SOBRE POR QUE NÃO ESTAMOS SUFICIENTE MALIZADOS   

SOBRE POR QUE NÃO ESTAMOS SUFICIENTE MALIZADOS  

Estamos particularmente bem ajustados a uma série de injustiças e paradoxos em torno de nós que induzem neuroses dentro de nós. Como e por que nos tornamos tão bem ajustados às incongruências e irracionalidades do que acontece ao nosso redor, e por que é um problema que estamos tão conformados a essas coisas em nosso meio?

De muitas maneiras, parece-me que estamos passando por um programa de dessensibilização ao sofrimento e à injustiça, e uma esterilização gradual de nossa capacidade de afetar o mundo ao nosso redor. Esta situação é construída através de diferentes meios, um sistema escolar que incentiva a conformidade, onde as crianças aprendem a memorizar idéias ao invés de pensar independentemente, marketing e consumismo que nos dá falsos desejos e maneiras de nos medir, discursos médicos de saúde mental que propõe que se deve sempre ser um mecanismo disciplinador bem ajustado e talvez o mais importante de todos, que a maioria de nós tenha que trabalhar longas horas para sustentar a nós mesmos e a nossas famílias, com pouco tempo ou energia sobrando para pensar em algo além das minúcias de nossas vidas, muito menos mudar as coisas. A televisão também é importante, pois ao longo do tempo nos dessensibilizou para a maioria das formas gráficas de guerras e sofrimentos humanos com exemplos completos com sons e cores, condicionando-nos a tornar voyeurs às injustiças e idiossincrasias do mundo à nossa volta. Mesmo a espiritualidade popular de nossos tempos, Yoga ou ” Budismo Ocidental ” é sobre paz interior e calma, encontrando uma maneira de nos resolvermos para nossa sociedade injusta e ilógica, aprendendo a nos afastar de tudo, mas essencialmente ser “bem ajustados”. O sistema de saúde mental médico fornece mais psicotrópicos do que nunca, ajustando quimicamente   crianças ,  jovens , adultos e   idosos estar “confortavelmente entorpecido” ao mundo ao seu redor.

Martin Luther King estava orgulhoso de ser desajustado e considerou o sentimento mais importante necessário para confrontar os injustiças da sociedade e afetam a mudança. Ele se opunha muito ao desajustamento, tornando-se uma condição de saúde mental patológica, um problema do indivíduo e não do coletivo:

 

A psicologia moderna tem uma palavra que provavelmente é usada mais do que qualquer palavra da psicologia moderna. É a palavra “desajustada”. Esta palavra está gritando para a moderna psicologia infantil. Certamente, todos nós queremos evitar a vida desajustada. Para termos um ajuste real dentro de nossas personalidades, todos nós queremos uma vida bem ajustada, a fim de evitar neurose, personalidades esquizofrênicas.

… São certas coisas em nossa nação e no mundo que tenho orgulho de ser desajustada e que espero que todos os homens de boa vontade sejam desajustados até que as boas sociedades percebam. Digo com toda a sinceridade que nunca pretendo me ajustar à segregação e à discriminação. Eu nunca pretendo me ajustar ao fanatismo religioso. Eu nunca pretendo me ajustar às condições econômicas que levarão necessidades de muitos para dar luxo a poucos. Nunca pretendo me ajustar à loucura do militarismo, aos efeitos autodestrutivos da violência física .   

As palavras de Martin Luther King ecoam através de décadas à nossa situação atual. O Dr. King estava orgulhoso por estar desajustado a uma sociedade que considerava doente, e encontrar-se mal ajustado a tal sociedade é a resposta humana justa e racional. Estar “bem ajustado” a uma sociedade terminalmente doente, corrupta e ilógica significa, de fato, falta de compaixão, engajamento, compreensão, confiança ou senso de justiça e humanidade dentro dos indivíduos.

Naturalmente, nossa necessidade de trabalhar para viver nos mantém ocupados, e nossa mente ocupada com preocupações de trabalho, o que requer mais e mais esforço.   Nossa exposição diária à publicidade de estilo de vida é uma onda constante de flechas farpadas fornecendo nas nossas necessidades subconscientes manufaturados, mantendo-nos ocupados com coisas e pequenos luxos, causando uma sensação distorcida de nossos valores inatos e uma fascinação pela frivolidade. Somos bombardeados por imagens de pessoas bonitas, com as quais devemos parecer, ser como ou sermos capazes de atrair como parceiros, um ambiente simbólico elaborado por psicanalistas, cientistas sociais e artistas, com o propósito expresso de nos fazer querer permanentemente coisas que podemos compre com dinheiro. Corremos em nossas rodas de hamster, ocupadas demais correndo para dar mais do que pouco atenção ao mundo ao nosso redor.

 

Vivemos em um sistema econômico que cria bilionários com iates obscenos e bilhões sem acesso a água limpa. Aceitamos o lema “A ganância é boa” como verdade fundamental do comportamento social e político. Nossa célebre ciência gasta bilhões em uma questão acadêmica da física quântica sob as montanhas da Suíça, mas investiu quase nada em pesquisas sobre energia renovável. Nossa indústria constrói mísseis e dispositivos para matar com grande despesa apenas para detonar, produzindo nada além de desperdício e miséria. Nossos governos invadir países na pretensão de trazer nossos ‘valores ocidentais’ para os cidadãos menos favorecidos dos tais países, vemos que esta é entregue largando bombas caros em pessoas que foram levados a crer iam ser libertados. Nosso sistema econômico em que vivemos destrói o ecossistema que precisamos para nossa própria sobrevivência. Essas coisas todas deveria nos tornar neuróticos!

No entanto, nós aceitamos tudo acima, não fazemos nada sobre isso. Estamos acostumados a isso e aceitamos isso como pano de fundo normal para nossas vidas. Bem ajustados.

Temos vistos tantas imagens de desespero humano, sofrimento, miséria e violência, a partir de bebês magros etíopes, crianças-soldados liberianos, iraquianos radicalisados, haitianos miseráveis, um Amazônia desmatado se ursos polares solitários flutuando sozinho em icebergs, que nossas terminações nervosas têm queimados, nos dissociamos dessa realidade, deixando-nos meros espectadores, permanecendo indiferentes, intocados. No máximo, ficamos frustrados com a última tragédia desta semana ou compartilhamos alguma foto no Facebook. Estamos tão saturados com imagens e histórias de tristeza que nos tornamos como se fosse aqueles viciados em pornografia que já viu de tudo, e não pode ser estimulado mais pelas montagens mais exóticas.

 

Depois, há as incongruências diárias que enfrentamos, nossa encorajada adulação da riqueza de alguns poucos e a aceitação de nossa capacidade de desempacotar comparativamente. Forbes-bilionário-celebridade-luxo-estilo de vida é apresentado como exemplo de sucesso chique, para ser arrulhado, lido glorificado em páginas de “Caras” ou “Forbes”. Gucci-Saint Tropez- Bejeweled Rapper Sunglasses-Private Yacht Party-Tiger Woods ‘Rolex-Roberto Cavalli-Knightsbridge-Couture estilo de vida é Celestial para nós, e aqueles que já estão neste paraíso na terra nós olhamos como Anjos, ou seres que vá lá em méritos do karma deles / delas. A incongruênia é que estamos pagando por seus estilos de vida. Nosso ambiente e o futuro de nossos filhos são jogados para apoiar aquele 1% com suas dietas de lagosta, Bollinger e orgias hoteleiras. Estamos tão bem ajustados a esse tipo de injustiça que permitimos que esse assalto acontecesse como se estivéssemos assistindo a um filme tão bem ajustado à impotência imposta.  Temos plena consciência de que nossos políticos são mentirosos e corruptos, mas participamos de uma charada que é a política eleitoral contemporânea, escolhendo entre a Coca-Cola e a Pepsi, plenamente conscientes de que são iguais, aceitando nossa escolha limitada como natural,  do jeito que as coisas são.

Vivemos vidas virtuais, trabalhando na frente de Outlook, Word, Excel e Google, e quando chegamos em casa nos deitamos na frente do TV, ou d e em tela ou outro, ou assistimos pornografia na internet, ou jogamos algum videogame. Se sairmos, vamos ao cinema (uma tela especialmente grande) ou a um shopping center . Os sons que nos cercam são zumbidos de computador, clique de teclado, ondas quebrando de tráfico, chop chop dos helicópteros, lamento de sirenas, balidos e bips de telefones celulares. Estamos desconectados da natureza, vivendo em cidades de concreto cinzentas, iluminadas por neon, onde não podemos ver estrelas ou sentir a terra sob nossos pés. Esse ambiente contribui para nossa dissociação da natureza e um do outro. A destruição da natureza ao nosso redor é de alguma forma estranha e distante para nós.

Nosso “desamparo aprendido”, a descrença e o desinteresse pela mudança surgiram por várias razões. Esse mecanismo disciplinador nos pega quando somos jovens, precisamos estudar para obter notas para entrar numa boa escola, depois trabalhar mais para entrar na universidade, na universidade temos que fazer algo “profissional” apenas para pagar o empréstimo estudantil. Depois é direto para um trabalho para pagar as contas. Isso mantém a nossa cabeça firmemente para baixo. Infelizmente também somos vítimas de técnicas de combate psicológico, na forma de propaganda, consumismo, sistema escolar formal e saúde mental, encorajando-nos a não questionar o status quo e a aceitar que nunca somos mais do que observadores da TV ou clickers do Facebook, voyeurs para eventos políticos, nunca capazes de mudar as coisas. O quanto estamos bem ajustados é um testemunho do processo de desumanização e cumplicidade dos últimos 50 anos

Para aqueles entre nós que não são bem ajustados, neuróticos, deprimidos, psicóticos, todo um estabelecimento de Saúde Mental entra em ação, na verdade, a indústria de saúde mental está cada vez mais ‘preventiva’ ao ajuste,   fornecendo medicamentos anti-psicóticos   para crianças jovens, adultos e idosos, antes de ocorrer um comportamento aberrante . Essa tendência de   crianças recebendo medicamento ajudá-los a se ajustar é particularmente preocupante quando lemos as palavras de Martin Luther King sobre a importância dos desajustados como criadores de mudanças de sociedades doentes que os tornam doentes.

Se o suficiente de nós foram desajustados ao mesmo tempo   haveria uma revolução. Talvez seja por isso que há tanto cuidado para nos certificarmos de que estamos satisfeitos e / ou vitalmente conscientes de nossa insignificância. Parece-me que mais do que nunca, devemos seguir o exemplo de MLK e abraçar o nosso ‘ neurose, afetando a mudança em um sociedade doente em vez de permitir que a nossa humanidade ser diminuído para ajustar a ele. É hora de reconhecer a ironia que o nosso ‘’welladjustedness’ é a patologia central no nível celular, que deve ser tratada, se um dia mudamos alguma coisa.

a salvação de nosso mundo não por meio de um ajuste complacente da maioria em conformidade, mas por meio do desajustamento criativo de uma minoria que não esteja em conformidade.   (Martin Luther King Júnior)

 

George Howell, Rio de Janeiro, agosto de 2012

 

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Cities and citizenship ideas for the challenges of the 21st century city.

