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 15: The institutionalization of the right to the city: The Spanish case

Vítor Peiteado Fernández


The ‘right to the city’ has gained momentum in the last few years as an attractive proposal to contest neoliberal urbanism. The conceptualization created by Henri Lefebvre (1991) as a revolutionary project beyond capitalism and the state to overcome the alienation produced by the capitalist city, poses some interesting questions about the real possibilities of its implementation today, especially considering that initial rejection of state intervention. Thus this chapter investigates the potential for promoting this right from state institutions to advance towards a full revolutionary right to the city, as well as the main challenges and consequences of such efforts in the neoliberal city. To fulfill this aim, the analysis focuses on the attempts of institutionalization tried in Spain within the wave of protest started by the 15M movement, specifically the government action of Barcelona en Comú and Marea Atlántica, two civic coalitions that won the mayoralties of Barcelona and A Coru-a in May 2015. The chapter begins with describing the concept of the right to the city in Lefebvre, paying special attention to the four main intertwined features that he considers key for guaranteeing the use value defended by the right to the city over the exchange value promoted by capitalism: centrality, participation, appropriation and encounters. Subsequently this theoretical framework is used to analyze how the government action of the mentioned platforms promote these four aspects, concluding that the main constraints are posed by the legal framework and the politics of scale. Furthermore the analysis shows that the origin of these challenges and limitations are to be found in a persistent tension provoked by the process of institutionalization between two competitive sources of legitimacy __– liberal representative vs direct radical democracy – which makes it necessary to reformulate the question from asking about the mere institutionalization of the right to the possibilities of inserting it within a representative regime. Thus, the cases show how this tension affects the social movements but, more interestingly, how they also create internal contradictions within the regime, proving the potential benefits of the institutionalization to open opportunities for implementing the radical reform of the right to the city by weakening the regime’s legitimacy and stability. At the same time the institutionalization has spread and normalized the demands linked to the right, increasing their challenge to the hegemonic position of the neoliberal discourse to advance towards a full revolutionary right to the city. Unlike the most common discussions about the topic – that is, conceptual-normative or about its role in social mobilization – this chapter directly addresses the important question of the potential and limitations of the implementation of measures advancing towards the right to the city for the creation of alternatives to current urban development and politics. Moreover the innovative practical experience of the Spanish case has generated hope for political movements all over Europe, which can make use of these lessons for future processes to advance in the construction of alternative urban environments.

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