Against the Commons

A Radical History of Urban Planning

2022
Author:

Álvaro Sevilla-Buitrago

An alternative history of capitalist urbanization through the lens of the commons

Against the Commons underscores how urbanization shapes the social fabric of places and territories, lending awareness to the impact of planning and design initiatives on working-class communities and popular strata. Projecting history into the future, it outlines an alternative vision for a postcapitalist urban planning, one in which the structure of collective spaces is defined by the people who inhabit them.

Against the Commons rewrites the history of capitalist urbanization since the eighteenth century by focusing on the role of planning in struggles around social reproduction. This fresh and exciting book is an invitation to scholars, students, and practitioners in planning, architecture, and urban studies to rethink the past and the future of urbanization.

Łukasz Stanek, University of Manchester

Characterized by shared, self-managed access to food, housing, and the basic conditions for a creative life, the commons are essential for communities to flourish and protect spaces of collective autonomy from capitalist encroachment. In a narrative spanning more than three centuries, Against the Commons provides a radical counterhistory of urban planning that explores how capitalism and spatial politics have evolved to address this challenge.

Highlighting episodes from preindustrial England, New York City and Chicago between the 1850s and the early 1900s, Weimar-era Berlin, and neoliberal Milan, Álvaro Sevilla-Buitrago shows how capitalist urbanization has eroded the egalitarian, convivial life-worlds around the commons. The book combines detailed archival research with provocative critical theory to illuminate past and ongoing struggles over land, shared resources, public space, neighborhoods, creativity, and spatial imaginaries.

Against the Commons underscores the ways urbanization shapes the social fabric of places and territories, lending particular awareness to the impact of planning and design initiatives on working-class communities and popular strata. Projecting history into the future, it outlines an alternative vision for postcapitalist urban planning, in which the structure of collective spaces is ultimately defined by the people who inhabit them.

Cover alt text: Dizzying aerial view of facing apartment facades of windows and balconies angled toward a center "courtyard" that is the title block.

Álvaro Sevilla-Buitrago is associate professor of urban planning at the School of Architecture, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid.

Against the Commons rewrites the history of capitalist urbanization since the eighteenth century by focusing on the role of planning in struggles around social reproduction. This fresh and exciting book is an invitation to scholars, students, and practitioners in planning, architecture, and urban studies to rethink the past and the future of urbanization.

Łukasz Stanek, University of Manchester

Against the Commons is one of the most important, original, and radical contributions to planning theory and history in the past fifty years. While Álvaro Sevilla-Buitrago offers a sharply critical perspective on the project of planning under capitalism, he also provides an inspiring call for new forms of collective self-management that protect, extend, and empower the commons.

Neil Brenner, University of Chicago

Contents

Introduction: Planning as Historical Project

1. Common Land and Primitive Accumulation: English Hinterlands and the Origin of Planning

2. The Commons of Publicity: The Rise of Urban Reform in New York and Chicago

3. Shaping Community in the World-City: Centrality Struggles in Weimar Berlin

4. The Capture of Creativity: Social Movements and Neoliberal Planning in Milan

Conclusion: Toward a Reappropriation of Planning

Acknowledgments

Notes

Index