Let’s make a new alterity for a new city

With the system de-escalation we need, the time for rethinking the society we live in is now. And, as Barcelonans, we need to rethink the city model that took us to the present moment. In the new world ahead of us after the return to the “new normality” that governments propose, rebels will need to speak out that we do not want a city and a planet where we can barely survive — we want a city and a planet where we can live.

It is clear that the effects of the global pandemic have been most pronounced in the most polluted cities, with Barcelona being the perfect example. Pollutant particles in the air, usually the cause of various respiratory diseases, have worsened the occurrence of coronavirus infections. We can say, now without a doubt, that if pollution was already killing us before the pandemic, it is now a worsening cause of all exotic diseases that will potentially adapt to humans because we are continuously invading the ecosystems that have contained them for millennia.

On the other hand, home confinement made us value little luxuries that the city’s hectic lives made us forget — proximity food, the need for dignified and affordable housing, the need for a healthy lifestyle… Even these issues have been eye-opening: people living in poorly ventilated homes are the ones most diagnosed with coronavirus, while bad nutrition makes us more vulnerable to sickness.

Old normality was the problem, so we must fight for a new normality built on those same bases. It may seem like a fight too big to be won, but we need to be conscious of everything we have learned. If we fought the pandemic by putting the common good before anything else, changing to a new social model, another city model, is possible if we remain organised.

A city to live in

With the “de-escalation” we’ve been living in lately, we see the streets being filled in with cars and other motorized vehicles. After becoming used to hearing birds and the buzz of conversation from our balconies, we now go back to listening to cars occupying the streets. And it’s not just their noise — with the need for maintaining a safe distance, we see that cities have not been made for people. That’s why we need to rethink public spaces. The new alterity we are looking for is to rebuild a city to live in.

This implies reducing the concentration of emissions in our urban centres, as well as simply stopping pollution through a radical change in the mobility network. The generalisation of the use of the bicycle, as well as the impulse to use nonpolluting public transport, will be important in this new phase of our lives. This will mean that urban and infrastructure planning will change to create safe spaces for bicycles, and widespread and affordable alternatives for public transport that will reach all neighbourhoods, such as the metro and tram. In this desire for a radical change in the model of mobility, Rebel·lió o Extinció Barcelona have been among the groups promoting the campaign ‘Confine the cars, recover the city’. Months ago we joined the Zeroport platform, which wants to join forces with other organisations and movements to stop the expansion of the port and airport.

We also have to recognise that we will not be able to eliminate the pollution accumulated over years of emissions just by reducing pollutant emissions. In the new city of otherness, we will need to bring the green back into our streets and our buildings: it is important to renaturalise our urban environment to guarantee a direct capture and transformation of emissions. And we mustn’t do this only through parks, so-called natural environments caged in cement, but the immediate need for clean air and healthy environments for those of us who live in cities obliges us to provide ourselves with all possible mechanisms for the preservation and increasing of urban biodiversity.

In the same way, the pandemic we have experienced has made us value the need for strong public services, and in particular a network of care-taking that values each of its tasks. The otherness of the new city we want to build has to guarantee efficient health services free of cutbacks, but also to value the urban cures for dependent people and the non-exploitation of the carers, often migrated women, by any social sector. The city of otherness will be the city of care-taking, where neighbourhood support networks also play a role in maintaining the relationships between neighbours, so often forgotten in the old normality.

Climate citizenship

To achieve these changes we need institutions to listen to science and adapt to the new needs that are emerging, but above all, we need to build climate citizenship. If we want post-confinement otherness to be a reality, we can only achieve it through citizen empowerment. We can make paradigm changes through self-organization.

The city model that must emerge from this crisis must be built by all of us; the City Council must do so together with civil society. In order to enrich our neighbourhoods, we will have to decentralise social and economic activity and distribute our efforts beyond the dynamics between the centre and the urban periphery. The decongesting of the city, both in relation to vehicles and people, will be necessary to maintain the sanitary safety of everyone. This requires building justice, including climate justice, from the neighbourhoods: we cannot allow any of them to be left behind when it comes to dealing with post-confinement, as is happening in the Raval.

We have to be aware, thus, that the new alterity will require thinking beyond the “sanitary bubbles” that have been created by the state. Just as we cannot understand the fight against climate emergency without climate justice between the global north and south, we have to assume that the type of city we need must not turn its back on anyone and that we will have to cooperate to build more resilient communities, both urban and rural.

Read the first part of this article: De-escalate the system, protect our life.