Urban equity and diversity: radical theories and deradicalized practices

October 2018
Presented at: Philosophy of the City, La Universidad de La Salle, Bogotá

In the spatialized struggle for social justice, the feminist banner is increasingly raised and foregrounded by urban activists, scholars, and policy-makers. If we asked today’s urban feminists to respond to Dolores Hayden’s question “what would a non-sexist city look like?” we might overwhelmingly hear that cities ought to be safe, inclusive, and accessible. To meet this tall but important order, they might say we ought to listen to those whose safety is at risk, those who are excluded, and those who are denied access. Today’s urban feminists tell us it is time to privilege and bring forward the voices not only of women but of the many other and multiply marginalized people whose interests have been and continue to be left out of city-building and planning. I position myself among these radical urban feminists. My doctoral fieldwork on public placemaking and alternative scenes in Ottawa (Canada) begins to point towards ways in which radical positions and theories are translated and appropriated into mainstream actions that risk reproduction of dominant normative approaches that depoliticize space; that let some people in only to reinforce the boundaries of who is to be left out. Safety, inclusivity, and accessibility seem to be increasingly mobilized by the most privileged in our cities or only by those marginalized groups who can demonstrate an alliance between their interests and the mainstream (neoliberal) goals and values. How is the social justice banner helping some marginalized people but often only by further marginalizing other potentially more vulnerable people? How is the goal-orientation of planning collapsing the radical call for equity into flattened tokenized goals of safety, inclusivity, and accessibility while failing to engage critically with key questions: Whose space and whose safety? Who is to be included and who will have access? Who has the right to the city and who has power to decide who?


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