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UCL Roberts Building, G08 Sir David Davies LT, Torrington Place, London WC1E 7JE
The spatial production of the city in the 21st century is a complex and multifaceted process that belies the often overly-simplistic narratives. What is often missing in such singular narratives [e.g. of the neoliberal city] is a grasp of the rich and nuanced on-the-ground realities that differ in each context. Such is the case of Las Vegas, which continues largely to be dismissed by scholars as simply an exemplar of extreme neoliberalism, excessive consumption, inauthentic urbanism, city as theatre, or perpetual transience.
In contradistinction, this presentation makes two arguments: (a) more generally, that Las Vegas is worthy of serious study because even as a city of apparent extremes, it reflects similar phenomena in other 21st century cities, and (b) specifically, that Las Vegas shows how social and political movements like labor unions produce the city in unusual and influential ways. Thus, labor unions simultaneously shape and are shaped by the politicaleconomic context of the American city. The paper examines this phenomenon through research on the powerful Culinary Workers Union in Las Vegas.
Through primary and secondary sources, especially field research in Las Vegas, this lecture offers several insights. First, it shows that while labor unions may not directly shape the city in the ways that urban designers, city planners or policy makers do, they can and do substantially alter the urban political-economy at the local level. Second, in the absence of a powerful public planning presence in the neoliberal context of contemporary cities, labor unions are among the few influential organizations countering urban precarity through their direct actions. Third, and finally, the success of labor unions in places like Las Vegas is also due to particular spatial features of the city, such as the densities of activity that facilitate effective protests, organizing and ongoing training.
Aseem Inam is Professor and Chair in Urban Design at Cardiff University
. He is also Director of TRULAB Laboratory for Designing Urban Transformation, a pioneering research-based urban practice. He has published numerous professional reports, journal articles, book chapters and books, including 'Planning for the Unplanned: Recovering from Crises' (2005), and 'Designing Urban Transformation' (2013).
The lecture is open to the public, no booking required.