September 2014

We’re living in weird times. Contemporary capitalism is nasty. And it seems like the number of winners shrinks each year, just as material inequality continues to grow. Yet opposition – albeit strong in fits and starts, here and there, now and then – doesn’t seem to get anywhere. The political process shows up the state for what it is: a capitalist-friendly state. A capitalist state. Small in number are the serious and strong political parties of the left that promise anything other than minor reforms. Opposition emerges – a brave and committed Occupy This or That, a vision of an alternative that comes in on a tide of pressure to seek out something better, but always seems to leave with nothing in hand. Still capitalism persists and its neoliberal form, so brutal and violent in its subtle ways that call for freedom for all but ultimately freedom to profit and avoid taxation, charges on.

What is going on? Why is it that we have widespread dissent amidst widening shitness, but actually-existing effective opposition gets nowhere? What’s going on depends on the place at issue. What explains Ireland, say, can’t necessarily account for the U.S., the U.K. or some other place. But yet there have to be – and there are – some general features that we can consider.

Here’s one. Look, contemporary capitalism doesn’t work for lots of us, but in its cultural reproduction (that is, in the sorts of state- or firm-sponsored cultural interventions that seek to entertain us all while also selling the goods that need to be sold to keep capital circulating) enough of us are tempted to stay on its side. And look again. That’s all it needs to do: keep just enough people on the side of the conservative trades unions, or voting for reformist rather than radical political parties; keep enough people believing in the promise of a shiny better future, such that the marches or protests of the disaffiliated don’t attract the mass support that, say, headed out to the streets when Mubarak’s regime fell (remember those scenes? That awesome sight of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Egypt’s poor and oppressed cheering his downfall? Have we really, truly, seen that sort of mass anger on the streets of Europe, on the streets of Dublin?).

So how is this happening? One standout aspect is what we encounter in between the drivel (and, yes, occasional brilliance) on TV, on radio, and online. What’s in between? Things like the lottery. Sport. Commercials for perfume. Or the advertisements telling us that, if we save or spend or dream, we too can afford to buy private versions of once-publicly-owned services, such as care for our elderly parents. I’m sure you know all this already, but I’ll continue anyway.

Take the lotto. It opens up a thought somewhere in our minds, even in those who don’t ‘play’, that millions of euros might actually fall upon us one day. And one effect of this dream is that we’re then led to question how much we would want that bounty to be taxed. Wouldn’t we – like the Michael O’Leary’s or Richard Branson’s – also want to keep the bulk of it to ourselves? Doesn’t the lotto dream subtly and quietly encourage enough of us to find sympathy with the rich? Yes. The lotto dream works in contemporary capitalist society (and is therefore embraced, absolutely loved, by the capitalist state) because it breeds in enough of us some potential solidarity with the O’Leary’s and co. The same sort of high rate of tax that might hit our millions is the same rate that right-wing parties rail against. Sure, its reduction over the years has fallen on all of us wage- or salary-earners, whether identifying as ‘working’ or ‘middle’ class; but with the lotto dream there’s the possibility that those millionaires might be us one day, after all, why are so many people ‘playing’? Hence the thought, however dream-like: ‘Might that higher rate of tax that progressive discuss hit me one day?’ In this way, the lotto works by encouraging an implicit (and, for some, explicit) antipathy towards a truly progressive tax system and by extension an equitable society, capitalist or not.

Sport plays much the same role (and yes, I know, it’s also a major distraction, a way to avoid reading about what’s happening in Syria or Liberia or processes closer to home). The time when I might have dreamt of playing professional sport has passed, but now there’s my kids: ‘Might one of my sons somehow buck their genetic fate and be decent at something? Might they play for Barcelona and earn the big wages?’ What then? Am I, or enough of my parenting peers, sufficiently committed to notions of equality to support a properly progressive tax rate? Or does this dream, this slight chance, keep me open to the idea of a regressive society, even one like Ireland with a ‘best in OECD class’ progressive income tax structure (but also an easily-forgotten sales tax structure that raises two-thirds of what income taxes raise but which does so by hitting the poor and the stinking rich at the same rate)? Sport leaves the door open. Besides its success in keeping us in front of the TV for long enough that we absorb the ads on the side of the football pitch, on the shirts, or at half-time; it serves a purpose today because it offers a glimmer of a hope that we, too, might one day be the family swimming in cash. And if we are, would we really want our incomes taxed sufficiently to cover society’s needs? Would we support effective taxes on inheritance? Isn’t inequality inevitable and, well, natural and, well, acceptable?

