Jeff Derksen

How High Is the City, 
How Deep Is Our Love

We are often reminded that we love the city, that intimate aspects of ourselves course through the veins of the city we live in, and that a deep affection binds us to the space and places of our city.1 And we do love cities; our lives are wrapped in and through the spaces and textures and possibilities of our urban experience. By our productive movements through the spaces of the city, and by the making public of streets, parks, galleries, bars, studios, bars, apartments, through the ways we enliven them, and through the discussion of what is possible in a city, we slowly build up the city’s identity and life. Likewise, through the critique of the lack of possibilities, of the enclosures of the possible and the achingly stupid aspects of any city, we also build up a love for the city in another way. But I want to speculate on the place that critique has in the texture of the urban and the way that critique engages with the lived experience of the city at the same time as it hopes to reshape the future city. I also want to reflect critically on how notions of affect—both how it is thought of in relation to the city and how it is circulated as a force in urban policy—take this love for the city in another direction and work toward a short-circuiting of Michel Foucault’s idea of “permanent critique.” And in order to ground this in a policy move that is drifting through cities looking to rebrand themselves, I take up the tools of critique to locate Richard Florida’s promotion of the “creative city” as an effect of what Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello identify as the new spirit of capitalism and an appropriation of progressive critiques of work and human potential in relation to the utopian leanings of the artistic avant-garde over the twentieth century.

Completely Urbanized Life and 
Permanent Critique

The life of any city, and our lives within it, is always a dramatic testing of the possible against the contained, a friction of the imagined and what can be made material. Henri Lefevbre spreads this dialectic across all of society when he proclaims “Society has been completely urbanized,”2 but he is equally careful to make urbanism a social practice at all scales. This is not simply a demographic revolution, however, despite the climbing statistics that have half of the world’s population living in cities and predict an even more rapid urbanization, to the extent that “by 2030, the towns and cities of the developing world will make up 81 percent of urban humanity.”3 But urban society is not a demographic argument from Lefebvre; instead it is a theoretical hypothesis that identifies industrialization as a “process of domination” that has extended the urban fabric beyond the city, and therefore it is meant to shunt aside the term postindustrial. The urban revolution refers to, Lefebvre writes: the transformations that affect contemporary society, ranging from the period when questions of growth and industrialization predominate…to the period when the search for solutions and modalities unique to urban society are foremost.4 This also points to the temporal aspect to Lefebvre’s urban revolution: it is the condition of the present and an anticipatory hypothesis.5

The sinuous energy of Lefebvre’s thought on cities is not just his understanding of space as a social practice, nor is it only his emphasis on the life and politics of the street as a defining counter-power to the “from above” urban planning that he saw impose functionality onto the city: Lefebvre also lays out a radical temporality of the city in which cities are always emerging and claiming the present, and can, through critique, grasp a future horizon. Like the Situationists, who drew their inspiration from and against him, Lefebvre argues that critique from the left specifically “attempts to open a path to the possible, to explore and delineate a landscape that is not merely part of the ‘real,’ the accomplished, occupied by existing social, political, and economic forces. It is a utopian critique because it steps back from the real without, however, losing sight of it.”6 Critique then becomes one powerful and lived aspect of the urban phenomenon and the imagining of a city.

Thought of in these terms, critique is not simply a stark or programmatic diagram that would help us understand how power functions in the city—for power is not nearly so diagrammatic despite it being grounded in places and structures. Nor is critique limited to the socially necessary act of pointing out whose voices are heard in city halls or whose ideas are implemented and how other less convenient voices are pushed aside. Rather, critique is a process that is at the very heart of the urbanization of everyday life. In fact, pushed farther, critique can be proposed as a return to life through the attempt to “open a path to the possible” by an investigation of what negates the possible. 