The Local Level –Imagining a different city

On the local level I take the city for example, focusing on the importance of citizenship and democratic participation, and how this must be built from the ground up. I also take into account the nature of 21st century cities, which are Southern, and the majority live in slums.  I seek to imagine a city in my mind’s eye which makes me happy, which is feasible, and whose sustainability and high quality of life levels could be applied by employing current technology.

Re-thinking the City – A potential Vision for cities of the future

Human ingenuity must find a way to represent divine goodness in some of the ugliest parts of modern global civilisation, the over consumption and over use of resources. The cities of the future are going to be made from recycled appropriated detritus of the 21st century, and they will be as splendid and beautiful

Fundamentals

What the future holds and which cities are we talking about?

While I want to sketch a utopian-realist vision of future cities, it is imperative for this vision that the cities we have in min are by their nature full of slums, badly managed, with a large number of poor people, a lack of security, health and education. This is the starting point that we need to think from, to begin imagining ways in which such a seemingly hopeless situation could be remedied and made utopic.

I believe the examples of Mazdar City, Copenhagen or that city in Korea are particularly interesting as models to be followed. These are vanity projects made within a neoliberal system, and have unlimited resources, small homogenous populations. These planned cities do not need to adapt to hardships, and therefore as policy models are not so useful to most of the residents on Spaceship earth, whose lived reality is encumbered by many restraints which such privileged cities are not worried by. Sure, some interesting ideas may come out of these experiences, but our general starting point, our fertile territory for change must be a city of the South.

These cities as starting points have advantages over richer cities from a sustainability perspective, because they are lower aggregate energy use. It is easier to reform slum cities than in the ‘developed world’ cities, where inefficient and high net energy usage has been built into the design of people’s homes and the city infrastructure, in addition its residents are used to their high net aggregate energy usage lifestyles, whereas slum dwellers use much less energy, so are in a way much more sustainable.[1]

If slums could be re-conceptualised as models for sustainability, their architecture re-organised, their local citizens engaging with each other and with public space in a new way these communities could become models for the rest of the world. As neighbours work together and produce their own food, and green their communities, and do things to make themselves and each other happy, the people would be given back their humanity. It is entirely possible that even such cities could become sustainable and offer quality of life for all.

Higgledy Piggledy [2] cities:

These cities will not be planned with the wave of a hand from remote mandarins, these must be cities built ground up cohesive integrated and organic. These will not be the cities of huge swathes of concrete or grand public works. They are to be human cities, an appropriation of the ruins of the 20th century’s ‘development on steroids’ modernisation and resource use. Cities made up of communities working together and with each other.

Slum city innovation and the African example: The way that such cities communities appropriate waste, and the solutions that these people, living without material wealth is where we start our imaginary journey. It is with favela communities in mind where we need to think of architectonic and urban food production. It is the densely packed community life which we need to understand as the norm. I say this both from a practical perspective, but also from a sustainability perspective also. This ‘Global South’ is full of invention: the appropriation of mobile phone top up as a banking device, the Ethiopian kids given tablets who hacked the system, the use of biogas from poo as a fuel in Nigerian prisons or the experiences of the Guinean farmer whose application of millennial farming techniques has had a wonderful impact on reversing desertification.

 

Architectural Possibility 1 – the widespread education of local builders in bio-architecture techniques.

The widespread education of local builders in bio-architecture techniques.  Charitable or enlightened individuals could by land in slums to build dwellings according to these principles,  these first dwelling  serving as examples for their neighbours, Architects and agrobiologists and sustainability specialists could offer their services to neighbours helping them to gradually alter and rebuild their homes.

Technological possibilities

Connectivity …Citizens are also connected through the internet to each other and to the state, with real-time decision making and feedback on public policies.

The democratisation of access to tool-sheds … Technology is applied both in terms of citizen-led low cost ‘home-made-in-a-shed’ technology, (using 3-D printers) as well as large public works (such as harnessing kinetic energy, recycling, sewage systems, mass transportation) provided by the state.

 

Values underpinning our perspective of cities: Sustainability, The common good, participation and voluntarism

This vision of a virtuous city (and word), is underpinned by fundamental values that are paramount to constructing our vision: Sustainability, The Common Good, Participation and Volunteerism. In our planning the vision is not considered to be virtuous if its energy requirements do not fit within these limits.

  1. Sustainability

We recognize that global civilisation is in the midst of a spiralling environmental crisis caused by overproduction, overconsumption and high waste production.  City life must be geared towards self-reliance, local food production, low energy usage, renewable energy production. This is informed by the oft quoted global footprint research studies which demonstrate the if everyone was to aspire to ‘the western world’s’ consumption levels, the resources of five planets would be required to fulfil their needs. Therefore, air-conditioning for everyone is sustainable in the current mode, something more efficient, in compliance with planetary limits is essential. For the effluence of the six million residents to be dumped into the sea is not sustainable, nor is current waste management processes where all the rubbish is dumped at a landfill somewhere out of sight.

 

  1. The Common God

In orientating policy making decisions, the common good of the city residents is of utmost importance (within the limits of the above mentioned environmental constraints), in addition the city residents cannot infringe on the rights of others, such as people of another region having lower quality of life to supply the quality of life of city residents. For example, people living near a landfill are going to be negatively affected, thus such a proposal is rejected. Or a city which imports materials for construction which degrade another ecosystem is also not allowed.

Equal access to city amenities and opportunities for all is also to be strived for.

 

  1. Participation and Voluntarism

This city vision needs to be governed by the people at the most fundamental levels. We are opposed to a command and control architecture of governance and want adequate citizen participation at all levels. It would be possible for an enlightened dictator to provide good for all, and sustainability, but this would not involve people at the grassroots levels. It is imperative that neighbours learn to work together for the common good and manage the area where they live. It is essential that the population is politically informed to make decisions. However the above two rules of the common good and sustainability trump participation, so a group of citizens who propose something which is not sustainable or which infringes on the rights of others would be prohibited.

 

The role of the state is not weak however, it is considered representative of the collective, and absolute authority of the common good of the citizens and has the power to conduct public works and educational drives for all. The regulatory power of the state is supreme, and the state is in turn regulated by a full grassroots up participatory process.

What Follows

In what follows I discuss, from a policy-making perspective the aspect of citizenship, governance, sustainability and the application of technology.

The questions of citizenship and governance:

Starting from the bottom up – grassroots citizenship

Building strong and cohesive neighbourhoods

The city I envisage must be socially cohesive at the grassroots level. It is essential that the practice of neighbours voluntarily collaborating for their own benefit must be instigated across the city. It is essential that in this way citizens assume responsibility and ‘help’ the state, especially in the poorest cities. The practice of neighbourly cooperation toward a common goal is also essential to raising community self esteem and empowerment. Social Scientist Felton Earls coined the phrase “collective efficacy” as a term to gauge the degree of this neighbourliness in cities:  “the linkage of mutual trust and the willingness to intervene for the common good that defines the neighbourhood context of collective efficacy. Just as individuals vary in their capacity for efficacious action, so too do neighbourhoods.[3]  Earls considers this the key factor in reducing levels of crime and raising quality of life in communities.

Collective efficacy is different from the traditional concepts of social capital, social ties, or networks. It is a measure of social cohesion and shared norms—a reflection of social processes and relationships, the willingness of people to work together to make things happen. Neighbourhoods are high in collective efficacy when the residents trust each other, share common values, and are willing to intervene on behalf of the common good—for example, in supervising children and protecting public order.[4]

 

Felton Earls discovered this concept from a study into what makes neighbourhoods violent in Chicago in the 1990s. What his research showed was that when neighbours did not know each other or felt uneasy reprimanding one another’s children there was a clear correlation with levels of violence, weak academic performance among children and adolescent pregnancies.[5]. However, in communities where neighbours knew each other’s first names and were able to work together on small projects, levels of violence and social malaise were much lower. We can also see this phenomenon in neighbourhoods where families sit on front porches and communicate with each other in the evening, where the street is non-threatening communities are much healthier than areas where the street is seen as dangerous, and neighbours not to be trusted. The solution to this malaise is for neighbours to get together, and decide through dialogue and consensus on projects which they can execute themselves, such as the clean up of a local space, or planting a garden. These encounters between people facilitate social cohesion.

The differential ability of neighborhoods to realize the common values of residents and maintain effective social controls is a major source of neighbourhood variation in violence. Although social control is often a response to deviant behaviour, it should not be equated with formal regulation or forced conformity by institutions such as police or courts. Rather, social control refers generally to the capacity of a group to regulate its members according to desired principles—to realize collective, as opposed to forced, goals. One central goal is the desire of community residents to live in safe and orderly environments that are free of predatory crime, especially interpersonal violence.[6]

It has been demonstrated that collective efficacy approaches are very efficient in improving neighbourhood life. It only requires a small percentage of a community to invest their time voluntarily in a community to cause a broader change. If only 5 – 10% of a community begin to clean up their street and plant a garden for example, this will positively effect the rest of the community, who even if they do not participate themselves, will feel re-assured that their neighbours care about the common environment, and will also feel inhibited to throw rubbish or engage in anti-social behaviour themselves.

Collective Efficacy as a response to policing deficits and crime 

Collective efficacy research arises from discussions around violence in cities and why this happens, it emerged as a response to genetic arguments on why adolescents would turn to crime. Pointing out that neighbourhood, family and early childhood development factors, the ecology in which the individual grows up are the defining factors, rather than some sort of innate disposition to criminal activity.

However, for the future city in the majority world especially, the question of policing and providing security must be addressed. As mentioned above, cities with limited resources cannot train the police, or provide enough police, or even in many cases maintain a functioning justice system. However, what can be done, which does not require non existent resources is the empowerment of neighbourhood strength and informal social control, in order to provide security in that area. This is not a top down approach, such as the installation of a Militia as in suburban areas of Rio de Janeiro, rather a neighbour-led approach of mutual care and concern which inhibits criminal activity.

As a practical measure, the installation of a ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ where neighbours meet weekly to discuss crimes, agree to look out for one another’s property, and to take turns patrolling the local neighbourhood is an entirely feasible strategy for reducing crime. It also has a powerful secondary benefit, which is that neighbours get to know each other. This alone is a key factor in making communities safer.

 

Why collective efficacy is of fundamental importance to conceptualising the future city

The policy implications which collective efficacy theory shows us are that the neighbourhood is an important site for intervention, and that neighbours dong things for themselves as a group is a key variable. I find this so relevant for thinking about virtuous future cities because the more neighbours do things themselves, rather than wait for the state to do it, the better. This is a good thing to do because it builds community resilience and strengthens the bonds between neighbours. Very important also, is that we address the practical issues for city-building, particularly in the developing world, where the state does not have the resources to provide adequate public services for all. Therefore, the more local neighbourhoods do things for themselves, and are enabled and empowered to do so by the state, the better. Collective efficacy shows us is that strengthening neighbourhoods is fundamental, and also that collective efficacy models work for emporverished urban areas, slums, which is where most of the planet’s urban dwellers live, with very little investment from the state.

