Centre for URBan research (CURB) ‌

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Ayona Datta

A 100 smart cities, a 100 new utopias: Fictions of migration and urbanization in India

Ayona Datta, School of Geography, University of Leeds

February 4th, 2015 - The Treehouse, Berrick Saul Building 4:15-5:30

In 2010, it was predicted by McKinsey Global Institute that India’s urban population will rise by 8% in the next 20 years with over 590 million people living in Indian cities. McKinsey suggested that India will need a planned portfolio of at least 20–30 new ‘cities of tomorrow’ to accommodate this increase.  In 2014, the newly elected Indian government announced an ambitious programme of building 100 new smart cities across India.  These cities are presented as the answer to the challenges of rural-urban migration, rapid urbanisation, and sustainable development in India.

This paper presents what it terms the ‘fictions’ of migration and urbanization in India that legitimises new regimes of accumulation and dispossession. Fictions situate diverse global spaces and practices of becoming ‘smart’ within a context of utopian urban planning in India, in ways that entire new cities are put together through a rhetoric of crisis around migration and urbanization. By looking at the emerging smart city policy and the increasing national competition between Indian cities to be declared as the ‘first’ smart city, this paper makes the following arguments. First that smart cities in India are part of a longer genealogy of utopian colonial and post-colonial urban planning, which now tap into the desires and aspirations of the young upwardly mobile Indian youth to stake new digital citizenships. Second, that the sustenance of the fiction demands a continuous ‘lawfare’ by the state to make land available for the new smart city infrastructure. Finally, that the fault lines of these utopian visions of smart cities begin to emerge when their claims to establish digital citizenships encounter the messy realities of local citizenships tied to land. 

Desiree Fields

Assembling the Single-Family Rental Market: Post-Crisis Geographies of Financialization in the U.S. 

Desiree Fields, Department of Geography, University of Sheffield 

February 18th, 2015 - The Treehouse, Berrick Saul Building 4:15-5:30

The representation of bank-repossessed properties littering the U.S. urban landscape has shifted rapidly over the past few years:  once distressed assets, these homes now constitute a desirable new institutional asset class. Since 2011, large investors have acquired nearly 400,000 foreclosed properties, capitalizing on low property values and surging post-crisis rental demand by converting formerly owner-occupied properties to rental housing. This paper examines the assemblage of discourses, practices, and technologies constituting distressed-as-desirable assets, as well as the emergence of counter-discourses that seek to problematize this representation.

New corporate landlords mobilize discourses of “improving community” by stimulating local economies, stabilizing property values, and meeting contemporary housing needs. Investors’ practices of large-scale, fast-paced property acquisition have opened up a pipeline for new financial products: corporate landlords have rolled out more than a dozen rental securitizations since late 2013. At the same time, technologies are central to securing the representation of distressed-as-desirable assets. Corporate landlords rely on proprietary software and algorithms to bid on and acquire properties, collect rent and manage property maintenance for geographically dispersed portfolios, and to continuously evaluate and manage their investments. 

Thus properties once devalued by the spectacular bust of the global real estate bubble are being selectively re-valued as they are incorporated into new regimes of financial accumulation. However, counter-discourses from activists, housing advocates, and policymakers also point to the incomplete and therefore contestable nature of distressed-as-desirable assets. This paper concludes by reflecting on the potential for fracturing the careful alignment of discourses, practices, and technologies that have brought forth this representation of housing.