Critique, therefore, must be thought of broadly, as Foucault does in his reworking of Leon Trotsky’s concept and Mao Zedong’s slogan of “permanent revolution” to “permanent critique of our historical era.”7 As Judith Butler puts it, he [Foucault] maintains that the philosophical ethos of modernity involves sustaining a permanent critique of our historical era (a term that involves a transposition of the Maoist slogan of permanent revolution).8 And, by transposing Foucault’s transposition, Butler raises the question: “Could it not be that critique is that revolution at the level of procedure without which we cannot secure rights of dissent and processes of legitimation?”9 With critique elaborated as a permanent process aimed at securing dissent and the questioning of the solidification of legitimacy, this concept of critique intersects with Lefebvre’s own permanent critique of modernity in general and modernist urban planning specifically. With this intersection of rights-based critique and a critique of modernity and governmentality as it manifests in its urban spatial regime (which itself can be seen in terms of spatial justice), critique shapes the relationships that we build throughout our lives within the city through its attention to the dialectic of the possible and the contained and of the real and the imagined. The role of critique is exactly what can make city life the most energizing and deeply affective. But critique must be turned toward affect as well when affect becomes naturalized and moves into governmentality, or as Foucault put it, “the techniques of government.”10

A New Spirit of Urbanism?

Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello make a compelling argument that a new spirit of capitalism was shaped through a dance of incorporation and evasion of the critiques of capitalism that came at the moment when imagining the future hit the streets in Paris in May 1968. Taking that “explosion” as a shift, Boltanski and Chiapello detail the “sources of indignation” that heated up two modes of critique—social critique and artistic critique. I think we can map the claims of artistic critique—as well as the way that Boltanski and Chiapello point out that capitalism adapted and absorbed them—onto the language of urban planning. Crucially, we also have to grasp this as a move that is strongly affective, a discourse that asks us to feel it and live it even if our participation in its shaping is minimal and based on a model of consensus rather than a model of justice and equity.11

Artistic critique coalesced out of a critique of alienation, out of an alienation better understood as the hollow distance between everyday life and the promises of post-war capitalism within the dialectic of production and consumption. Central to this critique were the themes of “the poverty of everyday life” and “the dehumanization of the world under the sway of technicization and technocratization,” on one side, and, on the other, “the loss of autonomy, the absence of creativity, and different forms of oppression in the modern world.”12 These themes existed earlier as the staple of critique from the historical avant-gardes, and they are the historical themes of the critique of capitalism. They are also themes that are found at different scales and in varied spaces—from the domestic sphere, within institutions, in the work place, and through the city and up to the nation. The development of the themes of artistic critique, Boltanski and Chiapello argue, answer to the expectation and anxieties of new generations of students and cadres, and spoke to the discrepancy between their aspiration to intellectual freedom and the forms of work organization to which they had to submit in order to be integrated socially.13 How do we understand these themes today? While they are both historical and timeless, in a sense, how have these themes of critique been reshaped by the new spirit of capitalism within cities? And, how have these themes been reflected in urban planning of today? What would the “artistic critique” of everyday life in a city be today? 

Viewed from the perspective of these questions, the city becomes a dialectic of affect and enstrangement14: we love the city even though the very things we would love for the city (and, therefore, for ourselves and others) do not yet exist. But as the city is built upon our everyday practices, this enstrangement makes the city strange and distorts our daily lives. At the same time, this relationship creates highly affective forms of collectivity, imagination, and agency, for we also cohere to declare and demand these things for and from the city (to critique rights and legitimacy). These things are often the most basic—such as housing or access to the processes of decision-making. That is, these claims to the city still have their roots in the promises of modernism, which, despite a rejection of their spatial logic, have been replaced by neoliberalism’s promise of development and growth (which in reality has accelerated uneven development across spatial scales). To work through this vivid relationship of enstrangement and affect—of deep love for the city yet the unbalanced relationship we have to the grand project for the city—two very powerful themes for the city have been mobilized as policy fixes for both “shrinking” or “failed” cities and for cities looking to boost their standing in the neoliberal competition for investment. These themes alter the identity of the city itself and, therefore, ask the people in a city to adapt their own identities, everyday practices, and lives—these themes ask for the love of citizens. These two powerful themes of our times are sustainability and creativity. When these themes are not grounded in equity and justice, they become programs for the city and extensions of the new spirit of capitalism’s answer to the artistic critique of urban life. That is, worse than policy fixes dropped down from above, shined up at “stake-holder” discussions, and then implemented in the grandest modernist fashion (and setting off uneven development within cities between the creative sectors and the working-class sectors or the sustainable areas and the inefficient and often more-affordable areas), these terms signal a startling reversal of powerful points of critique.

