Richard Tomlinson (ed)
Australia's Unintended Cities: the Impact of Housing on Urban Development
CSIRO publishing, Melbourne, 2012, pp. 194, $89.95.
Rebel Cities: from the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution
Verso, London, 2012, pp. 187, $22.95.
Looking at political economic issues through a spatial lens necessarily directs attention to distributional inequalities. It also directs our attention to the physical form of the built environment, including housing, transportation systems and other physical infrastructure. The management of cities and regions--whether 'top-down' neoliberalism or 'bottom-up' participatory social democracy--comes into view, as do the challenges thrown up by urban social movements. These two recent books interpret and develop spatial analysis in quite different ways, both of interest to political economists seeking a better understanding of the tensions generated by contemporary capitalism.
The book edited by Richard Tomlinson covers an array of topics that are relevant to the quality of life of people living in Australian cities. It puts particular focus on the problem of unaffordable housing, with chapters provided by leading contributors to the field of housing studies such as Terry Burke, Judith Yates, Vivienne Milligan and Tony Gilmour. Chapters written by other urban researchers look at how the physical form of the cities compounds housing difficulties, particularly in suburbia, and the problems arising from inadequacies of metropolitan planning and urban governance. Two concluding chapters look at the need to reduce energy and carbon footprints and at the effects of urban form on human capital and productivity (albeit with, in the latter case, a somewhat uncritical acceptance of the conventional notion of 'labour productivity'). There is a wealth of empirical data in each chapter. The editor seeks overall coherence through the 'unintended cities' theme that is signaled by the title of the book, stating right at the outset that 'federal and state governments would be more likely to achieve their policy goals if they remedied the unintended structure of incentives and disincentives that emerges from existing policies, governance practices and programs' (p9).
Readers of this journal will not be surprised that David Harvey's book takes a more radical tack, emphasising problematic tendencies deeply embedded in capital accumulation processes and class relations rather than the 'unintended' consequences of government policies. …