My Uncle Román is a critical reader who never misses an opportunity to share his evaluations. As such, on Thursday mornings –the moment that my weekly op-ed in the local Spanish newspaper is published– I look out for his insights to bolster me, cheer me up and help me improve.
The other day, he made me realise something I wasn’t aware of: “your latest articles are a bit negative, people need optimism”. I thought about it, and it is true. This atmosphere of constant languishing, as Adam Grant explained in the New York Times, does not allow for too much euphoria.
Yet, nor can we minimise the seriousness of the pandemic, and its interconnection with global structural problems. We have a long way to go to see the light of day and, unfortunately, in this world of renewed borders, some have a much longer way to go than others.
But today, from an urban, territorial and economic perspective, I would like to point out some reasons for optimism and explain why I would like to think that good things will come after this crisis. Even if cities are contested spaces, it will still make all the sense in the world to live together. We will continue to do so.
We have learned that our individual freedoms have to be aligned with respect and care for others. Health, an undeniable public good, has dynamics of interdependence. We need each other, but we also put each other at risk.
Mental health makes headlines like never before and comes out of the closet of complexes. Illnesses must be treated as such, with science-based diagnoses and remedies. In the face of the incipient mental health wave, we recognise the magnitude of the problem with empathy and importantly, without belittling, condescending or blaming the people who suffer from it.
The world came to a grinding halt immediately following the exponential growth of the outbreak. From then on, a debate opened up about redirecting globalisation towards a more sustainable path. It is not a question of locking ourselves into self-sufficiency , but rather, connecting efficaciously for meaningful exchange. Local production, the limitation of megalomaniacal infrastructures, the return of night trains instead of short flights, are all signs of a new (or recovered) globalisation. These are signs of a new (or recovered) way of understanding traffic and distances- on a more human scale, more respectful of the planet.
The possibility of teleworking and the visibility of the value of care opens up an interesting opportunity to rethink the balance between life and work. Opportunities, such as the four-day working week, or partial teleworking, offer a more conciliatory and sustainable alternative by avoiding unnecessary travel.
Despite the danger of becoming a greenwashing exercise, the fact that recovery strategies are based on sustainability (Next Generation) and innovation and design (New European Bauhaus) is a remarkable development.
Many administrations have learned on the run how to manage an emergency, growcross-departmental collaborations that seemed unthinkable, shorten timeframes and react quickly. It has been shown that we can build much more agile bureaucracies.
I have been insisting that one of the worst hidden effects of the pandemic has been that we have locked ourselves in our socio-economic bubbles. For months we have only been surrounded, virtually or physically, by ‘our own’. Cities need diversity, to be exposed to migration and to exchange. Also to tourism, if it is respectful. It is good news that we are once again opening our doors to welcome people from abroad, be they expats, visitors or refugees.
Finally, this situation has opened up a unique opportunity for cities, companies and institutions to rethink and plan for the long term, an essential task for which it is difficult to find the time. This should be noted with avid attention.
*A previous version of this article was originally published, in Spanish, at ValenciaPlaza.com