The language of creativity and of sustainability often represents these concepts as if they are for the city itself, for the good and the life of the city as a totality, rather than the people whose every action makes an urban territory a city. A very lived tension then sparks: we are asked to affectively adapt to a program that has all of the right terms, themes, and perhaps even possibilities, yet it is a program for the city as if its citizens are detached from it. Therefore, we have the enstranged vocabularies of the sustainable city or the creative city, as if these themes, brought down from above, will improve or fix the city itself. But should not a sustainable city sustain life for those who live in it? And should not the creative city make life more creative for all of its citizens? 

But these terms and other aspects of urban planning and governance are affectively charged, bringing with them promises of both longevity and a more vital life (again modernism’s unfulfilled promises poised on neoliberalism’s horizon!). What I am proposing here is that urban governance does not work on the troubled model of ideology and interpellation, as Louis Althusser rigidly laid out in “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” (1970). Rather than having citizen-subjects instantaneously interpellate themselves into a structure of power by heeding the call of the Law (figured as the police by Althusser), urban governance makes a visceral attachment to our affective relations with the city. Using Sara Ahmed’s model of affect as negotiating both the individual (internal) and collective (relational), it is possible to see that urban governance attaches itself to affectively charged relations that we hold regarding the city, and that this use of affect then mediates what is possible in terms of governance. Often this use of affect is to mediate the most inhuman of governance, to attach it to an affective relation in order to humanize it. For instance, in Vancouver, in the time leading up to the 2010 Olympics, a new law to allow the police to forcibly move homeless people to shelters during severe weather was affectively circulated as an instance of the city caring deeply about the its permanent homeless population. The city, it affectively appeared, cared more deeply about the well-being of the homeless than even the homeless themselves, who were characterized as acting against their own best interests. But this affective tug was blocked by critiques from civil society groups that rightly pointed out that this new street-cleaning law was suspiciously similar to laws invoked by other Olympic cities as the games neared—that, in fact, the law, which was highly contested and therefore not acted on , was designed to hide rather than to help the homeless.

What’s Affect Got to Do With It?

In arguing that affect has been neglected in the study of cities, Nigel Thrift posits that systematic knowledges of the creation and mobilization of affect have become an integral part of the everyday urban landscape, and these knowledges are not only deployed knowingly, but they are also deployed politically (mainly but not only by the rich and powerful) to political ends: what might have been painted as aesthetic is increasingly instrumental.15 Yet from a cultural perspective, there can be no separation of the aesthetic and the ideological, and, from an urbanist position, no use of affect is non-ideological. There can be no pure affect; affect is an intensity but not a refuge! Or to be more precise, no production and deployment of affect (positive or negative) is non-instrumental, nor can we understand affect as simply residing within the urban texture—it is not latent and therefore must be circulated to have an effect.16

To be clear, by affect I do not simply intend to mark the emotional attachment we have to the city, nor do I want to limit the circulation of these strong emotions to a feeling that emerges out of an individual or is somehow latent to the city itself. Sara Ahmed, in looking at affective economies, makes a compelling case to challenge an idea of affect that isolates emotion to an individual, and, from an urban perspective, the isolation of an affective city needs to be challenged as well. Instead of a model in which affect resides inside an individual or object, Ahmed writes that she is “interested in the way emotions involve subjects and objects, but without residing positively within them.”17 Ahmed asserts that, Rather than seeing emotions as psychological dispositions, we need to consider how they work, in concrete and particular ways, to mediate the relationship between the psychic and the social, and between the individual and the collective.18 This emphasis on the relationship of the individual and the collective is critical to understanding how cities work, as well as the manner in which urban governance draws on our love of the city. 

Ahmed criticizes a model of the sociality of emotion that is based on the “presumption of interiority” and that “assume[s] the objectivity of the very distinction of inside and outside.”19 In this two-part model, emotions are understood to either move “inside out” towards objects and others, or conversely, “outside in”: “emotions are assumed to come from without and move inward.”20 Countering these models, Ahmed argues, “emotions are not ‘in’ either the individual or the social, but produce the surfaces and boundaries that allow the individual and the social to be delineated as if they are objects.”21 How can we understand this model in terms of the deployment of affect in neoliberal urban policy? How does a policy accrue affective value? Governance does not simply circulate ideas that make their way from affect to ideology (with those two terms overlapping) to policy, but rather the movement from concept to policy is bound up with affect. This binding gives the policy itself an affective quality: “sustainability” becomes about preserving the city for our children and grandchildren or about saving the environment and humankind. Crucially, this affective binding deflects critique of sustainability as an accumulation strategy and moves away from the social justice question of sustainable urbanism. Read within the terrain of neoliberalism, we can see that the most humanly affective registers (saving the city for our imagined grandchildren) often hit against the hard edge of the economic logic of neoliberalism: not only do these programs that hold so much potential lose their promise, but, as Margit Mayer points out, social, political, and ecological criteria have become included [in local economic development policies and community-based programs] (while also redefined) in the efforts to promote economic competitiveness: social infrastructures, political culture, and ecological foundations of the city are being transformed into economic assets whenever possible.22

