Recently was skimming Jason Hackworth’s The Neoliberal City, wherein a primary argument is that gentrification is a spatial manifestation of neoliberal urban policies. I’m not entirely convinced — if anything, the relatively minor scale of gentrification as a force shaping cities (relative to, say, deindustrialization or large-scale immigration) points to the weakness of said policies — but in any case it reminded me of what David Harvey (PDF) called the spatial fix:
capitalism’s insatiable drive to resolve its inner crisis tendencies by geographical expansion and geographical restructuring… as an example, the key role of suburbanization in the United States after 1945 in absorbing surpluses of capital and labor.
It’s rare for these various fixes to be unwound, although it has happened before — the reversion of farms to forests in the East or the abandonment of railroad ROWs could be seen as repudiations of earlier expansionary policies. More likely, these earlier fixes were just forgotten and consigned to history’s dustbin as even bigger fixes (industrial agriculture and highways) took hold. Sure enough, we see two tendencies afoot: the immediate one being bailouts. Chris Leinberger refers to “the bailout of sprawl” as massive sums go into propping up the mortgage giants: “America has overbuilt auto-oriented fringe housing well beyond what the market wants… it is quite possible that this housing stock will continue to have a market price less than replacement value, as it is the case today.”
Meanwhile, cheerleader Richard Florida celebrates the idea of a new spatial fix, one which will knit together megalopolises:
It may well be impossible for sustained recovery to come from breathing life back into the banks, auto companies, and suburban-oriented development model. A new period of geographic expansion – or what geographers term a “new spatial fix” – will eventually be needed to spur a renewed era of economic growth and development.
As much fun as this “green Keynesianism” (Mike Davis) might be — and I’m sure it will bring fantastic new job prospects to the planning sector — there’s always a danger afoot. Richard Wells reminds us that prior spatial fixes existed to solve capital’s problems, not society’s, and that they’ve always involved considerable displacement, conflict, and struggle.
Hadn’t seen the Davis article before; it’s kind of “The Emerging Democratic Majority” all over again. Nice to see that even radical critics get that, though. Here’s a cute chart:
Edit to add: here’s a fun idea for a cartogram: take this table and size the states by their total property value, and by their total home equity. Yes, indeed, Nevada would vaporize in the latter!