Collective efficacy, on the other hand, can be achieved even with weak social ties: the key is a willingness to activate those networks to achieve a shared result. To that end, policies that link local social networks to institutions and larger systems, both inside and outside the neighborhood, might support a neighborhood’s collective efficacy and help residents achieve their common goals.

It is possible for less advantaged neighborhoods to have high levels of collective efficacy. In general, though, collective efficacy is higher in neighborhoods with residential stability and high rates of home ownership, and lower in areas of concentrated poverty and disadvantage, where people feel alienated and powerless.[7]

In order to build collective efficacy, citizens must become more active, thus the concept of. Active Citizenship” is also important:

“Citizenship is much more than the passive membership of a particular political entity. To be a citizen in the fullest sense…, you have to be active. It is about a willingness to get involved and make a contribution both to political debate and social action.” (Brannan, John & Stoker, 2006: 994).[8]

The assumption, moreover, is that activating citizens and enhancing civic engagement are essential to face today´s crisis`s and problems: “Generating civicness is perceived as a panacea for numerous previously intractable social, economic and political problems: social exclusion, community cohesion, crime, democratic deficit, political apathy and disillusionment, and unresponsive and underperforming public services.” (Brannan et al., 2006: 1005).[9]

From taking the neighbourhood as a starting point, we can begin to think of activities which neighbours could engage in for the common good, such as planting gardens, building things together, neighbourhood watch, and solidarity economies. In addition, the more neighbours undertake this practice, the more likely true leaders will be emerge. Neighbours will see who really is working for the common good, and will elect the most virtuous leaders as local representatives.

Community Decision Making

I propose that at the very local level, communities be strongly encouraged to meet with each other at the very local level, and to meet at least weekly to discuss the issues which affect them collectively in their neighbourhood. From such meetings the groups should come up with policy recommendations for their area, as well as ideas and plans which they can implement themselves.

Initially a government drive of ‘community-coaching’ could occur, with special agents sent to communities to instil in locals meeting management techniques, planning, as well as the skills or assistance necessary for them to implement the projects that they chose to do. Such meetings serve to foster local self-reliance, leadership, resilience and engagement with one’s locality.  Consensual decision making skills should be imparted to communities in order for participatory decision to be made through processes of dialogue, deliberation and consensus. The role of ‘community-coach’ is important, because it cannot be expected that communities develop self-reliance and responsibility programmes on their own. Initially at least a catalysing force will be necessary to coach citizens neighbours achieving their goals. In addition, general training programmes and capacitation will also need to occur.

Neighbours planning meetings, and community coaching sessions are informed by the pedagogy of Paulo Freire. A revolutionary approach to education. A methodology to free people from  oppression, to realise their potential and perceive themselves as the key agents in their lives, with the power to influence their surroundings. Building local knowledge, consciousness and resilience.

No pedagogy which is truly liberating can remain distant from the oppressed by treating them as unfortunates and by presenting for their emulation models from among the oppressors. The oppressed must be their own example in the struggle for their redemption.[10]

Educating towards a culture of citizenship

Education in Values

Alongside general campaigns to raise awareness on the importance of being a good citizen, education towards citizenship needs to be taught formerly to children to instill in them values of cooperation, voluntarism and community spirit at the school level. In order to build cities where neighbours work spontaneously and voluntarily together, these principles must be instilled in children through the school system.A model for this sort of education policy is the Cuban example, where “Values Education” to promote social cohesion is a core part of the curriculum.

 

Implicitly and explicitly, Cuban education is organized to promote social cohesion around the values of the Party and state. Values Education is a core subject in the Cuban curricula. Education, specifically Values Education, is expected to promote social cohesion by preventing internal disruption from violence, drugs, and criminality.26 Values Education is taught as a separate subject two hours a week. Teachers are selected from those with exemplary behaviour. They teach values and attitudes aiming at consolidating internationalism, national identity and patriotism, a morality of work, solidarity and defense against external threats.[11]

 

In addition, it is important to instil in children the principles of working and cooperating voluntary if we are to have communities where people do things for themselves.

The primary curriculum includes 480 hours of “labor education” over six years, out of a total of 5,680 hours. Here the Marxist principle of combining study and work is applied to school gardens (las huertas escolares). By participating in simple agricultural activities, students are expected to develop a positive attitude toward work along with attitudes of solidarity with workers. School gardens size range from one to more than 20 hectares. When schools do not have their own garden, students work in “collective gardens” in the provincial capitals. “Education and not production,” is the aim of this experience, we were told while visiting a few schools, thus disclaiming possibility of exploitation of child labor.[12]

Of course, any education system envisaged must comply with the Freirian tenet of education for self-reliance and freedom, and not indoctrination. The following value must be applied:

Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.[13]

Citizenship Culture

In order to for cities to become cohesive at the aggregate level educational campaigns for citizenship should be implemented. An example of where this worked is that of Bogota. In the 1990’s Mayor Antanas Mockus implemented a series of interventions to encourage a ‘culture of citizenship’. For example, street-mimes were employed to shadow and ridicularize people who did not cross the road at traffic lights, women only evenings, cultural events in parks, and a series of other measure were implemented to build a sense of co-responsibility and informal social control. These activities had the effect of reducing crime and increasing quality of life of the residents:

The idea was to mobilize urban residents to adopt a set of shared habits, actions, and regulations that generate a sense of belonging and facilitate urban coexistence. Antanas Mockus saw the promotion of a ‘culture of citizenship’ as the key to counter-acting social violence and insecurity.

A central element of his philosophy…is his firm belief that transforming the attitude of urban citizens towards their city was the key to the problem. Thus, he shaped the approach of  cultura ciudadana [“culture of citizenship”], founded on the idea that urban violence is best combated by inducing citizens to be respectful of each other and thereby make peaceful interaction possible (cf. Mockus, Cultura).

He argues that an ‘individual is not born as a citizen but becomes one.’ In his view, becoming a citizen implies being treated as a citizen, i.e., with respect, and learning to treat others as citizens (also in their relations with the state). [14]

Children as active participants and stakeholders

Children and political decision making

For the society envisaged, children must be included as active participants. They must be respected as stakeholders and as capable decision makers. The work of Felton Earls has shown that given encouragement and some training, it comes quite naturally to children to make intelligent and innovative decisions regarding the common good. Thus the voice of the younger generation should be included in the political decision making process. There is also a practical reason for taking the participation of children seriously, the current trend in cities of the South towards a younger mean population age. For example, in many Sub Saharan African countries more than 40% of the population is under 15[15], and nine out of ten young people live in the developing world[16]. These statistics show that that it is essential to put in place mechanisms whereby the majority of a country’s population becomes included in the decision making process.

For children to become efficient active participants politically and in communities, a new children’s educational agenda would need to be put in place, stressing the values of citizenship and collective responsibility as well as collective decision making There are many examples of educational projects in which children are given decision-making power which have yielded results.

The concept of the child is one that is defined by context, development discourse seems to be dominated by Eurocentric notions of the nurtured child, who is politically subjective rather than active. There are many other experiences of childhood, particularly in the developing world where children are active participants in the economy. For example in Bolivia there are so many children working that there are trade unions specifically for child workers[17].

Given a nurturing educational environment where children’s creativity and responsibility are encouraged, the resource of their creativity and moral sense could be tapped for the good of the community as a whole. For example, children empathically nderstand questions of environmental sustainability in a practical way. We know that when kids get taught in school that throwing rubbish on the floor is bad, they may perhaps begin walking around their community picking up all the litter. Or if kids are taught about economising water, or composting, or the importance of smiling at one’s neighbours they can serve useful social functions relating to these subjects. I envisage an organised way of encouraging this participation through workshops, and formal interfaces with democratic institutions. The importance of children in public decisions is also related to their age, the fact that they have their lives before them makes them more attuned to questions relating to sustainability, and actions undertaken on behalf of the common good. Formal mechanisms which offer children the opportunity to be actively participating citizens, and for their opinions to be taken seriously by policy debate is essential. However, we make the distinction between consulting with children in focus groups, with children actually doing things. Just listening to children is not enough, children need to be given opportunities for actually doing things, feeling intrinsically that they are listened to, and perceiving themselves as actors for change.

This section is included as part of the overall section on base-level citizen active participation in decisions and actions for the public good. Laying out an overall vision for a positive agenda. Of course, the ramifications and practicalities for meaningful children’s participation imply constitutional change, and an overhaul in the way that children are educated.

Citizen Regulation of the state

Strengthening of Government – Neighbourhood Interface

If empowered neighbourhoods are to emerge, there needs to be a new interface between the state and the citizen. The state needs to educate and coach citizens to capacitate their self-reliance, and the state must be able to funnel necessary funds to communities, so that they can do things themselves. The state would taking an empowering role in a two way exchange ceding authority and decision and budget to local volunteers.

 

I prefer to work up to the  imagining of a utopian municipal governance structure, by presenting some key technologies and best practice tools which could be used to strengthen citizen control of decision making and foster a local neighbourhood and local authority interface. I prefer to attack this subject by the edges, rather than attack it directly due to the complexity of the subject.

 

Participatory Budgeting

Participatory municipal budgeting is a key step in the development of citizen regulation of government decisions. This is a process that is already in place, with the city of Porto Alegre in Brazil an example of a place where this has worked successfully. The following extract demonstrates technically how participatory budgeting works to provide a regulatory corollary for government decisions:

 

Participatory budgeting involves three parallel streams of meetings: neighborhood assemblies,

“thematic” assemblies, and meetings of delegates for citywide coordinating sessions. These meetings continue throughout the year. The first stream discusses fund allocations among districts or neighborhoods of the city for the usual departmental responsibilities, such as water supply and sewage, street paving, parks, and schools. The district-based meetings begin with

“great assemblies” in public places, including union centers, gyms, churches, clubs, and even a circus tent.  The city government’s “Presentation of Accounts” from the previous year marks the beginning of events every year. The government also presents its investment plan for the current year, as decided in the previous year’s meetings. Then a debate starts for the next year. The debates continue for nine months, and each district gives two sets of rankings, one set for requirements  within the district (such as pavement, school construction, or water lines), and the other set for  efforts which affect the whole city (such as cleaning up the beaches). A public debate decides the criteria for allocating investment budget among districts. These criteria can be population, an index of poverty, a measure of shortages (such as a lack of pavement or the lack of a school), the assigned priorities, and so on.[18]

 

Participatory budgeting is also virtuous for the society, because it encourages citizens to organise themselves at the local level, so as to know what to demand, this has a galvanising effect on communities. In addition, participating in budgeting naturally leads to greater political awareness. By becoming involved in participatory budgeting, citizens gain an understanding of the technical ways in which the state operates, what its limits and potentials are, as well as how they themselves fit into the system. Through this sort of participation, citizens become practically literate in city affairs. What I propose however is that citizens get involved far more in the running of their city than just the budgeting.

