Clichés of Urban Doom: The Dystopian Politics of Metaphors for the Unequal City – a View from Brussels


Drawing on evidence from the city of Brussels, it will be argued that much of today’s urban governance discourses and practices contributes to anti‐urban ‘clichés of urban doom’ and betrays middle‐class, ethnocentric, sexist and racist prejudices about urban societies. Mainstream conceptions of urban problems and policies are modernist, white, patriarchal, heterosexual, nuclear family‐minded, middle‐class and suburban. Mainstream urban planning metaphors contribute to, instead of help to eliminate, sexist and racist urban politics. The uncritical use of concepts such as ‘polarization’, ‘exclusion’ or ‘poverty’ accords with the quest for urban purification by dominant groups in society, who seek to minimalize the urban experience of heterogeneity, otherness, diversity and urban unpredictability. The main contribution of this paper will be in trying to make clear how some key metaphors in contemporary urban planning disempower the already disempowered and in fact contribute to conservative urban politics, even when they are not intended to.