In the spotlight

Revisiting Medellin’s Governance Arrangement After the Dust Settled

By John J. Betancur (University of Illinois at Chicago) and Peter Brand (Universidad Nacional de Colombia) | When the world is dark, any ray of light feels like the sun. Emerging from the profound crises that decimated the economy and social fabric of Colombia’s second city Medellin in the period 1980-2000, a grassroots movement and a powerful corporate group (GEA) formed a governing alliance that assured the world that the city had risen from the ashes. The new millennium saw strategic signature interventions in the poorest and most violent sectors of the city which captured the attention of the world while a public-private partnership consolidated the interests of the corporate group. This followed in the wake of a shadowy partnership of national government and paramilitary forces which produced the violent expulsion of urban militias of the left. An ensuing national amnesty and local pacts allowed control of large parts of the city by narco-paramilitary organizations in exchange for drastically reduced homicide rates – an essential component of some formidable city marketing which sold to the world the idea of the Medellin ‘miracle’ based on its social programs and progressive urbanism. This myth earned the city 21 national and 30 international awards (Mazo, 2016) but ignored critical works characterizing it as smoke and mirrors (see Hylton, 2007; Brand, 2013; MacLean, 2015). After the dust settled, this study spoke to 40 of the protagonists of the Medellin model and examined documents, reports, and archives to reexamine the coalition behind this experience. Read More
  • Urban Affairs Review (UAR) has been a leading scholarly journal focused on urban politics, policy, and governance for fifty years. Submissions reflecting different scholarly disciplines and methodological perspectives are welcome when the research advances theory and improves our understanding of political processes, policy impacts, and approaches to governance in urban, regional, and metropolitan settings. The Urban Affairs Review is affiliated with American Political Science Association’s section on Urban Politics. Read More
  • By Bharat Punjabi (University of Toronto) | Om Mathur and his colleagues have done us a great service by publishing the State of the Cities: India Report (SOCR) where they have developed a grounded empirical framework to answer some of the most interesting puzzles around India`s urbanization in the last three decades. The SOCR has answered questions that have been around for some time but had to wait for the authors’ deft combination of experience in the Indian urban policy context, their knowledge of census data sources and the depth of understanding of India’s urban trajectory to provide us with insightful answers to some very interesting but complicated questions on India’s urban system. Read More
  • By Eun Jin Shin (Sungkyunkwan University) | Homelessness has been one of the most critical issues facing major US cities in recent decades. According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s latest Annual Homeless Assessment Report (2020), about 0.57 million people in the United States experienced homelessness on a single night in January 2019. Although some cities, like Chicago, have witnessed a general downward trend in homelessness in recent years, numbers have risen dramatically in Los Angeles—an area known for long-standing high homelessness rates. Read More
  • By Kyle Jaros (University of Notre Dame) | Imagine that residents of New York City awoke tomorrow to reports that the governor of New York State had authorized, without public consultation, a far-reaching change to the city’s territorial map: Brooklyn would be split into two boroughs and the Bronx would merge with newly annexed Westchester County to form a northern mega-borough. This would be huge and highly contentious news for New Yorkers, with far-reaching implications for business, housing, infrastructure, public services, and governmental operations across the metropolis. Read More
  • By Jesse Mumm (DePaul University) and Carolina Sternberg (DePaul University) | “Every one of you that comes into this neighborhood, it ups our property rate ten thousand dollars,” one Black woman on the West Side of Chicago tells two white newcomers walking by where she sits on her front porch. How is gentrification racial? In our new UAR article, we look at race and gentrification in three Chicago neighborhoods: Garfield Park, Pilsen and Humboldt Park, where we map changes in demographics, property value, and material conditions. Garfield Park lies at the heart of the supermajority Black West Side; Pilsen has been called the cultural center of Mexican Chicago, and Humboldt Park hosts Paseo Boricua—the Puerto Rican Promenade. We know that gentrification is not always linear, and its multiple causes not universal, but enacted through urban phenomena as disparate as toxic loans, planned gallery districts, and subway restoration. Yet this does not diminish their meanings as racial projects, and our findings here destabilize the notion that material improvement in the built environment largely determines increases in property values. While urban scholars generally recognize today that abandonment and disinvestment were socially produced and politically organized racial projects of midcentury capitalism, we owe the same critical assessment to gentrification – the major urban racial project of the present day. Read More
  • By Sunyoung Pyo (Catholic University of Korea) | The police force’s discriminatory treatment toward Black residents has long been a significant social issue in the U.S. (Gaston 2019; Homes, Painter II and Smith 2019). There is substantial empirical evidence showing that Black people are more likely than White people to be stopped-and-frisked and to be arrested for minor offenses (Cooley et al. 2020; Gelman, Fagan and Kiss 2007). The issue of discriminatory policing has become more publicly salient over the last few years following several high-profile police-involved deaths of Black residents. Read More
  • By Dragan Kusevski, Maja Stalevska (Uppsala University), and Chiara Valli (Malmö University) | In September 2020, the Swedish government commissioned the National Board of Housing, Building and Planning to “review any obstacles for using the [Business Improvement District] method” to help address socio-economic exclusion in struggling urban areas. Stressing BIDs’ putative success in dealing with similar issues in other parts of the world, the government has argued that coalitions of local property owners, together with residents and public actors, could help “lift” socio-economically challenged neighborhoods out of poverty through real estate investments, crime prevention, and security measures (Regeringen 2020a). Read More
  • By Peter Hepburn (Rutgers University-Newark), Devin Q. Rutan (Princeton University), and Matthew Desmond (Princeton University) | Eviction is often seen as a city problem. We tend to think of the eviction crisis as playing out in urban neighborhoods, both in high-poverty places where eviction is a constant threat and in gentrifying neighborhoods where long-term residents may be at growing risk of being forced out. This overlooks what's going on outside of inner cities, leaving us blind to eviction patterns in suburban areas. Read More
  • By Om Prakash Mathur (University of Toronto) | The State of the Cities: India Report (SOCR) has come in at a time when the world is close to 55 percent urban and is projected to be 68 percent by the 2050 year. This transition, observed across the developing and developed world, is accompanied by an extraordinarily important shift in the world’s vision and perspective on the phenomenon of urbanization. Read More
  • How Is India Urban?