Let’s take the example of creativity: this positive attribute of a city is affectively charged through the constant discussion and examples of cities as a creative terrain (What city does not claim to be creative!) and the pleasurable possibilities of living in the city as well as tapping into a central theme in artistic avant-gardes across the twentieth century. Once charged in this way, creativity circulates socially as a positive attribute of a city (Who can be against creativity? Who can say, I want a non-creative city?) that can be embedded in the city rather than a practice already found in everyday life: rather than recognize these practices in the urban terrain, creativity must be brought in, in the form of a highly mobile, and, therefore, potentially temporary class, whose members are understood to reshape the city with their taste, lifestyle, and consumption practices. Creativity, in this form, separates the city from everyday life.

The Right to Creativity

I want to focus on how creativity has moved from a term that was central to artistic critique to an urban policy based on a brittle economic understanding of creativity. The notion of the creative city has been formulated and promoted by Richard Florida, and his popular books read as how-to manuals for mayors on the one hand and for home-buyers on the other. Yet what does Florida mean by creativity? Merely one paragraph into the paperback edition of his The Rise of the Creative Class, he announces “Human creativity is the ultimate economic resource.”23 This is a shockingly narrow understanding of creativity, and it does not take on much more nuance or texture throughout his work. But most disturbingly, Florida’s use of creativity is exactly the opposite of what creativity so viscerally meant over the twentieth century within artistic critique. In a reversal, Florida carjacks creativity as an economic resource so it is no longer the antidote to dehumanizing relations and modes of economic production, as it historically has been mobilized. Once stripped of its historical context and once removed from the actual history of creativity as a central aspect of dreams of life that range from a more meaningful existence and less alienating work to dreams of autogestion (self-management) and a new society, creativity turns into the dystopic opposite of this powerful concept. Florida’s creativity is not based on equity and justice, for, as he writes, “I had a hunch while writing The Rise of the Creative Class that inequity in our society was being exacerbated by the rise of the creative economy,” and his research shows that “inequity is highest in the creative epicenters of the US economy.”24 Likewise, his research shows that the creative economy opens a divide between creative labour and non-creative labour (and the class tension in Florida’s work is palpable—no working-class labour is understood as anything other than minimally creative), which is replicated economically—the creative class produces low-paying “non-creative” service jobs. Ironically, in cities across Canada, these service jobs are the type of work that many artists, writers, and performers take on to get by.

When read through a history of aesthetics and culture, Florida’s commandeering and narrowing of creativity does something very similar to the process that Boltanski and Chiapello attribute to the new spirit of capitalism in terms of critique. In Raymond Williams’s forceful, influential argument for an expanded view of culture (and one that has been criticized for becoming too expansive and losing its specific meaning as a consequence) in The Long Revolution, he tracks the historical separation of art, creativity, and “ordinary social life”: To see art as a particular process in the general human definition of creative discovery and communication is at once a redefinition of the status of art and the finding of a means to link it to our ordinary social life. The traditional definition of art as ‘creative’ was profoundly important, as an emphasis, but when this was extended to a contrast between art and ordinary experience the consequences were very damaging.25

Given this division, Williams proposes, “The solution is not to pull art down to the level of other social activity as this is habitually conceived.” Rather than “lowering” art, Williams pushes for “ordinary activities” to be understood as part of a process of the creative production of everyday life—the result is that “we create our human world as we thought of art being created.”26 This leveling of art and life is not the same move as that of the Russian Futurists, with their call of “art into life,” for, in Williams’s view, this process does not involve a radical transformation of art or life, but rather a recognition of the thread of creativity that stitches them together into the texture of culture as a whole way of life. Despite his breezy configuration of life, Florida resorts to a traditional isolation of creativity as the attribute and practice of a particular class. In essence, in contrast to Williams (and in contrast to any progressive or engaged art practice), Florida pulls creativity out of life as a whole and deposits it in the lifestyle of the creative class. Florida’s dystopic appropriation of the Futurist slogan is “Art into lifestyle.” 

