Handbook of Emerging 21st-Century Cities
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Handbook of Emerging 21st-Century Cities

Edited by Kris Bezdecny and Kevin Archer

The majority of the world's population now live in cities, nearly a quarter of which boast populations of one million or more. The rise of globalisation has granted cities unprecedented significance, both politically and economically, leading to benefits and problems at national and international levels. The Handbook of Emerging 21st-Century Cities explores the changes that are occurring in cities, and the impacts that they are having, at the local, national and global scale.
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Chapter 5: Uneven geographical development and the city: Conceptualizing the fractalization of space

Kris Bezdecny


Uneven geographical development is such a ubiquitous part of the urban lived experience that it can be easy to overlook in the interstices of day-to-day life when those inequities do not directly impact us. (This belies a privilege in which such interstices of life exist.) Its very commonplace nature means we can also disregard the inequities in our lived spaces that do directly impact us, as it can become difficult to imagine a life without those inequities. When acknowledged, and greater still, when struggle is undertaken to overcome or dismantle those inequities, particularly within the city, there is often violent pushback in support of maintaining the uneven status quo. Even when success occurs, and social justice is advanced, that success often seems fleeting, or illusory. Pushback or setbacks may appear to come from nowhere, out of dynamics that seem wholly unrelated to the struggles at hand. In the United States, for example, the Civil Rights Act is now over a half-century old, and yet many feel the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement is controversial (Easley 2017) – not considering its outgrowth over the continued targeting of black communities and individuals in urban policing (and vigilante) encounters (Legewie 2016). This chapter explores a recurring dynamic in spaces of inequity, particularly in the city. This dynamic is one of self-reinforcing a particular set of relations at different scales within the urban space – as the set of relations changes at one scale in the city, that self-reinforcing pattern is often able to quickly reassert the original pattern. This dynamic, always in flux, bears many resemblances to the self-recursive similarities found in fractal patterns – leading toward (but never fully achieving) a fractalization of the urban space. Deconstructing how these dynamics impacts cities becomes ever more critical as the world simultaneously becomes more urban, and more precarious. As the space in which the struggles for local rights take up space side by side with global flows of capital, cities must engage at multiple scales simultaneously. Addressing issues such as neighborhood gentrification or access to affordable housing will not be as simple as focusing at the community level; many of the sociopolitical, socioeconomic, and political economic dynamics driving urban issues take place at global, regional, and state scales within the city, with struggles often inadvertently focused on the consequences of those dynamics, rather than their causes. Struggles need to find spaces of subversion in existing social relations, the interstices formed by the similarity, rather than sameness, of the patterns reinforced across scales – and then use those spaces as the means to continue the struggle across additional scales.

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