Published by Monika Rut on the 9th June 2021.
In her latest book – “AZADI: Freedom. Fascism. Fiction” – Arundhati Roy invites us to think of the coronavirus outbreak as a portal between one world and the next one. We can choose to walk through it dragging atrocities of prejudice and injustice or we can walk through it with readiness to imagine another world that is more conducive to living future. With this notion of transformation, there is a hope that a new and more caring world may yet be created and with such comes a heartfelt concern around the process of making such worlds come into fruition.
With this in mind, last month, SHARECITY participated in two events that centred around the themes of responsibility and care encouraged to building forward better. The first took place at the Conference of Irish Geographers (CIG 2021) – in which SHARECITY chaired two sessions on Sustainable city futures; covid-19 and beyond – engaged the mind in the much-needed reflection on the nature of our turbulent times by bridging conversations around the topics of critical urban infrastructures and imaginaries. The second was the Sustainable Consumption and Care workshop organized by SCORAI Europe in which SHARECITY participated with a paper presentation on the impact of the pandemic on food sharing in Dublin. This event explored the intersections between care, economy, sustainability, and consumption, making the intensity with which those who engage with care practices even more visible by noting their continual struggle to challenge structural inequalities. Below I summarise some take-home notes from the two events which to me were particularly inspiring for thinking with care about our turbulent tomorrow.
It seems that conversations about the global outbreak of Covid-19 are filled with hope that we are capable of imagining and creating a better world without fossil fuels and food banks; creating a future which is more just, resilient, green and inclusive. However, the pandemic has also made it clear that to achieve the above we need radical changes here and now. Not just changes in how we work, travel and shop, although that is surely needed, but also a new set of values and priorities that will guide our relations with each other and nature. For example, participants to the Sustainable Consumption and Care workshop shared a concern rethinking our entire economic system – from one that currently operates on the myth of limitless growth and instead supports the development of diverse currencies and community economies that generate and nurture values of care. An imaginary of a pluriverse economic system was discussed to tackle the issues of pervasive and persistent injustices caused by the logics of the market and anthropocentrism in order to bring us closer to the thorny issue of how cities might navigate new paths towards more caring futures.
The research presented at one of our CIG sessions by Bate Goodwill Bate and colleagues explored the challenges in repairing degrading water, drainage and waste disposal systems in Cameroon. They clearly show that the maintenance of urban infrastructures requires transparency in political decision-making as a necessary condition for the well-being of people and environments. This also resonates with recent SHARECITY findings about the impact of Covid-19 on food sharing. While non-commercial food sharing initiatives such as surplus food redistribution enterprises, community and soup kitchens appeared to play a key role in coordinating emergency food response in Dublin during the pandemic, their impact in infrastructuring urban food systems often remains invisible because of the lack of supportive policy.
This also raises a question regarding how minority perspectives can be highlighted in post-Covid recovery agendas in ways that illuminate possibilities for a broader scope of action towards justice; as a process of prioritising power and agency in the articulation of future visions and as an end-goal in itself. Louise Fitzgerald discussed this in her presentation about desirable urban food systems scenarios that justice-oriented futures must respond to the challenges of today that are real and immediate, such as limited access to nutritious food for all regardless of race, age and socioeconomic status. Therefore, we need to be critical about the feasibility of building back better narratives many of which are lavishly studded with calls for technological innovation that turn pandemic disorientation into a shiny future but one that is filled with digital and other divides.
Learning from nature might be an answer for many of us out there looking for a clue to avoid a post-covid-19 techno-utopia. In fact, when observing how birds rely on the entire ecosystems of species diversity such as spider webs and left-over materials to build their nests, we can come to the understanding that to build something from what we have been left with is not solely about making things grow faster and bigger but it is about interconnecting with responsibility. This brings me to my last reflection and a question: when we talk about building better, what is it exactly that we want to build and how?
We learnt, from the presentation by Ronan Foley and and colleagues about green and blue infrastructures, that during turbulent times connection with nature can not only heal emotional and physical trauma but also improve a sense of societal wellbeing. Furthermore, Tarmo Pikner in his talk about mobile imaginaries brought us also closer to the possibilities for imagining sustainability through the lens of uncertainty– recalling Anna Tsing’s work on slow disturbances that allow interspecies collaborations to flourish. The outbreak of the Covid-19 and its ongoing mutation has made it clear that our well-being more than ever depends on the health of our planet. However, while the pandemic made it clear for everyone that indeed it is a portal to achieve social and political change at the scales that are required to act on climate change, it is yet to be seen how together we might actually cultivate momentum for sustainable climate futures to be realised.
Image attribution: https://www.vecteezy.com/photo/1457297-bird-s-nest-in-a-tree
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