#INURA 22nd meeting in Tallin

These are (probably very patchy) notes taken during the INURA meting organised by Linnalabor in Tallin, Esthonia.

Margit Mayer on urban activism today.  Struggles shaped partly fy the hsistory of earlier struggles. Neo-liberal shift of 1980s and then later actions to emailiprate…and now a more optimistic context in which to act – in the crisis conditions we now have.

Early actions part of the crisis of fordism – struggles around housing, anti-war and limitations of social democratic govts.  European movements led by students and young people, focussing on colective consumption …. and in N America led more by the most excluded, afro-caribbean groups especially.  But uneven development and crisis is not everywhere… some places are in boom. Is it the same everywhere or really different?



Main scahllenge was to the keynesian city where the state is soe havily focused on collective consumtion. castells the leading author. Functional zoning of urban space. Extension of urban infrastructure for consumption.  This all privided cause for grievances and scope for mobilisation.  But many alientated people excluded or left oput of these actions.  Gap with the excluded still very serious and join mobilisations remain few.


Second phase induced by 1980s austerity as welfare was “rolled-back” and much alternative movement was defensive or alternative. Increased unemplyment, homelessness etc new strands in movements.  Local governments starved of money while needs grew – and many alternative organsations were drawn in to filling gaps in welfare or covering failures.  Innovative urban revitalisation move d from protest to programme.  Limitations and contradictions of all this led to re-evaluations …


1990s movements responded to earlier retrenchments. Local economic development, “flanking” manoevers to get around the limits of the neo-liberal city.  Attempts for example to challenge the appropriation of urban and ecological assets as weapens in inter-city competition.  “Community regeneration” programmes mobilised by the state …  and public/private activity absorbing bottom-up.  Emphasis on a regressive, individualised, competitive direction for self-reliance.  This harnessed the CRITICAL thust of earlier movements to assimilate them into the mchanisms of conrol.

Lots of anti-gentrification and anti-globalisation movements became strong across te world.  Meanwhile much community energy assimilated into the emchnisms of social control in “roll-out” neo-liberalism.  Meanwhile rowth slows, or is jobless growth, so there is greater social / spatial polarisation.  Welfare replaced with “workfare”.

Activists now confront a more neo-liberal city. Planning, building and governing changed so we have deregulated housing market, real estate interests (some global) shaping cities and localities. Gentrification and mega-gentification dominant in core areas, while blighted areas decline.

City branding, ‘creative’ etc strategies require cleansing cities for artcists, creatives, tourists and customers…  >> More gated communities, more polarisation >> more security and surveillance. In many ways first world cities ths become more like third world cities.  Enclaves of wealth….

Melt-down of 2008 has given opportunities for governments to implement cuts more severe than ever nbefore and to push more privatisation.  Movements of resistance saying “we won’t pay for your crisis” / @occupy /

I want to highlight how the frame for urban movements is new.


n-l is contradictiry.  On one side more fragmentation, social polarisation… hitting youth, students and also middles classes.  However it enables concesions to those who may play a role in attracting tourists…   Some movements use RTTC concepts as basis for action uniting many social elements.  In western europe these coalitions have been quite heterogeneous. Radical autonists, lftists, middle-clas s urbaites defending QOL, disparae groups in creative and ed grousp, + artsts.  All are affected by different forms of alienation.


With manufacturing outsourced to global south.  Our cities playgrounds for upper classes serviced by underpaid lower class.  Rich soil for alternative, but also for them to be coopted.  Ascities discover “art” as basis for a better brand….exploit alternative subcultures as basis for tourism etc.

This then gets tramsformed by investors into tradeable assets. Cool cities; happening places; interim uses….  in NL they have ‘breeding grounds’ to replace what large squats used to do…  (Tino Bucholz movie).  Some (Stockholm) has marketed its gentrification as “sustainability” via its emphasis on food production.  This replaces space previously ocupied by WC and/or migrants. More criminalisation unwanted behaviurs.  This sharpens divisions among activists…  and competition for shrinking funds…  A very hostile environment which has made oppsitional politics harder.

Q:  Crisis now threatening the whole society. Whole population engaged.

