y brain hurts.  This is as it should be.  Eight decades after Lewis Mumford’s (1938, p. 5) declaration — “Mind takes form in the city; and, in turn, urban forms condition mind” — and four decades after David Harvey’s (1985) historical-idealist-materialist theorization of ‘The Urbanization of Consciousness,’ Samuel Stein (2019) revolutionizes the way we understand cities, consent, and coercion in the age of planetary real estate capital.  Stein’s analysis is new and revolutionary, yet it is also evolutionary in the spirit of an intergenerational multitude of critical urban consciousness.  I savor the pain of cognitive overload reading through this remarkable book, from the early histories of urban planning through City Beautiful, the spatialized racial capitalism of HOLC redlining and modernist urban renewal, the fine-grained details of J-51 tax abatements, TIFs, zoning, Bloomberg, de Blasio, Trump — and then the valuable genealogies of the acknowledgments in the final pages.  Sam dedicates the work to Josh, late, great “father, husband, teacher, organizer, and storyteller” (Stein, 2019:  231).  “He was too much of a materialist to believe in the afterlife,” Stein (2019: 231) explains, “so I will not pretend I am writing to him now.  I am writing to you, my reader, and all I can say is that if you never got to know him, you missed out.”


I will not pretend that any of the departed can read or hear anything written or spoken by those of us who share, for a moment, our lived experience in the pre-afterlife.  But the converse is a very different matter, an evolving field of perennial, potential materializations of ideas and ideals — of concepts, movements, and spirits that rise “up from the streets, out from the neighborhoods” (Harvey, 2012:  xiii), in what Don Mitchell (2002) theorizes as the “pedagogy of the streets.”  Authors, authoritarians, anarchists and activists from the afterlife are always writing and speaking to us in and through our cities; the questions are whether we listen, and to whom we pay attention.  Stein’s (2019) eloquent, powerful analysis of the planner’s dilemma — where every good idea, intention, and accomplishment in making city life better is hijacked and harvested into the capitalization of real estate values — helps us to listen to, learn from, and mobilize the emancipatory projects of Neil Smith, Marshall Berman, Ruth Glass, Doreen Massey, Edward Said, Henri Lefebvre, and Grace Lee Boggs.  They give us our inheritance as we fight the materialized ideologies of intensified human competition encoded into the cosmopolitan planetary circuitry envisioned and built by Ronald Reagan, Deng Xiaoping, Augusto Pinochet, and Margaret Thatcher — a deceptively friendly, multiply-scaled, adaptive infrastructure of self-justifying evolutionary inequalities first mapped out from the urban epicenters of nineteenth-century industrial colonialism, through the minds of Friedrich Hayek and Francis Galton (Harvey, 2005; Mirowski and Plehwe, 2015).  The “geopolitics learned on the streets” today, Mitchell (2002:  147) reminds us, “operates not just through the control of extensive swaths of land (whole nations and continents) but also through the very careful control of the spaces of everyday life:  streets and marketplaces, parks and playgrounds, school houses and homes.”  Stein’s analysis is a New York story, but it’s woven into a fractal, urban-systems diagnosis of old and new colonizations, from the planning templates of Spain’s King Phillip II in the 1573 “Laws of the Indies,” Southern plantations and shotgun houses through twentieth-century bulldozer urbanism to today’s AirBnB, the $38 billion intermediary that offers some 5 million lodging options across more than 81 thousand cities around the world (Forbes, 2018).

Stein (2019: 5) develops a powerful theory and empirical analysis of the real estate state, “a political formation in which real estate capital has inordinate influence over the shape of our cities, the parameters of our politics and the lives we lead.”  Obsessions with real estate values — how to increase them when they’re low, how to keep them up when they’re high — come to dominate the planner’s every attempt to improve urban life.  Every success is capitalized into escalating prices that solidify inequality and accelerate gentrification and displacement.  The planner’s “mission is to imagine a better world,” Stein (2019: 9) emphasizes, but every effort to make city “spaces more beautiful, sustainable, efficient and sociable” (Stein, 2019: 11) is filtered through real estate valuation and what Mumford (1938: 226) called the “three sides of the metropolitan pyramid” — monopoly capitalism, credit finance, and pecuniary prestige.

