It is hard times, we fear for the future globally and individually. Many of us feel lonely in the isolation of our homes. But many of us also gathered energies and started up helping our communities, despite all the challenges.
We are Eutropian and five years ago we started up Cooperative City, an online magazine that looks into collaborative urban development projects across Europe. Under the current conditions we want to create a space for exchange: Cooperative City in Quarantine, a weekly online gathering. Every week, with our friends and colleagues from five cities across Europe, we will share the solidarity practices we encountered in our cities.
Last Friday 20th March 2020 we had our first episode of Cooperative City in Quarantine where we invited experts on community development from different cities in Europe to share what is happening in their countries and cities, what are the main challenges they are facing and what are the solutions communities are developing.
Join and watch the Cooperative City in Quarantine podcast live every Friday at 17.00CET on @cooperativecity
Levente Polyak is a Eutropian founder and planner from Budapest, he told us how COVID-19 officially arrived to the city on 4 March, and the first related death was announced on 15 March. While a nationwide state of emergency was declared on 11 March, it does not include a curfew. On 20 March, the government proposed to the Parliament the extension of the state of emergency to an undefined period: if voted by the Parliament, this decision would give unprecedented power to the government. In the meanwhile, social pressure has been growing to discourage people from gathering in public spaces and a series of solidarity initiatives have been emerging. Besides community self-organisation around housing blocks and in neighbourhoods, many cultural venues began livestreaming their events and digital contents, with their audiences encouraged not to ask for reimbursement after their cancelled events. More surprisingly than the cultural sphere always known for its social sensitivity and sense of solidarity, Budapest has also witnessed a variety of businesses changing profile in the course of a few days. Taxi companies, rapidly losing their clients, have engaged in transporting health workers to hospitals. Airbnb apartment owners as well as hotels, in lack of bookings, have begun to offer their properties for quarantine or temporary housing for health workers. Restaurants and various event organising companies have switched immediately to home delivery and existing short chain distribution services began to flourish. In a way, COVID-19 has forced many activities to reinvent themselves in the digital realm or to get organised around local, neighbourhood-scale networks. While the push towards digitalisation manifests itself most spectacularly in the field of education where millions of schoolkids were for the first time joining their classes online, it also accelerates the digitalisation process of many companies and non-profit organisations, including cultural venues and community spaces. In the meanwhile neighbourhood solidarity networks have become crucial for maintaining key services and to take care of the most vulnerable members of communities. With all the destruction it makes across Europe and the world, COVID-19 forces us to rethink our structures of economy, consumption, mobility, tourism, social welfare and education, among many other fields.
Tiago Mota Saraiva is an architect from Lisbon involved in social urban development projects, he explained how our discussion was held eighteen days after the first two cases of infection in Portugal and four days after the first dead was registered. Mostly people started to stay at home one week before, but on the 18th March the President of the Republic announced the State of Emergency for the first time in 40 years. New cases of CoVID-19 infections were increasing exponentially but the death rate is (still) under 1%. There are several cooperative lead initiatives now running. We enhanced the “Manifesto Solidário CoVID19” and Ninguém fica para trás, a national database of people that offer to help people who need help. On the other hand, mostly in Lisbon and Oporto, there is an inorganic movement of people at 10.00pm clapping to thank our National Health Service and the health professionals that are in the frontline of the battle. Also district public organisations – Juntas de Freguesias – are playing one important role in organising a system of taking basic necessities to over 70 years old people’s houses. There is also a growing discontent with the EU absence or slowness over this fight.
Bahanur Nasya is a Eutropian member and architect, she told us how, after Italy, the Austrian government, as well as the municipalities started to prepare the citizens for a lockdown, and day by day the measures were increased. The home quarantine remains on day five still on a voluntary basis, but common sense made people stay home and work from home throughout the country. At the moment hanging out with other people (e.g. in playgrounds, in sports areas etc.) can be fined. At the same time in some counties like Tyrol and Upper Austria the outbreak is much more advanced, the the authorities did not react fast enough. Those counties are locked down and isolated by now, but mistrust is already created amongst locals and international guests. Other than that, in general most officials seem to have a plan and the public response is cooperative. Closing shops and restaurants countrywide seems to work well, as the support benefits are nor talored for all company sizes. The basic infrastructure seems to be secured. For example in Vienna the staff of the electricity company is voluntarily in quarantine to ensure that they stay healthy and secure the electrical supply. Also it is promised that all business and all people who are suffering economically will get support from the government. Those measures seem to liberate the inhabitants to take action and provide support one by one. Many small business, individuals and NGOs are trying to cope with new (online) services. Some teach remotely, some midwives support the pregnant through their final stage, some youngsters shop for the elderly, some translate the news, some lend their bike, food or cloth etc. Those acts create a community and strong bond between people.
“I believe it’s important to face the future with hope and learn lessons from the current situation. We all are experiencing how adaptation might look like in the future, how we potentially can limit our consumption, working hours, use of resources etc. In this regard the current situation is a training for future challenges. Approximately one month of activity reduction seems to find affect nature (decrease of pollution). A situation – we were told for decades – is not possible. We should be alerted to not repeat the mistakes of the past. a) By going back to exactly the same behaviour and structures as before the pandemic. b) By saving big organisations like banks and insurance companies, instead of people. We have the mission to find alternative solutions for a) and create those communities which can lobby for their interests for b). In this regard, the lockdown could be turned in to an opportunity.”
Mauro Gil Fournier is an architect dealing with social innovation, he shared his concerns on the situation in Madrid but also highlighted how there are increasing efforts from the population to cluster efforts. The most relevant platform in this regards is Frena la Curva, which is now operating in Spain and many other countries in Latin America. The platform gathers information on tools to counteract the present situation and activates a number of Distributed Citizen Laboratories that promote experimentation, collaboration and citizens’ innovation under the present conditions of Coronavirus emergency. The laboratories have the ambition to find through collective knowledge the innovative ideas of the many people who want to collaborate. On the basis of this initial collaboration, inter-disciplinary working groups are formed and already between 19 and 23 March there was the first workshop to develop the ideas. Up until now there were 13 projects with 200 participants and five days of intensive workshops. There is the need to think about those who are more disadvantaged and suffering under the present conditions: homeless people who have nowhere to go for quarantine, people who are losing their jobs, women who suffer from violence at home.
“In these times it is very important to activate the capacity of listening to one another, the basis to create empathy under these hard conditions.”
Daniela Patti is a Eutropian founder and planner, she explained how Italy has been the front runner in this emergency situation, with over 35.000 infected people, nearly two weeks of quarantine and almost full closing of any commercial and productive activity at the time of the discussion. The situation is very hard on an individual basis but collectively many solutions are being sought. In terms of food access the Network of Community and Solidarity Economy has organised condominium purchase from local food producers; there is a Red Phone – Telefono Rosso to support for exploited workers; bookshops are organising readings for children; people in the culture sector are streaming concerts and theatre plays; the Government set up the Digital Solidarity platform where many companies are offering free digital services to the population; large foundations started fundraising to setup solidarity funds towards the social sector; makers developed a system to hack Dekathlon sub masks to foster substitute components of respiration machines in hospitals… Many many initiatives are being carried out. But mostly initiatives require digital access and this is not something everyone can afford, as it is evident from e-learning schooling activities in priority neighbourhoods where children don’t have internet nor computers, and in those places where the network is not present, as in rural and mountain areas of the country.
In the next episodes Cooperative City in Quarantine will keep bringing together people from different countries in Europe to share their experiences on a number of topics: food, education, culture, health, labour… Please contact us if you have any uplifting stories to tell or if you would like to contribute to this series in any way! Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org