Florida’s conceptualization and location of the value of creativity is exemplary of the new spirit of capitalism and neoliberalism in relation to both critique and to the utopian leaning of art. As Jacques Rancière puts it, if the concept of the avant-garde has any meaning in the aesthetic regime of the arts, it is on this side of things [the aesthetic anticipation of the future], not on the side of advanced detachments of artistic innovation but on the side of the invention of sensible forms of material structures of life to come.27 Or, in other words, the avant-garde has meaning beyond itself when it aims to look for novel and appropriate ways to embed art and the politics of the aesthetic into life (therefore transforming life) rather than seeking degrees of autonomy for the aesthetic. Manfredo Tafuri framed the avant-garde in a similar manner earlier, but he sharpened the point of the avant-garde’s attention to relations of production and work; he writes “…there has existed no avant-garde movement whose own ‘political’ objective was not, implicitly or explicitly, the liberation from work,” including the Russian Productivists and Constructivists who proposed a “new work” that was collective and planned.28 Tellingly, for Florida, it is this liberation from work he understands as noncreative that defines the creative class and produces value for the creative city. But, again, this is possible because Florida cannot imagine Williams’s recognition of the creative aspect of all work or the transformation of the relations of work in society as a whole. Florida does include the caveat that “Creativity in the world is not limited to members of the Creative Class. Factory workers and even the lowest-end service workers always have been creative in certain ways.”29 There is no masking that Florida frames this limited creativity as less valuable than the creativity of his class (for he includes himself in the creative class). Ultimately Florida argues that this simple creativity needs to be integrating into the creative economy rather than “bringing back the factory jobs of the past.”30 In this, we hear the echoes of neoliberalism’s response to unemployment in the productive sector. Of course, those “factory jobs of the past” (with their relatively decent wages) have gone elsewhere, as someone has to make things, but with punishing wages and conditions. 

As Jamie Peck points out in his biting critique of Florida, creative city plans and the creative economy do not solve issues of inequity and the right to the city; rather, “[c]reative strategies have been crafted to coexist with these problems, not to solve them.”31 Peck describes the use of creativity in urban planning as an easy fix: The creative cities thesis represents a “soft” policy fix for this neoliberal urban conjuncture, making the case for modest and discretionary public spending on creative assets, while raising a favoured bundle of middle-class lifestyles…to the status of urban-development objective.32 Florida’s thesis is a nexus of the incorporation and evasion of the critiques of capitalism pushed in the most dramatic manner (life and death!) by the artistic critique: what was once a devastating critique and a hair-raising rallying call for action in one’s everyday life becomes a migrating policy designed to exit alongside the contradictions and inequities it produces. 

Conclusion: Artistic Critique in the City

In terms of how I have written about affect here, creative strategies try to take the very aspects that we love about the city—street life, alternative modes of production, mobility, and movement by choice—and incorporate them into an economic force at the same time as it blunts artistic critique aimed at capitalism and everyday life. But this idea of creativity also contains or curtails other forms of creativity such as collective forms of production, or nonhierarchical ways of organizing cultural production and creative practices, or ways of thinking about culture outside of an economic imperative, ways of grasping culture that see it as an alternative and less predictable method of thinking. Ironically, for Vancouver—a city that is proud of, and banking on, its creativity and its lifestyle—the form of creativity imagined and rendered by Florida would run some of the more resilient forms of cultural life out of town. In Vancouver, the artist-run network was based exactly on a strategic separation of the artistic (or creative) from the imperatives of the economic. This separation was to open a space of critique as well and was based on artistic forms of soft autonomy and self-management.

