Doug Specht discusses his rational behind the programming of the Association for Geographic Information Future Cities Conference on the 9th July 2015, in London.
In programming this conference, which places resilience and security at its centre, I have taken a broad view of security. The idea of securing our cities perhaps initially conjures up ideas of police or military interventions, especially given the current political climate. Yet it is perhaps this rampant expansion of what Mike Davies[i] describes as ‘security obsessed urbanism’; a defence fortressing of urban life, built upon a pyschogeograhy of fear, aimed at protecting residents and property from real, or imagined, threats[ii], that is itself the greatest threat to securing the future of our cities as places of work and pleasure. More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities, a place that condenses the manifold tensions and contradictions that infuse modern day life[iii]. This condensing of assets and persons means that securing the future of our cities becomes a task of locating the specific conditions of urban life and collective struggles in order to achieve more equitable access of all residents to the social resources and advantages that the city provides[iv]. Our cities are becoming sites of extreme inequality, a deepening chasm is growing between the rich and poor, and every square inch of space has been commodified and commercialized into parcels of valued land owned by a small percentage of the cities inhabitants. Our cities have become hidden urban geographies of injustice and discrimination[v], which both helped cause, and have been exacerbated by the financial meltdown on 2008.
All, however, is not lost, the world has changed dramatically in the last 7 years, presenting new dangers, but also new opportunities for our cities. We must approach the future of our cities with strategic optimism, and a radical openness to new ideas drawn from a critical spatial perspective. To secure the future of our cities, and to build ones that are resilient we should perhaps turn our thinking to the sociologist Henri Lefebre, and call for a true ‘Right to the City’. To undertake this Lefebre called for a right to difference, and a right to information[vi]. We have as geographers and GI analysis’s have a wealth of information at our finger tips, this we can use to seek justice in our cities, making them emancipatory and liberating spaces[vii]. To secure our cities, we must secure the welfare of citizens; for without citizens, cities are nothing but concrete blocks and empty spaces.
This event will present an eclectic mix of well renowned and impressive speakers that will further address these and many other aspects of the future city. I hope that you will be able to join us and be inspired by the innovative ways in which Geographic and Spatial information is being used to move us towards more secure and resilient cities that speak to equality and justice in our urban spaces. And that this event will allow for space in which we can collectively open our minds to the challenge of securing our cities for the future.
See you in London on the 9th July,
[i] Mike Davies, City of Quartz, 1990 | [ii] Edward W Soja, Seeking Spatial Justice, 2010 | [iii] Erik Swyngedouw, Divided Cities; 2006 | [iv] Edward W Soja, Seeking Spatial Justice, 2010 | [v] David Harvey, Social Justice and the City, 1973 | [vi] Lefebvre in Kofman and Lebas, trans. and eds, Writings on Cities, 1996. | [vii] Foucault, Des espaces autres, 1984