Thursday, May 20, 2010

Municipal Malaise: Neoliberal Urbanism and the Future of Our Cities

Carlo Fanelli and Justin Paulson
Socialist Project Bullet

The 2008 Annual Report by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, written when the Federal government was pulling in nearly $14-billion in budget surpluses, paints a grim picture of the coming collapse of Canada's municipal infrastructure. The report found that Canada has used up 79 per cent of the service life of its public infrastructure and has set the price of eliminating the infrastructural deficit at $123-billion. While that figure is already large, the chronic underfunding of municipal projects appears much worse when framed not in terms of the cities we have, but the cities we want to live in: the funding gap would have to take into consideration a range of issues including poverty and affordable housing, environmental protection, urban redesign and renewal, and expansion of the arts, cultural centres and other public spaces. Of course, fiscal crises in our cities are nothing new; the last three decades have been characterized by increased service demands, population growth, tax-shifting, pressures brought on by amalgamation, and federal and provincial offloading. Yet the ongoing recession has become a pretext for consolidating and intensifying processes of “neoliberal urbanism.”

Neoliberal urbanism broadly refers to a range of punctuated and uneven urban processes taking place in the communities where we live and work. This includes the privatization, restructuring, and elimination of public goods and municipal services; the shifting of the cost of maintenance of public resources onto the working class; the increasing precariousness of work; the devolution of responsibilities onto local governments without matching fiscal supports; the scaling of regulatory capacities upwards to regional or international institutions (characterized by little transparency, accountability, or public consultation); the reining in of the power of municipal unions and community groups; the scaling back of social entitlement programs; and expansion of so-called “public-private partnerships” that aim to create new zones of accumulation and shift a significant part of the responsibility for urban governance to corporations.
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