We often read that we are living through a great moment in the transformation of the world economy. We are living through neoliberalism as a failure at the grandest scale, but because of this new “great transformation,” we are also living through the rewriting of culture. And, this, too, is a question of scale—where once culture was imagined in Canada at the national scale, and then at the regional scale, it is now imagined at the urban scale. The modernist cultural plan of the nation has given way to the public–private cultural model of the city. Today, an exportable form of urban governance and planning with which Vancouver has branded itself is seen as the city’s achievement, as its marker within the global-urban nexus. Yet, urbanism in Vancouver is not as positively public as the language of urban planning hints at—many of the necessary public acts in the city are to make a claim for what is lacking, or to try to block bad governance, or to ask for unfulfilled promises to be met. Within the consensus model of urban planning that is now dominant, the range of its imagination does not include more radical planning that would allow decisions to drift downward to those who will be the most affected. Neoliberal governance drifts upward—it avoids the streets, as Lefebvre would say—to nonelected private groups or boards and public figures in the field of urban development or finance: this drift upward is what has distorted urbanism in Vancouver, as it has in so many cities. As John Punter dryly lays out in The Vancouver Achievement, with the shift away from large-scale public redevelopment to large-scale development, “urban planning as public policy” also was transformed to “safeguarding” and “review practices” and “design principles” rather than participatory planning with a sustained public input. The public aspect of planning becomes based on minimums rather than “vision,” yet all the time speaks of vision and risk (so much so that these two terms are honorifics for developers). Punter unquestioningly sees this shift as being a move from unpopular modernist planning to postmodern urban design distinguished by private development that is “more likely to respect the scale, grain, and character of the locality and to reinforce its positive rather than its negative qualities.”33 Yet this division of public modernism and private postmodernism is not so clear in practice—private development and redevelopment has been at a massive scale, a scale much more common to modernist planning, and as it is private, there are few chances for meaningful public input or any impulse toward publicness in the architecture or plan beyond what can be bought by the city in terms of public art (as an added value) or another form of trade-off. In Vancouver, it often appears that we have a form of public-private modernist planning that erects postmodern architecture. In this formula we even lose the aesthetics of modernism to ornamentation, unusable setbacks as private-public space, and a myth of the human scale.

This parallel between modernist urban planning’s drift to postmodern private–public urban design has also altered the model and use of public art in our cities. Perhaps, then, we also need to recalibrate the understanding of public art—which so often is the product of public-private partnerships—to think through the possibilities of it as an urban art and, therefore, part of the texture of the city. Urban art could then engage in the dialectic of closure and possibility that is characteristic of the life of cities. Plop art, public art, and the politics of the creative city share more than it is comfortable to acknowledge if they work toward rebranding a city, or being a policy fix, as Peck argues, rather than taking on a more active and challenging role in imagining the city. 

The right to the city continues as an intense global-urban theme as we enter this new decade. Artistic critique and its history of emphasizing the creative possibilities of everyone’s life has a lot to say about the transformation of cities today. The deployment of affect in urban governance is itself embedded within the new spirit of capitalism’s appropriation of artistic and social critique’s force. But artistic critique is both discursive and material as well as affective and public. Perhaps through it we can then ask the city to love us, and to love equity and justice.

About this Article

How High Is the City, 
How Deep Is Our Love was first published in Fillip 12 in Fall 2010. For more articles from this issue, see the Table of Contents.

Jeff Derksen is a cultural critic and poet who teaches at Simon Fraser University. His writing on art and culture has appeared in Springerin, Hunch, C Magazine, and Open Letter, among other publications. He is the author of Annihilated Time: Poetry and Other Politics (Talonbooks, 2009) and After Euphoria: art / space / neoliberalism (ECU Press and JRP Ringier, forthcoming). Derksen was a research fellow at the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics, CUNY Graduate Centre, New York, and is a founding member of the Kootenay School of Writing. Under the name Urban Subjects, he collaborates with Sabine Bitter and Helmut Weber on curatorial projects and visual research.


  1. I began writing this reflection on Vancouver in Caracas, Venezuela, a city seemingly impossible to love yet utterly compelling. Seen as one of the most dangerous cities in Latin America, it is thick with a past of colonial city planning, of modernist plans broken by both the corruption of dictators and the popular will of the people. It is a city held in the hands of spectacular nature, yet a nature that seems to deliver little to the majority of people. But today the official Socialist City Plan of Caracas has enabled citizens to develop a robust form of self-management, or autogestion. Urban Subjects, a cultural and urban research collective formed by Sabine Bitter, Helmut Weber, and myself, visited barrio communities that had taken self-governance to a degree that would be impossible in North America: community councils in Caracas organize solutions to housing, health, food/nutrition, transportation, culture, sports, and many other aspects of their communities through a non-consensus form of participatory democracy that is aided by all levels of the city and state, as well as the military. For an indication of this mode of planning, see Farruco Sesto’s “Conceptual Notes on a Design for Cities of Socialism” (2007), at 

  2. Henri Lefebvre, The Urban Revolution, trans. Robert Bononno (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), 1.

