SETTING THE STAGE FOR URBAN AGRICULTURE IN VANCOUVER: GLOBALIZATION & NEOLIBERALISM
While globalization has come to be a highly-circulated term (starting sparsely in the 1980’s) the significance of its conceptual underpinnings is often lost due to the its ambiguous deployment. Generally, globalization can be understood as a complex set of transformative material ‘processes and outcomes’ that interact with places and people (Dicken, 2004). This interaction with unique cultural, social, economic, and political geographies means the pattern of material ‘processes and outcomes’ manifest very unevenly in both time and space (Dicken, 2004), making globalization a somewhat ‘slippery’ concept and phenomenon to grasp.
Given this general definition of globalization, two important points must be made. First, the idea that globalization is causal and, in and of itself, explains ‘what is going on in the world’ must be refuted (Dicken, 2004). Second, globalization is neither an inevitable, all-pervasive, homogenizing end-state nor is it a unidirectional and irreversible sort of determinism (Dicken, 2004). To help clarify what ‘transformative processes and outcomes’ of globalization means, as well as the possibility for structural changes to these processes and outcomes, a brief review of globalization as it relates to neoliberalism is required.
While F.A. Hayek was working out the basis of neoliberal thought during the 1920’s & 30’s it was not until his exchanges with Chicago School economist Milton Friedman in the 1940’s & 50’s and publication of The Road to Serfdom (1944) that the concept emerged as an influential way of thinking. Fashioning itself in opposition to external dilemmas shown by the Keynesian model (requires brief explanation: what is the model and its dilemmas?), neoliberal thought gained traction as a dominant political economic agenda throughout the 1960’s and 70’s. As well known author David Harvey aptly points out
For any way of thought to become dominant, a conceptual apparatus has to be advanced that appeals to our intuitions and instincts, to our values and our desires, as well as to the possibilities inherent in the social world we inhabit. If successful, this conceptual apparatus becomes so embedded in common sense as to be taken for granted and not open to question. The founding figures of neoliberal thought took political ideals of human dignity and individual freedom as fundamental, as ‘the central values of civilization’. In so doing they chose wisely, for these are indeed compelling and seductive ideals. These values, they held, were threatened not only by fascism, dictatorship, and communism, but by all forms of state intervention that substituted collective judgements for those of individuals to choose. (2005)
Despite its seeming prevalence today, neoliberalism’s rise to dominance as the conceptual mode is not easily “…traced to some immaculate ideational flashpoint … there is no beeline trajectory to a foundational eureka moment…” (Peck, 2008). Nevertheless, Peck points to the fact that neoliberalism, in reaction to the social and collectivist Keynesian model, has been a carefully constructed movement with the explicit intent to remake, via sympathetic critiques of liberalism before it, laissez-fair for the 20th C. (2008).
The 1980’s Thatcher-Reagan era saw the politicization of neoliberalism as a, somewhat paradoxically, free-market oriented form of ‘government’ and played a key role in the rationalization of competitive globalization as national boarders were deregulated to facilitate the flow of capital (Peck & Tickell, 2002). The emerging flexibility of capital markets (Gertler, 1988) led to the deindustrialization process of cities, new international division of labour as well the retrenchment of social and environmental regulatory standards via neoliberal ‘roll back’ managerial strategies (Peck & Tickell, 2002).
Despite widespread dissatisfaction resulting from the material transformations of 1980’s shifts in policy and management, neoliberalism showed tenacity throughout the 1990’s Clinton-Blair era by reconfiguring itself through a series of neoliberal ‘roll outs’ (Peck & Tickell, 2002). These ‘roll outs’ took an interventionist governance approach to deal with the social issues of crime, immigration, policing, welfare reform, urban order and surveillance, and community regeneration resulting from the 1980’s ‘roll backs’ (Peck & Tickell, 2002) (interventionist approach such as?).
