Thursday 26th 13.00 – 15.30 Track 5

Governing urban change

13.00 – 14.30
Part 1 (in Norwegian) Omstillingens sosiale dimensjon: hva innebærer sosial bærekraft i praksis?
– Hege Hofstad and Hilde Zeiner

More information will be forthcoming.

14.30 – 14.45 Short break

Part 2: The politics of urban governance – the role of activism

14.45 – 15.00 How activism can influence the public administration to move in a more sustainable direction
– Kristin Reichborn-Kjennerud

Through New Public Management (NPM) reforms, introduced in many western countries from the 1970-80ies, the public sector has tried to mimic the private sector. The ambition of these reforms has been to cut cost and improve the quality of products and services delivered to the public. Public organizations now buy more products and services from private businesses, instead of public employees delivering themselves. The result has not been reductions in cost, but rather a transfer of funding from the public to the private sector (Hood & Dixon 2015).

Many public values are hard to estimate the real value of. Through Management by Goals and Results (MBOR, also a central reform introduced around the same period as NPM), public authorities try to measure results of the public sectors’ contribution through Key Performance Indicators. The KPIs nevertheless normally measure activity, and not the broader societal results that the public organizations were set up to serve. Each organization and leader are measured on budget- and cost control while trying to score high on these KPIs, that often affect the overall societal results negatively. Common goods such as parks and free access to public spaces, meeting places and services are under pressure because they are not counted and valued in this system.

With NPM and MBOR, transaction costs have increased in the public sector both because public services now, to a larger extent, are organized around procurement and the management of contracts, but also because public organizations, that now have to cooperate through contracts to a larger extent, have been fragmented into ever smaller units accountable for narrow goals. These costs are not counted in.

Politicians, workers and residents have lost power to these systems. The public sector is run more like a factory or a big business organization, than a democracy. To counteract this problem systems for participation have been set up. These systems are, nevertheless, perceived, by the residents, as very time consuming “pretend democratic tools” that are not helpful to influence policy. Building strong social capital and network with competent and resourceful individuals in positions of power, as well as contacting politicians and the public administration directly, is way more effective than using these participatory tools. Activism can also be used to obtain influence since it can trigger media interest and thereby politicians’ attention. The paper is based on a comparative study in three cities, Oslo, Madrid and Melbourne, looking at the extent and influence of citizen participation through ICT and social media in urban governance:

Kristin Reichborn-Kjennerud is a political scientist and sociologist who also has formal education in management and audit. She is an expert on evaluation, control and accountability and has published extensively in international journals on these issues. Her background is from studies on governance in the public sector, including comparative research on Supreme Audit Institutions. More specifically she did comparative research on how SAIs influenced audited organizations through performance audit. Her competence is thus on how external pressure can make organizations change and improve.

Reichborn-Kjennerud has been and currently is engaged in several projects on urban governance and -development. Her research interests are in democracy and the organization for co-decisionmaking in urban regeneration processes. Also, she is interested in urban governance related to (social) innovation/entrepreneurship and the quality of government. Reichborn-Kjennerud is currently project leader for a project on sustainable procurement of food and catering funded by the Norwegian Research Council (NRC). She is work-package leader in a Horizon project on implementing Edible City Solutions in cities through Living Labs, supporting green and social entrepreneurs. She was also recently work-package leader in another NRC funded project on urban governance, participatory democracy and ICT (DEMUDIG).

15.00 – 15.15 Union at Home: legislating power dynamic shifts in San Fransisco’s housing market
– Mathilde Lind Gusavussen

This talk will explore the potential and limitations of San Francisco’s unprecedented right-to-organize legislation, which was passed in April 2022 with the help of the Veritas Tenants Association and the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco. In one of the least
affordable cities in the US, where corporate landlords have been increasing their dominance over the rental housing market for the last decade, the ordinance guarantees tenants’ right to
organize and obligates landlords to recognize and bargain with tenants associations in good faith. If landlords fail to comply, tenants are entitled to rent reductions secured through the city’s Rent Board, meaning the ordinance has a relatively strong enforcement mechanism that targets landlord revenue streams and extends agency to tenants rather than relying on government action.

Tenants from the Veritas Tenants Association, which began organizing against San Francisco’s largest landlord, Veritas Investments, Inc., in 2017, have been deploying the ordinance to build power across separate buildings in their landlord’s portfolio, seeking to force the landlord to negotiate the terms and conditions of their housing in order to increase equity and social sustainability in the housing sector. Landlords, however, including Veritas, have been pushing back on the ordinance and in many cases refused to bargain with tenants associations while questioning their right to collective bargaining.

Tenants from two Veritas buildings are currently on rent strike where recognition is a key part of the demands. As the parameters of this ordinance—the first of its kind in the United States—are being tested out by both tenants and landlords, this talk will discuss the potential of using the right-to-organize ordinance to shift power dynamics in San Francisco’s housing market and consider whether housing regulation can be achieved through pro-organizing legislation when state law prohibits rent control.

Mathilde Lind Gusavussen is aPhD candidate in Sociology at the Freie Universität Berlin. Her research focuses on the tactics and strategies pursued by tenant activists in the face of various displacement mechanisms in California, including expropriation struggles, multibuilding organizing against corporate landlords, rent strikes, anti-Olympics mass-mobilization, and unhoused activism. She regularly covers tenant struggles for Jacobin, and is a member of the Urban Political podcast collective where she is currently hosting and producing the Rent Strike Series.