Let’s Change Direction
We’re now coming out of lockdown. It seems that things have gone well. We’ve managed to bring the virus under control – although not without great costs, which still have to be properly assessed, in human lives, health, the economy and shattered illusions. During these past days and months, there have been (and still are) a whole load of talks, lectures, and webinars (I hate that word) by different gurus offering solutions and advice.
But are there any truly new, different problems? And, likewise, are any of the solutions being offered new or original?
For me, the answer is no. What this pandemic has done is to expose the vulnerability of a neoliberal, patriarchal, sexist, extractivist and therefore unjust civilization. Inequalities have become more visible, more evident, and unfortunately they may grow unless this situation serves as a turning point in our evolution as a civilization and we finally start to implement the change in direction long vindicated by groups defending human and environmental rights (I’m not sure if it makes any sense to distinguish between these two things, because the lack of both is a result of the same social model described above).
The solution isn’t a chalet in the suburbs, or the safeguarding of individualism and unbridled consumption. It’s precisely those things that are pushing us towards global ecological collapse, a collapse heralded this time by the virus, but also by the undeniable global warming that has given us the hottest month of May on record.
The solutions will be territorial, based on complex networks and a return to different local patterns of production, from fair, ecological agriculture to the sustainable manufacture of everyday items. And it will be necessary to forget the dogma of continuous growth because it simply isn’t true.
If we don’t fritter away our lives endlessly moving backwards and forwards from one place to another, and thereby contributing to the poor quality of the air we breathe and the lack of time we’re always complaining about, the reshaping of cities as microhubs of everyday proximity could help make our existence less stressful, healthier, fairer and more egalitarian.
Before analysing or criticising housing design, however justifiable such analysis may be, it’s crucial to change the status of housing from “asset” to “right”. Clearly, we already know how to build dwellings that meet and satisfy people’s needs at different stages in their lives, dwellings that are sustainable, and that ensure equality, with no hierarchies. But when housing production is exclusively business-orientated, when it’s not a right, when it’s for “those who can afford it”, it’s difficult to come up with real solutions that don’t leave anyone out.
Even so, examples do exist of good urban planning and housing policies (yes, the two things go together!); public policies committed to society and to citizens; policies heavily grounded on bottom-up structures. Not surprisingly, the best experiences of social (economic, community and health) resilience during the pandemic have been based on unified community structures, from the heterogenous mixed neighbourhoods that have made self-organization possible both in this and in earlier crises, to the latest co-housing initiatives , which constitute a time-proven source of inspiration.
So what do we do now? Do we go back to the old so-called “normal”? No, because it’s there that a large part of the problem resides.