RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2019

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408 Experimental Recipes for a Radical Municipalism (4): New Municipalist Horizons
Affiliation Participatory Geographies Research Group
Urban Geography Research Group
Convenor(s) Matthew Thompson (University of Liverpool, UK)
Bertie Russell (University of Sheffield, UK)
Chair(s) Bertie Russell (University of Sheffield, UK)
Timetable Friday 30 August 2019, Session 4 (16:50 - 18:30)
Room Huxley Building, Room 340
Session abstract In June 2017 Barcelona hosted ‘Fearless Cities’, the first gathering of an embryonic global movement dubbed ‘new’ or ‘radical municipalism’. From Rosario, Argentina to Jackson, Mississippi, these initiatives see activists developing strategic approaches to municipal institutions with the aim of transforming urban-economic governance in resistance to growing inequalities, democratic deficits and social injustice. This builds on a long and ideologically-diverse history of municipalism(s) – from pre-Westphalian city-states; through paternalistic ‘gas-and-water’ municipalism of nineteenth-century English local authorities and their turn, in the 1980s, to New Left municipal socialism; to Marxist, anarchist and feminist thinking on federalism (Kropotkin), libertarian municipalism (Bookchin), right to the city (Lefebvre) and commoning (Federici).

What is arguably ‘new’ – and ‘radical’ – about the present moment is the geographical breadth and speed of replication of comparable experiments worldwide; their shared vision to ‘feminize’ decision-making processes; the blurring of state/civil-society boundaries; the decentring-without-jettisoning of the state in theories of social change; an emerging politics of scale that challenges conventional hierarchical interpretations; and the radical democratization of urban economies through co-operatives, commons and re-municipalisation.

This session aims to inspire critical debate and discussion of movement-relevant research and action concerning radical municipalism – oriented towards activists, practitioners and policymakers as well as researchers. The session format begins with a roundtable discussion, with presentations limited to 10 minutes to allow more time for dialogue amongst all participants/collaborators in the room. Principal contributions must pose a genuine question/provocation – a real uncertainty that presents challenges both for the contributor and for municipalist movements – which will be shared and openly discussed. The aim is to galvanize new thought, action and collaborations, through exploratory questioning, rather than find definitive answers.
Linked Sessions Experimental Recipes for a Radical Municipalism (1): local state capacities and appetite for democracy
Experimental Recipes for a Radical Municipalism (2): overcoming barriers to experimentation
Experimental Recipes for a Radical Municipalism (3): Scaling up urban commons
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2019@rgs.org
Democratisation by design or default? Global Remunicipalisation and the Post-Neoliberal Turn
Franziska Paul (University of Glasgow, UK)
Andrew Cumbers (University of Glasgow, UK)
Remunicipalisation, which describes the process by which cities take formerly privatised assets, infrastructure and services back into public ownership, has emerged as a global trend since 2000 and now involves over 835 cases in 45 countries. As such, it heralds a significant departure in existing urban governance processes and signals a potential shift against the dominant form of neoliberalism that has held sway since the 1980s. As such, remunicipalisation has fundamental implications for cities (and their democratic processes) in terms of how they are managed, who is involved and who benefits from urban development processes, with the re-introduction of more state-driven and potentially more democratic public forms. However, increased democratisation does not happen ‘by default’. A central question remains: how can democratisation and increased participation be strengthened through such public ownership shifts particularly through local state mechanisms and institutions? How can more genuine and participatory processes of municipal democracy be integrated in remunicipalisation projects?
The contribution is based on some of the core conceptual issues for an ongoing, five-year European Research Council research project on “Global Remunicipalisation and the Post-Neoliberal Turn”. The intention of the research is to study remunicipalisation as an emergent phenomenon across ‘actually existing neoliberalisms’ and their mutations. The research therefore seeks to “stretch and interrogate registers of difference” (Peck 2013, p.1546) in the way remunicipalisation processes interact with ongoing ‘actually existing’ forms of neoliberal governance across three countries (Germany, Argentina, USA) but also framed within broader supranational modes of governance. A key theme which will be the focus of this contribution is how locally contingent forms of remunicipalisation interact with broader political and economic processes to shape the prospects for a more democratic municipal politics.
Progressive policies or local democracy? The experience of new municipalism in Spanish cities
Laura Roth (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain)
In 2015 several citizen platforms ran for elections in different cities and towns throughout the Spanish State, and many of them even won. Their manifestos included participatory democracy as a key proposal, probably derived from their strong connections with the 15M demand of changing the way politics was done. In practice, however, the progressive agenda of these platforms was much broader and urgent and they faced a dilemma: should they implement those policies using traditional means or delay them instead, and change the way decisions about them had to be made?