Q Creative class(es) / creatives as speaheads of transformation /

Q Vesna not agreeing???

Q Chrisdtian Schmid. helps us understand situation where we live. Crisis of the whoe syayte,m  Good to say it started in 2001. And what about uneven development.

MM:  Harvey – Merrifield dimension, harvey argues everything is “urban” while Merrifield says it does not capture what is happen and city doesn’t matter so much.

“Creative class”  should we stop creating? Groups need to be conscious …

Q Marvi M:

Q Riga confused: If a movement achieves its goals, is this cooptaion? Alan from Hel: challenge is to hold to big goals while securing modest reforms / compromises…

Rel of old and new social movements / labour unions ?


MM:  what is a “success”?   diff memebrs have quite diff aims, concepts of success, criteria for success….  But what is important is to keep it clear that it is the NL system whihc is being attacked, banks, capital etc.  Don’t wobble on that at ll.

Yes, some goals are not co-optable.  But many actors sit back and become less active. Danger of activists fooling ourselves. On old/new movements: unions etc were regarded as narrow and to be replaced by identity stuff; but of course the material issues have some right back. Some unions have been good to support Zucotti…  Can..


Second session: Libby Porter chairing

Alan Prohme from Helsinki…(Sans academy)  The people’s life.. Finland 5.5m people. never had a revolution or a movement.  People trust their govt, their planner.  Can be forgiven second happiest country after DK.  Tryng to make information bring change. Independent activist / schoar. Artwork, street performance. etc.

Movements in n africa urban, and spain and @Occupy all use the city not just as the site but also use city as an organ, as an instrument, through gneerating new dynamics… thigs happen which couldn’t have happened the previous day.  In Finland we saw all this coming.  Occupy Helsinki???

How to activate?  We could see environmental collapse and financial crisis (back in 07). Trying to sow seeds of occupation idea in Helsinki – fill non-activate spaces with active message. An occupation did show up, with tents ec. in People’s square. Located outside parliament on land which was disused railway yards… squatted and artsitc and irregular activity in a city which has bery little randmness.  People lost the battle.  Space converted to a high-end musichaus.

Finnish law permits the occupation of space for protests and it survived right rhtough the winter (!) Easy to raise energy evels in Helsinki because normally it is so low.  Did a lot of noise and music and sining. But not many people joined in. Some people were from Attac, a peace organisation of left alliance, some old communists, zeitgeist movement, econ democracy movement; also demos and dodo. Most Finns don’t feel much is happening to them. Know about the world, though a bit delayed.  Much importation of US model of innovation and development, but people don’t yet see the threat, the contradictions. But can we make an urban class a la Harvey?

Speaker from Slovenia – similar things happened. Why does energy level decline?

A:  Problem in Finland is inserting anything between the individual and the state, getting people to talk… debate.. prepare networks and nodes ready for something important to come up….

Marcus  Finborn stockholm active in transport and squatting.  Campaign as an economic campaign for right to public transport, where month pass costs €80.  Security and control. Free public transport. Our experiences in PLANKA. we have 27,000 folllowers on FB.  (Cf total of political parties have 10,000). Challenges standard political debate.








Kacper Poblocki from Poznan on RTTC in Poland.  Impact on Poland of costs of hosting UEFA2012.  Are we sure that activism should be local?  Maybe we should jump scale… (Neil Smith ref).   Can RTTC bring all the different movements together?  To answer this we hve to analyse local conditions in each place.

Urban regime in poland…(I can send you a paper)   First congress of urban movements a year ago in Poznan. 100 people from 17 cities.

my.poznaniacy  = My poznan.   9.3% of eligible people normally vote in local elections.  WE challenge the mayor as representative. We got  10% of votes cast –  no seats because of structure)


195075 surging increase in housing output. ended 1980 and the steady decline to 1998 and then neo-liberal boom began. Ref Polanyi.   Example drwn from 100 conflicts in the city.  Developer proposing a tower inserted in a gap in a social housing project.

