Editorial: Towards the urban impossible


In her book review of David Madden's and Peter Marcuse's important and timely In Defense of Housing. The politics of crisis (2016), Melissa Fernández Arrigoitia stresses a central point the book makes: the destructive consequences of the financialisation of housing are not simply (or rather complicatedly) a function or a result of the global financial crisis of 2008. Increasingly precarious housing conditions are a fundamental part of systemic crisis tendencies of the capitalist housing system, i.e. ‘part of the system working as it is intended’ (Madden and Marcuse 2016). It is this basic, yet crucial, and inherently contradictory nature of a system working as it is intended that the papers published in this issue either explicitly or implicitly pick up as they move to various topics beyond housing.
This is (or should be) a matter of everyday concern to everyone and deserves, even demands, examination. What Madden and Marcuse bring home so powerfully in regard to housing concerns us both directly and indirectly: we cannot not dwell; we are all in this together and in the unlikely case that our housing situation is just fine, that of our neighbours or friends might be in danger. Around the world and in our immediate neighbourhoods, the clash between lived experience and monetarised, financialised value, especially where this value is speculative, raises important questions about the social contract we nolens volens have entered. We cannot deny the urgency of the consequences this social contract has, but we can position ourselves towards – better: against – it and practice critique in our dealings with the daily contradictions and spectacular inequalities. Even where these contradictions appear more in the margins or folds of the papers than in explicit focus, this issue's contributions all illustrate the need for critical voices and actions that Madden and Marcuse so eloquently and thoroughly raise in their book, just as they have raised it previously in the pages of City and elsewhere.
Engaging generally with this contradictory (second) nature of life under and within capitalism, the papers published in this last issue of 2017 individually focus on a range of themes that at a first glance may not speak to each other. Collating them, I have sought to tease out some of the bridges and linkages between them and have noted that they – some papers more than others – open up spaces of potential between actual situations and (seemingly?) impossible possibilities: they allude to or openly address the socially produced spatial relations contributing to or even enabling the system working as it is intended – and thus make room for thinking of alternatives. At the least they pose questions about the city and indeed this city that is the journal. In his memorable piece ‘The urban impossible’ in an earlier issue of City Paul Chatterton argued:
"The agenda becomes not so much about what the city currently is or what it was, but more about what it could become, what it has never been. […] This is the urban impossible: being simultaneously within, against and beyond the current urban condition. Like an Alice in Wonderland who has found herself in the city, we need to dream six impossible cities before breakfast." (Chatterton 2010)
Bearing these seriously playful words in mind raises the question: where do these analyses and lines of argument take us?




Richter, A., 2017. Editorial: Towards the urban impossible. In: City Vol. 21, Iss. 6, 2017, 691-698 | Published online: 25 Jan 2018

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Dr. Anna Richter


Post-doctoral Researcher