Housing as Commons
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Housing as Commons

Housing Alternatives as Response to the Current Urban Crisis

Stavros Stavrides, Penny Travlou, Stavros Stavrides, Penny Travlou

  1. 336 pages
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Housing as Commons

Housing Alternatives as Response to the Current Urban Crisis

Stavros Stavrides, Penny Travlou, Stavros Stavrides, Penny Travlou

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About This Book

Experiences of the struggle for housing, ignited by the lack of social and affordable housing, have led to the establishing of shared and self-managed housing areas. In such a context, it becomes crucially important to re-think the need to define common urban worlds "from below". Here, Penny Travlou and Stavros Stavridis trace contemporary practices of urban commoning through which people re-define housing economies. Connecting to a rich literature on the importance of commons and of practices of commoning for the creation of emancipated societies, the authors discuss whether housing struggles and co-habitation experiences may contribute in crucial ways to the development of a commoning culture. The authors explore a variety of urban contexts through global case studies from across the Global North and South, in search of concrete examples that illustrate the potentialities of urban commoning.

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Part I

Informal housing, infrastructures and commoning practices

Weaving commons in Salvador (Bahia, Brazil)

Urgency, recognition, convergence

Ana Fernandes, Glória Cecília Figueiredo and Gabriela Leandro Pereira


Salvador – capital of Bahia, located in Brazil’s Northeastern region – is the city where the groups involved in this city-common network are based. With an estimated population of around three million inhabitants (IBGE, 2021), composed mostly of Black people, Salvador is a complex city, as it accumulates processes that constitute the Latin American cities (Pirez, 2016). These processes are materialized by colonial inheritances, modernization, accelerated growth, as well as segregated and selective urbanization. The urban fabric that weaves itself over time is marked by the asymmetric power relations between the different political, economic, social and racial groups that inhabit, dispute, negotiate and daily formulate ways of living.
Unequal infrastructure and urban equipment provision, denied access to housing and land regularization, gangs and militia fights for territorial control are some of the problems resulting from conjuncted action between the public and the private spheres. Simultaneously, new dynamics and new socialization practices are created to challenge this unequal reality, shaping a powerful place to think Brazilian reality and the cities of the South – offering important contributions to the field of urban studies. This fact brings about a conceptual and theoretical re-elaboration of this reality, one that criticizes the conventional epistemologies that do not adhere properly to its ontology.
Under this perspective, this chapter shares experiences and lessons of a collaborative space provided by an exchange1 between students, professors and researchers from the Federal University of Bahia mainly
the Lugar Comum (Common Place) Research Group) and the Faculty of Architecture) and University College London (Bartlett Planning Development Unit), and associations, movements and urban collectives from Salvador, namely, Acervo da Laje; Associação Amigos de Gegê e dos Moradores da Gamboa de Baixo (Association Friends of Gegê and of Residents of Gamboa de Baixo); Associação de Moradores e Amigos do Centro Histórico (AMACH) (Association of Residents and Friends of the Historic Center); Fórum de Entidades do Nordeste de Amaralina (FOSERENA) (Neighbourhood Forum in Nordeste de Amaralina); through the project Cine Maloca; Associação Nova República (Association New Republic); Paróquia Santo André (Santo André Parish), the Associação de Moradores do Nordeste de Amaralina (Association of Residents of Nordeste de Amaralina); Movimento de Luta nos Bairros, Vilas e Favelas (Movement of Struggles in the Neighbourhoods, Villages and Slums) and the Ocupação Luísa Mahin (MLB) (Occupation Luísa Mahin); Movimento Sem Teto da Bahia (Homeless Worker’s Movement); the Ocupações IPAC II e III (Occupations IPAC II and III), Força e Luta Guerreira Maria (MSTB) (Occupation Warrior Maria’s Strength and Struggle); as well as Rede de Associações de Saramandaia (RAS) (Network of Associations from Saramandaia), through the cultural project Arte Consciente and Balanço das Latas Brasil.
