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GloNet (Globally Networked Event) - 13 May 2010

Disadvantaged communities and networked civic participation:


Missing link in the urban growth problems

Özgür Uçkan

"We live in the age of the city. The city is everything to


us - it consumes us, and for that reason we glorify it"1
Onookome Okome

The 21st century goes by the name "urban century". A great part of the world population lives,
produces and consumes in cities. For the first time the urban population of the earth will
outnumber the rural. Indeed, given the imprecisions of Third World censuses, this epochal
transition has probably already occurred.

This century goes also by the name “the Age of the networks”. The last global economic crisis
made a paradigm shift visible, a transformation which is already going on the last thirty years:
The paradigm shift from scale economies to capacity economies, industrial production to
flexible network production, physical power to knowledge power, the nation state to
transnational Empire, a unipolar world to a multipolar one, de-centralized and distributed all-
encompassing net-world: “Global Network Capitalism”... This is the end of neoliberal
paradigm. Some theoreticians like Negri, Hardt, Virno or Fuchs says that the network-phase
of the capitalism predict also its end; that the fall of both the Wall and the Twin Towers and the
last crisis indicate there is an “after” to capitalism. This potential future ironically feeds off the
“network” concept. Because at its core, the concept of “network capitalism” embodies an
antagonistic dichotomy. The network topology undermines the foundations of capitalism. The
process of capitalist accumulation and profit now depends upon co-operations established
online, collaborative intangible labor, innovation networks, and the development of knowledge
production, access, dissemination, that is to say the process of creating surplus value through
open, continuous, horizontally coordinated networks. Network means co-operation and
sharing, whereas capitalism is the product of an instrumental reason dominated by
competition. Capitalism is founded upon the private ownership of the means of production,
while the network undermines ownership by making the means of production accessible.

In Christian Fuchsʼs terms we are in an interzone in which competition and cooperation co-
exist in antagonism.2 On the one hand, information monopolies (Microsoft, Google), the digital
divide, precarious knowledge labor, information warfare, electronic surveillance, internet
censorship, accumulation of reputation online, cyber hate, commodified virtual communities,
disinformation; and on the other digital gift economy, file sharing, free software, open content,
Creative Commons, Wikipedia, cyber protests, e-participation, co-operative virtual
communities, online citizen journalism... On one pole of this dichotomy is e-participation and
participatory economy, on the other e-domination and economy of scarcity. Dominated by
competition logic, transnational information capitalism succeeds in colonizing the concept of
collaboration for now, through for instance, “participatory” management, team work, strategic
alliances, and corporate social responsibility. This is a transition stage from a disciplinary

1Onookome Okome, "Writing the Anxious City: Images of Lagos in Nigerian Home Video Films," in Okwui
Enwezor et al. (eds), Under Sige: Four African Cities - Freetown Johennesburg, Kinshasa, Lagos, 2002, p. 316
2 Christian Fuchs, Internet and Society: Social Theory in the Information Age - Routledge, 2008
society to a society of (self-)control. A participatory and self regulated information society
based upon collaboration is in Ernst Blochʼs words a “not-yet” for now. But it is evident that
the day will come when capitalism will not be here.

Global network capitalism transform also urban topology. Self-organizing on global networks,
urban economies becomes the nodes or functional hubs of global economic system. The city
mirrors part of a global network society by acting as a nodal point in an interlinked information
and communication configuration. Some predicts that we are going to the neo-renaissance of
“the city-states” after the nation-state extinction. Cities establish easier and richer
relationships with each other beyond nation-state boundaries. Global dialog between cities
gains greater momentum as it diversifies, and thus, new networks are established with a
different participatory model. With increasing cooperation, cities become the driving force for
the global economy and innovation. Urban technologies interconnects the cities at
infrastructure level and transforms the urban ecosystem. Inter-city networks becomes a
network topology of organized capital relations: The gateway cities of network economy...