 

 

Big Date for Regulation

 

For management-cybernetician Stafford Beer writing in 1984, the computer together with simple telecommunications (i.e. with an internet connection today), and with insight from cybernetics, was an underutilised tool for the management of modern institutions.

 

As cities get bigger and bigger, there are more and more things which the government needs to take care of, such as more miles of roads, sewers, more crime, more buses and houses. However it is clear that today’s institutions, especially in the majority world cities, are overwhelmed by all of this data. The different municipal departments need to efficiently process the data of the city.  For Beer, a combination of computers, telecommunication and an insight from organizational cybernetics could be used to resolve this reality of public administration being swamped with too much data.
The role of the computer is to collate and make sense of the vast amount of data that it is built to handle, far more than the human brain whose number crunching ability is quite limited. Used in this ways, all sorts of civic data could be used in a way that mimics the human central nervous system as a model for governance and control. The tool of the computer used as the mechanism to crunch and make intelligible all this mass of data.

 

What is required is an ordinary computer, with teleprocessing interfaces between itself and its inputs from the country and itself and the control room, plus an extraordinarily clever program.[19]

 

The vision I am trying to create for you is of an economy that works like our own bodies. There are nerves extending from the governmental brain throughout the country, accepting information continuously.[20]

 

At the time of writing Beer was using computers and telex machines as a mechanism to give real-time feedback with the aim of giving the government the power to make intelligent decisions regarding industrial policy. At the time the government was using paper reports, that were always at least two months out of date, Beer revolutionised this by having industrial data from key factories faxed into the government’s ‘Command Centre’ at the end of each day, thus the government could make informed decisions using relevant data.

 

Why should governments be trying to deal today with last summer’s problems—which are, in any event, settled one way or another by now? Then does this then mean that government will be flooded with masses of data that it cannot handle? Certainly not. My brain and your brain at this moment are both accepting all manner of sensory input— everything in the room is registering there, and that is good, because we may need to attend to something quite suddenly. Until that need arises, however, our brains automatically inspect all this irrelevant input, and filter out most of it.[21]

 

This is what I mean by using computers as variety handlers on the right side of the equation. They have to accept all manner of input, and attenuate its variety automatically. What they will pass on to the control room is whatever matters. Now we tell our brains what matters to our bodies by detecting inputs that are deviating from what would normally be expected. Everything else maps onto the understood pattern in the model. Inputs fluctuate of course, but they fluctuate within limits that can be continuously calculated by probability theory—if you have a computer. So to recognize what matters the computer will need to make very very complicated calculations on every item of data coming in, and assess the chances that something novel is happening.[22]

 

[Beer] …was essentially suggesting that Chile’s entire economy–transportation, banking, manufacturing, mining, and more–could all be wired to feed realtime data into a central computer mainframe where specialized cybernetic software could help the country to manage resources, to detect problems before they arise, and to experiment with economic policies on a sophisticated simulator before applying them to reality.[23]

 

I am mentioning this here in the context of democratic accountability and participation. With the level of current computerised connectivity all manner of data could be collated into a central command centre, the contents of which could be entirely public, displayed on maps or 3D models, with the aim of making masses of data intelligible to our brains. If citizens were encouraged to engage with this city data, and had an understanding of civic budget constraints, they would be able to engage and regulate the decisions made by policy makers. If the Ministers and elected representatives knew that their actions would be fully scrutinised by an informed public, their actions would be regulated by this. In the same way, this form of ‘central nervous system’ of civic data would allow citizens to engage in and make decisions relevant to their local areas, at the most local, neighbourly level. Of course, at this stage I am talking in the context of democratic accountability, and participatory decision making, but the ramifications of using computers in ‘on the right side of the variety equation is relevant at the regional, national and global level also.

Big Data and Sao Paulo example

In the age of ‘big data’ and the technological ease with which we could connect citizens to the internet, a regulatory mechanism could be developed based on a model I heard about in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

 

Legislation is required to enforce a public agreement, whereby all upcoming Mayoral candidates agree that if their election promises are not implemented, then they lose the right to be Mayor. All campaign promises are put on a platform on the internet, and voters can choose which policies they think are best, and vote for that candidate. This same web-platform, which is independently run, then follows the elected Mayor’s administration, and tracks what was promised to what was delivered. This same platform presents all relevant data about the city as 3-D models and in map format.

 

In this way the amount of libraries in a given area, police incident rates, hospital services, sewer infrastructure, public spending and an endless variety of variables could be displayed on a realtime map of the city. Such a platform could allow the viewer to correlate services with spending, to follow campaign promises with what is delivered and so on. ‘Big date’ used in this way, provided by an independent source would be used to scientifically analyse government decisions. With all budget decisions mapped corruption would be more difficult, and the allocation of resources to white elephant projects would be also less likely as the decision-maker would have to justify his decision to his critics, and face the possibility of losing his mandate if he spent the resources imprudently.

 

Using the internet, and ‘big data’ in this way would really help to build a ‘smarter city’, by facilitating regulation and scrutiny of city data. Of course, people need to be capacitated to be politically interested and to make informed decisions. However I believe that such a system would facilitate a more scientific and democratic approach to making policy decisions.

 

This is an area where technology and governance overlap. Technological breakthroughs and sensors connected to the internet are allowing for a huge amount of data to be collected, and computer processors are getting more powerful so as to be able to compute all this data.

 

What I am advocating is a way of using the computer based on the ideas of Stafford Beer, the management cybernetician. Beer complained that computers were being used wrong on the whole, complicating things and distracting us by saturating us with information. He suggested that a more intelligent use of the computer is its power to process big data, to make huge data sets understandable at a glance.

 

This is also an approach which rejects the whole paranoia that the government and Google use this data for spying for example. While this may be the case, it is more important to see the host of beneficial effects in terms of citizens being able to regulate their local administrations, through access to all relevant urban data. Big data analysis is something which intelligence agencies have been using in recent years, to provide their operatives with ‘actionable intelligence’. It is equally possible to make citizens more intelligent about their governments through public access to big data, on an easy to understand interface.

 

There are examples around us where big data is being used, such as IBM’s Smarter Cities project, or Siemens’ programme of Smart and Sustainable Cities. Palantir Technologies mission statement reads:

 

We build software that allows organizations to make sense of massive amounts of disparate data. We solve the technical problems, so they can solve the human ones. Combating terrorism. Prosecuting crimes. Fighting fraud. Eliminating waste. From Silicon Valley to your doorstep, we deploy our data fusion platforms against the hardest problems we can find, wherever we are needed most.[24]

 

Shyam Sankar, director of forward deployed engineering describes Palantir’s goal as fostering “human-computer symbiosis,” a term adapted from J.C.R. Licklider, a psychologist and computer scientist who published a prescient essay on the topic in 1960. Sankar contrasts that with what he calls the “AI bias” now dominant in the tech industry. “We focus on helping humans investigate hypotheses,” says Sankar. That’s only possible if analysts have tools that let them creatively examine data from every angle in search of those “aha” moments.

 

In practice, Palantir’s software gives the user tools to explore interconnected data and tries to present the information visually, often as maps that track to how people think. One bank bought the software in order to detect rogue employees stealing or leaking sensitive information. The detective work was guided by when and where employees badged into buildings, and by records of their digital activities on the company’s network. “This is contrary to automated decision making, when an algorithm figures everything out based on past data,” says Ari Gesher, a Palantir engineer. “That works great. Except when the adversary is changing. And many classes of modern problems do have this adaptive adversary in the mix.”[25]

 

While Palantir is a controversial subject, that sort of data fusion expertise could be used to build a system with the explicit aim of providing a regulatory mechanism for citizens to control their elected representatives. I mention it here only because this technological aspect is essential for understanding how city officials could be regulated by their citizens.

 

There is a precedent for this that I am aware of. In the city of Sao Paulo the NGO ‘Nossa Sao Paulo’ set out with the purpose of publishing online the campaign promises of to be candidates, and securing binding contracts with them that they would voluntarily leave should their promises not be fulfilled. The organisation also set out with the purpose of gathering data about city spending and provision of services in abid to make citizens smarter and better informed about their leaders.

 

For example various ‘Apps’ could be developed towards this end. Citizens could feed information into online state maps with photos, videos, live data. Citizen opinion and assumed responsibility could be signalled, as well as ways for prioritising policy decisions. A relatively simple software interface would allow this to happen. Another online map, available on one’s tablet or phone could offer political profiles, campaign promises compared to items delivered, 3-D maps could show the current spending plan in a consise easy to understand manner. Another click and citizens could see relative spending on the health, security, education and transport sectors. Simple technology, if guided by the goal of making the citizen politically literate, and making spending understandable, could make the whole governance process transparent. Citizens could make spending suggestions and face the reality of how best to spend financial resources that are never enough together with their elected representatives.

Applications of Technology for sustainability

The question of sustainability is of course fundamental. If agglomerates of millions of people living in close proximity to eachother can continue to exist for generations to come, a sustainability architecture needs to be put in place wherein the city’s aggregate resource consumption does not exceed its environmental carrying capacity. This is a tall order, if we factor in projected population growth, and the current disorganisation and bureaucratic deficits of many of the world’s cities, particularly in the South.

In the face of these difficulties we have one fundamental reason to be optimistic and that is the exponential advances of technology since the last century. Discoveries are made daily regarding all manner of scientific fields which, if acted upon for the common good could meet the challenges of how to provide sustainability for city agglomerations. The hurdle to be overcome is ideological. Science and technology function within a capitalist system, and serve the bottom line of turning a profit rather than serving the common good of the people. It would be easy for a city to have free wireless internet connection for free, for everyone, the implementation cost would be minimal, but we do not because the bottom line is that technology must generate profit for the investor firstly, and be socially useful secondly. EThe filds of energy generation from non-fossil fuels, transportation, agricultural innovation, IT and robotics, examples of an ever expanisve list already have hundreds of proven prototypes of technologies and methodologies which could be applied now. They are not however because of the fundamental ideological constraint.

In order for this to change, fundamental aspects of our institutions would have to change. I propose that research into technology applicable to the common good, with the fundamental value of sustainability be financed by the state, if we think in terms of the current nation state organisational model (i the future international working groups could work together organised thematically rather than by nation, and their findings could be implemented )

Tackling this issue requires a fundamental change in the nature of the behaviour of the citizens themselves. As we have discussed in the previous section, the people themselves must contribute to the wellbeing of the city itself.

We require the application of technology for the common good, applied to the city with respect to the laws of thermodynamics, in a cybernetically organised fashion. There are various wholesale strategies which could be applied to a city’s architecture which would generate energy and minimize waste. For example, the sewer grid could be redesigned to re-use excrement to generate energy, water could be cleaned by being filtered through edible plants and re-used as drinking water. Or a smart-grid system of solar energy on private houses, tied to the city’s electricity grid could provide electricity to power the city from a renewable resource.

