How it all began … and now
2016 was a landmark year, viewed from the lens of urbanisation. On 1 January, the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) officially came into force, with one goal focused solely on equitable urbanisation. In October over 160 countries adopted the New Urban Agenda (NUA), committing to sustainable urban development for the next 30 years with guidance on how to achieve SDG targets.
Fast forward to 2018. The World Urban Forum in Malaysia concluded in February, and the active participation of representatives from 165 countries showed how the goal of #LeaveNoOneBehind is still an international priority. The ‘shared vision’ of the NUA is one of ‘cities for all’. Yet, even now the dialogue on the urban has often been restricted to limited actors and territorial boundaries, while the larger urban population has not engaged with it as such or even realised the urgency of its appeal.
The urban conundrum
The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) projects that 2.5 billion people would be added to urban populations by 2050 in its 2014 World Urbanization Prospects report. As the population pressure increases in urban areas, yet people remain cocooned within disparate circles of privilege or poverty, the distancing of people from each other is only getting stronger, reinforcing stereotypes and assumptions. Within the national context, the rhetoric of hate and divide is accelerating the process, taking us further away from the democratic goals of equality, inclusivity, embracing diversity, and so on that are further reinforced by the NUA. In the absence of any pre-emptive dialogue, a section of society continues to be denied their rights, and be forced to the margins as they are repeatedly exploited, greeted by ignorance and apathy of their condition from the other side.
We, the people
People’s participation in the dialogue on the ‘urban’ (irrespective of their socio-economic position) is therefore going to play a critical role in determining how urban futures shape up. It is their awareness of urban realities, belief in the ‘cities for all’ vision, and will to drive change which will ensure how the ideals of the NUA become reality. Yet, the scope of dialogue cannot be restricted to select mediums alone. After all, the multiple realities of a city cannot just be spoken about, listened to, read aloud, or written about. It has to be felt to be experienced. The range of the sensorial experience will also help draw in diverse urban inhabitants, from the unlettered to the academic, the artistic to the prosaic. The city belongs equally to each one of them, and their participation in its co-creation is vital to realise the ‘shared vision’.
An attempt to encourage urban dialogue
ComplexCity 2018 was an attempt to encourage such a new urban dialogue with and among the people, by engaging them in a week-long series of events (outlined below).
It was a brave new possibility, requiring immense coordination and planning, to ensure that the city would pause to reflect on and engage with multiple urban realities. We were joined by people across age groups, from children to the elderly for events ranging from city walks to film festivals in different urban locations. We emerged richer from the experience, and the solidarity and support received has already emboldened our efforts for ComplexCity 2019.
Hopes and possibilities
Once the urban dialogue begins and as it picks up steam, we hope that it will lead to the following cascading results:
Better understanding of urban realities: With exposure to varied urban lives, cultures and traditions, multiple realities will be recognised within the larger narrative of the urban. There will, hopefully, be lesser chance of plural narratives getting assimilated and lost within larger homogenised mainstream voices.
Respect and appreciation for difference of opinion and diversity: As new realities come to the fore, ‘diversity’ will be more apparent, be it across caste, class, gender, communities, or on any other scale. Plural urban realities will reveal themselves, new voices will be heard, and it is hoped that they will be encouraged, not ignored or silenced.
Growth of networks to promote the ‘cities for all’ vision: With more interactions and engagements with urban inhabitants, it will be possible to initiate networks, collectives and partnerships, so that change is not restricted to a few urban pockets but can spread further and deeper.
Support needed to sustain change: Be it institutional, financial or solidarity support, it will go a long way to support the dialogue taking place on the urban, and encourage others to join in as well. Eventually, it is hoped, the NUA objectives, as a sub-set of larger urban social justice objectives, should no longer seem a theoretical possibility, but transform into implemented realities.
In case you’re wondering how we performed at ComplexCity this year, here’s our review of the week in numbers. Over the next few days, we will also be posting about the ComplexCity experience on the blog. Stay tuned!