    March 15, 2022

    By Jan Nijman (Georgia State University & University of Amsterdam) | Let me start by congratulating Om Mathur and his team on the launch of this very useful report, State of the Cities, India. It provides a comprehensive overview that synthesizes, analyzes, and debates pertinent data from a wide range of sources. One of the strengths of the report is its reach across the urban continuum, from megacities to the rural-urban transition, and as such it offers an even-handed reading of India’s urban world. It also dedicates considerable attention to the relationships between urbanization and economic development, a matter of vital interest to India’s future. Read More
  • By Richard Bird (Professor Emeritus of Economics, University of Toronto) | This study provides a valuable look at urbanization in India and the major challenges currently facing the country. It does an excellent job of setting the stage and makes a plausible case for its vision of future developments. However, although this issue may be pursued in a subsequent study, it says nothing about how local governance and finance may, can or should be altered to do better for more people in the future. Read More
  • Are Indian Cities Urban?

    March 15, 2022

    By Partha Mukhopadhyay (Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi) | As Professor Mathur indicates, we really do not have a good sense of what is urban in India. In part this is because it is extremely hard to be formally urban in India because one has to jump through three hoops, viz. density, size and then finally occupational structure. This is in contrast to China where the definition of an urban area is administrative and includes what may charitably be called a significant part of the urban periphery. Curiously, when attempting a like to like comparison using 2001 data Uchida and Nelson (2008) found that while Indian urbanization increased from 28% to 43% or even 52%, Chinese urbanisation did not budge from the then official figure of 36%. Of course much has changed from that time, but the broad question that professor Mathur poses remains relevant. Read More
  • By Yue Zhang (University of Illinois at Chicago) | It is exciting to see the publication of the State of the Cities: India, an excellent and timely report compiled by Om Mathur and his team on India’s urbanization. Based primarily on the Indian Census and other sources, the report provides an in-depth analysis of India’s demographics, economy, and infrastructure in the urban transformation. One of the major contributions of the report is that it questions the meaning of “the urban” and demonstrates the complexity in the measures of urbanization. From large cities to urban peripheries to census towns, the different forms of spatiality have different logics of growth and present different answers to the central question: How urban is India?  Read More
  • By Shahana Chattaraj (World Resources Institute, India) | Our understanding of Indian urbanization is as amorphous as the sprawling megacities, mofussil towns and quasi-urban rural settlements that constitute it. Characterised simultaneously as too fast and too slow, as ‘messy’ yet dynamic, ‘hidden’ yet self-evident, urbanization in India is assumed to be transformative yet found to be insufficiently so.  What’s actually going on here? Read More
  • By Om Prakash Mathur (University of Toronto) | This essay is meant to sum up and bring the forum on the State of the Cities: India Report (SOCR) to a close. The previous essays have introduced the SOCR and complemented it with observations and perspectives of a distinguished panel of international experts, made initially at a webinar held under the auspices of the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy (University of Toronto) and subsequently scripted for the Urban Affairs Forum. The panel’s engagement with the SOCR - its scope, the data base, approach, methodology, and outputs, as readers would have noted - is encyclopedic, insightful, and strategic. The thematic span of panelists observations is extraordinarily wide. The panel has used fresh analytical instruments, offered alternative hypotheses, and raised a string of new questions, often buttressed by the panel’s own research, for addressing many of the issues contained in the SOCR. In some ways, the panel’s urban narrative complements the SOCR; it simultaneously reopens the discourse on India’s urbanization and resets the urban research agenda. Read More