Stein’s extraordinary achievement has given us a refined, twenty-first century successor to David Harvey’s (1978: 219) analysis of “planning the ideology of planning,” and the struggle to manage and legitimate the multidimensional externalities and class conflicts of the “complex composite commodity” of the urban built environment.  Writing in the aftermath of a revolutionary 1960s urbanism that had been imprisoned in the permanent crisis austerity of the 1970s, Harvey (1978: 225) diagnosed the “accumulation of technical understandings” that corrupted even the best intentions of the best planners.  “The planner’s world view, defined as the necessary knowledge for appropriate intervention and the necessary ideology to justify and legitimate action,” Harvey told a symposium of planning theorists in 1978,

“has altered with changing circumstances.  But knowledge and ideology do not change overnight.  The concepts, categories, relationships and images through which we interpret the world are, so to speak, the fixed capital of our intellectual world and are no more easily transformed than the physical infrastructures of the city itself.  It usually takes a crisis, a rush of ideas pouring forth under the pressure of events, radically to change the planner’s world view and even then radical change comes but slowly.  And while the fundamentals of ideology — the notion of social harmony — may stay intact, the meanings attached must change according to whatever it is that is out of balance.”  (Harvey, 1978: 225).

The structural contradiction Harvey diagnosed — the disjuncture between the slow development of planning theory, versus the accelerating, crisis-ridden realities of capitalist urbanization —have only intensified in subsequent years.  Two decades after Harvey wrote these words, amidst the third-way neoliberal triangulations of Bill Clinton’s market-tested ‘I feel your pain’ empathy, I sat in rapt attention listening to Robert Burchell complaining that it was Harvey’s chapter (a direct assault on the very possibility of conventional definitions of planning) that had driven the sales of the collection of papers Burchell had edited with George Sternlieb:  Planning Theory in the 1980s:  A Search for Future Directions.  Burchell was annoyed that Marxist political economy could sell books, but he flashed a klieg-light smile with the satisfaction that the fall of Soviet Communism meant that an entire generation of sixties radicals preparing to step forth into senior leadership positions in the “tentacular bureaucracy” (Mumford, 1968: 226) of Megalopolis, of Western welfare-state capitalism, had been denied and discredited.  Nestled into a brand-new downtown building in an office packed with the paperwork of a vast portfolio of contract research — inclusionary zoning fair-share calculations, econometric models of the costs of sprawl, site evaluations for endless McMansion subdivisions and strip malls stretching across the curvature of the Earth — Burchell seemed to embody the urban planning and policy manifestation of Francis Fukuyama’s (1992) triumphant ‘end of history’ formulation of capitalist democracy.  “[I]f events continue as they have done over the past few decades,” Fukuyama (1992: 338) had declared, then

“the idea of a universal and directional history leading up to liberal democracy may become more plausible to people, and … the relativist impasse of modern thought will in a sense solve itself.”

Fukuyama, to be sure, is no urban theorist — but that makes it all the more important that we consider how he channeled a very special kind of American, anti-urban cognitive colonialism in the ascendance of the globalizing, end-of-millennium ‘Washington Consensus,’ predicting the universal forces of wealth, science, and technology culminating in the “homogenization of all human societies, regardless of their historical origins or cultural inheritances” (Fukuyama, 1992:  xiv).  “[C]ultural relativism has seemed plausible to our century,” Fukuyama (1992: 338) declared,

“because for the first time Europe found itself forced to confront non-European cultures in a serious way through the experience of colonialism and de-colonization.  Many of the developments of the past century — the decline of the moral self-confidence of European civilization, the rise of the Third World, and the emergence of new ideologies — tended to reinforce belief in relativism.  But if, over time, more and more societies with diverse cultures and histories exhibit similar long-term patterns of development; if there is a continuing convergence in the types of institutions governing most advanced societies; and if the homogenization of mankind continues as a result of economic development, then the idea of relativism may seem much stranger than it does now.  For the apparent different ‘languages of good and evil’ will appear to be an artifact of their particular stage of historical development.”