As for ads, nothing is as striking today as the J’adore perfume advertisement with its beautiful and determined star striding into a room, grabbing dangling silk sheets, and then climbing to a higher place, to a stunning urban architecture with its soaring skyscrapers and glistening glass where only a few can take in the phallic view and appreciate the ‘success’ of consuming luxury. The future is gold. Dreamt up in agencies, tested on audiences, bought into and agreed upon by well-paid executives living lives most of us cannot imagine – although contemporary TV shows such as the Apprentice make sure we capture the odd glimpse of the spaces they occupy and the material goods and power that surrounds them – these ads tell us: you, too, can dream; the 1% is open; just reach up, aspire, ditch the past, and believe in the structures and processes that gave us our wealth. Enough of us are buying this crap, both the perfume and the dream.

But it doesn’t need to be luxury goods. In the selling of goods and services of the most basic kind – in the way they seek to attract us and insofar as the owners of (and decision-makers behind) these products believe we will buy based on how we encounter them – we also meet up with a cultural side of capitalism that stinks to the core but yet seems to give enough of us a sense that, yes, maybe this is what I really need and will want and should support.

Nothing smells so foul here as the sorts of advertisements for private home care for the elderly. Once a public good, once something we would have hoped the state would provide to us all in our old age, it is now increasingly privatized, regulated to some extent (of course? for how much longer?), but offered by firms with clever names and concluding jingles that make us dream of becoming elderly in their care – consider here the Irish radio ad for Home Instead, which ends with a jungle sung by someone who you might think will feed you your soup, brush your hair, cut your toenails, and then wipe your back-side whilst gently humming the jingle in your ear, reminding you of bygone days. We needn’t really think it all through. We needn’t dwell on the fact that the care workers will be harassed by line managers, told to get to the next house asafp, paid pittance and maybe only able to work for such low pay because the state’s stepping in with family income supplement. But in hearing these ads and in thinking through the life we (or our [grand]parents) might have without them, we are tempted (and encouraged) not only to buy their services but also to buy into, and then support, a state-market relation under contemporary capitalism that bolsters the entrepreneur, wants to see them do well, and ultimately believes in their innate right to create a market, and indeed profit. Not only: ‘Maybe Home Instead will improve our family’s quality of life.’ But also: ‘Maybe I’ll be the entrepreneur one day. Maybe I’ll find a way of delivering a once-public good. Maybe the market is a good thing.’ That these sorts of ads are played during the all-too-pervasive ‘business’ sections of radio shows, with all their celebrations of the wonders of entrepreneurship and their job-generating powers… well.

So look, through ads for such services as care for the elderly, or goods such as perfume, but also via technologies of distraction and consent such as the lotto and professional sport: contemporary capitalism creates a world in which it can survive. It sucks enough of us into a dream that the upper echelons in society – the world of business class and comfy seats and penthouse suites on a luxurious city break (hey Aer Lingus in-flight magazine, I’m looking at you) – are open to us all, just so long as we use our ultimate loyalty card, refuse to believe in any sort of alternative, and shut (the ____) up.

