CLARET SERRAHIMA President of ClaseBcn
29 May 2020
Crisis, environmental disaster, financial collapse, end of the world: in the last fifteen years it seems that we have naturalized the catastrophic language. You just have to go to a bookstore and look around, open a newspaper or turn on the television to realize that all these words resonate in the public space, fill the conversations and shape the social imagery of this first quarter of the 21st century . Hannah Arendt said that one way to determine the birth of a general phenomenon is to capture the moment when the word that designates it appears. These last two months a new word has appeared in our vocabulary: pandemic.
Until very recently, to the most of us sounded like remote, premodern times, those days when medicine had not yet been instituted as an autonomous science of divine and magical affairs. Today we associate it mainly with the health crisis and the economic crisis. Beyond or more here than the biomedical character of the definition of pandemic, it is a word that could help us understand other phenomena that have been taking shape for years. We could talk about the pandemic of low-cost planes, mass tourism, silicon screens, transgenic seeds, and I’m sure I will leave many behind. Pandemics that have constituted and accelerated a global dynamic based on the massive trafficking of people, resources and materials.
It seems that the viral pandemic has brought a touch of reality to the situation, making the internal contradictions of the economic regime in which we live appear, globally but above all locally. A city like Barcelona, but like so many other Europeans, realizes that it had organized around an economic occupation based on the coming and going of tourists and on business events such as the Mobile Congress and entertainment such as the Primavera Sound or Sónar festivals. And now they put their hands to their heads and ask themselves: what do we do now? Slogans of the “Proximity Purchase” style, “Let’s consume km 0” have become the spearhead of the local rhetoric of the Govern and companies. The recourse to question the responsibility of civil society in the face of a state of socio-economic emergency such as that which is drawn to us in the immediate future is not new. We witnessed this in 2011 with the mortgage crisis. But the responsibility has to be mutual and when we “buy proximity” we would have to answer with a question: when does the rhetoric end and the pragmatic begin? Or in other words: now they claim us! When will they forget us? This summer or next? When will the masses of tourists return to consume in the Rambla? When will Park Güell and Sagrada Família open to tourism? When the chopped and laminated fruit is again the star product of La Boqueria? Do we have to babysit the estate until the current owners of the city return?
The spatial question of localism has to be formulated from a temporal perspective, if not the answers to “what to do” and “how” are mere rhetorical ghosts. The temporality of crises, states of emergency or pandemic alarm imposes a reflexive precariousness that manifests itself in short-term mobilization and in the blind hope of a return to normality. But the past has never been normal and this association can unleash extreme rhetoric as we have seen in countries like Great Britain, the USA, Brazil, France and many others. It is a classic strategy of the far right and the most stale conservatism to appeal to origins in times of crisis. And, on the other hand, the social democratic left embraced the modern idea of progress so strongly that when it has become synonymous with exorbitant growth, environmental destruction and increasing global inequalities, it has become an orphan, lost in the dualisms of modernity policy that are no longer operational. The left is disoriented, because it has not yet found a project for the future inscribed on the mainland: that of the actors who live there and walk and take care of it.
We do not want a return to normality or a new normality, but to formulate a new model of the city. Now more than ever. To develop a pragmatic organization of a city based on the impulse of consumption and local projects, it is necessary to take into account the rhythms of the actors and agents that make up the local fabric. And those rhythms, as we know, are not those of Monsanto, EasyJet or Amazon, but are heterodox and heterogeneous, they fluctuate and impregnate each other. This rhythmic wealth, against the standardization of global monopolies, would have to be sustained by pragmatic policies that regulate the urban space from a temporal perspective: both in the long-term projection and in the attention of the urban rhythms themselves. It will be at that time that we, civil society and political institutions, will be able to ask ourselves “what to do” and “how” to face the pandemic crisis and at the same time ask the question that will always have to accompany us: in what city do we want to live?