Many struggles are to protect green areas. Exceptional procedure by-passing normal democ process wherever there is no current plan. Only constituted resident associations have legal sanding to engage in the admin process for these exceptional cases. Thus growth of resident associations.  (Very interesting detailed case studies.)   Where the growth coalition is strong, they can determine the city plan and go the normal / blue way.  In other cities there is no plan and the developers follow the exceptional route.

Q do you cooperate with groups in Russi?  No not yet but we’d love to.  Let’s meet afterwards.

(Side conversation with Paloscia: the RED route – exceptionality – resembles the exception procedure which Luigi Mazza proposed for Milano. )

Tauri:  close similarities with Tallin. A:  Most of these local groups start simply defending self-interest, to a “we” approach to a more urban-scale…   But whole urban discussion s new.  No word for “urbanite”.  Historically urban residents were formerly foreigners German or Jewish…   So it’s a new idea that urban residents are a “we”.

Kacper:  diff movements vary. Some are street actions (e.g. on traffic safety); One where you wear a wire frame as big as a car and walk round the city showing how much roon a car takes up.  Others are more administrative.

Is there a dange that “fun” actions antagonise common people – with radical left seen as disgusting anarchists… // How did you get NIMBY projects to convert into more collective projects?  Are joyful protests dumbing down?  //  Different methodologies in different situations. Stockholm actions were fun but also relate to material problem.  Poznan is vey much more indie the institutional structure “proper” way of using the mechanisms.


A:  NIMBY is not the same where property relations are not the same.  It is not about money value of dwellings. Protest is against marketisation, defence of green space. Negative agenda in a way. Portrayed in media as ANTI but later come to be evidently FOR something.  Trying always to show positive long-term outcomes.

Margit: is it accidental that in post-communist countries that working behind the scenes is important and street action is just for media attention…??  Is there something about   post-communist politics?  “YES” says Kacper. Other things going on too – e.g. in Lodz.

In Serbia, we are just burned out by 90s.  Nothing will ring people out on the street.  Yes there can be struggle-fatigue. Someone else reports hundreds of people day after day in bajaLuka defending a park against development.

Linnalabor – Teele Pehk

Started 2006 with 2 geography students – an NGo to bridge gap between research and society.  Some Guerilla actions but no programme. A freedom statue in Freedom Square, Centre of thought and action. Project based.  Huge old fashioned bureauctatic system whereas we want to have much more direct and participatory approaches.  Local government apparently fears us. LG is not interested in long term visioning….  High protection of private interest and LG is spineless in protecting public interest.

Neighbourhood movements are beginning to get stronger.  But how do we scale up?

Madle Lippus (Uus Maailm, Estonia) “Neighbourhood Movements Shaping Urban Space in Tallinn” (I’m getting tired, so will pause my notes).

Q Are people in city hall just arseholes?  Well… our pol culture is not strong. Politicians are thinking only short-term, over their election cycle.  We are trying to look long term. (we are mostly organised through FB – thousands of people)

Q differences among localities.  We try to engage russians but how can you create conditions for communities to form?

Hrd to describe what neighbourhood groups want?  Better life in their localities? Traffic / facilities / …  we are indeed doing things which perhaps the state should be doing..  LG take decisions one by one; there is no plan.     They ARE society… They are MAKING society…  and otherwise there is not one.

Trying to include Russian speakers..  Community development does not exist in baltic states, or in the training of social workers.

Roger Keil asks about russian question…  no russian speakers among us urbanists.  but we are not targetting specific russian communities.  In Latvia we have 2 native russians in our institute.  Russian not the same as modern-blocl-residents.  We have been circling around this.  In Tallin the russian community IS activist. e.g. in defence of a monument which was central to their identity..   Russians might see approaches as part of top-down politics of integration.   Russians like to do gardening .  Someone struck by  approaches which seem to be upgrading communities, rather from inside them.