Of course, there is a dark side of that. Cities, especially gateway cities, with their
agglomeration effect, i.e. a spatial clustering of economic activities (industries, households,
public services) leads to various types of economic of scale; the relationship between land
use, land value patterns and the morphology of the urban grid becomes more and more rent-
based. The morphology of the grid plays a fundamental role in the organisation of urban
property markets. Relationships between market processes and their spatial organisation in
the city transforms urban planning into a rent-seeking processes. This structure opens way to
the “gentrification projects” as an urban land production tool into the wild. The neglected
zones in the central areas are multiplying on purpose; urban poverty, unemployment and
social exclusion is doubling their impacts; capacity deficiencies in services such as energy,
education, health care, transportation, sanitation and physical security is growing;
disadvantaged communities are forced to exile in slums. Urban growth problems are
intesifying... The cities becoming large nodes in global network capitalism, mobility ascending,
rapid urban growth, commercialization of public space by rent-based urban agglomeration,
infrastructure collapsing, all of these makes urban ecosystem unsustainabile...

As Gustavo Garza said, “the exploding cities of the developing world are also weaving
extraordinary new urban networks, corridors, and hierarchies. In the Americas, geographers
already talk about a leviathan known as the Rio/Sao Paulo Extended Metropolitan Region
(RSPER) which includes the medium-sized cities on the 500-kilometer-long transport axis
between Brazil's two largest metropolises, as well as the important industrial area dominated
by Campinas; with a current population of 37 million, this embryonic megalopolis is already
larger than Tokyo-Yokohama. Likewise, the giant amoeba of Mexico City, already having
consumed Toluca, is extending pseudopods that will eventually incorporate much of central
Mexico, including the cities of Cuernavaca, Puebla, Cuautla, Pachuca, and Queretaro, into a
single megalopolis with a mid-twenty-first-century population of approximately 50 million -
about 40 percent of the national total.“3

Istanbul is growing in a similar way, devouring nearby towns, dispersed settlements regions,
industrial zones and catchment areas, breeding slums and vague terrains: a huge, carcinogen
sprawl... On the orher side, rural exodus keeps going, considering that Istanbul is the number
one job market in the country. Basic urban services becomes more and more deficient and
inaccesible. Environmental issues are alarming. The “urban footprint” stretches far beyond
city boundaries. Urban settlements influence and are affected by broader environmental

3Gustavo Garza, "Global Economy, Metropolitan Dynamics and Urban Policies in Mexico," Cities 16:3 (1999), p.
154
developments. Urban pollution provides the greatest proportion of carbon dioxide emissions.
The sharp increase in population, combined with social complexity, results in the
destabilization of social institutions and potentially societal collapse. Istanbul becomes
ungovernable...

Governmental crisis is augmenting, more violent becomes social exclusion strategies. Urban
services is privatized more and more and becomes inaccesible to the urban poors. “Safe
islands” are multiplying. Public urban space is commercialized. Poors are loosing their
voices...

According to the report on The State of the Worldʼs Cities 2006/2007 there will be 1.4 billion
persons living in slums by 2020. Poverty, in its multiple dimensions of slums and hunger,
sanitation and health, education and employment, is increasingly a problem facing cities. 66%
of Turkeyʼs population live in urban settings and 18% of those live in slums.4 We called them
“gecekondu”. A novel by Latife Tekin, "Berji Kristin: Tales from the Garbage Hills" explains why
Istanbul's slums are called gecekondus (ʻsetup over nightʼ), apparently she goes on to
describe a "homeric" siege where the shanty dwellers rebuild their homes every night
because the authorities tear them down daily.