  • By Jared N. Schachner (University of Chicago) | Why do some neighborhoods change rapidly in race and class composition, while others do not? Despite a growing consensus among scholars that neighborhood sociodemographics shape residents’ life chances and societal inequities, the key drivers of neighborhood change – especially gentrification – remain hotly contested. Most research examines salient neighborhood characteristics rather than metropolitan area characteristics, precluding a complete picture of neighborhood change from emerging. Read More
  • By Andrea Restrepo-Mieth (University of Pennsylvania) | Urban public space serves a myriad of social, economic, civic, and environmental functions that ultimately play an important role in improving our quality of life.  Uses range from protest and engagement with the state to the manifestation of cultural expressions, and from commercial and livelihood ends to exercise and recreation. Despite its benefits, the conservation and creation of public space can be a challenge in cities with growing populations, little land for expansion due to geographical or administrative boundaries, and tight land markets. Furthermore, given multiple and pressing demands on public budgets, it is easy to bypass investments in creating or upgrading public space infrastructure, prioritizing instead transportation and infrastructures more clearly associated with economic growth objectives. Medellín, like many cities in the global South, is no stranger to these realities and faces serious, persistent public-space deficits. Read More
  • By Nicholas J. Marantz (University of California Irvine) and Paul G. Lewis (Arizona State University) | As World War II drew to a close, residents of an affluent unincorporated area south of Denver, Colorado sought ways to preserve the low-density, single-family character of their community. They were especially alarmed by the possibility of central-city annexation to nearby Denver, which was much more racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse. In order to maintain the community’s low-density single-family residential character, residents voted in 1945 to incorporate a new municipality called Cherry Hills Village. The new local government locked into place the area’s existing zoning, with a 2.5-acre minimum lot size across most of the city. Today, Cherry Hills Village remains an exclusive enclave: As of 2018, 94% of its 6,600 residents were non-Hispanic whites and 98% of its housing units were single-family detached, despite its location near major employment centers. Similar choices about local control and restrictive zoning have been made by electorates and public officials in countless other suburban locales around the United States. Read More
  • By Shervin Ghaem-Maghami (University of Toronto Mississauga) and Vincent Z. Kuuire (University of Toronto Mississauga) | Running for political office is a demanding and complicated affair. Aspirants must navigate convoluted social and political structures in order to decide if they wish and feasibly can launch their candidacies. Further, they have an endless number of choices to make relating to the management of their campaigns: which issues to champion, which groups and segments of society to appeal to, how to shape the narrative about the issues confronting their electoral jurisdictions, and how to portray themselves as the right person to resolve those challenges, among many others. Read More
  • By Ross Beveridge (University of Glasgow) and Matthias Naumann (University of Klagenfurt) | Progressive politics is increasingly thought of in terms of cities. They were nodes of resistance to Trumpism in the USA and are centers of a new municipalist movement. In response, there has been growing interest in developing progressive urban policy agendas drawing on examples across a range of cities. But what is it about the urban that drives progressive political projects? And might there be differences between larger and smaller urban areas? Much of the academic debate focuses on larger cities, meaning our understanding of how progressive urban politics plays out in smaller towns is limited. Beyond emblematic cases like Burlington (Vermont), still associated with Bernie Sanders, there is little linking small towns to progressive politics in the political or academic imagination. Indeed, the opposite is usually the case: small towns are associated with conservatism, ‘Small Town America’, for instance, and, increasingly, right-wing populism. Globalization is driving new and deepening regional inequalities, with stark divides between prosperous large urban centers, on the one hand, and small towns as well as rural areas, on the other. Long-term economic decline in many small towns is seen to drive support for politicians like Trump, right-wing political parties like the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and political causes like Brexit in the UK. Read More