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Stephen graham exploring urbicide


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An analysis of the concept of 'urbicide' -- the killing of cities -- and its various manifestations

Published in: News & Politics
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Stephen graham exploring urbicide

  1. 1. Exploring Urbicide Stephen Graham Department of Geography University of Durham, UK
  2. 2. Urbicide as ‘Place Annihilation’ <ul><ul><ul><li>“ As long as people have lived in cities, they have been haunted by fears of urban ruin. Every city on earth is ground zero is somebody’s doomsday book” (Marshall Berman) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>“ Today, wars are fought not in trenches and fields, but in living rooms, schools and supermarkets” (Seymore Barakat) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>“ The days of the classical Clauswitzian definition of warfare as a symmetrical engagement between state armies in the open field are over. War has entered the city again” (Phil Misselwitz and Eyal Weizman). </li></ul></ul></ul>
  3. 3. <ul><li>Both the informal (‘terrorist’) and the formal (state) violence, war and terror that characterise the post Cold war and post 9/11 periods, largely entail systematic and planned targeting of cities and urban places </li></ul><ul><li>In an urbanising world, cities provide much more </li></ul><ul><li>than just the backdrop and environment </li></ul><ul><li>for war and terror. </li></ul><ul><li>Rather, their buildings, assets, institutions, industries and infrastructures ; their cultural diversities and symbolic meanings ; have long actually themselves been the explicit targets for a wide range of deliberate, orchestrated, attacks . </li></ul>
  4. 4. Origins of the Term: The Denial, Killing, or Murder of the City: (a) 1945 Nuclear Urbicide
  5. 5. (b) Marshall Berman: Planning as Urbicide
  6. 6. (c) 1990s Balkan Wars
  7. 7. Seven Key Points : (1) Urbicide Often Requires Purposive Urban/Technoscientific Planning <ul><li>e.g. Both Holocaust and Allied Strategic Bombing required: </li></ul><ul><li>Huge work forces and elaborate divisions of labour </li></ul><ul><li>Dehumanisation of target populations </li></ul><ul><li>Scientific rationalisation and routinisation </li></ul><ul><li>A Euphemistic language to hide terrible realities (‘dehoused workers’) </li></ul><ul><li>Therefore both genocidal (Markusen and Kopf) </li></ul>
  8. 9. Dugway Proving Ground, Utah: Eric Mendelson
  9. 10. Careful targeting of densest, most flammable, cities and parts of cities
  10. 11. <ul><li>“ Tokyo was the best-burning of them all” (United States Strategic Bombing Survey) </li></ul>
  11. 19. Now Huge Urban and Technoscientific Planning Going in to Support Urban Warfare : ‘MOUT’
  12. 20. Unveiling the Orientalised City
  13. 21. (2) Urbicide Often Involves Dialectics of Construction and Erasure <ul><li>Binaried geographies constructed : ‘us’ and the othered ‘them’ - the hated </li></ul><ul><li>Complex urban and bureaucratic strategies to construct and enforce ‘pure’ spaces </li></ul><ul><li>Absence and presence constructed side by side </li></ul>
  14. 23. (3) Urbicide Can Also Involve ‘Civilian’ Planning <ul><li>“ The war ideology of the plan” Anthony Vidler </li></ul><ul><li>“ Building, by its very nature, is an aggressive, even war-like act” Lebbeus Woods (1995) </li></ul><ul><li>Disciplinary planning in colonial cities often used in imperial capitals too </li></ul>
  15. 24. e.g. Walter Christaller and Aryanization
  16. 25. Harare and Mugabe, 2005
  17. 26. Urbanism has Often Hidden Geopolitical Histories
  18. 29. <ul><ul><ul><li>Shrinking Cities: The Politics of Unbuilding </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>“ The economically, politically and socially driven processes of creative-destruction through abandonment and redevelopment are often every bit as destructive as arbitrary acts of war. Much of contemporary Baltimore, with its 40,000 abandoned houses, looks like a war zone to rival Sarajevo“ </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>(David Harvey, 2003). </li></ul></ul></ul>
  19. 30. (4) Urbicide Requires a Casting Out : Like genocide, it relies on Dehumanization-Demonisation and the Destruction of Symbolic Places <ul><li>“ War mobilizes the highly charged and dangerous dialectic of place attachment”. This involves “the perceived antithesis of ‘our’ places or homeland and ‘theirs’, an unbridled sentimentalizing of one’s own while dehumanizing the enemy’s people and land” (Ken Hewitt 1983) </li></ul><ul><li>Legitimises place annihilation </li></ul><ul><li>Pushes enemy beyond notions of humankind, </li></ul><ul><li>Agamben’s ‘bare life’ not worthy of political rights </li></ul>
