Neoliberal City

Jason Hackworth explores the economic, political, and physical changes of cities during the past three decades. Hackworth begins The Neoliberal City by detailing Kucinich’s political history and then analyzing the evolution of liberalism and neoliberalism. Discouraging state regulation, liberalism encourages individual autonomy because individuals are best qualified to make their own choices. Therefore, neoliberals oppose cities exercising redistributive powers. Hackworth argues that neoliberal policies have had a “profound effect on the nature and direction of urbanization” in wealthy countries including the United States. Hackworth discusses the rise of “neoliberalism as an ideology, mode of city governance, and driver of urban change.” (2)

Characterizing the United States as “the most thoroughly liberalized environment in the developed world”, Hackworth differentiates between the theories of Locke and Hume. I agree with Locke that individual rights are not natural, but part of a larger social contract. In addition, I disagree with Adam Smith’s invisible hand argument, which is supposed to ensure the pursuit of pleasure does not “devolve into anarchy.” (4) Undeniably, governments must intervene in cases of public housing and welfare. I disagree with Friedman and Hayek’s contention that welfare and regulation will “eventually lead to the erosion of personal freedom.” (7) Hackworth argues cities are expected to lessen regulatory barriers instead of promoting regulatory practices. I contend government regulation is absolutely necessary to ensure private entities do not take advantage of individuals. For example, the recent failure to regulate U.S. financial markets led to subprime home loans, which contributed towards causing the greatest economic decline since the Great Depression. Marx makes a convincing argument that capitalism and the mechanism of price perpetuates social inequality by “exploiting some for the benefit of others.” (5) Marx contends classical liberalism seems to be “an elaborate justification for capitalist exploitation (or selfishness because) each looks to himself only, and no one troubles himself about the rest.” (5) The ubiquity of poverty and an eroding middle class in America lends credence to Marx’s exploitation argument. Shockingly, the top 0.1% of Americans has more combined pre-tax income than the poorest 120 million citizens. I agree with

Marx that a survival of the fittest mentality or ethos is a detriment to the common good.

Keynesianism, the antithesis of liberalism, contends markets are imperfect and “can self-destruct without targeted intervention.” The bail out of U.S. automobile manufacturers provides an example of targeted intervention helping stimulate a failing economy. However, “cities have moved from a managerialist role under Keynesianism to an entrepreneurial one under neoliberalism.” (61) Hackworth characterizes neoliberal urbanism as a “departure from managerialist governance” (173), and acknowledges Keynesian artifacts still exist in the form of social welfare and public housing. (175) Constantly under attack, “Keynesian artifacts still shape the lives of many people” (187) including tenants of public housing. Ideologically rejecting Keynesianism and egalitarian liberalism, Hackworth argues the concepts of corporate invasion, gentrification, and privatization represent an international shift towards neoliberalism. This neoliberal shift in policy “has a fragmenting effect on progressive activism.” (175)

According to neoliberalism, governments in urban areas should be efficient, encourage gentrification, and sub-contract major construction projects to private companies. Utilizing empirical studies, Hackworth discusses the role of bond-rating agencies, realestate agents/developers, and public housing authorities. Furthermore, Hackworth analyzes gentrification in New York, publichousing policies in New York, Seattle, and Chicago, regime formation in New Brunswick, and downtown redevelopment in Phoenix and Scottsdale (Fashion Mall and Galleria). (167) It is important to note that real estate is a “quasi-autonomous vehicle for economic development in cities throughout the advanced capitalist world.” (77)

Hackworth believes cities are “physical expressions of social relations, movements, and ideologies.” (79) Believing that most scholars of neoliberalism fail to study the connection between neoliberalism and urban form, Hackworth discusses urban form change and the restructuring of urban space for the wealthy. “Gentrification is much more than a politically neutral expression of

the real estate market; it involves the replacement of physical expressions of Keynesian egalitarianism like public housing.” (98) Describing gentrification as the “material and symbolic knife-edge of neoliberal urbanism” (98), Hackworth analyzes corporatized gentrification, state intervention, resistance to gentrification, and the diffusion of gentrification.

The neoliberal city is “a set of material practices that have yet to be fully implemented (and) an experiment that has not been completed.” (204) One weakness of The Neoliberal City is that Hackworth does not present any alternatives. According to Noam Chomsky, “The very design of neoliberal principles is a direct attack on democracy.”