For example, off the top of my head here are a few ways technology could be used for the common good in current cities:

Water and Sewage Ideas

There are all sorts of ways to treat waste water by using plant based filters.

Raw sewage can quite easily be turned into gas to be used in electricity generation

Waste recycling

Local composting can produce adobe to be used in local vegetable gardens and reducing the onus on municipal waste services. The city could build composting centres to accommodate this.

Transport

Re-introduction of tram-lines as citizen friendly transportation

For transportation  of goods and materials balloon based systems could be used, Airships and Zepellins could be used for transportation, using a system of feeder smaller feeder ships, and larger transporters.

Energy Generation

Wholesale implementation of incentives for individual households to install grid-tie solar panels on their houses, reducing reliance on national grid.

Food Production

Widespread implementation of community fruit and vegetable gardens, and chickens, reducing external food dependence of the city. Changing the dynamic of buying food as an economic transaction rather than growing a certain amount oneself, or together with one’s community. Integrated with sewage filtration and composting.

Sustainable Building

There are all sorts of sustainable building ideas which could be utilised, from Adobe-dwellings, to bamboo structures, to efficient concrete.

Occupation of derelict commercial or residential buildings, as in Caracas’ Torre David may also be necessary solutions.

 

Favela-centric cities as a conceptual starting point

The city we are envisaging is the city that the majority of the world’s population is likely to live in, given current economic carrying-capacity constraints, it is likely that the masses of people who will be living in the future cities will have to live in the least expensive housing possible and in cities where the services that the municipality can provide are likely to be extremely limited. As an exercise in rational forecasting, we can therefore conjecture that these cities are likely to be Favela-centric, I say Favela rather than “Slum” because of the negative connotations of that word. Whereas Favela offers some hope, it does not necessarily mean human misery, rather a more organic form of humans who are constrained by scant resources, doing their best to live in a city. This preamble is an assumption on which the pervious and following ideas and solutions are based, when we think of future solutions it is favela-dwellers who we are thinking about.

A city made up of favelas, with an engaged citizenry is the starting point for thinking about sustainability actions in progress. When we think of composting and community gardens, local neighbourhood watch, and solar panels for example, it is these communities that we are thinking of.

Decentralised Access to Technology

Within this context, decentralised access to technology, in terms of practical mechanisation for labour saving could be developed. I envisage the installation of a shipping container 3-D printing workshop, in each of the city’s Favela communities. The 3-D printing workshop would be able to print machine tools for loca residents’ pumps, irrigation systems, gardening tools, or whatever the local community choses. In this way local communities will be the entrepreneurial drivers for change in their neighbourhood.

I envisage the state facilitating the installation of the 3-D printing shop, together with a training programme for those interested (as part of a wholistic strategy, school-level education and adult education would be used to teach people practical science, basic electrics, and interpretation of machine design). In this way the local community would have the capacity to build and repair their own machines. 3-D container workshops can also easily print designs from the internet, and I imagine that this could be done in a relatively simple way, so that local citizens could put ideas into practice themselves, without requiring too much technical expertise.

Container based 3-D work, “Additive 3-d printing” (printing 3-D objects using stock materials) has already been used by the US Army in Forward Operating bases in Afghanistan. Containers with the printer and mechanic are delivered by helicopter, soldiers can then manufacture 3-D objects as per their necessity; gun parts, car parts this idea could be transposed to Favela-centric cities for use in construction, agriculture, and all manner of self-sufficiency. The “Open Source Ecology[26]” collaborative machine design and building initiative is designed to make easy to use blueprints of industrial machinery that anyone could use, as cheaply as possible, with the blueprints distributed for free. I envisage the Open Source Ecology initiative and rudimentary 3D printing and mechanical workshops revolutionising the way local communities interact with technology and machines. Open Source Ecology’s vision is that such a new way of interacting with practical technology will cause a fundamental shift in huma consciousness. I envisage the wholesale adoption of their ideas as part of a sustainable strategy for the future.

“This work of distributing raw productive power to people is not only a means to solving wicked problems – but a means for humans themselves to evolve. The creation of a new world depends on expansion of human consciousness and personal evolution – as individuals tap their autonomy, mastery, and purpose – to Build Themselves – and to become responsible for the world around them. One outcome is a world beyond artificial material scarcity – where no longer do material constraints and resource conflicts dictate most of human interactions – personal and political. We see a future world where we can say – “Resource conflicts? That was back in the stone age.”[27]

Another area of technological development to be coupled with 3-D printing, and Open Source Ecology is robotics, potentially in the near future communities could build robotic systems towards the common good in similar fashion.

The question of Public Space

An important aspect of the vision that is beginning to emerge is related to the notion of public and private space. It has been noted that when some citizens take care of the public space around them that the well-being (measured in Quality of Life quotients) of the entire community increases.[28] So all gardening initiatives and initiatives which involve neighbours doing things together have socially positive collateral rucksacks. However the debate also needs to cover aspects of what the state does and what people do themselves regarding pubic space, as long as people feel that the public space is someone else’s responsibility this will not happen. In our favela-centric vision, public space becomes something that is communal, but locally owned and managed. 3-D printing workshops, community gardens, composters and so on are all public utilities, constructed and used by the local public. In someways the difference between the state and the people becomes blurred, in that the people in this vision are the state in action. The state – in terms of collective spending power for the common good, must work as a kick-starter and catalyser for this fundamental change towards a sustainable society, providing the relevant coaching and educational frameworks, providing the tools, even paying people initially, doing everything in its power to protect and nurture such a fledgling vision.

Government regulatory agencies and ways of working to protect the citizen would need to be adapted in order to ensure some form of quality control, while also enabling local communities.

On Communities

A brief aside, as I read what I write I feel the necessity to address a potential naivety in relation to the loosely defined ‘Favela-centric Communities’, this is all too quaint. Communities are not fixed sums of family units, and the contemporary ‘family’ seems to be in general less nuclear and more spread out. People also tend to be alienated from their community, I blame the work-centric lifestyle, where citizens are locked into a cycle of working 9-5 in a job, devoting themselves to this, as their ‘calling’ fundamentally, but also in exchange for money with which they can purchase goods and services and pay taxes so that the state looks after the social issues in one’s community. Such a mode locks people into a vicious circle of alienation and neglect of local life, not through the fault of the individualised individual, but due to the difficulties of surviving within such a system.

Practically speaking, how does the above aside impact on our vision for achievable and sustainable cities, made up of cohesive communities? It springs to mind that essentially we would need to incorporate the dynamic nature of human communities into the programme, perhaps making participation a fact of life, but that this participation need not necessarily be drastically tied to place.

[1] David Harvey explains for example how high energy usage was installed in American cities. As a kind of Keynesian economic injection, the government spent lots of money reconstruction cities, and relocating urban poulations to suburbs and satellite towns, connected by roads to the centre. The city thus has high energy usage built into it, as the residents need to commute by car 40 km to work per day, as the city centre is far away. Obviously to reform such a geographical constellation it is somehow perhaps more difficult (although there exits solutions in localism) than a city which has slums closer to places of work, for example.

 

[2] More on this notion, it makes me think of the secrets of agro-forestry as an allegory of the city, things surging forth, mutually supporting eachother, in synergistic relationships.

[3]Sampson, R. J., Raudenbush, S. W. and Earls, F. (1997). Neighborhoods and violent crime: A multilevel study of collective efficacy. Science 277, 918–24

[4] Earls, F. J. (2005). Neighbourhood Matters Selected Findings from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, retrieved 2014 from http://www.macfdn.org/media/article_pdfs/INFO_CHICAGO_NEIGHBORHOODS.PDF (page1)

[5] Op. cit.

[6] Ibid. page 918

[7] Earls, F. J. (2005). Neighbourhood Matters Selected Findings from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, retrieved 2014 from http://www.macfdn.org/media/article_pdfs/INFO_CHICAGO_NEIGHBORHOODS.PDF (page 3)

[8] Brannan, John & Stoker, 2006

[9] Brannan, John & Stoker, 2006

[10] (Freire, 1970, p. 54). Paulo FreirePedagogy of the Oppressed

[11] Gasperini, L. (2000). The Cuban education system: Lessons and dilemmas. Education Reform and Management Team, Human Development Network–Education, World Bank.

[12] Gasperini, L. (2000). The Cuban education system: Lessons and dilemmas. Education Reform and Management Team, Human Development Network–Education, World Bank.

[13] Op. Cit.

[14] Available at https://www.academia.edu/3101154/Addressing_Urban_Fear_and_Violence_in_Bogota_through_the_Culture_of_Citizenship_Scope_and_Challenges_of_a_Unique_Approach

[15] http://world.bymap.org/YoungPopulation.html & http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.0014.TO.ZS

[16] http://time.com/3591947/young-people-united-nations/

[17] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/nov/27/child-workers-bolivia-unite

[18] Empowerment Case Studies: Participatory Budgeting in Brazil, available at: http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTEMPOWERMENT/Resources/14657_Partic-Budg-Brazil-web.pdf

[19] Beer Designing Freedom page 18

[20] Beer Designing Freedom page 18

[21] Beer Designing Freedom page 17

[22] Beer Designing Freedom page 18)

[23] Alan Bellows http://www.damninteresting.com/nineteen-seventy-three/

[24] http://www.palantir.com/what-we-do/

[25] http://www.technologyreview.com/news/523666/software-that-augments-human-thinking/

[26] www.opensourceecology.org

[27] http://opensourceecology.org/about-overview/

World Vision – Spaceship Earth and Nation-States

 

Design-Science – The Importance of Buckminster Fuller

In order to frame what follows, I will begin with some of the ideas of Buckminster Fuller.  Buckminster Fuller was a ‘design-scientist’, a dedicated futurist, who following an epiphany in his early thirties devoted himself to coming up with ideas to benefit humanity, working for the common good. His work spanned political and economic questions such as: the fair, sustainable, and efficient use of the world’s resources; the creation of a one-world energy grid, cost-effective housing and transport; as well as thinking through practical questions of how such a society could function.

I know that if we stop wasting our money on armaments and use our high technology on livingry instead of weaponry, within 10 years we could have all humanity, all 4 1/2 billion, living at a higher standard than anybody has ever known. In other words, we could have a billion billionaires. It is now physically and technologically possible. All the warring is on the misassumption of all politics that there is a fundamental inadequacy of life support. This is incorrect. It was correct until yesterday, but not today.

Seeing the future differently – Escaping our conditioned inertia

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” 

“In order to change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.” 

What is so necessary about Fuller’s approach is the demonstration that with the scientific knowledge which humanity has accrued, and the current resources on the planet it is perfectly possible each one of us, all over the world, perfectly comfortably. This ‘visioning’ work is urgently needed to help us escape from our collective brainwashing to believe that there is no alternative to the neo-liberal economic model, the ‘Dark Satanic Mill’ which has attained such centripetal force that it continues to accelerate on its own, whirring and whirring towards a great big crash which will take humanity along with it. Somehow we have become mentally imprisoned, through an education system which encourages us to pass tests and get jobs, the TV whose rays provoke docile, hypnotic states, and show us pictures that look like reality, as well as the mass media engine of LCD screens on the walls of the walled-garden.