A large number of of the urban poor have migrated to the cites in search of jobs. Large
percentages of poverty-stricken children work in manufacturing jobs. Unemployment,
inefficient education system, unfair access to the basic urban services like sanitation,
transport, energy, healt care are the common problems. Ethnic groups of migrants have
tended to be self-segregating in urban spaces creating ethnic enclaves. Such migration, in
particular when it involves culturally different populations, leads to humiliation and exclusion,
feelings of rejection, or denial of human dignity, all of which foster crime and violence agianst
them. The disadvantaged communities living in slums or in neglected city centre zones are
the most affected segment. They have no means of participation to the urban governance.
They are the missing link in the urban growth problems.

Municipalities tries to forget these communities, or force them to exile in slums using
gentrification projects. Efforts in vain. Obviously there is no sustainable solution without them.
Indeed, local government is about sustaining communities. It is much more than providing
services. Services are a councilʼs response to its community needs in a wider context of local
democracy and local representation. Resources are limited and demands are competing so it
is critical that local government finds new ways to plan and deliver services so that local
democracy is sustainable and able to flourish. Because communities are never static, it
stands to reason that local government, as the closest tier of government to people, should
also be constantly evolving to meet changing community needs. The core components of a
sustainable community include 5 ;
• Social cohesion; a socially mixed community where neighborhoods are characterized
by diversity of income, age, culture and housing tenure etc and there are opportunities
to move freely through lifeʼs cycles without the need to relocate.
• Functional economy; diverse employment opportunities exist which underpin a quality
of life matched with community prosperity expectations.
• Robust environment; ecologically balanced with impacts from human activity capable
of being accommodated without degradation.

4 UN-HABITAT, The Challenge of Slums - Global Report on Human Settlements, 2003


5A NEW DIRECTION FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT -A POSITION PAPER,The Department of Local
Government (Sydney), Oct. 2006
• Sound infrastructure; facilities and services are matched to community needs.

There is no other way to manage urban growth problems without the active participation of all
parts, including especially disadvantaged communities. As “European Charter on Local
Governance” highlights: “Local democratic governance and decentralisation is an enabling
framework to fight against poverty and inequities, to achieve the Millennium Development
Goals and for the respect of Human rights (including economic, social and cultural rights).
Democratic local governance, by involving all the concerned actors in the elaboration,
implementation and evaluation of local policies, encourages a development responsive to
populationʼs rights and demands, notably the most vulnerable groups.” 6

The city should become a “Human Right City”. As Shulamith Koenig states: “Imagine living in
a society where all citizens have made a pledge to overcome fear and impoverishment, to
build a society that provides human security, access to food, clean water, housing, education,
healthcare and work at livable wages, and to share available resources with all citizens—not
as a gift, but as a realization of human rights. That is what Human Rights Cities do by
providing an energetic space that demonstrates that living in such a society is possible!” 7
Urban governance needs citizens who are willing and able to move into public space and to
participate in the definition and implementation of the common good. Communities in the
urban context would therefore have to be increasingly defined by an affirmation of values, of
belonging, of solidarity and of a shared vision of the common future.

Local government models are forcefully changing. The paradigm change occurs in three
interrelated areas: Governance, Urban Economy and Urban Technologies... When
coordinated and synchronized properly, governance, economy and technology transform
cities fast into habitable, sustainable ecosystems. Urban governance becomes networked.
“Networks are a social coordination mechanism as an alternative to hierarchical bureaucratic
organizations or pure interest based organizations subject to market forces. The horizontal
coordination between network structures facilitates participation of involved parties and
increases the social benefit coefficient. In network-like structures, the realm of social
governance based on consensus and in search of a decentralized coordination is usually
referred to as the “network governance” or the ʻʼe-governanceʼʼ: decentralized, multilayered,
participatory, shared network governance...”8

Networks shows their destablizing and antagonistic effect on capitalism not only globally but
also locally. Network effect is even more powerful at local scale. Network is sharing… (Only
the access, sharing and usage of information creates value) The network precludes the very
concept of the center.. The network management is based on “horizontal coordination”,
otherwise it becomes ungovernable... Cooperation possibilites escaping from colonization of
competition logic are floating on networks as “Temporary Autonomous Zones”9. Resistance to
the capitalist organization of urban network is rising both on the streets and on the networks.
Especially against gentrification projects thera is a significant resistance in Istanbul.
Disadvantaged communities uses more and more networks. They realises that new

