The Production of Value: A Study of Urbanism in South Lake Union, Seattle
Ward, Michael K.
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This paper seeks to explore how political economy determines urban spatial patterns, but also how those spatial patterns reinforce the dominant political economy. I begin with an examination of the production of value in the built environment. Value is produced through an iterative relationship between fixed capital, exchange, and use. I attempt to employ this formulation as a critical analysis of South Lake Union, Seattle (SLU) to understand real estate development and power structures. My theoretical foundation rests on David Harvey's critiques of capitalist urban economies as inherently unjust. Fixed capital facilitates the social activities that reinforce values of the power structures in control of that fixed capital. Contemporary political economy emphasizes exchange values that produce disproportionate benefits to some groups and diminishes the opportunities for others. In other words, class structure exists only and always in relation to the structure of the political economy (this would be true of non-capitalist economies as well). I then examine the urban form of SLU as a representation of dominant values. SLU is a new biotech hub, the home of Amazon headquarters, and consists of New Urbanist residential and retail development. New Urbanism claims to bolster sustainability and create community in cities. While it may be an improvement from sprawling suburban development, New Urbanism exists exclusively as real estate development, retaining the goal of maximizing exchange values. In SLU (as well as other places), community becomes a strategy of advertising and discourse. As a result, community itself becomes a commodity. When human bonds and social networks become secondary to consumer amenities, social relations are reduced to mechanistic roles that serve commodity markets. New Urbanism's claim to create community ultimately struggles, if not fails, due to its inseparability from real estate exchange and problems of consumer capitalism.
- Urban planning