This paper will first analyse this dilemma in theory and practice. Second, it will describe the path finally chosen by these municipalist citizen platforms. Two arguments will be defended. On the one hand, municipalist governments mainly chose to implement a progressive agenda instead of democratising decision-making first. On the other hand, some of them chose to also implement deeper structural changes into the participation structure of their municipalities by a) developing new digital technologies for participation and decision-making, and b) changing the legal regulations around participation. Although these two kinds of change haven't fully showed their potential yet, they are a promising long-lasting effect of municipalism on local democracy.
Mapping and strengthening real utopias: The Transformative Cities Award and the Atlas of Utopias
Sol Trumbo-Villa (Transnational Institute, Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
Erick Palomares (University of Copenhagen, Denmark)
This initiative is based on an empirical finding: it is not true that there are no alternatives to the dominant neoliberal model. The problem lies rather in the diversity, dispersion and heterogeneity of the many alternatives already underway, as well as the cognitive difficulties to make sense of them and understand them once we try to interpret them from a different local context.

The Transforming Cities award, and its result, the Atlas of Utopias, are proposed as research instruments to try to address these problems. The prize is a methodological device to recognize those social struggles for the satisfaction of the essential demands for life, like: Water, Energy, Housing and Food Systems.

Through the prize and the atlas, the research poses three major general questions or objectives. First, try to recognize what the mobilization strategies have been to achieve the satisfaction of the demand, or how they have managed to articulate a social majority around it. Once the strategies are recognized, the research tries to observe as a second objective what are the institutions created, the recognized rights, and the governmental mechanisms established for the satisfaction of the demands, or in other words: what is this new way of governing that emerged from the alliance between social movements and local governments. The third objective focuses on the learning process and the obtaining of lessons, asking what kind of information may be relevant for the replication of the initiatives, and in what way the information can be presented to be intelligible despite cultural and historical differences that characterize the different geographies of the planet.

To see the results of the first edition you can visit the Atlas of Utopias and the Results of the Award. The Second edition is under way.
Refugees, Migrants And Solidarity Cities: A Municipalist Perspective In Europe
Giuseppe Caccia (Urban Innovation Foundation, Bologna, Italy)
Almost all European countries were affected since Summer 2015 in the so-called “refugee crises”. Dramatic developments in the Middle-east political situation, particularly with the escalation of civil war in Syria and the involvement of diverse actors on that scenario, combined with the permanent instability in Northern- and Central-African countries and the ongoing effects of climate changes and economic distress in the African continent, has caused and is still causing new waves of migration in the Mediterranean sea towards the European Union shores.
Since September 2015 tens of thousands of migrants and asylum-seekers have lost their life in the attempt to reach Europe, hundreds of thousands are suffering during their journey encountering inhumane conditions; overall they are subject to a permanent state of uncertainty over their status and their prospects. The European Union institutions are facing increasing difficulties in the external and internal borders management and especially the migrants' first arrival countries are undergoing strong pressure on their own systems and facilities of reception, and on their urban and social fabric in particular. Main cities of the continent are the preferred ultimate target of these streams, and often the place of highest concentration.

Confronting the obvious limitations of migration policies put in place by single national governments, both the ability to self-organize by migrants themselves and the activation of a broad active citizenship fabric, articulated into individual associations and networking experiences (focused on emergency and more stable reception, education and placement in the labour market, deeper social integration processes) met in a significant number of cases the initiative and willingness to cooperate by several local Authorities, both in terms of cooperation between non-institutional and institutional actors on city level, and in terms of creating broader relationship between different cities beyond national boundaries.

We define these exemplary cases as “Cities of Solidarity” and, in a multi-level perspective, we mean situations where both local networking has developed between self-organized migrants, informal associations and structured NGOs, and city governments; and, at the transnational level, with relationships and connections built between single cities, progressively defining the space for an alternative migration and asylum policy on a European scale, based on a markedly municipalist approach. That means to coordinate their practical efforts in solving daily and long-term problems in reception and social inclusion of migrants, as well as in the struggle against all forms of racism and discrimination.
How far do new municipalist experiments embody radical economic agendas?
Steven Taylor (University of East London, UK)
Whilst the 'breadth and speed' of recent municipal experimentation is new, to what extent do such initiatives actually embody radical economic agendas? I believe it would be timely and useful to take a critical look at the actual economics of the ‘radical democratisation of urban economies’. It is almost impossible to find a satisfactory definition of what a ‘local’ – neighbourhood, town, city, city region etc. – economy actually is; how it is defined or delineated; what activities are included or not; who acts in it; how it might be modelled. Much recent and current discourse turns out, on examination, to be not economic at all, but a proxy for other concepts such as ‘community’, a process that potentially diverts attention – and action – away from planning and building robust, sustainable urban economies.

As a way into this discussion I propose to present a short summary of the research undertaken in my MRes, which adapts a model for mapping capital flows from the work of the David Harvey and applies it to the contested (now approved) plan for ‘redeveloping’ the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre in south London. Mapping the developers’ proposals in this way provides a concrete demonstration of the almost wholly extractive nature of the local economy that the scheme would produce.

The same technique is then used to design an alternative scheme that maps out what it would take to create a radically democratised local economy. Whilst – taken as a whole – this option is admittedly utopian, it is nevertheless constructed from a number of actually existing alternative models of ownership, collaborative and cooperative enterprise, remunicipalisation and so forth that are already happening across a range of cities and towns in the UK, Europe and beyond.