China: Only More Democracy Can End Abuse Of Power, 'Demolition' Of Rights

Op-Ed: Chinese want to know how to combat the abuse of power by top officials who force demolition of people’s homes to make way for new development projects. But rather than focusing on cracking down after the fact, citizens must simply demand a say in w

A Beijing apartment building being torn down (stan)
A Beijing apartment building being torn down (stan)
Yang Tao

BEIJING - Responding to the frequent clashes between the public and local authorities, the Chinese government has finally decided to punish the officials involved in controversial demolition projects. Last week, four ministries - Supervision, Land & Resources, Housing and the State Council -- together decided to prosecute 31 civil servants involved in 11 forced eviction and demolition incidents that have caused deaths and injuries in the first half of 2011.

Another 26 officials have been disciplined by the Chinese Communist Party and held accountable by the administration. According to the Jinan Daily report, in the particularly violent demolition case in Changchun City, not only were many officials punished, but the mayor was ordered by the Ministry of Supervision to make a public apology.

This is the first time the disciplinary departments of the Chinese government have made efforts to deal with brutal and callous governmental officials who sidestep legal regulations in the demolition of standing edifices to make way for new construction projects. The number of officials punished is unprecedented.

People have placed great hope in the new Housing Levy and Compensation Ordinance on State-owned Land since it went into effect in January. Still, the number of deaths and injuries of people being forced out of their homes has not yet been reduced.

On the face of it, the only responsible solution would be to penalize unscrupulous officials. However, one is not even sure if such severe punishment is really going to curb the local authorities' bloody wrecking ball. I'm only cautiously optimistic.

In fact, since last year, the relevant departments of the State Council have already issued 10 times more executive orders prohibiting forceful removal. But it hasn't slowed the demolition momentum – and residents continue to resort to desperate acts. Even faced with a ban from their superiors, these bureaucrats would rather take risks to reach their aim of pushing forward development projects.

The truth is that no matter how harsh the punishment, it cannot adequately protect citizens' legitimate rights and interests. Accountability is usually an afterthought -- after the citizen's home has already been destroyed, his loss irreparable.

Before it's too late

The better way to effectively safeguard one's rights and interests is by combating the abuse of power and demanding civil rights beforehand.

Through elections, for example, people can select representatives who truly represent the local public opinion and who will represent the people in enforcing the responsibility of callous officials.

Accountability that comes from above not only arrives too late, but usually addresses only particular cases, whereas good elected representatives will defend citizens' rights, in advance and across the board.

In other words, the key to reviving dormant civil rights is by giving back to the people the right to vote for their local representatives, as well as allowing them to formulate the necessary administrative measures that offer checks and balances on official power.

Currently, according to the relevant laws and regulations, a localy authority need only apply for a court order to implement a compulsory demolition. There is no corresponding measure whatsoever to which people can resort for help from the authorities or from the judiciary when encountering illegal demolition.

Today, it's always the wrecking party that seems to be in the right, while the person whose home has been razed is regarded as the unreasonable one.

The just position is that a citizen's house, as long as it has the legal deeds, is his private property -- and should be protected by the law. When facing illegal damage to one's private property, one is justified in using self-defense to protect it.

When a court reviews cases that involve injuries, the distinction should be very clear between justified self-defense and deliberate harm so as to support people safeguarding their legitimate rights and to deter the barbaric wrecking.

Only if civil rights move to the center of the debate can the bloodshed caused by demolition finally disappear.

Read the original article in Chinese

photo - stan
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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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