I quote this horrific ideology to draw attention to what we’re up against as real estate capital continues the toxic transformation of our “urbanoid planetary unit” (Mumford, 1968: 141).  At key points, Stein situates his analysis of New York City’s real estate state within the context of a wider cosmopolitan field of poststructuralist, postcolonial, and subaltern urban theory, planning, and practice.  Stein understands the ideals and struggles of planners in relation to Cindi Katz’s (2001) transnational topography of social reproduction and feminist political mobilization, Leonie Sandercock’s (1998) multicultural history of planning, and Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s (2007) cartography of the carceral urban systems of America’s racial capitalism.  I offer not a single criticism of Stein’s Capital City; instead, I hope to contextualize it, to extend and deepen a part of the analysis that Stein quite wisely leaves subtle and implicit.  What I lack in wisdom I make up for in vigilance and paranoia.  I fear that, in our present moment when debates in urban theory are marked by polarization and “negative feeling and bad faith” (Goonewardena, 2018: 457), particularly with regard to the “epistemological violence” of the production of generalized “‘high theory,’ indexed to the cities of the trans-Atlantic corridor” (Cartier, 2017; cf. Scott and Storper, 2015; Robinson and Roy, 2016), Stein’s brilliant analysis of capital and real estate will be misunderstood as economistic, that his gripping narrative of New York City will be provincialized as yet another story of the West, of the Global North, of the United States.  Such a mis-reading would be a terrible, disempowering mistake.

I offer two interpretations — one looking towards the past, another positioned in the present vertigo of an accelerating future — in the hopes that Stein’s intervention will be read as widely and strategically as possible.

Amortized Ancestors

First, consider the capitalization of the past.  We are now half a millennium into the age of worldwide genocidal settler colonialism, a few centuries into the era of globalizing capitalisms, at least a hundred years into the evolutionary socionature of the Anthropocene, and a decade into the cybernetically autonomous planetary urbanism that Lefebvre foresaw as early as 1967.  But not just Lefebvre.  If we keep an open mind as we read the words of various ancestors, we see the urban everywhere, in pasts near and far.  One of my current favorites is “The City is the Black Man’s land,” a prescient analysis of the postindustrial “cyber-cultural era” written in 1966 by the Chinese and Chinese-American Hegelian philosopher Dr. Grace Lee, on her co-evolutionary journey with the assembly-line worker and militant theorist James Boggs to becoming the Detroit Black Power revolutionary Grace Lee Boggs (Boggs and Boggs, 1966, 1974; Boggs, 2012).  Boggs and Boggs in Detroit, Lefebvre in Paris, Fanon (1963: 311) in Algiers diagnosing a murderous, post-1945 Europe “swaying between atomic and spiritual disintegration” — each foresaw the dynamic, border-crossing, endlessly creative-destructive urban Anthropocene that today forcefully presents the challenging ontological question of what capital is, and how it relates to the varied environments produced by concentrated planetary humanity.  Urban built environments are variegated palimpsests of human evolutionary dynamics that have re-engineered local and transnational spatial relations of exploitation and accumulation (Harvey 2011: 119-139).  Cities are the residues, in built form and spatio-temporal rhythm, of previous generations — of what they struggled over and created, and what they imagined and planned or failed to plan.  Cities thus represent the intergenerational accumulation of creativity, cooperation, competition, and conflict.