New World Uus Maailm

Just been watching a remarkably good documentary New World Uus Maailm (actually more like a feature) made by a rather hippy / student activist group in Tallinn who spent some years making a kind of social centre for a neighbourhood, challenging authorities, building a local community. In it they engaged clearly some of the old residents of the area – though others remained irritated and irritating.  All full of humour. Very frank about their emotions as well as their actions…   In that extraordinary way that can happen in a small city in a small country (and a new one) they interacted directly with the Mayor, and had a visit from the President – who apparently has an interest in “civil society”. The people involved are now busy being catalysts for other things, one is an advisor to the president, another an advisor to government on third sector.  Have they been co-opted?  No, they say.  Politicians and media seek their support.  Many other community houses now operating. http://2010.uusmaailm.ee/eng/

Interesting.  Not on YouTube and we are trying to find out how it can be viewed.  In Estonian, but with English subtitles.
Strong emphasis on making city better for bikes and pedestrians.  That too is going well, they say.
Final panel
Richard Wolff poses the following questions
1.  What have we heard – stories, analysis, examples…  how to put them together??
fragmentation has increased – almost all kinds, segregation, inequality, job security – all up.
Jennifer robinson: in SA where i come from segregation reduced in 21 years.  The mix of research and action suits me very well and fits with the SA urban studies.  Actions reported have been very diverse, imagining city futures is a crucial and difficult thing. Wonderful to find that people are doing politics, not just studying it and its effects.  Refers to Edgar Pieterse and his mapping-out of top-down and bottom-up actions in urban transformation.
Roger Keil quotes Neil Young. You can’t stay young, you can’t avoid change.
enablingcity.com  is a good web site about activator activity…  Concrete interventions like the milk ba (film – see above) are beutifications and gestures, but they do leave traces in the city and in people’s minds.  A different subject is linked here – cf Margit Mayer – have we ourselves changed?    We have to “roll with it” with neo-liberalism…
Tauri Tuvikene  We did think about the Estonian context.  Now I am thinking what is missing? What you saw, rather joyful, is what we get.  Links with the state… can be constructive…  Not much critique of capitalism here, not much ref to neo-liberalism. Very valuable to have the polish example…  Activism is what people enjoy and what gives them pleasure and satisfaction.
2 Second  – where do we go from here ?
Jennifer Story of collapse of Strijdom monument in Pretoria and n ex-Latvian cafe owner asking for a bust of Lenin (now spare in Latvia) to decorate / advertise his cafe.
Analytical problem for me is the relation betwen the state ( a new state) and civil society in  post-colonial, post-authoritarian countries.  Welfare states are being rolled out in some places:  there is not a uniform neo-liberalism.
Keil:  We are not a collection of specialists. We can say what we want without being numbed by nerds in their specilists. Also we made progress in use of media (first video) and now twitter.  New presences from baltic, former East Europe, Portugal wonderful.  Should have been Russians here – or at least we should not have been discussing them in their absence.   Need not to emphasise NATIONAL identity since there are no sovereign states any more.  Let’s go back to our roots in our cities.
Tauri: It’s a bit regional.  We partly wanted to bring some discourses into Estonia.  Someone comment – why have this leftist outfit coming here?
M.E.:  1.  Appearance of land and property markets, ownerships and boundaries, is NEW in ex-communist countries. Wages and prices were always there, but rent is new.  So the logic of space has to change very fast.
2. Good to see that Estonia is having such a good honeymoon with capitalism – with its rapid GDP growth and fabulous innovation – but sooner or later contradictions are bound to appear ad we should be able to anticiapate them if we do good analysis.
Arie v Weingarten: I assumed  that it is the role of the site to be custodian of the public interest. But here we are seeing a lot of action where citizens are doing the urbanism…
Margit Mayer:  rent etc very important.  It;s not just rent theory.  Not just ex-communist countries which are experiencing acute forms of property markets – we see a lot of precarity here and displacements / compulsions.  We shall have to focus more on these negative spatial processes and  include them more on both our research and action agendas.  Also securitisation and militarisation of cities.  I am sure there is more to this which we have not seen.
Christian Schmid – no new “missing” elements.  Very positive to see that there are a lot of mobilisations going on.  Very good to see these mobilisations.  A great deal has happened in these 20 years and a lot more will change in next 20.  We can take away some optimism.  We want to have fun.  Is this just hedonism?  No.  It is an important source of rebellion.

Author: Editors


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