Theoretical philosophical background Commoning Merwede

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Since the financial crisis in 2008, cities around the world have been reorienting themselves in relation to citizens. Mediated by low interest rates and large loans both for companies and individuals, the focus of the city has been moving more and more towards finance and real estate. Real estate’s logics of property and investment have encroached deeper into our cities’ economic foundations, they have locked themselves in as necessity, as the only way forward. The result of all this has been increasing precarity, eviction, and disenfranchisement of ever more people from their own futures, all while they are speculated upon, profited off of, and sold at market rate.

For as long as cities have been sites for exploitation and the capitalist generation of wealth, they have also been sites of emancipatory struggle. This is because, most simply, what is experienced in cities is also experienced by others. By bringing people together into shared environments, they provide fertile ground for reflecting on the conditions of collective existence and imagining more equitable and just forms of life. They also afford the networks of support and solidarity that are necessary to envision, work towards, and even realize those alternative ways of living.

Based on the recognition that futures of cities are made in common, while possibilities ranging from the formation of mutual aid and educational structures to the development of new land use and housing models often takes place alongside other, more hegemonic and capital-intensive modes of urban development, they crucially sustain the modes of relationality that its communities depend on. They also grant legitimacy, serve as points of conversation with related struggles taking place elsewhere, and give rise to one of the most powerful political affects that can be mobilized towards potentially radical ends. What could be another scenario for the city? And what is actually possible?

The city is the battleground. As real estate incessantly projects its delusions of grandeur on top of the lived realities of urban environments, people continue to inhabit, to grow, to build. While alternative modes of development have always been present, architects too often side with capital with the naïve belief that their designs will inherently bring good to all, or at least not just to those they serve. Many initiatives that short-circuit conventional mechanisms of city making do not immediately take the form of building, but architecture often serves as both their starting points and end goals. Movements to develop a more just, a more equitable city can benefit greatly from architecture’s tools and knowledge, but figuring out what it means or looks like to practice as an architect within these spaces might not yet fully be known. The way to start, however, is to look around, to listen, and to see what it is that we have in common.

As these past years have shown, in moments of vulnerability, gatherings are spaces to share not only fears and fragility, but also hopes and possibilities. The bonds created there can teach us that what connects us is more powerful than what divides us. Because it matters what relations relate relations. It matters what worlds world worlds. The collective construction of the city by citizens which starts from the relations with our own neighbours can be a catalyst for living otherwise. It can be the support structure needed to create, inhabit, and share worlds that don’t deny vulnerability, but rather embrace it as just another component of our daily life. And with that embrace, these worlds might allow us to create—and become part of—a community that will change and hold us accountable.