One way to approach this collaboration is through the weaving metaphor, for it refers to the processual, open and relational character imbued in the practice of defining a shared domain. As a common in process – or commoning – it is intertwined with the dimensions of scale, scope and relations involved in the collective action (Blaser & de la Cadena, 2017) as well as duration, permanently activated and permeating the entire process. This occasion of collaborative work – among universities and a variety of popular organizations, with different interests and historical build-ups interacting in the construction of this relation2 – sought to develop a shared formation and learning process that would simultaneously engage ethical commitment with knowledge production, horizontality along the problem-defining process, and the construction of actions and reflections deemed strategic for everyone involved. In the process, many intertwined themes arose to be addressed as urgencies of urban life in Salvador: housing, infrastructure, mobility, social equipment, collective spaces, economy, culture and memory.
It is from this interlacing of issues that urban dwelling, much more than stricto sensu housing unit, imposed itself as a perspective capable of aggregating the complex and multidimensional process that concerns irreducibly collective life, practised space and the common, in their multiple expressions and achievements in cities. Dwelling as initially conceived by Martin Heidegger (1971, p. 3), as one of his four simple onenesses ‘belonging to men’s being with one another’, and taken up by Henri Lefebvre. For him, ‘dwelling is an open place’ (Lefebvre, 2003, p. 124) and comes together with lived experience of everyday life, with urban and social space as activity, as situation (Elder, 2004) and as potential conflict.
It follows that, understanding the whole city as dwelling – or as commons – reveals it as a promising space for insurgency. This is due to its essentially collective nature, constituted by systems of objects and systems of actions (Santos, 1996); due to the multiple and conflictive construction work, which derives from expanded cooperation and lively accumulated work; and finally, due to the accumulated and procedural surplus. Thus, a number of initiatives, counter-trends, experimentations, actions, confrontations and associations challenge the common making of cities with scales, durations and distinct political, social and cultural profiles. The urban common is, therefore, at the same time, a productive reason (Hardt & Negri, 2005) – expanded cooperation processes and sharing of subjectivities – and an alternative reason (Dardot & Laval, 2014) – which implies the practice of movements and logics of appropriation of cities and territories. In this permanently renewed process that always involves constitution and institution, the common supposes the assurance of a common advantage, which assumes a certain agreement between what is fair and what is necessary (Dardot & Laval, 2014).
Hence, although the collectives involve their own necessities and conditioning factors, when in group, they share a common perspective that is potentially fruitful for all. When referring to everyone as a group, we will use the word practitioners, due to its permanently active character. Therefore, we seek to build a workspace based on dialogue, with the goal to interactively and inter-pedagogically form students, professors and locals within a broad perspective on the right to the city. From the resulting (and presupposed) fight against social enclosure and invisibility, as well as against the political delegitimation of urban collectives, arose the search and the situated construction of necessary tools and productive actions towards a democratic enlargement of urban horizons.
Thus, arose and updated by decolonial perspectives and the politics of care (Puig de la Bellacasa, 2017), a space of ‘interknowledge’ (Santos, 2007) emerges. This space facilitates a kind of engagement that points beyond the fixed limit of opposition or denunciation of neoliberal urban policies of death. Collective care, abandonment of hierarchy and reparation enable us to glimpse and experience other imageries and realities, which are situated in and from everyday life, actual politics and actual cities. These attitudes also affect, effectively and potentially, in distinct ways, power relations and its constitutive subjects, by causing a shift in positions and relations.