In turn, this means that the valorizations and ideologies of Stein’s real estate state are built upon the urban land rents accumulated through successive generations of dispossession of Indigenous territory, and the spatial concentration of surplus appropriated from human labor in evolving modes of production.  As Stein’s New York City developed into the command-and-control center of U.S. and Western capitalism, and as the space economy of circulating surplus value evolved from colonial Southern plantation agriculture to Northern industrial monopoly capitalism to postindustrial transnational financialization, the legal-institutional infrastructure of monetizing competing claims to urban space underwent corresponding shifts in spatial organization.  State-managed segregation of Fordist-Keynesian industrial landscapes of racialized public housing and subsidized white bourgeois utopias of homeownership evolved into more complex spatialities of racialized uneven development and deindustrialization, stratified market inequalities between white privilege prime lending and discriminatory predatory subprime credit, and the world’s largest system of class- and race-targeted police surveillance, violence, and incarceration.  Wall Street securitzation of urbanized surplus into the exchange values of tradeable property rights and debt claims assembled into instruments traded on world financial markets added further complexity to the commodity chains by which today’s asset values here in any particular city now are leveraged upon the dispossessed lands and labors of previous generations long ago and/or far away.  The spatiality has become even more intricate with the cybernetic creativity promised by cognitive capitalism, where the “production of new knowledges” involves an “accumulation of knowledge” through “collective brain activity mobilized in interconnected digital networks” (Moulier-Boutang, 2011:  55-56).  In the city of cognitive capitalism, real estate accumulation involves an unprecedented direct linkage between the valorization of built forms of previous generations of human inequality and the present value extracted from billions of brains staring at smartphones.

This all seems so creative, so new, so alive — as Florida (2003: 17) puts it more simply, “the mind itself becomes the mode of production” — yet Stein reminds us that it’s always translated into a ‘livability’ discourse that turbocharges gentrification while obscuring the genuine creativity of present and past generations of poor and working-class communities and communities of color.  The stratospheric costs of today’s lively, livable city represent the stolen human and cognitive capital of the dead.  Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that after more than a decade of Florida’s shameless ventriloquism of a zombified Jane Jacobs, the new transnational tenement landlord of cognitive capitalism (AirBnB) now sponsors Jane’s Walk NYC (Stein, 2019: 83; cf. Sternlieb, 1966; Teresa, 2015).

The intergenerational pedagogy of the streets of the city teaches us very different lessons, if we listen.  Stein’s (2019: 91) brilliant analysis of the infrastructure of “coercive compliance” that forces planners to use gentrification to “create the physical environments for capital to thrive” shows how previous public, collective achievements have been privatized, monetized, and securitized — and how the imperatives of capitalization are concealed by the deceptive narratives of highest and best use, value recapture, competitive advantage, creative class, and livability.  Instead we need to reinvest the fixed and variable intellectual capital granted by, among others, Marshall Berman.  When Berman (1982: 300) describes the “modern romance of construction” in the Depression when workers’ enthusiasm, energy, and creativity outpaced Robert Moses’ construction schedule, he reminds us that every material feature of the city is the legacy of multiple generations of human labor.