In order to get more of our  friends and neighbours, i.e. a critical mass of humanity to escape from this conditioning, we need to demonstrate, repetitively that something better is possible.

Fundamental Point – One World and We are all billionaires or none of us are

Another reason why Buckminster Fuller was so important is that his work is fundamentally based on the search for solutions for all humanity, not for a given class or nation. This is justified as a practical approach. One of the most important political points that he makes is that humanity needs to start thinking of itself as a planetary family, rather than members of different nation-states. His approach is therefore communitarian, as the accumulation of resources by an individual to the detriment of his neighbours when everyone could be living perfectly luxuriously together, is not only illogical but dangerous. A system where a very few individuals have massive access to resources leads in itself to planetry destruction according to Fuller. This is a profoundly political point, and I seek to work through how some sort of egalitarian world system in the Buckminster Fuller mould could be achieved.

“Technologically we now have [six billion billionaires] on Spaceship Earth who are entirely unaware of their good fortune.  Unbeknownst to [us our] legacy is being held in probate by general ignorance, fear, selfishness, and a myriad of paralyzing professional, licensing,  zoning, building laws and the like, as bureaucratically maintained by the incumbent power structures.”[1]

The current global economic situation has been compared to an organism living with a large tape-worm. Catherine Austin Fitts compares the actions of a small group of insiders, who accrue massive profits at the social and economic costs of the rest of humanity, and the planetary ecosystem, as that of a tapeworm, driven to destroying its own conditions for survival through its drive for self aggrandisement.

In a Tapeworm Economy, a small group of insiders consolidate political and economic power at the expense of people, living things, and our environment in a manner that destroys real wealth.[2]

Currently we are a long way from being a planet of billionaires; rather we are on a track to becoming a planet of serfs, with a handful of absurdly rich individuals. An OXFAM report released January 2014 warns:

  • Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population.
  • The wealth of the one percent richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion. 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population.
  • The bottom half of the world’s population owns the same as the richest 85 people in the world.[3]

Buckminster Fuller’s vision is for a very different world, one that needs to be imagined into being:

“I know that if we stop wasting our money on armaments and use our high technology on Livingry instead of Weaponry, within 10 years we could have all humanity, all 4 1/2 billion, living at a higher standard than anybody has ever known. In other words, we could have a billion billionaires. It is now physically and technologically possible.”[4]

Spaceship Planet Earth

On the political level, Fuller makes the excellent point that universal management of resources is an efficient and necessary step towards human evolution. For example, if we mapped all the word’s resources, we would be able to allocate them fairly and sustainably for everyone. What gets in the way of this is the politics of competitive individual nation states. Our world as like a great big ship we are all on it together and we now must organise the steering of the rudder. Fuller says that the current problem is that there is 180 plus Admirals each pushing in different directions, one considering the front the back, another the other way around, all contradicting eachother, a chaotic situation with no-one at the helm.

  • It is now possible to give every man, woman and child on Earth a standard of living comparable to that of a modern-day billionaire. This is not an opinion or a hope — it is an engineeringly demonstrable fact. This can be done using only the already proven technology and with the already mined, refined, and in-recirculating physical resources.[5]

 

  • You say that the 160 nations of the world act as 166 blood clots blocking the free and unobstructed exchange of ideas, scrap metals, tools, and real wealth. But isn’t it hard to imagine the world’s people giving up their strong nationalistic instincts?

FULLER: No, it isn’t. I have been around the world 48 times. The United States isn’t a nation. It is a crossbreeding world of humans. In one section of Los Angeles there are 81 nations’ people interbreeding.[6]

 

  • We have today, in fact, 150 supreme admirals and only one ship – Spaceship Earth. We have the 150 admirals in their 150 staterooms each trying to run their respective stateroom as if it were a separate ship. We have the starboard side admirals’ league trying to sink the port side admirals’ league. If either is successful in careening the ship to drown the “enemy” side, the whole ship will be lost.[7]

 

MACRO-LEVEL EXAMPLE

1.        One-world grids and roads

An example of how this could be different is the one-world electricity grid, if we see the world more or less as one big land mass could connect a grid from South America to North America, to Russia, then on to both Europe and Africa,  and through the middle east to India, China, South East Asia and Australia. If the grid were connected in this way, there would be massive energy savings and better energy provision for all. This is not even that difficult to do, a simple connection between North America and Russia’s existing grids and a few more connections in other places would be sufficient. This sort of land mass connection could connect with highways and train lines, a one-world train line from Patagonia to Auckland via Montreal, St Petersburg, Tehran, and Singapore! What we need to do is bring into the public consciousness the understanding that such solutions are possible. Going back to Fuller’s metaphor, these solutions are hindered by the lack of vision and cooperation between states, which all share an out of date Machiavellian understanding of states craft that would not allow such ideas because they would involve the ceding of power to foreigners, and cause problems with the owners of capital.

 

“I have presented my plan for using our increasing technical ability to construct high-voltage, superconductive transmission lines and implement an around-the-world electrical energy grid integrating the daytime and nighttime hemispheres, thus swiftly increasing the operating capacity of the world’s electrical energy system and, concomitantly, living standard in an unprecedented feat of international cooperation”.[8]

 

Towards a new epistemology of international relations and global governance

North and South are constructs, there only exists in and out, close to the equator or far from it. We need a new way of talking abut global governance, new categories, new ways of imagining a global humanity as a political entity, and new forms of governance to regulate and distribute resources on our behalf.

World Governance

Of course, we need to be careful of promoting one world governance in the currently billionaire dominated planet. We do not want a totalitarian state, we do not want richer states to be privileged. OF course, the fundamental principle of some sort of global regulatory and enabling managerial system would be to benefit the common good, not accrue more useless wealth and ‘power over’ of the existing elites, or the creation of a new elite. Therefore the technicalities of ensuring that Global Governance does not become a nightmare need to be considered carefully.

The idea of this text is to get us to think about possible solutions or virtuous ways of doing things in keeping with the Buckminster Fuller maxim to “Make the world work, for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.”[9]

Global Level

At the global level, we need to look into the different ways of regulation of trade, the question of the monopoly of violence, multi-polarism, different ways in which the world could be democratically organised.

[1] R. Buckminster Fuller, Critical Path

[2] http://solari.com/articles/tapeworm_economics/

[3] OXFAM Briefing Paper, released January 2014,available at: http://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/bp-working-for-few-political-capture-economic-inequality-200114-en.pdf

[4] Buckminster Fuller’s last interview, conducted in 1983 available at http://www.communitelligence.com/clps/clitem.cfm?AdsID=172

[5] http://www.whywork.org/rethinking/leisure/bucky.html

[6] This interview — believed to be R. Buckminster Fuller’s last– was conducted by John Gerstner at Fuller’s home in Pacific Palisades, California, in November, 1982. Available at http://www.communitelligence.com/clps/clitem.cfm?AdsID=172

[7] Buckminster Fuller, Critical Path

[8] Buckminster Fuller, in Cosmosgraphy, 1993, Fuller and Kuromiya

[9] Quote from Fuller regarding the intentions of the World Game, available at www.bfi.org

Pantera Negra, Afrobeats – Rumo a um renascimento africano do século 21

Antes de deslizar para baixo, aperta play no link do Youtube acima para ouvir uma seleção de nossas faixas de Afrobeats favoritas, que inspiraram este artigo.

Música

Afrobeats” é um gênero relativamente novo musical que vem de Accra, Lagos e Londres. Eu George Howell, junto com Tai Brum ouvimos por acaso outro dia um ‘freestyle’ entre artistas Dotman e Eazi num show de Radio Londrino – Radio 1 Extra “Destination Africa”, que capturou nossa atenção. Afrobeats com um “S” não deve ser confundido com Afrobeat de Fela Kuti. Afrobeats é um som bem moderno e produzido, mais “Beatz” do que “Beats”. Tem aquela pegada chic, com valores de produção alto como os megaproduções de hip hop americano. Os clipes do Youtube são editados com bom gosto, utilizando uma identidade africana, nos cores, lugares e pessoas. No entanto, não estamos falando de uma música que fetichiza a tradição ou uma versão de África arcaica. É jovem e otimista, reforçando uma visão positiva da África. Nem pesado como a ‘Grime’ inglês ou com aquela estética criminosa que os rappers fetichizam. Os músicos usam o patois (giria de rua tipo jamaicano) de Londres, os valores negros occidentais, mas ao mesmo tempo, com uma pegada distintamente africana, e completamente conectada à produção cultural global.

MC Skepta (um estrela de ‘Grime’ de Londres) participando de uma colaboração no Ojuelegba de Wizkid diz na faixa: ” Eu tive que contar minha história porque eles preferem mostrar-lhe crianças negras com moscas em seus rostos na televisão”. Outra estrela Afrobeats da Nigéria, Burnaboy, explicou assim: ” A única coisa que você realmente vê sobre a África é “Ajudar uma criança” ou alguma merda assim, eu só queria ouvir o DMX “.

Os clipes de Afrobeats mostram uma África afluente, a África dos cidades modernas de Lagos e Accra. Gente bonita em roupas de grife, pilotando Mercedes e BMWs. Mansões e clubes de champanhe, mulheres lindas que emanam uma indiferença chique. Um veículo perfeito para combater a concepção da África associados com imagens de crianças com moscas nos olhos. Seguindo outra estrela no Instagram, Mr Eazi, posso ver que ele fez um show em Londres, outro em Houston e as próximas fotos são dele no palco em um estádio em Goma. Goma!: No Republicá Democrático do Congo!? De onde vêm os diamantes de sangue e os Senhores da Guerra? Sim, mas também onde Mr Eazi estava no palco outro dia.  Sentimos uma espécie de comunhão com as pessoas de Goma, eles estão gostando dos mesmos sons que nós, em vez de sentir tristeza pelas “pessoas miseráveis” ​​lá com guerra civil e soldados crianças e tal, a música de alguma forma superou isso, criando uma lacuna de empatia e compreensão, abrindo nossos olhos para uma realidade africana mais feliz.