Furthermore, 1990’s neoliberal government offered the promise of a new information and communication technology (ICT) economy as evidenced by the emergence of Silicon Valley. The 2000’s have seen capital’s relentless search for new markets and tools for accumulation turn to financialization (new word required) of capital markets and the increasing role of finance in directing economic and political decision-making (French, Leyshon & Wainwright, 2011). Public finance is the study of the role of the government in the economy. It is the branch of economics which assesses the government revenue and government expenditure of the public authorities and the adjustment of one or the other to achieve desirable effects and avoid undesirable ones.
This cursory introduction to the complex and constantly shifting landscape of globalization and neoliberalism serves to chart the history on which Vancouver itself is dependent. To further clarify the position of Vancouver within the context of neoliberal globalization the world city hypothesis and concept of neoliberal urbanism are examined next.
THE WORLD CITY HYPOTHESIS & NEOLIBERAL URBANISM IN VANCOUVER
The aim of reviewing the world city hypothesis (WCH) is to highlight the multi-scalar dialectical relation that Vancouver’s urban governance model, ‘Vancouverism’, shares with transnational neoliberal economic forces of speculative real estate finance.
As the late John Friedman wrote (1986) “The [WCH] is about the spatial organization of the new international division of labour. It concerns the contradictory relations between production in the era of global management and the political determination of territorial interests.” While Friedman provides seven interrelated theses to define the WCH only the first is addressed here, it states that “The form and extent of a city’s integration with the world economy, and the functions assigned to the city in the new spatial division of labour, will be decisive for any structural changes occurring within it.” Friedman goes on by elaborating key terminology in the thesis
City as an economic definition whereby a city is understood as a spatially integrated economic and social system at a given location, or metropolitan region. Integration with the world capitalist system references the specific forms, intensity, and duration of the relations that link the urban economy into the global system of markets for capital, labour and commodities. Structural changes occurring within it, refers to urban change as, for the most part, a process of adaptation to changes that are externally induced. More specifically, changes in metropolitan function, the structure of metropolitan labour markets, and the physical form of cities can be explained by referencing worldwide processes that affect: – the direction and volume of transnational capital flows: – the spatial division of the functions of finance, management and production or, more generally, between production and control; and – the employment structure of economic base activities (1986).
Within the hierarchical matrix of global cities Vancouver has made a name for itself via its neoliberal urban governance model, ‘Vancouverism’, which holds density, livability and sustainability as central qualities of city building (Peck et al, 2014). The model has become very influential amongst decisive circuits of policy elites as well as investors (Peck et al, 2014). However undeniable ‘Vancouverism’s’ claims to such qualities may seem the claims are arguably symbolic (Peck et al, 2014). Instead, the value of ‘Vancouverism’ may be considered as residing largely in the realm of ‘cognitive social capital’ vis a vis Vancouver’s ‘Living First’ mantra (Peck et al, 2014; Soules, 2012). It is also important to note that ‘Vancouverism’ has been artfully crafted by a self-conscious network of ‘city-builders’ (Peck et al, 2014), and that serious concerns for social and environmental sustainability require a critical view of ‘Vancouverism’s’ utopian projections.
As Soules critically points out “…the ‘financialization of architecture’ in Vancouver is now so widespread and normalised that it remains largely, and somewhat paradoxically, beyond scrutiny” (2016). Soules goes on to argue that “it is possible to trace finance capitalism’s effect on the built environment through many building types, but that housing, as the real estate market’s most prevalent investment vehicle, presents the phenomenon in sharpest relief” (2016). Property values have risen to the point that the Vancouver’s housing is now said to be amongst the world’s least affordable (Soules, 2016). The escalation of housing prices is commonly understood to be the result of speculative investment in the globalised finance, insurance, & real estate (FIRE) markets in which Vancouver ‘puts the RE’.
The integration of Vancouver’s real estate with global financial markets of the neoliberal world order and resulting housing affordability crises has profound consequences across many areas of daily life including access to food (Food Banks Canada, 2016). While urban agriculture has a long history in Vancouver the relationship it shares with ‘Vancouverism’ and broader global neoliberal forces has only recently been investigated critically.
