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Saskia Sassen

About the author
Saskia Sassen is professor of sociology at Columbia University, New York, and at the London School of Economics.


Bringing the political economy back into the city

Saskia Sassen 

It’s 2030. Governments are poor and in hock to big banks. The urban poor and the impoverished urban middle classes in rich countries have had to scramble to survive . Bit by bit they have inserted a self-made urban political economy into the larger national/global economy of their countries. It is partial, but it works. Since it deals with the basics and with what people on their own can actually do, across the world these urban political economies are quite similar. They all have such basics as urban farming and small credit-unions. Skill-exchanges, rather than stock-exchanges, and repairing rather than replacing with new products, are also basic features. When feasible, furniture and other essentials are fabricated or grown in the city and its region–no more unnecessary shipping that benefitted mostly the intermediaries and their lawyers and financiers. The rest of goods come through fair-trade networks, another self-made political economy connecting production sites with neighborhoods and cities. They also have had to take over some basic public services, such as garbage collection/recycling and develop home-based healthcare in the neighborhoods – they had to do something since local governments are so poor that they have had to cut all except advanced hospital care. 

People rotate just about everything—including daily cooking – at whatever level works – a cluster of homes, the block, the neighborhood. People need each other to make it all viable. Artists and musicians are everywhere -- part of the urban fabric and a bridge to the finer experiences in life. Trust, reliability, exchange and collectivity are the key.  Nobody is rich, and we are still highly imperfect beings, but it all works…. Actually....we don’t need to wait until our  governments are even poorer and more in-hock to  the big banks! We could start building these urban political economies now!


Evan Browning - all rights reserved

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