Human happiness have always been connected to settlements they live in. How happy are you today with(in) your city, village or tent? Does anyone at all live in a tent anymore? And in a village? According to UN today more than 54% of population live in cities, with estimation that by 2050 that number will be 66%. These migrations are in circular cause-consequence connection with sustainability and global justice, democracy and equality, peace. How, you wonder?
If we look at the urban areas as settlements one may wonder where do we find space for expansion, what do we build them from, how do we organize transport, water and food supply, how do we protect from heat and snow? Urban living is also something we hear a lot these days. Its not only about living in urban area, its about ways we move through streets, places where we gather, time we spend to go from work to pleasure, color of the air we breath and diversity of the people you see in different parts of town. Eventually urbanization is also about how we are thought to think, to argument, to decide and to cooperate.
Dilemma of today urbanization is not about living in a city or not, its about effect that this decision has on democratic, environmental and social layer of people life. More importantly it goes beyond individual and groups and becomes global question, considering that cities are not isolated from wider environment they are built in and from. Ever since industrial revolution diversification of settlements followed the ambiguity of rural/agricultural and urban/industrial areas. Consequently these processes shaped life of the people contributing to expected patterns of mobility through space, through social, economical and political ladder.
With transition to digital era notion of space got another understanding. Development of transportation industry also changed our perception on distance. Together with constant desire for efficiency, cost saving and profit making, adding to these also aesthetic layer, we gave to space abstract value, very often directly confronted to values of community, democracy, sustainability and different freedoms.
Slogan such as “Reclaim your city” can often be heard today and even tho we support campaigns like this, we could not wonder how come we at all came in a need for it? Whom do we reclaim cities from? When did we lose connection to the cities? Did we ever have it? Yes, we want to reclaim cities but we also want to have different cities. No matter how small or big, rural or urban, populated or not we want them to be built according to needs and values that are first of all answering to:
Urbanization and democracy: as much as (democratic) decision making is shaping urbanization, as much is urbanization shaping democracy. We start from a axiom that democratic decision making is needed in order to ensure that areas we live in areas we want to live in. However type of democracy we have, its strength and flexibility, not to mention its deviation, can determine how our cities will look like, whom they will serve and how big priority will citizen get among profit, aesthetics, elites. Furthermore, its urbanization process that involved decisions on shrinking squares where we protest, privatization of services or areas/way where we spread our message.
Urbanization and sustainability: living our days between buildings and parks, we hardly can see deforested fields, devastated areas around minds, evicted farmland or pollution collectors. Sustainable profit management prioritized over sustainable resources management turns our cities in consumption and waste factories. Rigid division on urban and rural processes makes our food and water production and usage more absurd than efficient. Instead of getting energy from green surfaces we spend our days fighting for their preservation. Instead of living with our animal friends we turn pets to bear concrete jungle survivors.
Urbanization and community: people gather in communities to ease life to each other, giving extra hand in work to do or additional story in truth to learn. Shaping our common interest in common services gives us more time to enjoy days and more experience to support those. However today settlements are busy hives, where communities are very widely defined. But instead of contributing to quality of life this diversification of communities brought us outsourcing of personal contributions and responsibilities, social segregation that very easily overbrim to discrimination, unified majority rule over diverse minorities.
Urbanization and freedoms: it sounds mundane to say that our freedoms are limited by space and infrastructure in which we are practicing them. Mundane but true. And we do not see our cities as free. Not all of us are able to move through cities because there are not always ramps for wheel chairs or sound traffic light or affordable public transport. Not all of us are able to express ourselves because there are parliaments behind fences or because graffiti are illegal. Not all of us are free from propaganda because public spaces are surrounded by commercials. Not all of us are able to enjoy clean water or air, because there are non, because they are privatized.
Maybe these does not apply to all cities, nor to all citizens of one city even. But we do not strive for case but case solution, neither we want to mitigate consequences of current urbanization processes. We want value behind urbanization processes to change and we want all people to have opportunities to practices their freedoms within it.
We, CDN Alter-urbanization working group, believe that different cities are possible. We might be not knowing exact definitions and formulas now but we want to organize platform for exploration, discussion, learning. We want to induce current urbanization postulates, filter them through discussions on equality, democratic participation, economic and environmental justice. We aim to learn and give support to experts who thing differently, who are committed to causes in urbanization. We see many initiatives that started either as response to oppression or as pro-active action town. Not only that we want to support them, but we also want to learn from them and use their experience on micro level to challenge decision makers on macro level and support their implementation on wider scales.
Being part of Cooperation and Development Network Eastern Europe we are devoted to this region and its our aim to raise awareness about challenges in its current urbanization process, to bring them in connection with other relevant processes such as economic and democratic transition, post/current conflict management, EU accession, Soviet deprivation, privatization, etc. We would like to be learning resource for activists, for experience and knowledge exchange, for discussion and cooperation how to organize, advocate for and ensure sustainability of changes in and of urban areas.