In plain language: urbicide

[First post on the blog by Sara Fregonese]

Earlier this month I commented about urbicide for the Spanish edition of Foreign Policy magazine.

Alongside comments by Political Scientist Martin Coward  and Middle East expert Stuart Reigeluth, there is also an article by Italian semiologist Francesco Mazzucchelli, author of the book Urbicidio. Il senso dei luoghi tra distruzioni e ricostruzioni in ex-Jugoslavia published by Bononia University Press in 2010.

There are a couple of words that got lost in translation – such as my reference to “demonised” areas which got translated literally into “areas representing the devil” – but overall the FP article is informative. Most importantly, it takes the idea of urbicide, and the research done on it, outside the boundaries of academia and into mainstream international debate.

Academic work around urbicide consists of, by now, a critical mass of mainly English-language publications. Here’s a fairly wide-ranging list:

Abujidi, N. (2006). Military occupation as urbicide by ‘‘construction and destruction’’. The case of Nablus, Palestine. Arab World Geographer 9 (2), pp. 126–154.

Baudouı¨, R. and Grichting, A. (eds) (2005). Actes du Colloque: Urbicide, Urgence, Durabilite´: Reconstruction et Me´moire. Geneva: Institut d’Architecture de l’Universite´ de Geneve.

Berman, M. (1996). Falling towers: city life after urbicide. In: Crow, D. (ed.) Geography and identity: exploring and living geopolitics of identity. Washington: Maisonneuve, pp. 172–192.

Campbell, D., Graham, S. and Monk, D. (2007). Introduction to urbicide: the killing of cities? Theory & Event 10 (2).

Coward, M. (2004). Urbicide in Bosnia. In: Graham, S. (ed.) Cities, war and terrorism: towards an urban geopolitics. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 154–171.

Coward, M. (2006). Against anthropocentrism: the destruction of the built environment as a distinct form of political violence. Review of International Studies 32, pp. 419–437.

Coward, M. (2008). Urbicide. The politics of urban destruction. London: Routledge.

Dudley, M. (2007). Revisiting cold war ideology in the secure city: towards a political economy of urbicide. Theory & Event 10 (2).

Fregonese, S. (2009). The urbicide of Beirut? Geopolitics and the built environment in the Lebanese civil war (1975–1976). Political Geography 28 (5), pp. 309–318.

Graham, S. (2002). Bulldozers and bombs: the latest Palestinian–Israeli conflict as asymmetric urbicide. Antipode 34 (4), pp. 642–649.

Graham, S. (2003). Lessons in urbicide. New Left Review 19, pp. 63–77.

Mostar Architects Association. (1993). Mostar ‘92 – urbicide. Spazio e Societa` ⁄ Space and Society 16 (62), pp. 8–25.

Ramadan, A. (2009). Destroying Nahr el-Bared: sovereignty and urbicide in the space of exception. Political Geography 28 (3), pp. 153–163.

Safier, M. (2001). Confronting ‘urbicide’: crimes against humanity, civility and diversity and the case for a civiccosmopolitan response to the attack on New York. City 5 (3), pp. 416–429.

Simmons, C. (2001). Urbicide and the myth of Sarajevo. Partisan Review 68, pp. 624–631.

However, interest in urbicide has not been limited to academia. Architects and urban environment professionals have talked about urbicide for some while. Worthy of note is a piece written by architect Eyal Weizman (author of the book Hollow Land) for Content, a magazine-style book edited by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. In the piece, titled The evil architects do, Weizman makes the case for urbicide to become part of international legislation on war crimes, and argues for holding architects to account for “crimes relating to the organization of the built environment” (in Weizman’s words), when it comes to spatial decisions that perpetrate clear political projects as well as damaging populations.

In an urbanised world, urbicide is gradually but clearly entering the common language of foreign policy when addressing contemporary warfare. While we watch the destruction of Homs and other Syrian cities on the news everyday, perhaps it is a word that scholars of Geopolitics will have to consider more and more often.

Sara Fregonese

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