Alistair Fraser



Originally posted on Irish Left Review

1f0d6a25-3104-485e-8e53-82b77db843fb_146_220The new book Spatial Justice and the Irish crisis, edited by Gerry Kearns, David Meredith, and John Morrissey and published by the Royal Irish Academy is extremely timely given its extensive analysis and detail on the causes of the Irish financial crisis, its socio-spatial impacts on inequality and suggestions for alternative, social-justice based, economic development. The Irish elite, government, big business and media are trumpeting that ‘austerity’ and ‘neoliberalism’ have worked. The Irish economy is now fully in ‘recovery’ it is claimed, ‘austerity’ will be eased with tax breaks again to be given out to the middle classes, employment is rising and we have a mini property boom in Dublin to celebrate. Even potential social partnership agreements are floating in the political air. However, it is now more than ever that critical political, economic, and socio-spatial justice analysis of the Irish economy is required. Rather than cheerleading blindly into another boom and bust cycle based on inequality and spatial injustice there is a need for academics and policy makers to engage in rigorous analysis and reflection on the crisis and the political economic trajectory for the coming decades. Prof Gerry Kearns, of the Maynooth University Department of Geography, in the Introduction to the book, draws on President Higgins’ reflection on the importance of ‘critical thought’ in the wake of ‘failed orthodoxies’ as ‘the crisis is one of ideas as well as of policy’. Now more than ever, space and time must be given in the academic and public sphere in Ireland to identify the causes of the crisis, its impact on inequality, and alternative (non-capitalist) policies and approaches based on the common good and social justice rather than the interests of the minority elite – the 1%.
This book does this by placing social and spatial justice as an urgent consideration in all areas of social and economic policy. Interestingly, Kearns highlights how government responses to the current crisis go against Articles contained in the Irish Constitution including commitments of the state to ‘promot[ing] the welfare of the whole people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice and charity shall inform all institutions of the national life’ (Article 45.1). Significantly, this also includes ensuring that ‘the ownership and control of the material resources may be so distributed amongst private individuals and the various classes as best to subserve the common good’ (Article 45.2.ii).
The book covers the origins of the financial crisis, its political and territorial implications such as the outsourcing of state power to international credit rating agencies, the links between crisis, housing and planning, the uneven impacts of the crisis in different parts of the country and unevenly within cities such as failed regeneration, impacts on equality of opportunity, marginalization of migrants, and sustainability. Within these areas it addresses the questions of spatial justice and where the pain of crisis and the opportunities of recovery are distributed, geographically and socially. It highlights the uneven development that was at the heart of the Celtic Tiger in the inequalities that persisted through that period, how they were worsened by the crash and the forms in which they continue today.
The chapter by Prof Danny Dorling, Professor of Geography at the University of Oxford, on Spatial Justice, Housing and the Financial crisis makes important links between rising inequality and housing crises internationally. This Chapter is very interesting for an Irish audience as it highlights how the current housing crisis in Ireland has similar causes to other countries and there is much we can learn in regard to social justice based responses. Dorling argues that “we really need to think of housing again as a way in which we feel safe about where we are: not as a source of investment or a pension or something that can be used for profit, but instead as primarily a source of shelter”. He offers suggestions to address this such as a mansions tax, rent control, and using second and third homes for housing for those who need it. He explains that “housing is fundamental. It is what lies at the bottom of this crisis. Housing is one of the basic things that everybody needs and that policies can work out a way to guarantee.” He surmises that the reason this is not the case is because current policy appears to be ”trying to protect the equity interest of a small proportion of people who happen to own quite a lot of very expensive housing”.
The Chapter on Spatial justice and housing in Ireland, which I co-authored with Rob Kitchin and Cian O’Callaghan, details the catastrophic fallout of the property crash and its social and spatial repercussions for households in Ireland. It analyses how, during the Celtic Tiger period, housing policy in Ireland was increasingly neoliberalised and the privatization of social housing and the rolling out of PPP regeneration schemes in many instances served to erode existing social housing infrastructures. It critiques the failure to alter the fundamentals of how the Irish housing market is constituted and works, and the assumption that future housing will be the preserve of the private market and the benefit of private interests. The current housing system is not only inherently unequal, but now fundamentally unfit for purpose and perpetuates and entrenches social and spatial injustices, making them increasingly difficult to dislodge. Through the Celtic Tiger many communities in our large cities and rural towns were excluded. Similarly in the crisis and ‘recovery’ places are affected unevenly with significant spatial inequalities remaining. The danger is that the imbalanced spatial and institutional landscapes deposited by the crash, left to the whims of the market, will calcify into a nation increasingly characterized by geographically uneven development. Echoing, Dorling’s conclusions, the authors highlight “the need for (and indeed right to) decent social housing cannot be questioned given the housing waiting list figures and the high dependence on rent supplement”. Providing social housing and regeneration can be a win–win scenario we claim, as “delivering it on a large scale offers the potential for real economic and social stimulus for local communities and for the wider society and economy”. Finally, it is clear that “the ideological opposition to social housing and obsessive support of the private rented and property market must be put aside to develop alternative approaches that place the primary value of housing as a home and a right, and not a commodity.”
In her chapter, Greening the economy in Ireland, Anna Davies provides extensive detail and analysis of the challenges and possibilities for a more just transition to a green, low-carbon economy through grassroots enterprise responses such as cleantech clustering. Three core elements pervade the discourse of just transitions: the need for wide and inclusive consultation about the economic changes involved in decarbonization; the requirement for green and decent jobs; and suitable mechanisms for reskilling people to work within resource-efficient economies. This chapter examines whether one novel socio-spatial configuration, hybrid clustering around cleantech, could function as a mechanism through which collaborative agendas for just transitions towards a greener economy might emerge in an Irish context. It details the case study of Ireland’s first cleantech cluster, An tSlí Ghlas ‘The Green Way’, a cluster of more than 200 public, private and civil society enterprises including those with a social and community focus, such as the Rediscovery Centre. It concludes that it could be “optimistically characterized as a novel socio-spatial arrangement for radical sustainability transformations.”
In their Chapter on Health and spatial justice, Ronan Foley and Adrian Kavanagh, explore the relations between ill health and poverty. They explain how they have devised an index that uses the measure of social description now collected by the Irish census to describe the healthiness of people in small areas. This will allow geographers to monitor the health consequences of the recession and recovery. Foley and Kavanagh highlight their findings and how unemployment, poverty and ill-health reinforce each other and the geography of the crisis is marked by these interactions.
This book is a significant departure for Irish geography. Since the 1970s geographers internationally have developed a rich tradition that critically and systemically analysed capitalism based on social and spatial justice perspectives. It is significant to see that in the last decade we are witnessing the emergence of similar progressive social justice analysis and research by Irish geographers that are engaging with issues of critical societal importance. Examples include the National Institute of Regional and Spatial Analysis (NIRSA) at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, the Ireland after NAMA blog and leading work done by Irish geographers on climate change and associated justice issues. A critical and radical geographical perspective offers an important lens to understand the world around us as it focuses on issues that are often neglected from mainstream economics and political research and policy.
Geographers have a particular set of perspectives on social justice and each of the core themes of geography can be made the focus of a justice perspective; thus we may speak of spatial justice, environmental justice and place justice. As Kearns explains “geographers have also tried to understand these inequalities as having a structural basis so that they can examine the production of unequal space, particularly as a consequence of capitalism or of legal orderings of space around ethnic, racial or class apartheid”. Thus geographers highlight the importance of place and scale in frameworks such as solidarity, resistance and human rights in regard to the ‘Right to the City’.
These perspectives are important to challenge dominant narratives about society and politics such as the claim that the Irish did not protest the crisis and austerity. A geographical lens reveals that the Irish did not protest like the Greeks and Spanish but had its own, unique ‘place-specific’ socio-political response. This is evident in the new and (often local) social movements such as the youth against forced emigration ‘Were Not Leaving’, the Spectacle of Defiance challenging cuts to disadvantaged communities and the anti-household charge campaign, along with a rise in support for radical left and independent politics. This sits alongside the ‘hidden resistance and solidarities’ in the on-going local community struggles such as the anti-incinerator campaign in Poolbeg and Shell to Sea in Mayo. But a spatial lens also highlights the necessity for political resistance strategies to reach across scales in order to be successful – to build solidarity from the local to the national to the international. The recent Greyhound dispute which highlighted the importance of worker’s struggles connecting beyond the workplace into local communities is noteworthy in this regard.
This book goes beyond just interpreting the geographical dynamics of the current Irish crisis and aims to contribute key critical knowledges to changing the world around us. In this regard, the book also carries a fascinating interview with one of the leading social scientist academics and geographers in the world, David Harvey. His interview discusses the root causes of the crisis outlining his own discourse on the contradictions of capitalism and why we must take up a politics of anti-capitalism. Harvey makes some very interesting points that should be considered in relation to the ongoing analysis and development of political economy in Ireland. Firstly, he highlights that we cannot just address the symptoms of the problems but need to transform the cause of crisis and inequality and injustice. He argues that ethical concerns of approaches such as socialist humanism on their own are insufficient to deal with the underlying nature of the problem. A political economic project is also required “to displace the dominant system that is actually both producing wealth and producing inequality and poverty at the same time”.
According to Harvey we, therefore, “need a political system that is able to represent the interests of the mass of the population in a democratic kind of way so that democratic decisions can be made about the nature of development which is not going to be privileging big capital and financiers and developers but is going to be privileging the needs of people.” Harvey, interestingly, argues that we have to stop the state being a capitalist state and turn it into a‘people’s state’. But to do that politically becomes a real problem as there’s a lot of resistance on the left to going after state power, because state power is bureaucratic and because the current state is indeed a capitalist state. So Harvey calls on us to think through what a different state apparatus might look like? Does the entire state apparatus have to be dismantled or certain aspects of it? And are there aspects of it we should protect such as public health and education systems? Harvey also suggests that Ireland, in order to get around the fear of capital flight could, as a temporary measure, put a small surtax on corporate profits to gain extra revenue. He explains that this was done in New York State on high income, “and it was just for two years. And the theory was if you just do it for two years people aren’t going to move out just for two years, but if you do it permanently it might cause a problem”.
Overall then this book contains important information and analysis on vital aspects of Irish society and economy. It is also a very accessible and readable book that is extremely useful for academics, students, politicians, policy makers, NGOs, activists, trade unions and community groups interested in achieving social and spatial justice in Ireland. Running through the book is a clear emphasis on the idea that social, spatial and environmental justice should be placed as the central way to measure Ireland’s social and economic ‘development’, ‘progress’ and ‘recovery’. Rather than GDP growth levels or property prices the benchmarks and indicators identified by the authors should be prioritised such as access to housing, levels of health inequalities and poverty, community based regeneration, uneven development across Ireland, and sustainability.

Rory Hearne is one of the contributors to Spatial Justice and the Irish Crisis. You can order the book online, at a cost of €20, here

The book will be launched on Monday 29 September, 13.00, at the Royal Irish Academy, Dawson st, Dublin. As part of the launch the RIA and the Geographical Society of Ireland will host a lecture with Professor John Mohan, Director of the Third Sector Research Centre, University of Birmingham, UK Charity deserts, spatial justice, and the distribution of voluntary resources: bad science, evidence-free policy, and the politics of the “Big Society”
The lecture examines the spatial justice aspects of the increasing reliance upon charity and voluntarism in welfare provision.
You can register for the event, here

Rory Hearne

A new book by Julien Mercille (University College Dublin) has just been published by Routledge which might be of interest to readers of this blog: The Political Economy and Media Coverage of the European Economic Crisis: The Case of Ireland.

The media have played an important role in presenting government policies enacted in response to the economic crisis since 2008. This book shows that the media have largely conveyed government views uncritically, with only a few exceptions. Throughout, Ireland is compared with contemporary and historical examples to contextualise the arguments made. The book covers the housing bubble that led to the crash, the rescue of financial institutions by the state, the role of the European institutions and the International Monetary Fund, austerity, and the possibility of leaving the eurozone for Europe’s peripheral countries. The Irish Times, Indo, Sindo, Sunday Business Post, Sunday Times and RTE are all covered.

The book is available here (use code FLR40 for 20% discount) and here.


“A book of record… An exceptionally rare example of an academically rigorous analysis forcing the powerful light of transparency and exposure into the murky world of Irish policy advocacy and punditry… A captivating account.”
Constantin Gurdgiev, Trinity College Dublin

“One of the most important political economy books of the year… Set to become the definitive account of the media’s role in Ireland’s boom and bust.”
Dr. Tom McDonnell, Macroeconomist at the Nevin Economic Research Institute (NERI)

“Tells the story of the economic crisis well and explains the media’s role in convincing the public that it was all very complicated and that government policy can do little to improve the situation.”
Dean Baker, Center for Economic and Policy Research

“Anyone who cares about democracy and economic policy should read this book and be deeply worried by it.”
Mark Blyth, Professor of International Political Economy, Brown University and author of Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea

“A stinging critique of how Irish media narrowed the debate on crisis and austerity.”
Seán Ó Riain, Author of The Rise and Fall of Ireland’s Celtic Tiger

“Outstanding research… Meticulous, balanced and clear.”
Costas Lapavitsas, Professor of Economics, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

“Engaging, lively, critical… A must read.”
Professor Rob Kitchin, National University of Ireland Maynooth

“An invaluable concise history of Ireland’s public discussion of economic issues.”
Terrence McDonough, Professor of Economics, National University of Ireland Galway

The following might be of interest to readers of this blog. Outline taken from:

1f0d6a25-3104-485e-8e53-82b77db843fb_146_220“As the global financial crisis enters its sixth year, this volume offers a wide-ranging critique of its handling. Academics in the field of social geography address the key political, economic and social shifts that have defined contemporary Ireland as it responds to the interrated collapses of the property market and the banking system. The concept of ‘spatial justice’ provides a cogent entry point for the authors into debates around austerity, equality and social justice. This volume enquires into the everyday concerns of citizens, planners and government officials alike. Each chapter undertakes a detailed examination of core aspects of the crisis and its management, including housing, planning and the environment, health, education, migration and unemployment. The analyses extend beyond the academy to questions of policy, governmentality, public participation and active citizenship. These contributions come from leading geographers across Ireland, the UK and North America.”

Contributors include:
Danny Dorling, David Harvey, Rob Kitchin, Mary Gilmartin, Gerry Kearns, Rory Hearne, Cian O’Callaghan, John Morrissey, Anna R. Davies, Ronan Foley, Adrian Kavanagh, David Meredith, Eileen Humphreys, John Agnew, Des McCafferty, Jon Paul Faulkner, and Marie Mahon.

Available September 2014


See here for more information:

BeyondPebbleIn May 2011, I posted a review of the book Redrawing Dublin by Paul Kearns and Motti Ruimy (Gandon Editions, 2010). In it I critiqued some of its arguments and its wider approach to urban regeneration. In recent weeks, the authors of Redrawing Dublin have published a follow-on book – Beyond Pebbledash  (Gandon Editions, 2014). The book offers a re-working of some of the arguments contained in Redrawing Dublin and has been published to parallel an artistic installation involving the recreation of a façade of a pebbledash house in Collins Barracks (see more here). Given this publication coincides with some of the key challenges of the present time and that in the introduction to the new book the authors have also made reference to my original critique of Redrawing Dublin, below I have taken the opportunity to engage in some of the arguments it presents. This is particularly focused upon the newer parts of the text.

As with the timing of Redrawing Dublin, this is an apt time to question the future of the built environment in Ireland, albeit for what are now largely different reasons to 2010. The built environment encompasses and is bound up with so many of the challenges facing Irish society that it becomes difficult to untangle the various elements. That the Beyond Pebbledash project seeks to engage with these challenges – not least through engagement with local schools – and the wider challenge of urban discourse should be commended. Moreover, that the project challenges the dominance of the three-bed semi-detached house and its relationship to market-led approaches within debates about housing should also be welcomed. However, I contend that from the perspective of creating a socially balanced and sustainable city, the central arguments contained within Beyond Pebbledash offer a questionable policy approach. Although setting out to be somewhat playful in its approach, the driving force, or central premise, of this book is to promote the city for middle-income and upper-income family living. While I don’t take issue with this in and of itself, I argue that the manner and extent to which it is being pushed is in danger of exacerbating the very problems the authors seek to challenge.

In setting out this critique, it is acknowledged that Dublin, as with other urban centres in Ireland, faces considerable challenges. The following is therefore not in defence of urban sprawl or, indeed, opposed to the densification of the city. There is a significant amount of merit to a dense city core, including walkability, the potential for cycling infrastructure etc. That increased apartment size would improve quality of life is also something worth taking very seriously. However, it is one thing to promote high-density living, but to fetishize it as being representative of the virtues of middle- and higher-earner lifestyles enters dangerous territory. Instead, as briefly outlined at the end of this review, we need to look very carefully at the connection between factors of governance, justice and their relationship to the city in addressing the future of the built environment in Dublin and other Irish towns and cities.

As argued above, the central premise of Beyond Pebbledash is to promote the city for middle- and higher-income earners. This is used in conjunction with high-density living as a means of conveying what the authors perceive as a more livable city. This is most strongly articulated through the representation of the future of the Georgian core. Here, the authors argue that policy should promote Georgian Dublin as a living quarter for middle-income and, more particularly, higher-income families. This, they argue would help to promote social-mix in the city through a form of trickle-down effect: “Attracting higher-income families back to the city would assist in consolidating, often fragile, residential living elsewhere in the city centre and inner city. Dublin’s Georgian red-bricks along Upper Mount Street and other streets may, in time, become the fashionable equivalent of the New York brownstones” (2014, p.158). That this is fostered as being the end-state of Dublin is severely questionable policy-making. That one particular social group, who already have a significant advantage in the selection of housing, would become the central feature of policy making represents a severely imbalanced approach to urban regeneration – not the social mixing they seem to believe it will result in. Furthermore, that this is being promoted at a time where housing is becoming increasingly unaffordable for many raises further doubts about its merits as a policy objective. If anything, placing such debates in the context of the recent social trajectory of New York brownstones highlights how such approaches result in an increasingly unequal city, something that the authors of Beyond Pebbledash state themselves to be opposed to.

In pursuing its arguments, Beyond Pebbledash is in conversation with a number of urban discourses, all of which remain somewhat invisible or implicit. As an example, their perspectives of debates about anti-social behavior and gentrification are summarized as follows: “But the very concept of the desirability of living in an inner-city neighbourhood can often provoke illogical thinking. It’s as if certain areas of the city can never really become desirable places to live in; perhaps worse, they somehow shouldn’t. To suggest otherwise is to risk ‘gentrification’. Residential desirability for some is suggestive of something vacuous, unreal, and denuded of the political earthliness of regeneration.” (Kearns and Ruimy, 2014, p.135). Continuing, and to give emphasis to their argument, the authors refer to this supposed perspective as portraying a “profound bigotry of place.” Here, the authors make it explicit that there is a desire amongst an unidentified group to accept the city as it is.

This, however, is a false-representation of debates about urban regeneration in Dublin and other cities. To take the example of gentrification, it should be made clear that it is not that critical urban discourse somehow wants poor quality urbanism or a city plagued by anti-social behavior. Instead, amongst other factors, critical urban discourse argues that attracting the middle- and upper-classes back to the city (a dominant urban ideology of the last three decades or so) does not actually solve complex social issues. Instead, Kearns and Ruimy aim to depoliticize highly charged forms of urban change and perceive urban transformation as a simple exercise of getting on with so-called difficult decisions. This perspective ignores how bound up these issues are with social class and power. To ignore or dismiss this is not just a matter of dismissing academic arguments, but is in danger of ignoring how the city is shaped, for whom the city is for and who the city should be for in the future. These debates are also not something isolated to one particular section of enquiry, but, as is emphasized by the so-called ‘poor door‘ discussions in the UK lately, are becoming central to debates about the nature of current approaches to urban transformation.

There is a pressing need for policy discourses about city life to challenge the notion that cities can be ‘saved’ by making them more attractive to middle-income and higher-income people, and not to continue reproduce such perspectives. This is a somewhat nuanced debate, but solutions to the tangled-web of urban change – including the social problems discussed in Beyond Pebbledash – need to be led through structural approaches (both in urban and suburban contexts), some of which might be contradictory. In setting out what we as citizens want Dublin to be, and thinking through what might make it better, there is a need to think about for whom it is better for. This would bring us to questions of, for example, justice, land ownership, affordable rents/ownership, and wider questions of governance (including a significant increase in integrated decision-making within Dublin’s four local authorities so to promote inclusive decision-making). Such approaches would not preclude social mix, but would be aware of the importance of looking at social context when implementing such policies. When taken in combination, such approaches must also be seen in the context of wealth redistribution and its impact upon reproducing urban society.

There is already evidence that policy is seeking to look at alternative models of urban transformation, and possible departures in this regard have recently been outlined by Dublin City Council. There is no reason that these approaches could not include the re-use and densification of development parcels in the city centre. However, in so doing, it must seek to achieve a balanced approach and not an approach that is based on the philosophy that the attraction of middle-income and high-income residents will solve its issues. While Kearns and Ruimy perceive their approach as leading to a balanced social structure, evidence from cities such as London would point to the opposite. Indeed, unless policy seeks alternatives to this discourse, we may well be looking at a greater level of social polarization in the coming decades. Given its levels of vacancy, Dublin, of all cities in Europe, has a chance to take a different approach. The answers to this involve looking at alternative structural models which question the roots of challenging social issues such as inequality and promote the means to alter them.

Philip Lawton