To its penultimate conference held on the sidelines of the 17th edition of the Forum des 100, The weather has entered into a collaboration with the EXPLORE festival. This initiative by the canton of Geneva and the Department of Territory (DT) aims to encourage citizens to become actors in civil society and ecological transition. The goal? Create tomorrow’s city.
So when the city is at the heart of citizens’ issues and we must continue to plan it in uncertainty, then what methods should be used? Below is a report from this event.
Event: How to measure the smartness of cities? (October 29, online)
With Francois Gemenne (member of the IPCC, SciencesPo Paris), Panos Mantziaras (Director of the Braillard Foundation), Ariane Widmer (cantonal city planner, Geneva) and Joelle Zask (philosopher, University of Aix-Marseille). The discussion was moderated by David HaeberliDeputy Editor-in-Chief and responsible for the Geneva editorial staff for Time.
Is the city not too often perceived as the center of all nuisances?
Panos Mantziaras: The city is a historical phenomenon. She changed the face of the world. We invented democracy there, it is the place of social interactions, of the birth and development of technology, of the liberation of individuals, especially women.
Ariane Widmer: It is one of the most beautiful inventions of mankind. Cities talk about our roots, about our past. They allow us to create our identity. It is a living place, a kind of organism that can not be effective if it is cut off from what is happening outside, that is, in the countryside.
Joelle Zask: To me, the ideal of the city is symbolized by the Tower of Babel. It is a fortress that rises to heaven, where everyone speaks the same language and works around a common project.
Read: Wild animals come to town: how do you live together?
If the city is a historical phenomenon, then it can also die …
Francois Gemenne: Yes. The city is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. An example: Jakarta, almost 40 million inhabitants. The city could disappear under the sea in 2050. In November 2019, the Indonesian government decided to move this capital to the island of Borneo. It is a titanic project involving an entire country. The project will be very interesting to follow: How will the country decide to build this new space, which it will no doubt want to be exemplary?
But what would the ideal city look like?
Panos Mantziaras: The ideal city must necessarily be social. It is a place where people can live more slowly and where money means less, with services much closer.
Ariane Widmer: We need to develop the “neighborhood city”, this idea of a city where you can find everything that is essential for your life close to home.
Read: “Cities are created by and for humans”
Aren’t cities missing new big emblematic projects?
Panos Mantziaras: There are very beautiful objects in the history of architecture. The Parthenon, the pyramid of Egypt … These achievements were also extremely expensive. They would not be easy to reproduce today.
Francois Gemenne: Most of the world’s population lives in cities that are developing without any strategy. Why? In many cities, the only priority is to be able to allow services, especially emergencies, to access all districts. This somewhat anarchic development, without real reflection, can create problems tomorrow, in the face of climatic disasters.
One point we have not touched on yet: democracy. Paradoxically, can it not block the transition of cities to more sustainability?
Panos Mantziaras: It’s a very interesting topic. The fight against climate change requires a radical positioning. In the history of mankind, the mass of the population has always been conservative. Change is constantly happening through the actions of minorities. Change will not come through democratic voting,
Joelle Zask: Governments act only under pressure from public opinion. The change will come from the root, let us be aware of this force.
Francois Gemenne: Is radicalism ultimately not the solution to get there? I have the impression that we are putting too much hope in changing mentality. Let’s just look at Germany recently. The country was hit hard by major climatic disasters in July. In spite of everything, the voters voted in continuity and the Greens were greatly disappointed. If even in this context, in such a country, no change is taking place, can it really be the case elsewhere?
Read: “The city is the place where cooperation is possible”
Is the climate crisis changing the working methods of urban planners?
Ariane Widmer: If I have always been an advocate of soft mobility, I feel much more heard than I did 20 years ago. The pandemic has also accelerated the development of mentalities. We must seize this opportunity.
Read: Christelle Luisier Brodard and Francesco Della Casa: “To condense a city, one must adapt to the urban scale”
There are still many uncertainties in the future. Why not integrate it into urban planning?
Ariane Widmer: When working with neighborhoods, we need to provide a general context. Some seats are free so the locals can later decide what they want with them. Here we have this element of uncertainty. Urban planning should never decide and utilize everything in advance.
Read: For the Swiss, the ecological transformation in the cities is taking place
Are the political authorities not too conservative?
Francois Gemenne: Half of European countries demand that walls be built at EU borders. It is a strong symbol addressed to those inside the fortress. We try to show them that they are protected from a potential external threat. Migrants generally live in cities, but mayors have no control over their future. It is interesting to see that local initiatives around asylum issues are developing in the cities. And these networks are also active in climate issues. So there is a convergence.
Panos Mantziaras: Europe is getting older. Migrants are often young and qualified. The cities understood that there was wealth in these populations. I am in favor of an open and positive policy. Cities could better welcome migrants by offering them space, teaching them the language and our culture. This would provoke a renewal of urban and economic thinking. There is no doubt. But voters do not want that.
And the citizen, are we not pressuring him to be more organic without giving him the means to do so?
Joelle Zask: True, but making the city greener requires self-sufficiency. This requires a completely decentralized action on the part of the citizens. The figure of the common garden is very interesting to evoke individual achievements and the development of the collective community.
Finally, we are talking about a more sustainable city, but we are still building with concrete …
Panos Mantziaras: Concrete has a very interesting history. It has made it possible for our community to make many conquests, with silos, bridges … This material is very easy to use. Problem: we did not know it was very polluting. But that will change: In the long history of cities and humanity, concrete is nothing but a simple news story.