On how politics play out in dual cities

The increased politicisation of the urban land problems brings out the duality in a city.

Solomon Benjamin in his paper, ‘Occupancy Urbanism: Radicalizing Politics and Economy beyond Policy and Programs’ explains the limitation of urban policies due to what he calls occupancy urbanism. As per Benjamin the occupant urbanism refers to spaces where,

Poor groups, claiming public services and safeguarding territorial claims, open up political spaces that appropriate institutions and fuel an economy that builds complex alliances.”

The urban institutions respond to the needs of the poor group who in turn provide benefits such as guaranteed access to the voter list in the elections. One of the most sought after commodity in this bargain is the land. Land, being a scarce resource and a basic necessity, is a highly valuable a commodity in the cities. Benjamin has indicated towards this aspect of the land. As per him,   

“Land (rather than Economy) as a conceptual entry, helps reveal subtle, often stealth-like and quiet, but extensive forms of political consciousness.”

This high value of land makes it an important leverage for the political parties during the elections. In addition to the ‘vote bank’ politics, the high real estate surpluses from large-scale land development has also made land a highly desirable commodity for international donors and the real estate developers. Hence, on one hand the slums continue to expand, on the other hand the real estate builders work towards attaining the surplus that can be derived from large development projects. The sharp conflict between the elite focusing on the land for its surplus while the slum dwellers using their political bargaining power to keep hold on it brings out the dualism in the cities.

As defined by urban sociologist  Manuel Castells, one of authors of ‘Dual City: Restructuring New York’, dual cities are 

“urban systems that are ‘spatially and socially polarised between high value-making groups and functions on the one hand and devalued social groups and downgraded spaces on the other”.

The dual city is a phenomena common around cities where the distribution of resources is starkly uneven. Amongst Indian cities such streak polarity can be seen between regions like Dharavi and Colaba in Mumbai. Colaba is the posh end of the city known for the proximity to the Mumbai’s Central Business District while Dharavi’s claim to fame is that it is of the largest slum in the world. The duality is clearly visible in the way the resources like water supply, digital connectivity etc. are distributed between the two regions.

With the cost of living in a city increasing, this polarisation has only become more prominent. The incessant migration and the rising land value of a city has made the contestations between the real estate developers and the slum dwellers sharper.

One of the solutions to this urban polarity can be to increase accountability at the local level such that the vote bank politics can be replaced with the community participation. The increase in participation will help reduce the nexus between the local political agents and the slum dwellers. Also the urban planners should look at the planning in real timeline in order to reduce the conflict  between the various stakeholders in the city.