4-5 JUNE 2020, ONLINE

The second Arena event  was  organized and facilitated by BCNUEJ members of the UrbanA team. The event was attended by 46 participants, including UrbanA fellows from 13 countries, and 25 UrbanA team members from partner institutions across Europe.

The event aimed at fostering a transversal dialogue on what we mean by ‘justice’ in urban sustainability and built on the initial results of an UrbanA study that summarized the manifestations and drivers of urban injustice according to recent EU research. Participants engaged participants in contributing to the production of a clear, powerful and comprehensive statement on the drivers of urban injustice as challenges for sustainability, and to the overall UrbanA objective of consolidating and communicating knowledge and experience on how to make cities more just and sustainable.

The first day discussions focused on the 10 identified drivers of injustice in the context of urban sustainability efforts; a summary of each of which can be found in this series of short videos.

The second day was dedicated to discussing how the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is a manifestation of inequality and a breaking point in how we imagine cities. This was focused around five key themes: Re-naturing cities; the challenge of gentrification; food systems; ecofeminism; social and climate justice. In each thematic discussion, participants followed a U-theory framework centering on logics, practices, structures, habits and approaches that the pandemic has urged us to rethink and move away from, and those that emerged as necessary ways forward after having considered the drivers and manifestations of injustice in the urban context.

The outcomes of this discussion will be turned into a co-created statement around the lessons learnt from COVID-19 for just and sustainable cities. The session closed with a presentation on the currently evolving and growing UrbanA Community of Practice and related ongoing online conversations, a presentation on which can be found here.

As part of the Arena event, a  public online webinar event, on ‘COVID-19, justice, and sustainability in cities’, was organized and attended by 286 people from all over the world, including activists, architects, urban planners, journalists and scholars from different disciplines.

The webinar explored the unfolding dynamics of justice and sustainability in light of how the COVID-19 pandemic is unfolding in cities worldwide. Urban justice scholars Helen Cole, Isabelle Anguelovski and Panagiota Kotsila –all three members of the Barcelona Lab for Urban Environmental Justice and Sustainability, a research lab part of ICTA and IMIM at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona– touched on the following questions:

  • What are the main manifestations of health and environmental inequalities and related, emergent questions around urban justice in times of pandemic and social confinement?
  • To what extent (and where) are such inequalities being addressed in bold, radical ways that can redefine urban futures?
  • How does COVID-19 redefine and force us to rethink urban infrastructure (housing, transit, and public space) need, use, and inequalities?
  • What lessons can we draw from a crisis such as COVID-19 to build more just and sustainable cities, especially so in the context of a changing climate?

Speakers spoke of the already existing and exacerbated injustices around issues of health care access, housing, and environmental quality, which acted as a ‘substrate’ for the unequal distribution of COVD-19, and of the consequences suffered predominantly by vulnerable and marginalized social groups resulting from the disease itself and the efforts to control it (confinement, closure of businesses, of schools, etc.).

“Low income and minority communities are consistently exposed to greater environmental hazards and have access to fewer environmental amenities than their more affluent counterparts, facing worse health and lower life expectancy”. – Helen Cole

The potential new types of injustice(s) that might arise in relation to basic sectors of the urban economy and life (such as housing, public transportation and public space) were critically discussed based on recent developments and signs of change as the COVID-19 pandemic has developed in different cities, alongside radical ways forward that can address these long-standing and newly-emerging vulnerabilities.

“”Urbanism should be inclusive, feminist and radical. People of color should not only have access but feel safe in our public spaces”. – Isabelle Anguelovski

Last, links were drawn on the root causes of this -as well as previous- newly emerging and fast spreading epidemics, and the root causes of global climate change and environmental destruction. The unsustainable and unjust practices of food production and air pollution in cities were discussed as core challenges for mitigating both environmental and health risks, in the context of a broader need to re-think and restructure the economy away from damaging and polluting activities and towards care-centered and sustainable sectors.

“We need to think what aspects and sectors of the economy we want to recover and under what conditions should businesses operate, given the lessons emerging now stronger on the global and local interdependencies between places and species”. – Panagiota Kotsila

This plenary conversation was followed by an online discussion with the audience on some of the issues raised about how the COVID-19 has exacerbated urban environmental and health inequalities and how it can be a unique chance to create more just and sustainable urban futures. Some of these reflections, offered by key listeners James Connolly, Gustavo Garcia Lopez and Filka Sekulova, focused on questions around:

how to create a more just and sustainable cities, recognizing existing injustices and steering towards more communitarian perspectives and practices;

understanding the effect that urban materialities and relationships, including (with) urban natures, have on the well-being and mood of urban citizens;

and emphasizing on the deeply unequal ways in which the pandemic and other (health or economic crises are being experienced in relation to class, gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality etc. while also thinking about core activities that support life and nature while also contributing to building the communitarian aspect of urban society, such as urban farming or food growing/sharing networks.

The YouTube video of the webinar  and the presentation slides are now available online, while the main issues discussed were also published as a short piece on Medium.

The rich variety of issues gathered through the collection of questions which could not be addressed during the webinar due to time restrictions, will be summarized and taken up on a future blog by the BCNUEJ team, soon to be published online.

Stay tuned!

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