From New York to Vancouver and Beyond

My second contextual narrative situates Stein’s real estate state within a cosmopolitan world urban system.  Individual cities are now, more than ever, the networked portals to planetarity, the “massive communication systems” of the “non-place urban realm” diagnosed by Melvin Webber (1964: 86) more than half a century ago.  Pull out your smartphone.  This is your portal into a dynamic, variegated world of opportunities in the coalescence of information, finance, and real estate.  If you’re a Wall Street financial analyst or bond trader, the texts and emails you send are likely stored on the servers of Global Relay, a Vancouver company that leads the industry with a “total recordkeeping, supervision, and audit solution for firms subject to the compliance requirements” of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.  This is the kind of correspondence that sustains an enduring industry of inter-capitalist litigation over the home mortgage securities that vaporized in 2008 and 2009, including emails among Morgan Stanley dealers and executives getting their “creative juices flowing” as they brainstormed possible names for a particularly risky collateralized debt obligation they were preparing to offer to investors (“Nuclear Holocaust,” “Shitbag,” “Mike Tyson’s Punchout”).  Those emails were followed by Blackberry messages between a Hong Kong-based Morgan Stanley executive and an S&P analyst traveling in Florida; the executive pressured the analyst not to downgrade the AAA-rated CDO so soon after it was issued and sold to a Taiwanese bank and the China Development Industrial Bank (China Development Industrial Bank v. Morgan Stanley, 2013).  Not far from the gentrified creative-class Gastown neighborhood where Global Relay is based, an old rental apartment building in Vancouver’s West End was the subject of an intense online crowdfunding “stampede” in late 2015; if you had used your smartphone to join the bidding on WeChat, you could have been part of the PRC crowd that bought Cdn $60 million worth of shares in a shell company acquiring a property assessed at Cdn $15.6 million.  The shares sold out in two hours, a transnational rent gap closure of Cdn $6,000 per second — and the next month the property was flipped to another transnational buyer for Cdn $68 million (Young, 2016).  Or you could use your smartphone to follow the tweets of another fashion-forward, creative-class “product and embodiment of real estate capital’s global ascendancy” (Stein, 2019: 136).  This is Joo Kim Tiah, who presents himself as “Real Estate Entrepreneur, Metal Drummer, Fitness Enthusiast, Basketball Fan, Believer of Christ,” who destroyed BC’s first social housing complex (Thomson, 2010) before partnering with Donald Trump on a Cdn $360 million tower downtown.  The eldest son of one of Malaysia’s wealthiest Chinese-heritage families, Tiah explains that “there was pressure from day one” to be a success to please his father (Ryan, 2013: C1).  In the photograph of Tiah proudly shaking hands with The Donald at the groundbreaking in June, 2013, you can see the cosmopolitan, multicultural, and post/neocolonial evolution of Stein’s (2019: 136) eloquent analysis of a planning history that allowed “successive generations of Trumps to grasp and hold on to, as private property, personal profit and generational wealth.”  For just as Stein (2019: 138) traces the wealth of the figure Spike Lee calls Agent Orange all the way back to Friedrich Trump and the “American proto-planners [who] were helping to complete a genocidal westward expansion,” Joo Kim Tiah’s quest — “I want to achieve and make money,” he explains to a reporter, “but there has to be a bigger purpose.  What drives me in my heart, my calling, my purpose, is God” (Ryan, 2013: C2) — is built on intergenerational theft, deception, and death.  Vancouver has become the second or third most expensive metropolis on the planet when local house prices are compared to local incomes, and it’s all capitalized on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish, Coquitlam, Tswawwassen, and many other nations and communities of the Coast Salish peoples.  Cdn $75 billion of residential real estate in the Vancouver metropolitan area is tied to at least one transnational, non-resident owner, and in key submarkets foreign ownership exceeds a quarter (Fumano, 2019).  At the same time, it has been only a few years since the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2014 Tsilqot’in v. British Columbia decision, in which a strict constructionist reading of the 1763 Royal Proclamation issued in London required the belated twenty-first century recognition of a broad-based conceptualization of Indigenous land title.  The Tsilqot’in decision thus finally begins to reverse part of Canada’s recent evolutionary reversal.  “When the first Europeans arrived in what is now Canada,” Glenn Coulthard (2014: 100) observes, “survival required that they immediately enter into political and economic relationships with the diverse, sovereign, and self-governing Indigenous nations that they encountered.”  But as colonial-settler society strengthened in the latter decades of the nineteenth century, the relationship shifted from “peaceful coexistence and relative equality” to an hierarchical colonial domination where “Indigenous societies were considered so low on the natural scale of social and cultural evolution” that “settler authorities felt justified in claiming North America legally vacant, or terra nullius, and sovereignty was aquired by the mere act of settlement itself” (Coulthard, 2014: 100; cf Saul, 2008).

