The right to the city, lecture by Professor David Harvey


We have been made and re-made without knowing exactly why, how, and to what end. How then, can we better exercise this right to the city? But whose rights and whose city? Could we not construct a socially just city? But what is social justice? Is justice simply whatever the ruling class wants it to be?

We live in a society in which the inalienable rights to private property and the profit rate trump any other conception of inalienable rights. Our society is dominated by the accumulation of capital through market exchange. To live under capitalism is to accept or submit to that bundle of rights necessary for endless capital accumulation. Free markets are not necessarily fair. Worse still, markets require scarcity to function. The inalienable rights of private property and the profit rate lead to worlds of inequality, alienation and injustice. The endless accumulation of capital and the conception of rights embedded therin must be opposed and a different right to the city must be asserted politically.

Derivative rights (like the right to be treated with dignity) should become fundamental and fundamental rights (of private property and the profit rate) should become derivative. But new rights can also be defined: like the right to the city which is not merely a right of access to what the property speculators and state planners define, but an active right to make the city different, to shape it more in accord with our heart’s desire, and to re-make ourselves thereby in a different image.

David Harvey (2003) The right to the city, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 27 (4)

The Right to the City – part 1

The Right to the City – part 2