A tale of twelve cities

noelito
5 min readDec 4, 2023

When I was in European Alternatives, helping run festivals, we tried to broker connections between the groups we’re working with in each city. We’re also using the keyword technique before to help us join up the dots between people’s ideas, so now it was time to use this to connect up activities from the different cities. Click on the image below to activate the visualisation

What’s striking is that many of these keywords are in fact questions. Which is reassuring as often the solutions people put forward don’t work because they haven’t thought well enough about the problem they want to address. They might have provided the right answer but to the wrong question.

Of course, the questions you’ll see below are still very broad. But if you’re asking a question in different cities, you need it to be inclusive enough to cater for different interpretations of what we mean by “making a living” or “creative activism”. This then creates the space for being able to make connections between the cities to create a broad-based transnational understanding of the issue.

1. How can people understand the crisis?

From role playing a series of situations a “normal” person has to confront (opening a bank account to asking for a loan) in the context of the economic crisis in Bologna to a flashmob on the effects of the recession in Cluj, there is a strong desire to show what the crisis looks and feels like to people on the street — literally as well as metaphorically!

From a “pecha kucha” in Warsaw where people can put forward proposals for alternatives to a scenario planning workshop to imagine different futures in Cluj, the cities have come up with inclusive and interactive ways to think of what the good society might look like.

We need to find better ways to understand how our peers are coping with the crisis — we know that if we are going to create a better future for our generation, then we need to imagine it together.

2. How can we make a living?

From a living library to promote alternative ways to consume in Barcelona to a social market showing how to make crafts in Belgrade, being able to self-organise in public spaces to “make” things helps foreshadow new forms of local economy.

From creating an audio map of informal economies in Berlin to touring the history of economic alternatives across the city of Paris, movement is also highlighted as a key factor not just as a constraint to making a living in the sense of finding a job, but in this case of discovering economic alternatives on your doorstep.

We know we need to redefine what we mean by “making a living” if we are going to rethink what economy we want to build together.

3. Strange attractor or brain drain?

From “skype movies” in Belgrade asking people who’ve left their country how they feel about leaving and “text messaging” actions to ask people in the city what they feel about the “brain drain”, it’s striking how it’s in this thematic that digital technologies are the most visible.

In a way, these uses of social media mirror the way migrants keep in touch with their cities of origin and how even though the technology might make them feel back at home, can it reduce the emotional distance to the cultures they’ve been brought up in? The role of cities like Berlin and London in being strange attractors to people across Europe will also be debated.

As our cities change to recover from the crisis, we can learn from what people bring to it, but we can also look at cities who’ve been moulded through crisis.

4. How do different cultures live in the city?

From working with migrants to perform how invisible they feel on the borders between the private and the public space in Bologna to an urban game to rediscover migration through the different senses across the city in Warsaw, the kafkian concept of the “outsider” is put into play.

From organising a community meal with refugees sharing recipes in Amsterdam to a living library with second generation migrants in Bologna, being able to create the spaces for shared experiences is a practical but powerful way of discussing complex issues, as has been demonstrated by initiatives like @pielab.

5. What is the influence of the Arab Spring on Europe?

From debates on how the Arab Spring affects our relationship with migration in Barcelona to how it influences civic participation in Berlin, it’s an opportunity to reflect not just on the interdependent nature of globalisation from an economic perspective, but on the network effects of new forms of democratic mobilisation. It’s fascinating how the debate in Belgrade will show how the Serbian movement worked with the Egyptian protesters to develop strategies of revolution.

How do we tackle the issues of detention camps and borders?

From storytelling a narrative about crossing borders in Amsterdam to recreating the feeling of being detained in a detention camp in Barcelona through emotional mapping, via a joint film programme between Bologna and Tangiers, the use of visuals is critical to highlight issues that are too often unheard and unseen.

6. What does democracy look like?

From video streaming the voices of different activists in Belgrade to performing the use of the human body in politics in Barcelona, projecting democracy as a life-form shows that it can be more than fixed institutions or static protests.

From forum theatre on political alternatives in Cluj to filming experiences of artistic mobilisation in Paris to a workshop getting people produce a new visual language in Warsaw, it’s important that people can perform new democratic “gestures” that everyone can feel comfortable with.

7. How can we develop democracy in open spaces?

From creating installations on “pop up democracy” in Amsterdam to an exhibition on the relationship between social security and social control in open spaces in Barcelona, we see that public space is a blank canvas that can be used for control as well as freedom.

From the simulation of an Athenic agora to show how distant parliamentary democracy is from people’s problems in Belgrade to the use of “open space” methodologies to create collaborative ideas in Cluj, we’re asked to rethink how we can use the metaphors of public spaces to develop techniques to better facilitate democratic debate.

8. How can we develop new forms of creative activism?

From getting people from different cities to produce stickers Cluj on getting over the cultural barriers of civil disobedience to getting people from different nationalities to perform a “walk of the discouraged” in Paris, we’re confronted with the histories and perceptions of different cities on protest and dissent.

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noelito

Head of Policy Design, Scrutiny & Partnerships @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese