Contemporary British social critic David Harvey gave a conference entitled “The Crisis of Capitalism and Urban Struggle” at Ankara, Middle East Technical University, on 13th June 2012. Arriving just before the conference took start, I certainly didn't expect not finding any seats and sitting on the stairs. Harvey definitely created a wave of excitement in METU, because that he is one of the 20 top cited scholars in humanities(and the funny thing is one cannot help but hesitate how to introduce him, since he is a professor of anthropology and an academic geographer). In his speech which lasted about 45 minutes, Harvey stressed two main points, that is the outcomes of capitalism today thus the crisis the world is going through today, and second, reflections of today's economics in the world cities. Harvey gave a quite clear definition of capitalism, then he asserted capitalism shows its defects from time to time, and resolutes these defects by creating economic bubbles, or speculative bubbles. The new fashion seems to be the strive to compensate current crisis with a massive move: construction of new houses, which is to soothe the problems arising from the difference between supply and demand. Indeed, being a literature student, I am not fully knowledgable about this new craze. However, any person watching TV would recognize something IS going on. What I mean is every other day we are bombarded with the commercials, we are told to buy these newly built houses, each said to be situated at the center of the city, yet promising its future residents a tranquil atmosphere. Every other day a new building complex comes up. Harvey says that capitalism wants to recover from its occasional crises by tempting people to own properties and if they cannot afford, they are provided loans.
For Harvey, this fashion started around 1960s and 1960s, right after WWII and the Great Depression, and first affected people with low income who esteemed “American Dream”. Next it was Bill Clinton who tried to tempt again people with low income to buy houses, consequently meet the deficit between dwelling productions and capital accumulation. However, in 2000s, George W.Bush announced that this policy has failed.
Cities getting larger and larger is a big problem. In Turkey, share taxis (dolmuş) are frequently used. And the places where it collects and drops the passengers is written on them. I wonder how the drivers of these taxis will be able to memorize names of these buildling complexes, for most of the names are unfamiliar for Turkish speakers. Of course there is this bigger concern: How long this craze will last? Will we just enlarge our cities forever, just to sustain capitalism? On the other hand, being an ordinary citizen, primarily I care about how long will it take for me to reach somewhere in the city by bus, because as the time passes, going from somewhere to another gets longer, thus harder. According to Harvey, satellite cities and suburbs fell out of favour, and the only solution is to regenerate the city centres. He says “enlargement” as a watchword for capitalism is riding for a fall. He also points out that like China, Russia and other Latin America countries also sought to gather strength by urbanization politics and the recovery in dwelling constructions. He reminded this recovery is only temporary and if this bubble “pops”, well, we better be prepared for a series of international economic crises. At this point Harvey offers that we need to build our cities according to our lifestyles. I definitely agree with Harvey, and I think we should put human beings at the center in the making of city plans: cities that are planned according to our desires and needs. Otherwise, the point the economy goes could not be foreseen. And we should note that every time a new crisis arise, we take bigger steps, like a new building complex with a cocky name announced every other day. In Ankara, I feel glad most in the university campuses, where you can reach anywhere on foot in a short period of time, or taking a cab costs only a little amount of money. Because the campuses are enviromental-friendly, and they put individuals at the center of everything, not capital.
Harvey says that he likens the building craze in Turkey to the one that has happened in Spain and Ireland 5 years ago. He mentioned that the 2.5 million houses in Valencia, are empty now. What I understood from this is that there is again this gap between supply and demand. To keep the balance, you build the houses and wait for them to be filled in. But what happens if they remain empty so that you have made a bad investment? You build more houses and wait again.
At the end of the conference, Harvey listened to couple of questions from the audience (I think there were 1000 people or more. He seemed to be surprised to see this crowd in a hot summer day). But he looked quite tired, and the Conference Hall is quite large so it is difficult to follow long questions, especially if the person is excited. I think there were many irrelevant questions, too. So, Harvey could not answer each of them. I had a question in mind yet couldn't dare to ask, afraid that my ignorance on this subjects would arise. Yet I dare to ask it here: Harvey compared Spain and Ireland to Turkey. There is a certain demand for new houses every year in Turkey. And since the population is increasing contrary to these countries, (so that houses are sold almost in a day) how can Turkey end up Spain's property bubble?
Being an acitivist, he put a strong emphasis on anticapitalism. Harvey evaluated latest social movements in urban areas such as Occupy as important in an anticapitalist sense. One of the most striking points in his speech was that the people belonging to working class are many in number and if they create a resistant network, battle against capitalism could come true.
What about universities? Harvey says freedom of universities has become questionnable after the application of neoliberal politics. Now that universities are trying to be afloat by emterprises, and universities become paid, he is not satisfied with the number of students attending to his classes. I call it a crazy irony that universities both invite scholarly and activist speakers like David Harvey as well as the people whose mere feature is being known as the owner of the biggest construction firms. As the latter often makes the most underbred remarks in the newspapers and TV programmes, I find it ludicrous that some students prefer to wear suits to their conferences.
İpek Çakaloz, ELIT III
İpek Çakaloz, ELIT III