Urbanism, Defended to the Anarchists

There is a sub-tendency among anarchists that is opposed to urbanism. These anarchists do not have much appreciation for the city, or for urban politics. In this piece, I do not intend to attack this tendency. I have no interest in tearing other anarchists down, but rather in building up an urbanist politics among anarchists.

Why should anarchists care about cities? Well, besides the fact that over half the world lives in them, cities are a crucial part of a green politics. Aside from politics that accept a ‘collapse’ scenario and subsequent population die-off, any green politics has to reckon with the fact that dense living has large advantages for ecological living. Even a simple two story building requires less land than two single story buildings. As well, urban living allows us to make the best use of low-carbon or no-carbon transportation technologies. Walking, the bicycle, other single person self-propelled rolling vehicles, and trains, trams, and interurbans are best in cities, or in the case of the last three, between them.

Anarchists have to reckon with cities as a feature of human culture, and cannot and should not simply say that cities would disappear. Absent a calamitous mass-death, something I think any freedom lover would want to avoid, cities are here and have been here. From as far back as ten thousand years ago we have evidence of people choosing to live densely. As yet though, there have only been halting attempts by anarchists to develop our ideas as a tendency towards the city. Despite many of our struggles being indelibly linked to urban crises, we have had very little to say about urbanism in general. From tenant unions to the housing crisis, austerity in public transport, road deaths, redlining, police violence, and more - many of the things we oppose and organize against are influenced and influence in turn the built and social environment of the city. The creation of an anarchist urbanism is a longer term project that will be done collectively, and not here, but suffice to say that our enemies – all the wings of state and capital, have urban or anti-urban politics and it is to our detriment to not contest this area.

If we don’t say something about how housing could look if organized along anarchist principles, then our opponents will gather support to their own reactionary camps. We then end up fighting them further down the line, organizing tenants against ‘development’ instead of fighting for the abolition of landlordism – whether statist or capitalist – and the creation of density through cooperative housing models. When we neglect to theorize about urban problems, we actively hinder ourselves by not focusing our energies on all parts of the issue.

Anarchist Urbanism then, is necessary as a tactical and strategic consideration for our revolutionary movement. We cannot fight against authority of effectively if we don’t both have a view of where we are engaged in struggle, nor a transformative vision for how our lives could look if we win. By this I mean a vision grounded in the daily lives of people – which means in our houses, on our streets, in parks and urban gardens and cafes and other buildings. If we do this conceptual and strategic work, we will find ourselves better situated to flex our power.