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O mundo conectado em que vivemos permiti que a força cultural africana brilhe. O Instagram e Youtube servem como plataformas e câmeras HD e equipamentos de gravação as ferramentas que democratizaram o acesso de África e seu crescente influência sobre a cultura pop. Na epoca digital, a música africana não precisa de algum tipo de ‘grande explorador branco’, como Peter Gabriel para popularizá-lo. A globalização digital permite que todos se conectem e que artistas africanos possam nos alcançar diretamente. O som Afrobeats ganha espaço, só porque é realmente bom, por puro mérito seu.,

Os africanos não são mais isolados culturalmente. A era digital dá a todos a oportunidade de seguir as tendências globais, todos nós assistimos a Netflix até certo ponto, e todos sabemos quem são os maiores DJs jamaicanos e rappers americanos. Os fabricantes de música Afrobeats da Accra e Lagos, muitas vezes também são de Londres tanto quanto da África, totalmente envolvidos com a “Cultura Global Negro Americanizada”. Por esse termo, consideramos a variedade da cultura pop negra global fortemente influenciada pelos pontos de referência culturais dos Estados Unidos: Beyonce e Jay Z, basquete, a luta negra na América, sendo um “gangsta” por exemplop. A cultura contemporânea africana sempre foi excluída desse discurso. Para os negros nas Américas, África e um lugar que existe na imaginação, uma terra ancestral forçadamente obscurecida dos antepassados, um lugar para talvez também fazer uma peregrinação, mas as coisas que acontece la estão fora de nosso radar. Entretanto, a influência real da cultura africana nas noções de ‘black’ globalizada é mínima. É aludido e imaginado, mas a cultura africana “como está” tem pouco influência cultural. Estamos escrevendo isso no Rio, aqui vejamos pouco envolvimento com o que está acontecendo na África agora, no dia dia.

O surgimento de Afrobeats demonstra que a música de África pulou da seção “World Music“. O Afrobeats e instantaneamente “cool”, não tão erudito como músicas de Cora Maliano ou músicas de Kinshasa, Congo feito por crianças de rua. Afrobeats tem um apelo pop muito mais instantâneo porque se liga diretamente (e espero que começa a exercer uma influência sobre) a cultura popular negra globalizada. Londres desempenha um papel importante porque sinto que informa a música culturalmente, a música para ser respeitada tem que aderir os padrões das boates negras de Londres.

Uma tendência dentro do Afrobeats é a presença de produtores “britânicos negros”, que decidiram abraçar sua africanidade e se envolver com o continente como tal, em vez de imitar apenas estilos americanos ou jamaicanos. Isso é interessante porque esses caras agregam sua influência cosmopolita ao gênero. No dia 23 de julho, por exemplo produtores Afrobeats importantes estavam todos em Londres, Malik Berry, Juls, Team Salut, Legendury Beats e Bayoz Musik estavam no programa Radio 1 Extra “Destination Africa“, falando sobre esse assunto, e vários deles são tanto de lá como da Nigéria ou Gana. O produtor pioneiro Bankuli explicou que o papel importante dos produtores ingleses Afrobeat gosta disso: “É como um vírus, um vírus muito bom … é a África que está no centro das atenções”.

Mr Eazi, de Kumasi, Nigéria, mencionado acima, e um representante importante da nova leva de artistas Afrobeats. Ele diz que não sabe cantar direito e estava estudando engenharia mecânica em Gana antes de se tornar um produtor de eventos que fechou com os melhores músicos do Afrobeats para shows na faculdade. A carreira de cantor começou como um passatempo enquanto ele estava terminando seu mestrado em engenharia em Gana. Ele tem sido um comerciante de ouro e tem uma séria empresa que vende telefones remodelados, ‘Phone Trader’, em Nigeria e está procurando ‘Start Ups’ tecnológicos relevantes para serem lançados na África. Ele está colocando um show de cultura Afrobeats em Londres, trazendo não apenas a música, mas a moda e a cultura  ‘Afrobeats’ também para Londres em setembro.

O produtor que fez as melhores musicas do Mr Eazi, Burnaboy e vários outros é produtor, e cantor agora, “Juls”, de Londres e Gana. Ele faz a música como hobby depois de trampo como ‘Investment Banker’ para o Banco Nacional do Gana. Ele é o cara que produz os sons mais legais, e é apenas um hobby! Ele tambem organiza uma revista de moda e cultura da Gana. Eles são da geração de africanos capacitados que fizeram estudos de negócios, e de alguma forma “falam MBA”. Eazi fala sobre métricas, quando convidou o músico Dotman a acompanhá-lo em turnê, ele disse que o escolheu por causa dos seus números. Esses caras, como Puff Daddy, são experientes em negócios, eles não estão brincando. O lema de Eazi é “África para o mundo”, um excelente embaixador para globalizar esse som!

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Mr Eazi em Londres

Moda

A moda africana está flexionando seus músculos também, e há de alguma forma uma ressonância com o que está acontecendo com o Afrobeats. A marca de luxo sul-africana Maxhosa usa impressões inspiradas em combinações de cores tribais do povo Xhosa, porem cortadas em um estilo clássico bem francês. O resultado é uma fusão espetacular. O africano como protagonista neste exemplo está usando cortes europeus para modernizar uma estética Xhosa distinta. O designer Laduma Ngxokolo é Xhosa, explica que foi motivado criar roupas de luxo adequado para a cerimônia de iniciação masculina Xhosa, onde os roupas finas estão exigidas. A marca de biquíni B Fyne produz peças maravilhosos, o designer nigeriano Buki Ade foi inspirado pela cultura nigeriana e suas artes indígenas em fazer a coleção.

A moda de luxo europeia e americana parece cansada e branda colocado lado a lado com Maxhosa ou B Fyne. As referências culturais da moda ocidental parecem uma mina gastada em comparação com as veias ricas de recursos inexplorados da África. Cultura tribal africana e uma espece de ‘lente africana’ oferecem uma riqueza de inspiração inexplorada.

Arte

A arte contemporânea africana é, em nossa opinião, a melhor do mundo. O trabalho produzido pelos artistas contemporâneos africanos é consistentemente excelente. El Anastui cria grandes tapeçarias régias com tampas de garrafas, Ibrahim Mahama cobriu o Arsenale de Veneza em tecido de juta antigo para um efeito impressionante. O artista sul-africano cobriu um blindado da polícia sul-africano em contas, Nelson Makamo pinta retratos maravilhosos de estilo ‘street art’.  O trabalho da artista Serge Clottey da Gana com galões também é realmente poderoso.

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Tampas de garrafa do El Anatsui

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Ibrahim Mahama trabalhando com tecido de juta

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Afrogallonism” do Serge Attukwei Clottey

A casa antiga de leilões milionários de Londres Bonham’s lançou um serie de leilões “Africa Now“, para vender arte africana contemporânea e moderna para centenas de milhares de libras.

No entanto, a cultura africana ainda é marginalizada. A música da Afrobeats ainda não entrou direito no radar da música “negra”. Semana da moda Lagos e África do Sul estão se tornando mais importantes, mas a moda africana não ameaça a hegemonia de Paris, Milão e Nova York. No mundo da arte contemporânea, há reverência pela arte contemporânea africana, mas de alguma forma esta marginalizado em comparação com a destaque que arte moderna de origem europeia ocupa.

Jack Weatherford argumenta que o renascimento na Europa deve uma enorme dívida ao Império Mongol que permitiu que uma polinização cruzada científica e cultural acontecesse, através de rotas comerciais e a segurança para movimentos de pessoas garantidas pelo império . Isso permitiu uma fusão de conhecimento de regiões distantes.

Estamos de alguma forma à cúspide de um renascimento africano, facilitada pela comunicação instantânea de informações audiovisuais e conexões diásporas com as capitais culturais do mundo.

2018 verá a chegada do super-herói africano Pantera Negra em uma megaprodução da Marvel Studios. Pantera Negra aborda clichês, o super-herói é um príncipe do reino de Wakanda, o país mais rico do mundo com tecnologia super avançada.

black-panther-suit-image

Como a Pantera Negra, os produtores culturais africanos estão interessados ​​em mostrar que a África não é mais o “mundo em desenvolvimento”, mas que chegou. Infundindo a própria música, moda e arte do continente com um engajamento astuto com elementos da modernidade. Isso está apenas começando agora.

Este artigo foi escrito após extensas discussões sobre Afrobeats, Brasil, e o potencial aumento da influência da África entre George Howell e estilista brasileira Tai Brum. Vivemos no Rio de Janeiro e estamos trabalhando para ter mais Afrobeats e influência cultural africana aqui.

24 de agusto de 2017

Black Panther, Afrobeats and the 21st Century African Renaissance

 

 

Before scrolling down, click play on the Youtube link above to hear a selection of our favourite Afrobeats tracks, which inspired this article

Music

Afrobeats” is a new music genre coming out of Accra, Lagos and London. My girlfriend and I heard it by chance the other day a freestyle between Dotman and Mr Eazi on Radio 1 Extra caputured our attention. Afrobeats, with an “S” is not to be confused with Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat, it is a modern and produced sound, “Beatz”. It exudes studio slickness like the big American hip hop productions. The relevant Youtube clips are tastefully edited with an African colour palette and identity. However, we are not talking about a music which fetishizes tradition or an archaic Africa. It is young and upbeat, reinforcing a positive vision of Africa. Neither heavy like grime or with too much of that criminal aesthetic that rappers fetishize. The musicians use London patois, black western values but at the same time with a distinctly African cultural identity, completely plugged into global cultural production.

MC Skepta participating in a collaboration on Wizkid’s Ojuelegba says on the track “I had to tell my story cause they’d rather show you Black kids with flies on their faces on the television.” Another Afrobeats star from Nigeria, Burnaboy, explained it this way: “The only thing you really see about Africa is ‘Help a child’ or some shit like that. I just wanted to listen to DMX.”

The Afrobeats clips show an affluent Africa, the Africa of Lagos and Accra as modern cities. Beautiful people in beautiful clothes in Mercs and Bimma’s. Mansions and champagne clubs, hot women exuding a chic nonchalance. A perfect vehicle to combat the association of Africa with the black kids with flies in their eyes conception. Following another star on Instagram, Mr Eazi, I can see he did one shows in London, another in Houston, and next photos of him onstage filling out a stadium in Goma. Goma, DRC!? Where the blood diamonds and Warlords come from? Yes, and also where Mr Eazi was onstage the other day, performing for DRC Independence Day, seeing that I felt a kind of communion with the people from Goma, they are liking the same sounds that I am, rather than somehow feeling sorry for the ‘wretched people’ down there, the music somehow bridged a gap of empathy and understanding, opening my eyes to a happier reality.

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The connected world that we live in is allowing Africa’s cultural pedigree to shine. Instagram and Youtube serve as platforms, and HD cameras and music making equipment the tools which have democratised Africa’s access to, and growing influence over pop culture.  In the digital age, Africa’s music does not need  some sort of great white explorer, like Peter Gabriel to popularize it. Digital globalisation allows everyone to plug in, and for African artists to reach us directly.  The Afrobeats sound gains space, just because it is really good, on its own merit.

Africans are no longer isolated culturally. The digital age gives all of us the opportunity to follow global trends, we all watch Netflix to an extent, and we all know who the biggest Jamaican DJs and American rappers are. The Afrobeats music makers from Lagos and Accra, are often also from London as much as from Africa, fully engaged with ‘Global Americanised Black Culture’. By this term we mean the manifold of black pop culture heavily influenced by North American cultural points of reference: Beyonce and Jay Z, basketball, the black struggle in America, being a ‘gangsta’. African contemporary culture was always somehow excluded from this discourse. For blacks in the Americas a place that exists in the imagination, a forcibly obscured ancestral land of one’s forefathers, somewhere to make a pilgrimage too perhaps. Meanwhile real African cultural influence on notions of globalised blackness is minimal. It is alluded to, and imagined, but African culture ‘as is’ has not yielded cultural influence. I am writing this from Rio de Janeiro, down here we see very little engagement with what is going on in Africa now. It would be great if we could somehow change that.