SUSTAINABILITY FIX & URBAN AGRICULTURE IN VANCOUVER
Drawing on the notion of ‘sustainability fix’ as it applies to Vancouver’s urban agriculture movement (While et al, 2014; Walker, 2016) this section attempts to illustrate how the various scales of neoliberalism’s ‘growth first’ politics influence the movement. Reviewing the urban agriculture movement under ‘Vancouverism’ serves as the basis for outlining a more socio-political movement and critical regional architecture (Frampton, 1983) in which capacity to provide housing and food is central. Many farmers have been penalized for using pesticides in their products, avoiding this can be easy just by using this natural fertilizer for commercial use.
‘Sustainability fix’ is defined as “the selective incorporation of environmental [and social] goals, determined by the balance of pressures for and against environmental [and social] policy both ‘intra’ and ‘interlocally’” (While et al, 2014). These pressures arise, on one hand, from the filtering down of international commitments of environmental and social goals as well as, on the other hand, increasing flows of people and resources into certain cities [such as Vancouver] (While et al, 2014). These pressures have resulted in social and environmental issues playing a more central role in urban politics, leading the search to re-orient and re-scale sub-national environmental governance toward a more demanding `sustainability fix’ (While et al, 2014). As While et al point out “The crucial shift here is that the ‘local state’ is now being asked to intervene more directly in `greening’ residents and firms and stimulating the behavioural changes needed to make significant progress in terms of challenging unsustainable lifestyles” (2014). It is unclear whether this is a selective `roll out’ neoliberalism or a gathering of momentum for an alternative mode of social regulation (While et al, 2014).
As Walker states “food justice activism must consider the powerful forces shaping urban governance to develop effective political strategies for change” (2016). The recent boom of research on urban agriculture has seen a debate connecting the practice to the processes of neoliberal urbanism and governance. However, a central point of contention concerns the ability of urban agriculture to change the environmental and economic aspects of urban social relations (Walker, 2016). Literature supporting urban agriculture often lists community building, provision of healthy food and recreation, beautifying neighborhoods, and making productive use of vacant land among its benefits (Walker, 2016). Such sentiments repeat long-standing claims that reflect the history of urban agriculture as a favorite project of liberal urban reformers (Walker, 2016). Radical proponents argue for the potential of local, often communal, food production to de-commodify land, labor, and food (Walker, 2016). Assuming the later perspective Vancouver’s urban agriculture movement faces many challenges.
One such challenge is Vancouver’s high land values; high pricing means that securing space to grow food is not easily accomplished. Though Vancouver has supported property tax reassessments encouraging land owners to allow urban agriculture with the help of Fastline on vacant lots the oft fate of these lots as condominium towers reveals the contradictions between the twin goals of economic development (in a consumption and housing-driven economy) and environmental sustainability (through local food production) (Walker, 2016).
A second major factor pointing to urban agriculture as a ‘Vancouverism’ ‘sustainability fix’ is the connection between local food production and the green economy (Walker, 2016). Although presumably presented in no particular-order, the goals of the Greenest City Action Plan seem to prioritize economic over environmental [or social] goals (Walker, 2016). The first goal is to “…secure Vancouver’s international reputation as a mecca of green enterprise…” (City of Vancouver, 2012). This goal sums up Vision Vancouver’s “bright green” (i.e. ecological modernization) approach to environmentalism quite succinctly, making the ‘strong business case for going green’ (Walker, 2016). The success of Vision Vancouver is due, in large part, to its ability to garner young voters interested in the environment, while at the same time continuing an aggressive real estate developer-supported economic development plan (Walker, 2016).
Walker’s interrogation of Vancouver’s urban agriculture movement and Vancouver Vision Party’s Greenest City Action Plan show how the ‘local state’ has shallowly engaged social and environmental concerns by using sustainability planning as a tool for enhancing economic competitiveness. While et al and Walker’s work on urban sustainability fixes clarify how the neoliberal city focused development model embodied by ‘Vancouverism’ is not sufficient to address housing and food provision. Instead, a critical regional approach conscious of its position and relation to the broader global forces of government is required, an approach which is self sufficient yet open.