6 European Charter on Development Cooperation in support of Local Governance


7Shulamith Koenig , Recipient of the 2003 United Nations Human Rights Award
Founding President of PDHRE, Peopleʼs Movement for Human Rights Learning, in Human Rights Cities: Civic
Engagement for Societal Development, UN-HABITAT, 2008
8 Ozgur Uckan, E-Devlet, E-demokrasi ve Türkiye (e-Government, e-Democracy and Turkey), Literatur, 2003
9 “A new territory of the moment is created that is on the boundary line of established regions.” Cf. Hakim Bey,
T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism, 1991
collaboration tools based on ICT and civic participation networks could give them a voice;
transform them into communities of practice; empower them to participate to the urban
governance; and enhance the social cohesion. Besides the anti-gentrification movements, big
issues like environmental problems, insufficient sanitation and healthcare (especially for kids),
infrastructure, employment in the neighborhoods becomes a good starting point to build such
networks based on an open, participatory economy. Bit by bit, such networks are
interconnected to create a mass effect on urban scale...

One of the most powerful community networks currently acting in Istanbul is the Sulukule
community - a neighborhood on Fatih district with a population mostly Roman. They are
fighting against unlawful gentrification project driven by the Municipality. They are using
actively blogs and social media to spread information and to organize events (http://
www.alternatifsulukule.org/ ; http://sulukulegunlugu.blogspot.com/). Another active community
network is the suburban district Umraniye community initiative called “Cinardibi Cultural
Center”. They are using internet and other socio-technic tools to organize participatory
economy and cultural projects (http://www.cinardibidergisi.com/). Another one is the Istanbul
gay and lesbian community network fighting against discrimination (http://www.kaosgl.com/).
The are also some other urban-specific networks like Urbanism Movement for Society
(IMECE) (http://www.toplumunsehircilikhareketi.org/) ; Housing Right Coordination (http://
konuthakki.com/); Urban Ecology Movements (http://www.yesiller.org/; http://yesilgazete.org/).
Networked organizations are also active in the field of citizen journalism and indie media
(BIANET - http://bianet.org/). These examples are proliferating and local authorities becomes
more sensible to them.

Like Lewis Mumford says, ““The city… is the point of maximum concentration for the power
and culture of a community.” In a “natural” way, this power goes on networks also... goes on
networks and finds its peers to become more powerful.

William Mitchell explains this dynamic in a dramatic way: “This third-millennium pattern is the
culmination of a centuries long process of weaving, superimposing, and integrating different
types of transportation, energy, and communication networks. Subjects, extended bodies,
settlements, economies, and cultures can no longer effectively be separated by skins, walls,
and frontiers. They have all become inextricably embedded in dense, large-scale webs of
interdependence. The child in Boston is socially and culturally linked to his grandmother in
Melbourne, the server farm in Palo Alto is economically coupled to the cubicle farm in
Bangalore, the cave in Afghanistan threatens the skyscraper in New York. If an outbreak of
SARS is not controlled in Hong Kong, the consequences are immediately felt in Toronto.
Mobility and interconnectivity on massive scales scramble the neat units and hierarchies. Our
circles of interaction and mutual obligation cannot be limited to our campsites, immediate
neighborhoods, cities, nationstates, or even networks of international trading partners; they
are truly and inescapably global. Just as a city is not simply a sprawling village, the networked
Planet of Fires is not a global village. Nor is it a virtual city or an extended nation-state.
Physically, spatially, and morally it is a thing of a new kind—differing as profoundly from the
civic arrangements we have known as Gesellschaft (Society) does from Gemeinschaft.
(Community)”10

10 William Mitchell - Me++ The Cyborg Self and the Networked City, The MIT Press, 2003