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Urban Justice

Urban planning, housing, transportation, the privatization of public space and the criminalization of people of color and poor people.

Privatizing Public Services Imperils Cities

Over the past few decades, governments at all levels in the United States have been in a perpetual state of deficit. Taxes are way down from their post–World War II levels, and except for a brief period during the tech boom, there is rarely enough money for even basic social services

“It’s been a strategy since the 1970s to ‘starve the beast,’ as Grover Norquist calls it,” says Robert Haaland, an organizer with Service Employees International Union Local 1021.

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Tax Credits for Developers, Bulldozers for the Poor

Protestors blocked by police outside the New Orleans city council meeting. © 2007 indybay.org

Despite Katrina causing the worst affordable housing crisis since the Civil War, the federal Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) is spending $762 million in taxpayer funds to tear down over 4600 public housing apartments and replace them with 744 similarly subsidized units—an 82 percent reduction. HUD took over the local housing authority years ago and all decisions are made in Washington D.C. HUD plans to build an additional 1000 market rate and tax credit units, which will still result in a net loss of 2700 apartments to New Orleans. The new apartments will cost an average of over $400,000 each.

Affordable housing is at a critical point along the Gulf Coast. Over 50,000 families still living in tiny FEMA trailers are being systematically forced out. Over 90,000 homeowners in Louisiana are still waiting to receive federal recovery funds from the so-called “Road Home” reconstruction fund. In New Orleans, hundreds of the estimated 12,000 homeless have taken up residence in small tents across the street from City Hall and under the I-10.

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Claiming the Right to the City

In January 2007, 30 organizations from seven cities got together in Los Angeles and adopted a framework to “urbanize” human rights. The goal is to ground human rights in the real lives and struggles of communities of color in United States cities and to utilize the human rights framework to unite and elevate our organizing.

The “Right to the City” Alliance is informed by a power analysis of what we’re up against in urban spaces, recognizing the role of United States cities in the global economy. Our analysis sees working class communities as central to the fight for human rights in the city while embracing a vision of life and democracy for all city dwellers.

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Livable Communities

Peralta Community Garden in Berkeley, California. © 1999 David Dobereiner from Building Commons and Community by Karl Linn.

Imagine cities as places where working people can afford to live and raise their families, where there is concern for clean air, water, and land. Imagine vital exchanges across generations and beautiful places where people gather. Urban life is at its most vibrant when people from various parts of the world bring together their music, food, cultural systems, and religious expressions. All of these make for cities that manifest the strength and brilliance of the human garden.

Moving the Environmental Movement
For the better part of the last century, the conservation movement and its offspring, the environmental movement, have had a negative view of cities. It started with John Muir’s celebration of nature in reaction to the ugliness of industrial development, urban pollution, congestion, and noise. But this bias against cities is changing. Environmental groups now acknowledge that the way we live in cities is at the nexus of many environmental challenges.

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