Reproductive Urbanism, Urban Reproduction
The historical making of modernity took material shape through urbanization. Modernity, based on the ideologies of racial capitalism, colonial heteropatriarchy, and human exceptionalism, is expressed through the socio-ecological relations, which were defined by governance through urban planning and realized through the economies of construction. This included the organization of labor, housing, mobility, institutions of education, health, and culture as well as spatial provisions for public life and leisure.
The built, material, and spatial processes of modern urbanization were based on the paradigms of production, growth, innovation, and progress. Consequently, these paradigms have become natural to what is considered important to cities and urban transformation: cities need to grow, be productive, to be innovative, and progressive.
Since the beginnings of modernity, feminist political thought and activism have drawn attention to the fact that the specific labor, which is essential to life and survival, has been structurally made precarious through dominant economic, societal, and political structures. These structures have devalued life-making practices and have rendered those who perform this labor as unfree, dependent, exploited, and excluded from full participation in political, social, and cultural life. Following Marxian thought, this labor is reproductive labor.
The survival of cities as a whole depends on urban reproductive labor, in short on urban reproduction. Globally, this labor today is classed, gendered, racialized, and sexualized.
Across cities as a whole socio-ecological reproduction sustains lives, environments and physical, technological, or digital infrastructures. Urban reproduction is needed at all scales and at all times to sustain the lives of urban dwellers and to keep cities going in infrastructural terms. Present-day and future economic and political change has to start from the interdependency in reproduction. Only if the value of urban reproduction is made central in political and economic terms, the conditions of those who produce urban reproduction will change.
Urban Practice can contribute to this change through research by understanding sites as reproduced in material, ecological, and immaterial dimensions. The historical and contemporaneous study of material, ecological, infrastructural, and immaterial urban reproduction of sites can help understand cities through the lens of reproduction. Some sites are better cared for than others, other sites are made precarious through structural carelessness and lack of investment in urban reproduction. Urban Practice can also contribute to changing urban reproduction by practicing this essential labor differently with all those that form part of the sites on which Urban Practice unfolds and takes place.
Elke Krasny, PhD, Professor for Art and Education and Head of the Department of Education in the Arts at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. The 2019 exhibition and edited volume Critical Care. Architecture and Urbanism for a Broken Planet, curated and edited together with Angelika Fitz, introduces a care perspective in architecture addressing the anthropocenic conditions of the global present.