December 10, 2015
ROME â€" The "other" front line in the war against ISIS is in Libya.
An ongoing civil war has created fertile ground for the Islamist terror group to expand four years after the fall of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Settling differences between two rival governments in the capital of Tripoli and the eastern city of Tobruk is key to shutting down the rapid expansion of ISIS in the North African country.
A lasting solution to the conflict between the internationally recognized government in the east â€" supported by Egypt â€" and the Qatar-backed parliament in Tripoli is critical to tackling the increasing terror threat.
Along with the United States, Italy is pushing a new diplomatic strategy that will be put to the test Sunday at an international conference in Rome on the Libyan crisis. Diplomats have made it a priority to bring Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi into the fold. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni have invited at least 15 countries to participate in the talks, which the Obama administration plans to model on the recent Syrian peace talks in Vienna. Ahead of the meeting, the UN called on world leaders to contribute more than $160 million to help Libya recover from years of conflict, the AFP reported Thursday.
Among the countries invited to Sunday's summit are the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council â€" the U.S., Russia, France, the UK and China â€" as well as Italy, Germany and Spain. Representatives of seven Middle Eastern and North African countries â€" Algeria, Tunisia, Qatar, Egypt, Turkey, Morocco and the U.A.E. â€" will also be present in Rome, along with European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and UN Special Envoy to Libya Martin Kobler.
The goal is to reach an international consensus around a UN peace plan to establish a united government supported by both parliaments â€" to be based in Tripoli, and led by a member of the government in Tobruk.
Though representatives of Libya's warring parliaments recently reached their own peace agreement at a meeting in Tunis, months after rejecting the UN-backed deal, it is not clear if the deal will stick. The Tunis agreement calls for the two sides to establish a committee to nominate a prime minister and another to review the constitution, before holding elections.
Washington and Rome are betting that the urgent need to face the stronger ISIS presence in Sirte, Libya, will accelerate the peace process to end the civil war between the Islamist militias in Tripoli and the government in Tobruk. Though the Pentagon confirmed reports this week that Libya's top ISIS leader Abu Nabil was killed during a U.S. airstrike last month, the jihadist group continues to expand.
Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni (center) is trying to cool the Libyan crisis â€" Photo: Luca Marfe
Diplomatic sources note that any lasting solution will require an accord between Qatar and Egypt, the primary foreign backers of the two sides.
Cairo is concerned that placing the national unity government in Tripoli would give excessive influence to the Islamist militias that control the capital. Instead, Egyptian diplomats have proposed a "third location" for the new government, somewhere in Libya or perhaps even abroad.
Egyptian President Sisi is pursuing closer ties with Russia and the Tobruk government has taken notice, with some members advocating a Russian intervention modeled on President Vladimir Putin's actions in Syria. Moscow hasn't had a military role in Libya since 2011, when it was expelled after a NATO air campaign led to the collapse of Gaddafi's regime.
Italy also recognizes Moscow's key role in negotiations on the Libyan crisis, which Gentiloni discussed in a recent meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. As for Italy's European allies, the UK and France support the U.S.-Italian peace initiative in Rome, but British sources stress that a military option to strike ISIS bases in Libya must remain on the table.
Air strikes in Libya, potentially bolstered by special forces to carry out targeted operations against bases and leaders, would extend the anti-ISIS campaign already underway in Syria and Iraq. In the best case scenario, the negotiations in Rome will learn from the mistakes in Syria, and be sure they are not repeated in Libya.
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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.
October 20, 2021
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.
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?
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.
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