Bottom-Up Movements Revitalised – What is Different This Time?

By |2020-10-29T09:13:15+01:00October 29th 2020|Categories: Global Urban Debates|Tags: , |Comments Off on Bottom-Up Movements Revitalised – What is Different This Time?

Concluding our insight series on the event “Inclusive Cities – The Next Generation”, Celine D’Cruz (Urban Development Practitioner), Franziska Schreiber (University of Stuttgart), and Nancy Naser Al Deen (TU Berlin) discuss ways of transformative change in cities based on the needs of its communities and protest culture structures.

In the year 2000, the Millennium Development Goals made slums to the nucleus of the inclusive cities approach. Slum dwellers organised locally, nationally, and even internationally and defended their interests on all levels of policy making. Participatory planning was – and still is – a common practice in many cities around the globe and generated, especially in its advanced form of co-production, good results at neighbourhood level. However, there is widespread discontent of people in cities who express their frustration about being left behind for a variety of reasons. The root causes may not be urban, but their effects are predominantly felt and manifest in cities. The question of “who or what can bring about change” is more pressing than ever.

Organising Local Communities is Critical but not Sufficient for Managing Crisis

My experience of working closely with very poor communities in my home city Mumbai, as well as in other cities in Africa, Asia and Latin America, has taught me that communities have to be involved from the early stages in finding solutions that address their needs. Thereby they can learn to adapt better and build resilience to manage human-made and natural disasters. I have seen so often that communities already have the capability to survive, for example during evictions, but they pay a huge price after each eviction as they have to start rebuilding from scratch. However, when communities are organised they find their voice and identity, they are able to stop evictions and find solutions.

Development Intervention Needs to Shift from Community-Based to Locally Led

Communities not only have to be involved in the decision-making process in their locality, they also have to build capacity to lead and work in partnership with their local authorities and other stakeholders. Flying in consultants from the north or having local brokers deal with these problems does not always make sense. Similarly, building an organisation of the urban poor is necessary, but not sufficient for the change we all seek. Transformational change requires addressing the deeper challenges of longer term structural changes. So, for programmes to be locally embedded, they need to be locally led.

But what does “locally led” really mean? It is about building local leadership through many entry points, with the local government, universities, other stakeholders, while keeping poor communities and the most vulnerable at the centre.

The Empowerment of Community Organisations is Essential but not Enough

Let’s look at the example of the Uganda land services and citizenship programme. The Municipal Development Forum (MDF) and the Community Development Fund (CDF) opened the space for communities to come together with local government and other stakeholders. Together, they identified and prioritised the issues that needed to be solved and designed and implemented solutions together.

Why locally led?

The importance of locally led building resilience is not a management problem. Rather, it is a process of socially restructuring existing relationships which are not working for all. It is crucial to ensure that communities have the capacity to engage with local governments and other actors in their locality and do not get bulldozed by vested interests. Their own agendas, needs, and aspirations puts local communities in the best position to negotiate this space. Hence, the move to institutionalise the relationship between local communities and local government is crucial in finding solutions that are locally led.

We Need a Multisensory Approach towards Cities

Reading urban strategy reports or visiting conferences can sometimes be a frustrating experience because the language that is used is full of buzzwords and technical terms. It is as if cities are lifeless beings. Yet this has little to do with how they are perceived by most people. They typically describe their cities in atmospheric terms, what they love or hate about them, the level of energy or how they sound or smell. But urban professionals are not used to think and talk about cities in that way. For them the emotional and sensory landscape of cities is merely an interesting add-on.

Psychologists, neuroscientists and experts on sensory urbanism clearly tell us that the way we build cities today is everything but healthy – both in social and psychological terms. From the materials we use and the way we design public spaces to the heights and shapes of buildings: cities are often cold and not welcoming.