This is where we begin to see the full implications of Stein’s revolutionary theorization of the real estate state as it evolves in the “cyber-cultural era” (Boggs and Boggs, 1966) where the personhood of liberalism is rapidly co-evolving with Indigenous and post/neocolonial challenges to the historically inherited constructions of whiteness as property (Roy, 2017; Harris, 1993).  Not all of these challenges are emancipatory:  in the most highly capitalized nodes of an evolving planetary urban field, the most intense struggles entail competition over the terms of succession from colonial white supremacy to post/neocolonial multicultural market supremacy.  Look again at your smartphone, your portal to banking, to bitcoin, to BrickX, the crowdfunding tech startup launched from Sydney, Australia that turns real estate into the “fractional financial alchemy” of “surreal estate” (Rogers, 2016: 23).  The future of that portal involves 5G network architectural protocols for the “central nervous system” of the “smart cities” on the advancing technological frontiers of urbanization (Sanger, Barnes, Zhang, and Santora, 2019).  The global race to 5G is led by Huawei, founded by the former People’s Liberation Army engineer Ren Zhengfei, and one vision of the smart-city future appears on the showroom video screens of Huawei’s Shenzhen headquarters — “Intelligent Operation Center:  Brain of City Awareness” — where 24,000 employees work in a company town divided into 12 sections carefully modeled on European cities, right down to the precise replicas of renaissance statues (Jackson, 2019).  Huawei’s global technological leadership is now entangled in the cybernetic politics of state and market surveillance:  the U.S. and several other Western governments have banned Huawei from core networks given the company’s opaque ownership structure, Ren Zhengfei’s military-industrial complex cv, and the Chinese Communist Party’s 2017 National Intelligence Law — a Patriot-Act-esque mandate for all corporations and citizens to support and assist with state intelligence initiatives.  We began to get a glimpse of the new real estate state when Ren’s daughter, Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, was arrested at Vancouver International Airport on December 1, 2018 on a stopover flight between Hong Kong and Mexico City.  For months, Meng had avoided flying to U.S. destinations after authorities began to investigate Huawei’s use of a Hong Kong shell company to mislead banks and sell communications technologies to Iran in violation of sanctions; Meng was apparently unaware, however, of U.S. aviation security protocols that dramatically expand “state frontiers” to monitor flight passenger lists into and out of Vancouver (Sulmona, 2012).  Detained on bank and wire fraud charges pursuant to treaty obligations, Meng’s case quickly came to signify Canada’s precarious position between the empires of yesterday and tomorrow.  China quickly arrested two Canadians and put them into secret detention sites without access to lawyers and upgraded the penalty imposed on a convicted Canadian drug smuggler to a death sentence, while Trump undermined Canadian officials’ assurances of an apolitical judicial process by musing about intervening in the case to secure advantage in his trade war with China.  Meanwhile, the PRC Ambassador to Canada wrote an angry editorial in the Ottawa Hill Times attacking the “double standard” of Canadian protests.  “It’s understandable that … Canadians are concerned about their own citizens,” Lu Shaye (2019: A11) wrote; “But have they shown any concern or sympathy for Meng after she was illegally detained and deprived of freedom?”  Citing the fact that Huawei’s evasion of sanctions violated U.S. but not Canadian law — and noting that Meng had been subjected to the indignity of handcuffs — Lu observed, “It seems that, to some people, only Canadian citizens shall be treated in a humanitarian manner and their freedom valuable, while Chinese people do not deserve that. … The reason why some people are used to arrogantly adopting double standards is due to Western egotism and white supremacy.”

