Spaces of Neoliberalism: Urban Restructuring in North America and Western Europe

Brenner, Neil and Nik Theodore (Editors)
Blackwell Publishers, Oxford

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Cover of book This book is an edited collection, combining essays from various perspectives, such as Urban Studies and Neo-Marxism, as well as bringing in case studies and theoretical analyses.

With the disappearance of governmental subsidies for urban renewal, cities have tried to find new ways of making redevelopment pay for itself. This trend has made cities more dependent on property tax revenue, causing them to become more dependent upon the real estate market. In essence, neoliberal policy is speculation fostered by public funding. This pattern threatens the fiscal health of cities. Gentrification has evolved as a competitive urban strategy within the global economy. This approach sees the potential of central and inner city real estate markets. Cities now compete with each other on a global rather than a regional scale. Such rivalry occurs not only in the industrial realm, but increasingly in the area of tourism. Urban real estate development is now a central dimension of urban economic expansion.

The basic goal of such policy shifts is competitive redevelopment, to the end of reestablishing cities in the global economy. This is to be done by enhancing the competitive advantage of cities by improving their built environment. Physical reconstruction and economic recovery in tandem would stimulate future growth. Urban revitalization is thus to be seen as central to regional recovery. An ongoing concern is the increasing economic contrast between those benefiting from this development- middle class and realtors, for example- as compared to poor urban residents and immigrants. The end result is the privatization of urban government. This approach is not, as it may seem to be, a bottom-up development, but rather is dominated by a select set of professionals- architects, engineers, and planners, for instance, with no input from non-professionals nor less powerful groups. Toronto is an example of this pattern. Social contrasts of the rich and less affluent are even more pronounced. The city as a result has become the site of large-scale protests against global economic justice, welfare cutbacks, and the housing crisis.

There is a frantic search for a new neoliberal approach, since this stance has suffered a number of significant defeats. These include the failure to transform radically the old socialist nations, and the effects on Latin America and Asia of industrial crises.

These developments have caused many neoliberals to reevaluate their efforts. These attempts include consideration of local needs, for example, of the semiskilled and unskilled. Including these elements could offer all social classes both incentives and stability. Recently, the neoliberal approach has demonstrated an impressive potential. Organized resistance and progressive reform efforts, however, have had a limited influcence on social and economic policy. Cities are nevertheless the sites of diverse policy experimentation, and thus the means whereby an altered model of neoliberalism is developed. The hope is that an inclusive set of compromises would enable the actualizing of a social policy combining the welfare state and neoliberalism.

There is an underlying optomism evident in several of the chapters of this book. The hope that a modified form of neoliberalism, a humane liberalism concerned with the needs of all urban citizens, not just those profiting by real estate and tourism, would prevail. This hope is just that- a hope. Many of the authors evidence a contradiction in appraisal of urban policy: a conflict between what might be intended by more enlightened neoliberals, and the underlying philosophy and/or end results: the bottom line of profit. This last interpretation prevails especially in the chapters dealing with the United Kingdom, Glasgow and Toronto. There is nonetheless a presentation of evidence, as well as hope, that causes the reader to see actual, positive results of modifying class laissez-faire neoliberalism, to include a more progress social philosophy translating itself into an inclusive social policy. There thus seems to be emerging at least in some sites in North America and Western Europe, a measure of combination of social welfare and traditional neoliberalism.

William Cross
Illinois College