Pandemic Urbanism

May 14, 2020

Periphery Everywhere

By AbdouMaliq Simone (, website)
Senior Professorial Fellow, The Urban Institute

The author will give this presentation at the Pandemic Urbanism Symposium in a session titled “Peripheries and Centers,” from 3:15 – 4:15 PM on May 29, 2020.

The antecedents for the present urban condition might suggest that, instead of viewing the quarantines, curfews, exoduses, racialized skewing of death, and economic shrinkage as the inevitable culmination of neoliberal urbanism, what we are witnessing is an intensification of an ambivalence or ambiguity at the heart of urbanization processes. Yes, the dependence of urban economies on precarious labor, highly leveraged infrastructure investments, and diminished investments in social reproduction make cities increasingly vulnerable to disaster. Yet, the dispositions of urbanization have long tacitly acknowledged the eventualities of immanent and accelerated demise.

In many parts of the world, both livability and impossible lives have been materialized in an intensive proximity. Here, the trajectories of development seem to carry with them their own simultaneous impossibility—they will never be what they set out to be. As such, development across the world takes on a seeming generic character—i.e. the same old investments, partnerships, gentrifications, land valuations, construction styles. Far from connoting a ramifying sameness and homogenization of urban environments, a sense of the undecidable comes to the fore. Her, the periphery has been increasingly embedded in the operating logics of almost all urban development as the purposeful inability to work out the right proportions for what is tenable or not, for whether something will work or not. Here, something is always set in reserve for the eventuality that something unknown, unanticipated will take place, and that urban development is itself a matter of attempting to exert control over such unknown eventualities.