Like all Vancouver stories, the plot thickens with real estate.  Meng was quickly released on Cdn $10 million bail pending an extradition hearing, required to wear a GPS tracker on her ankle, and placed under house arrest with provisions for local, daytime travel.  Meng owns two houses in the city’s elite West Side.  “Meng is a source of national pride in China,” effused Parker Li, a Chinese student studying politics at the University of British Columbia, when he encountered a New York Times reporter at Meng’s Cdn $16 million Shaughnessy mansion; “I wanted to see a superrich Asian lifestyle. … Many Chinese people from mainland China feel she is being unfairly bullied by the United States” (Bilefsky, 2019: A1).  Li was disappointed:  he had come to the wrong mansion, which was under renovation.  Meng was under the supervision of her private security detail at her other property, a Cdn $6 million home in the Dunbar neighborhood.  Wenrang Jiang, senior fellow at UBC’s Institute of Asian Research, situated today’s tensions in light of Canada’s racist head tax imposed on Chinese immigrants beginning in 1885, and the outright ban on Chinese immigration from 1923 to 1947; “For some,” Jiang explained, Meng “has become a powerful symbol of Chinese people once again being subjugated” (quoted in Bilefsky, 2019: A10).  And yet the parallax view also highlights the logical evolution of the real estate state, as escalating competition across the generations reverses Fukuyama’s (1992) decolonization “homogenization” and intensifies the multiple dimensions of relativism.  “Meng has tapped into anger and resentment here at the incredible inequality in Vancouver,” explained Andy Yan, a leading forensic data scientist who has analyzed the region’s distinctive blend of offshore sales, money laundering, tax evasion, and hidden ownership structures that drove the proportion of homes valued over Cdn $1 million from 23 percent of the regional market to 73 percent four years later.  In a single year, 2015, the benchmark price for single-family homes in the City of Vancouver increased by nearly 40 percent.  Yan, whose great-grandfather paid the Chinese head tax, had undertaken meticulous land-records research that “seemed to conclusively prove what everybody knew but nobody was supposed to say out loud.  And it broke a taboo that was enforced so absurdly” that the “profoundly Caucasian” Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson “resorted to dismissing Yan’s research as racist” (Glavin, 2018).  “So you had these whispers about racism being used to shut down a dialogue about affordability and the kind of city we want to build here,” Yan reflected (quoted in Glavin, 2018).  There’s a deep yet nonlinear history here — long when viewed through the eyes of descendants of Western settlers or recent immigrants to Canada, very short when understood in terms of ten millennia of Indigenous lives — but, Yan emphasizes, “what is new is the hyper-commodification of residential real estate, mixed in with an intensification of global flows of people and capital. … We’re talking about the globalization of the Chinese economy and its impacts” (quoted in Glavin, 2018).  As Meng filed a lawsuit claiming that border security officers had illegally seized her devices — she was carrying a Macbook Air, an iPad Pro, and an iPhone 7 Plus, somewhat embarrassing since the company had previously demoted employees staffing the corporate Twitter account who sent tweets from iPhones — Yan described the widespread frustration, including among second- and third-generation Chinese Canadians, at “this idea that foreigners are buying freedom here and turning Vancouver into a hedger’s city where you park your money but you don’t stay” (quoted in Bilefsky, 2019: A10).

Beyond Capital City

“…through all that has been disrupted … we can still hear the voice of the land. … The land is made up of the dust of our ancestors’ bones.  And so to reconcile with this land and everything that has happened, there is much work to be done … in order to create balance. – Anishanaabe Elder Mary Deleary (TRC, 2015:  9).

Stein’s amazing book helps us to see what happens when successive generations of real estate capital accumulation foreclose the consciousness of planning, and of planners.  The human imagination of urban life, of the plurality of possibilities of urban creativity and cooperation, is mortgaged.  Stein gives us critical principles to work towards a different kind of urbanism, built on public stewardship, “seizing control of the means of spatial production” (194), and socialized land as a way of “unmaking the social relations that produce private property” (196).  And Stein (2019: 208) points us towards a more strategic kind of intersectionality with the powerful insight that tenants — those who live in cities as places of use value, not exchange value — comprise a larger share of New York City’s population than any other axis of difference, more than “any gender, any religion, any racial grouping (including all people of color combined) or either immigrants or U.S. born residents.”  Every one of these intersectional dimensions — the construction of racial and gender relations, the cultural politics of faith and immigrant transnational identities, legal frameworks and informalities in land tenure and the meanings of “renter” — vary across the cities of an urbanizing planet, especially in the Global South and East.  Urban difference will require contextual, situated knowledges and strategies.  Yet Stein’s analysis demonstrates that there is a commonality — dare I say it, a universal enemy — as we decide what kinds of humans we wish to become.  We must challenge the incessant accumulation and quantified valorization of successive generations of dispossession and exploitation that sustain the real estate state.  Yes, there is a world of difference.  But let’s get it together.  Eyes on the prize.


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