The urgency of the common

The shared interest in the experience was defined upon two urgent circumstances: one originated in the city and the other in the university.
Urgency is a state of existence and crisis of the Brazilian cities. The blatant inequalities that structure them entail in continued and renewed situations of fragmentation, segregation, racism, precariousness, insecurity, risks and invisibility to large portions of the population and the territory, especially to the most vulnerable ones. The city in question, as most Brazilian cities, is ruthless and – despite the abundance of life and creation present in the so-called territories of poverty – demands enduring concentrated effort, struggles and mobilization as ordinary requirements for one to insert oneself in it.
The demands related to the expanded possibilities of reproduction in the city mobilized the urgencies of the associations, movements and collectives taking part in the exchange, directly problematizing the issue of the common city, in its various scales. The city inhabited by these collective subjects and revealed by their encounter with the university is marked by historical and renewed processes of subalternization, dispossession, impoverishment and vulnerabilization. Here, the so-called necropower (Mbembe, 2018) delineates the politics of death, bringing to the scene the production of zones or territories where the free right to kill would be confirmed.
The Latin American city’s hegemonic articulation, symbolized here by the contemporary city of Salvador, materializes itself in massive, racialized and hypersexualized processes (Collins, 2015; Gonzales, 1984; Nascimento, 1978) of precarious urbanization (Oliveira, 1982), associated to low levels of popular integrativity, as well as non-modern worlds within these global and local orders (Chakravartty & Silva, 2012; Dirlik, 2007). The conflictive spheres resulting from city interventions and transformational processes reveal themselves as important spaces of interaction, opening a kind of crossroad between their uncommon worlds (Blaser & de la Cadena, 2018) and releasing a range of possibilities, disagreements and negotiations on ways, contents, senses and effects of urban transformations.
Based on this complex and vital encounter, the search for development of commons reveals a way of engagement that challenges the unitary logic of the state’s public sphere, reopening and repoliticizing the discussion and (re)formulation of collective issues, through more autonomous and democratic spheres (Boullosa, 2013).
But urgency is also a state of existence and crisis in the university. Not only knowledge production implicates even more complex issues, but its social validation has also been constantly put in check. Issues concerning decoloniality and epistemic justice, for instance, cause the recognition of distinctive systems of thought, which – without any eccentricity or folklore – based themselves on other ontological and social structures. Therefore, they also bring about the necessity of challenging our own philosophical system. That means, how does one deal with otherness, in a reciprocal and legitimate way, one that is agreed and symmetrical?
The issue for universities, in their common and heterogeneous condition, would be that of building a composite space, in which the members (as Mouffe (2007) reminds us, in her agonistic democracy) are legitimized while building the power to speak, as well as the power to listen and their distinct reception conditions. A plural system of references is collectively legitimized. In this path, the co-implication of subjects of resistance and creation is quintessential, for it turns interaction into the politics in the act of the common’s constitution itself.
Therefore, the point here, evidently, is neither the assistentialist extension nor the instrumental research that supports the neoliberal university. On the contrary, this encounter, born out of many urges, yearns for the abandonment of hierarchy in the relationships between the university and the marginalized territories, destabilizing and reformulating the terms and contents of the knowledge elaboration. The commitment with collective actions, in favour both of life and of confrontation with subalternization processes, calls us upon an ethics of social engagement in gestures of ontological and epistemological opening. That is to say, collaborations – such as this one – are opportunities for us to challenge the science’s and the university’s hegemonic practices, that, to this day, are still mostly guided by the colonial canons of modern science and their hierarchies of power knowledge.
Hence, the urgency to build a political and technical space of shared learning as a step towards a repositioning in the face of established interdictions to the right to the common city for most of its population.
At first, the experience was aimed at the activation of each territory. At this stage, the collectives’ leaders had prominent roles. They worked mobilizing the residents while keeping contact with the university to establish which contents should be discussed according to what was urgent in each case. It was about constituting a still-fragile relationship network that, polarized by the university, connected the many collectives involved.

Recognition and the common in process

Recognition in the collaborative space within the exchange embraces the residents’ very humanity in the territories involved, for its absence means death (Noguera, 2016). The associations, movements and collectives taking part in the exchange recognize themselves as loc...

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