The rise of Afrobeats demonstrates that Africa’s music has jumped out of the “World Music” section. The Afrobeats feels instantly ‘cool’, not as worthy as highbrow Kora or underground DRC beats made by street children, but with a much more instant, poppy appeal because it plugs directly into, (and we hope begins to exert an influence over) globalised black popular culture. For Afrobeats London plays an important role, it informs the music culturally, making the music conform to being respectably ‘cool’ by London standards. Whereas Staff Benda Bilili played in London at the Barbican Centre to a 90% middle class white crowd, Afrobeats attracts mainly black audiences, Burnaboy’s show in London had three or four white people at the show, one was my Mum, another my brother.

A trend within Afrobeats is the presence of ‘black british’ producers, who decided to embrace their African-ness, and to engage with the continent as such, rather than emulate only American or Jamaican styles. This is interesting because these guys add their cosmopolitan influence to the genre. On the 23rd of July Malik Berry, Juls, Team Salut, Legendury Beats, Bankuli and Bayoz Musik were in the Radio 1 Extra Destination Africa show talking about this subject. Pioneer producer Bankuli explained that the important role of the UK Afrobeat producers like this: “Its like a virus, a very good virus…it’s Africa that’s in the limelight.”

Mr Eazi, from Kumasi, Nigeria, mentioned above, a self-effacing posterboy for the new wave of Afrobeats artists. He says that he can’t sing, and was studying mechanical engineering in Ghana before becoming an events producer booking top Afrobeats musicians for Uni shows. The singing career began as a hobby as he was finishing his engineering Masters’ degree in Ghana. He has been a gold trader, and has a serious tech start up company selling refurbished phones, ‘Phone Trader’, and is looking for relevant tech products to launch in Africa. He is putting on an Afrobeats culture show in London, bringing not only the music, but fashion food and culture too to London in September.

The producer for probably the best tracks by Mr Eazi, Burnaboy is producer, and singer now, “Juls”, from London and Ghana. He does the music as a hobby after hours working as a financial investment adviser for Ghana National Bank. He is the guy producing the coolest sounds, and it is only a hobby! The point is these guys couldn’t be further away from Kinshasa streetkids. They are from the generation of empowered Africans who did business studies, and somehow ‘speak MBA’. Eazi talks about metrics, when he invited upcoming musician Dotman to accompany him on tour, he said he chose him because of his numbers.  These guys, like Puff Daddy are business savvy, they ain’t playin’ around. Not cliche soulful Africans with rhythm in their genes, but businessmen. Mr Eazi’s motto is ‘Africa to the world’, and who better equipped to globalize this wicked African sound.

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Mr Eazi on the billboards in London

 

Fashion

African fashion is flexing its muscles, and there is somehow a resonance with what’s going on with Afrobeats. The South African luxury knitwear brand Maxhosa uses prints inspired by Xhosa tribal colour combinations cut in a French classical style.  The result is a spectacular fusion. The African as protagonist in this example is using European cuts to modernise a distinct Xhosa aesthetic. The designer Laduma Ngxokolo is Xhosa, and his motivation was to create attire suitable for the Xhosa male initiation ceremony, where luxurious clothes should be worn.  B Fyne  women’s swimwear label produces wonderful bikinis, the designer Nigerian Buki Ade was inspired by Nigerian culture and prints in making the collection.

European and American luxury fashion seems somehow tired and bland when placed side by side with Maxhosa or B Fyne. Western fashion’s cultural references seem like a spent mine compared to the rich veins of untapped resources in Africa. African tribal culture, and an African lens somehow offer a wealth of untapped inspiration for designers.

Art

African contemporary art is our opinion the best in the world too. The work being produced by leading African artists is consistently excellent. El Anastui creates huge regal tapestries from bottle tops, Ghanian Ibrahim Mahama covered Venice’s Arsenale in old jute fabric for impressive effect.[3] South African Ralph Ziman covered a South African armoured police car in beads, Nelson Makamo paints wonderful street art style portraits of people. Ghanian Serge Clottey’s work with gallons is also really powerful.

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El Anatsui’s regal bottle tops

 

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Ibrahim Mahama working with jute fabric

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Serge Attukwei Clottey’s Afrogallonism

The dead posh London auction house Bonham’s launched an ‘Africa Now’ auction fixture, to sell African contemporary and modern art for hundreds of thousands of pounds. Burnaboy was at the launch as well as celebrity Nigerian socialite DJs.

Nevertheless, African culture is still marginalised. The Afrobeats music scene has not broken into mainstream ‘black’ music yet. Fashion Week Lagos and South Africa are becoming more important, but African fashion does not threaten the hegemony of Paris, Milan and New York. In the intellectual-filled contemporary art world there is reverence for Africa’s contemporary art, but it is somehow peripheral compared to the reverence shown to art of European origin.

Jack Weatherford argues that the renaissance in Europe owes a huge debt to the Mongol Empire which allowed for a scientific and cultural cross-pollination to happen, through safe trade routes and movement of people guaranteed by the empire. This enabled a fusion of knowledge from distant regions.

We are somehow on the cusp of an African Renaissance, facilitated by the instantaneous communication of audio-visual information, and diaspora connections to the world’s cultural capitals.

black-panther-suit-image

2018 sees the arrival of supercool African superhero Black Panther in a Marvel Studios super production. Albeit in Marvel fashion, Black Panther addresses clichés, the superhero is a prince the hidden kingdom of Wakanda, the richest country in the world with super advanced technology.

Like Black Panther, African cultural producers are keen to show that Africa is no longer ‘the developing world’, but that it has arrived. Infusing the continent’s own music, fashion and art with astute engagement with the trappings of modernity. This engagement to me signals the arrival of a 21st century African renaissance. Ahead of the red carpet launch of Black Panther launch in South Africa, where of course, the actors used his clothes, Maxhosa’s designer Laduma Ngxokolo tells fans “dress for a fresh Renaissance of Africa. And that look doesn’t have to reflect one single culture – it can be a mix of different African cultures and influences.

This article was written following extensive discussions about Afrobeats, Brazil, and the potential rise of Africa’s influence between me, George Howell, and brazilian stylist Tai Brum.  We live in Rio de Janeiro, and are working to grow Afrobeats, and African cultural influence here.

24th July 2017 / 17 February 2018

Torre David – A taste for what’s to come?

Such an inspiring idea from Caracas. I see this model of development as a likely taste of what is to come.

Torre David is the largest squatted building in the world, a failed real estate development, “invaded” by people with no homes to go to. Following Venezuela’s financial crash the large shiny office block in down town Caracas has become home to 2,500 people, each family conducting their own organic appropriation of the space, and with locally organised security.

“this 150 meter tall building is currently hosting about 2500 squatters who find in it, a good way to dwell in this housing crisis time. This skyscraper that was originally supposed to become an architectural symbol and an economically operative building of the Financial power never finished its construction because of the national financial crisis in the late 90′s.

The Torre David is an interesting trend, considering Caracas’ large numbers of slum dwellers, and at the same large failed real estate ventures. In the context of rising unemployment, and diminishing national budgets, I think this is a trend that could become more widespread. In Rio de Janeiro for example there is the perverse situation of huge and empty failed condominiums for aspiring upper middle classes side by side with the slums.

The combination of abandoned structures and people in need of housing seems to make a good match. Caracas has a housing shortage of 40,000 units, and twenty other sites like Torre David have been occupied.

Iwan Baan’s photos of life in Torre David

This sort of development leads me to imagine not only dark Bladerunner like future scenarios, like something our of the new Judge Dredd film, but also has visions of wonderful demonstrations of human capacity to innovate and appropriate space. At the moment Venezuela’s prestigious architectural team Urban Think Tank are thinking up ideas of how to help with the space.  Urban Think Tank’s founders Alfredo Brillembourg and Hubert Klumpner argue that:

“the future of urban development lies in collaboration among architects, private enterprise, and the global population of slum-dwellers. Brillembourg and Klumpner issue a call to arms to their fellow architects to see in the informal settlements of the world a potential for innovation and experimentation, with the goal of putting design in the service of a more equitable and sustainable future.”

At the moment there is no lift, some residents have to climb 45 stories of stairs to reach home, and there are all sorts of problems that could be solved with a bit of ingenuity. Perhaps we could have in the future a system where governments support this sort of initiative. From a cost-effectiveness and sustainability perspective, it makes sense government could help providing technical support, and renovations of buildingsto make them more liveable. Perhaps encouraging vertical gardening, a biogas powered lift system, an application of the whole ‘intelligent building design’ with a bottom line of being cheap and cost-efficient?

Human settlements in the shell of the office tower

Torre David’s rooftop gym

 

A family living room in the Tower, re-programming architecture

Organisational structure of the Tower

The importance of being Mal-Adjusted

Read my essay on why we aren’t maladjusted enough here

Martin Luther King said:

There are certain technical words within every academic discipline that soon become stereotypes and cliches. Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word in modern psychology. It is the word “maladjusted.” This word is the ringing cry to modern child psychology. Certainly, we all want to avoid the maladjusted life. In order to have real adjustment within our personalities, we all want the well-adjusted life in order to avoid neurosis, schizophrenic personalities.

But I say to you, my friends, as I move to my conclusion, there are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of good-will will be maladjusted until the good societies realize. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self-defeating effects of physical violence. But in a day when sputniks and explorers are dashing through outer space and guided ballistic missiles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can win a war. It is no longer the choice between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence, and the alternative to disarmament. The alternative to absolute suspension of nuclear tests. The alternative to strengthening the United Nations and thereby disarming the whole world may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation. This is why I welcome the recent test-ban treaty.

In other words, I’m about convinced now that there is need for a new organization in our world. The International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment–men and women who will be as maladjusted as the prophet Amos. Who in the midst of the injustices of his day could cry out in words that echo across the centuries, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” As maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln who had the vision to see that this nation would not survive half-slave and half-free. As maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery would scratch across the pages of history words lifted to cosmic proportions, “We know these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator certain unalienable rights” that among these are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” As maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth who could say to the men and women of his day, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you. Pray for them that despitefully use you.” Through such maladjustment, I believe that we will be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice. My faith is that somehow this problem will be solved.

 

Martin Luther King – Proud to be Mal-Adjusted

Through such maladjustment, I believe that we will be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice. My faith is that somehow this problem will be solved.

Pam Warhurst – Voluntary Citizen Led Transformation of cities

“What should a community do with its unused land? Plant food, of course. With energy and humor, Pam Warhurst tells at the TEDSalon the story of how she and a growing team of volunteers came together to turn plots of unused land into communal vegetable gardens, and to change the narrative of food in their community.”

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