  3. See the UNFPA report “State of the World Population 2007: Unleashing the Potential of Urban Growth,” at

  4. Lefebvre, The Urban Revolution, 5

  5. Ibid., 4

  6. Lefebvre, The Urban Revolution, 6–7.

  7. See an online version of Trotsky’s 1930 “The Permanent Revolution” at Also, Judith Butler situates Foucault in relation to Mao in her extensive reading of Foucault in “Critique, Dissent, Disciplinarity,” Critical Inquiry 35, no. 4 (Summer 2009), 773–95. Gerald Raunig provides a rereading of both Butler and Foucault in “What Is Critique: Suspension and Recomposition in Textual and Social Machines,” trans. Aileen Derieg, at

  8. Butler, “Critique, Dissent, Disciplinarity,” 787.

  9. Ibid., 795.

  10. Michel Foucault, “Governmentality,” in The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality, eds. Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon, and Peter Miller (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 101.

  11. In a video of a panel on “Radical Urbanism: The Right to the City,” held at the City University of New York Graduate Centre on December 12, 2008 (and available at, Peter Marcuse argues that a consensus model of urban planning is based on a “win-win” situation, that the plan will help everyone. But the real issue, Marcuse points out, is a change in power relations and in that there must be a “win-lose” change. In order to redistribute power, some must lose power in order for others to gain it.

  12. Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Gregory Elliot (New York: Verso, 2005), 170.

  13. Ibid.

  14. I am using the word enstrangement here rather than the more common estrangement due to the specific avant-gardist history of the word. My usage stems from the translation of Russian Formalist Viktor Shklovsky’s use of the Russian neologism ostraniene in his classic Theory of Prose. An earlier translation was estrangement (see Russian Formalism: Four Essays, eds. Lee T. Lemon and Marion J. Reis [Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1965]), but a new translation from Benjamin Sher argues in detail for the specificity of enstrangement (see Benjamin Sher, “Translator’s Introduction: Shklovsky and the Revolution,” in Viktor Shklovsky, Theory of Prose [London: Dalkey Archive Press, 1991], xix).
  15. Nigel Thrift, “Intensities of Feeling: Towards a Spatial Politics of Affect,” Geografiska Annaler 86 B (2004), 58.

  16. Nor can we privilege the city as the scale that is more intensely affective than any other scale—certainly during the Olympic games in Vancouver we saw a shift in the scale of affect from the city (always positioned centrally as a place of pride) to the nation (channeled through the nationalism of sport and particularly hockey as “Canada’s game”). But this affective scale shift simply produced a nonreflexive form of nationalism that was resistant to any challenge or questioning.

  17. Sara Ahmed, “Affective Economies,” Social Text 22, no. 2 (2004), 118.

  18. Ibid.

  19. Sara Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotions (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004), 8–9.

  20. Ibid., 9.

  21. Ibid., 10.

  22. Margit Mayer, “Contesting the Neoliberalization of Urban Governance” in Contesting Neoliberalism: Urban Frontiers, eds. Helga Leitner, Jamie Peck, and Eric Sheppard (New York: The Guilford Press, 2007), 91.

  23. Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class (New York: Basic Books, 2004), xiii.
  24. Ibid., xv.

  25. Raymond Williams, The Long Revolution (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1961), 37.
  26. Ibid.

  27. Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics, trans. Gabriel Rockhill (London: Continuum, 2004), 29.

  28. Manfredo Tafuri, Architecture and Utopia: Design and Capitalist Development, trans. Barbara Luigia La Penta (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1976), 57.
  29. Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class, 10.

  30. Ibid.
  31. Jamie Peck, “The Creativity Fix,” Fronesis 24 (2007).
  32. Ibid.
  33. John Punter, The Vancouver Achievement: Urban Planning and Design (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2005), xxi.

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