Furthermore, almost all participatory methods we use are purely cognitive, discussion-based, and visual. I believe we need new avenues to get people excited, involved and empowered – and a new ‘mindset’ for how we speak about, plan, and build cities. One which is no longer dominated by cognitive-thinking and rational decision-making, but takes into account that we are multisensorial, emotional beings.

We Need Less Numbers and More Experience-Based Methods

In our Sense the City project, we conducted visioning workshops with different people to prototype urban futures and combined sensory approaches with methods from futurology.

The results were impressive, in terms of creativity, excitement, and energy among the participants. Using a sensory approach opened a whole new door for people to explore and express their wishes and made them feel part of a conversation they could relate to. Similarly, real experiments give us, other than plain numbers, a taste of what the future could be like and thus affect us emotionally.

The Path to Inclusive Cities must be Sensory!

My wish for the next generation is that we arrive at more sensory-informed planning and policy making, which will lead us to more sustainable and inclusive cities a lot faster. Hopefully then, cities will not only be sustainable in technical matters, but also be liveable and enjoyable spaces.

It is critical to Accept Diversity in Protest Culture

Today, I want to discuss bottom-up movements from a protest culture and street’s perspective. Before I recently moved to Berlin a year ago, I was based in Cairo and Beirut within the last ten years during what is called the “Arab Spring”. And most recently, I have been very attached to the Uprising in Lebanon, both in Diaspora and partially on the ground.

The Uprising began about a year ago, on 17th October 2019, and similar to other movements in the Arab region, it sprung out of a severe collective anger. We wanted to say “NO!” to an oppression we have been subjected to for at least 30 years, which is a pattern that is observable in different parts of the Arab region.
In the case of Egypt, we could clearly see that the protest was born organically out of an immense collective anger and might have lacked a centralised collective strategy. While the need to strategise is crucial, it is also important to keep in mind that our anger is where we all meet and unquestionably agree, even though the sources and reasons of anger leading to protest could vary. This means accepting diversity within the core of protest culture.

There Must be Safe Spaces Within Protest Movements

Another important aspect is the need to create safe spaces within protests. We have to discuss topics like intersectionality and transformative justice, just like we have to question violence and the responses to it. We should discuss forms of how to process collective trauma and collective depression and transform that into collective healing.

In this regard, it is necessary to exchange care as currency in the face of the capitalist machine. During protests in Beirut protesters would offer vinegar and onions to other protesters to counter teargas canisters fired at them by security forces at distances so near that they were violating international human rights law.

We need to Acknowledge the Limitations of Bottom-Up Movements

We have to be aware that revolutions in many countries that are problematically referred to as the “Global South” come from rage against and disbelief in very corrupt systems. So, when we talk about possible reconciliation between top-down and bottom-up, we have to question whether going into the system is really the change we want; since we are rejecting the system from its core.

In the context of Lebanon this means: we need to uproot the infectious corrupt apparatus that has been ruling since the end of the civil war in the 1990s before we can conceive of any potential positive change. Most evidently, the explosion on 4th August 2020 completely destroyed any form of hope we had in changing the existing system from within.

Therefore, we have to think about making change possible, without giving the system legitimacy. At the same time, we have witnessed that with complete self-governance or anarchy, protests could become fragmented as well.

We Must Understand that Our Fights are Global!

In Berlin, my Diasporic condition allows me the privilege to build a solidarity network with transnational communities. Here, I am able to protest with people from countries such as Iran or Iraq, which would not necessarily be possible in Lebanon. Solidarity networks between Arab queer communities and queer communities from Latin America for example are made possible in the urban space of Berlin.

We thus have to be aware that our fights are not local, but global. And, that being in a privileged position in the “Global North” does not grant one the luxury of being apolitical. We are all responsible as a global structure to hold the oligarchy accountable and to question white supremacy and the pre-established global power structures that keep the “1 per cent” in power.

Celine D'Cruz
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    Franziska Schreiber
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      Nancy Naser Al Deen
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