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The Good City

Ash Amin
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Ash Amin: Department of Geography, University of Durham, South Road, Durham, DHI 3LE, UK,

Urban Studies, 2006, vol. 43, issue 5-6, 1009-1023

Abstract: Can the contemporary city qualify as the topos of the good life, as it has in classical literature on human emancipation? As geographical entities, cities are hardly discernible places with distinct identities. They have become an endless inhabited sprawl without clear boundaries and they have become sites of extraordinary circulation and translocal connectivity. Similarly, sociologically, contemporary cities do not spring to mind as the sites of community and well-being. For the vast majority of people, cities are polluted, unhealthy, tiring, overwhelming, confusing, alienating. Politically, too, the contemporary city bears little resemblance to imaginings of the times when urbanism stood for citizenship, the ideal republic, good government, civic behaviour and the ideal public sphere. The politics of emancipation with a big 'P' is no longer a particularly urban affair in either genesis or practice, having given way to national and global institutions and movements. What remains of the urban as demos in these circumstances? At one level, clearly very little, as one instance in a wider demos or demon that pulls in many directions. This said, the urban remains an enormously significant formative arena, not only as the daily space of over half of the world's population, but also as the supremely visible manifestation of difference and heterogeneity placed together. Urbanism highlights the challenges of negotiating class, gender and ethnic or racial differences placed in close proximity. It also profiles the newness that arises from spatial juxtaposition and global flow and connectivity, forever forcing responses of varying type and intensity in the face of negotiating strangers, strangeness and continuous change. Possibilities thus remain for continuing to ask about the nature of the 'good city'. This paper outlines the elements of an urban ethic imagined as an ever-widening habit of solidarity built around different dimensions of the urban common weal. It offers a practical urban utopianism based around four registers of solidarity woven around the collective basics of everyday urban life. These are 'repair', 'relatedness', 'rights' and 're-enchantment'.

Date: 2006
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