THE PEOPLE OF THE CITIES OF THE WORLD
POINTS OF REFLECTION
We, the people of the cities of the world, wish to hereby summarize this shared perspective for the safety of future generations. Still soon after the 2020 pandemic wave of COVID-19, we have now entered in a time of meaning-making and reflection upon our lived experience.
- We wish to reflect on a distinctive feature of this public health crisis: This is a crisis of our interrelated new world. In terms of travel and communications networks, the world of the 21st Century is more interconnected than ever before in human history. With unprecedented and growing efficiency, these networks now facilitate commerce, education and aid distribution, also the immediate dissemination of ideas, scientific knowledge, culture and entertainment. However, as we can witness, the same interconnectedness works to facilitate other dynamics at record speeds and scales; among the latter, economic crises, like the Global Financial Crisis of 2007- 2008, and public health emergencies, like the COVID-19 pandemic. Hence, the alternation of the lights and shadows of interconnectedness in our new world, might well be the brand of the century.
- As we contemplate the balance sheet of this global health crisis, we wish to express that our generation has modeled outstanding solidarity, patience, and bravery, facing this pandemic while withstanding quarantine and economic hardship. We wish to also acknowledge that communication technologies were a decisive ally in this enterprise. Virtual platforms and the Internet made it possible for millions of us to socialize, keeping our relational fabric strong as we stayed home.
- However, social distancing combined with great stress and misinformation, led in many cases to an atmosphere of segregation, tension and fear that left lingering marks in individuals and groups. At the same time, a superficial analysis of this pandemic has elicited the questioning of the incomparable benefits of social proximity and the connection between individuals and the outside world. Therefore, we wish to highlight that one of the most valuable learning points of the last 40 years of urban planning, social studies and anthropology, is that being close to others and connected to the outside is not a stigma of poverty but a trigger for wellbeing and prosperity. Proximity is primary in life. Whatever we call a new normality or a post COVID-19 normality, we agree that its nature cannot be one of segregation, reclusion and fear within us and toward the outside world as a result of social traumas or misinformation. In turn, the world post 2020 is to be more resilient and informed than ever before, a world enabled to better handle temporary global pandemics.
- In our time, living together in cities has at least two dimensions: Virtual and geographical. The first, being a mode that we justify if it saves us time and resources or keeps us safe in any way, but never as a long term -let alone permanent- way of life, or a substitute of primary in-person interaction with other individuals and geography. Considering the above, we call for a thorough comprehension of the counterproductive effects of implementing social distancing -even in moderate levels- as a preventive and permanent measure in the context of a “new normality”; we also express our concern for the social effect of this crisis, and call for due assistance to address collective traumas and any related behavioral outcomes of this hard chapter of our history. Our newly gained knowledge, our technologies and our resources need to align not to help us conform safely as we lose physical contact with each other and the geography outside, but on the contrary, to help us improve the quality of our natural connections with each other and the real world.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PEOPLE OF THE CITIES OF THE WORLD TO THE ARCHITECTS OF WORLD
INPUT TO THE MANIFESTO OF THE NEW SPATIAL CONTRACT AFTER COVID-19
1) Is COVID-19 unprecedented in terms of its gravity, or is today’s world cities structure somehow adding to the impact of the pandemic crisis?
2) As a result of the quarantine, residential units in our cities gradually turned into either small refuges or large fortresses where dwellers isolated, keeping distance from others and from the outside. This helped us to better appraise physical connections with others and the surrounding environment as an existential need for us, the city dwellers. How can architecture facilitate this life style of connection by establishing a new spatial contract?
3) In a new spatial contract for our hyper connected world and dense cities, how can human development, urban planning and architecture help battle the spread of new pandemics?
4) In major crises, people develop a greater sense of solidarity and care for their natural heritage. In a new spatial contract, shouldn’t architecture and planning also be solidary toward humans and respectful of the environment? How would that look like?
5) In a new spatial contract, should virtual work, education and recreation be taken as substitute of the in-person experience of the world? When, in daily life, can you say that virtual presence is justified? When not?
Roberta Semeraro, Dominican Republic August 25, 2020