explained: “Metrominuto is an idea that can be easily transposed in cities that have 80,000 inhabitants (or less), of which there are more in Europe than there are very large conurbations.” Pontevedra’s urban restructuring program has also earned accolades from the Spanish Committee of Representatives of Persons with Disabilities and the Spanish Directorate General of Traffic.

Pontevedra’s walker-oriented initiatives raise questions as to how they came into being and how they’ve influenced living conditions in the city. Researching these questions should tell us whether Intermodes’ recommendation is warranted, offering insights into the potential for similar initiatives in other cities around the world.

Eduardo Ares is a doctoral candidate in computer science at the University of A Coruña in Galicia, Spain.