  20. 32. Sometimes Urban Mixing and Tolerance is the Target of Ethno-Nationalist Movements
  21. 33. <ul><ul><ul><li>Body-Politic Metaphors Common </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>“ Uncontrolled Palestinian urbanisation is a threat of war ! The attacks against us are not physical but are on the order of the system. It’s an evasive threat - not conventional or terroristic. This is very important in the context of the global War on Terrorism. It is destructive not through direct damage but through its evasive characteristics which eventually kill the order of the host state. As of today we have the evasive tumour which sits within the order of the Israeli system. This is a cancerous threat ; the cancer cell multiplies. We see a mosque appearing there, a mass of buildings here. We thus see order destroyed&quot; </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>(Effi Eitam, Sharon’s Infrastructure </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Minister, 2002) </li></ul></ul></ul>
  22. 34. Distancing-Demonisation-Dehumanisation e.g. Battles of Fallujah, April & November 2004 <ul><li>“ A huge rat’s nest that is still festering today. It needs to be dealt with.” </li></ul><ul><li>Richard Myers, Chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff </li></ul><ul><li>Orientalist tropes </li></ul><ul><li>Glorification of war </li></ul><ul><li>Verticalised, voyeuristic, consumption </li></ul>
  23. 41. (5) These Days, Urbicide is Often ‘Asymmetric’ <ul><li>“ This is a war about the morning’s coffee and croissant. It is about the beer in the evening. About our very lives” </li></ul><ul><li>Adi Shveet in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz in March 2002. </li></ul>
  24. 44. (6) Urbicide Increasingly Involves Everyday Technics and Forced Disconnection <ul><li>“ These days if you want to hurt someone you go after their infrastructure” Phil Agre </li></ul>
  25. 54. (7) Urbicide is Legitimised Through a Militarised Popular Culture <ul><li>Susan Sontag: The “aesthetic of destruction, the peculiar beauties to be found in wreaking havoc, making a mess” </li></ul><ul><li>Military-Industrial- Entertainment Complex </li></ul><ul><li>Same Orientalist tropes </li></ul>
  26. 55. <ul><li>Henry Jenkins: </li></ul><ul><li>“ in a world being torn apart by international conflict, one thing is on everyone’s mind as they finish watching the nightly news : ‘Man, this would make a great game!’” (2003) </li></ul><ul><li>Sony ‘shock and awe’ </li></ul><ul><li>US Army Games </li></ul><ul><li>PS2 Weapon Controls </li></ul>
  27. 57. ‘ Joystick war’ : “at the end of the day you walk back into the rest of life in America”
  28. 58. “ Let’s start off by destroying Tokyo ! Studies show that nine out of ten mayors begin their careers with a frenzy of destruction” Sim City Guide
  29. 59. So, Urbicide Should Be Defined as a War Crime… But… Cities are Resilient! <ul><li>“ The processes at work during and after disasters are the same as those that account for concentrated social and economic development in less stressful times. Yet the myth of terrible urban vulnerability endures” (Josef Konvitz). </li></ul><ul><li>“ The city is a kind of collective immortality – we may die, but the forms and structures of our city live on” (Marshall Berman) </li></ul><ul><li>“ Only in the far distant past did cities crumble into dust and not rise again. In recent times, the extraordinary growth of cities throughout the world seems set to override catastrophes, losses, indignities and, no matter whether externally visited or self-inflicted” (David Harvey) </li></ul>
  30. 60. <ul><li>Cities always sites of continuous improvisation, violent reconstruction, and banal repair! </li></ul><ul><li>Being reconstructed even outside times of violent conflict </li></ul>
  31. 61. <ul><li>Must therefore resist calls to redesign and securitise cities in the face of war and terror! </li></ul><ul><li>In ‘war on terror’must reject both anti-urban fundamentalisms : radical islam vs national security state </li></ul><ul><li>Strive to construct (inevitably misanthropic!) cities as the key sites within emerging global civil society </li></ul>
  32. 62. Further reading…