Cities across Europe are tentatively emerging from their quarantine. This project’s partner organisations face restrictions on their movement within their respective cities, while travel across Europe seems unlikely for the rest of the year. Although the virus has penetrated to different extents, all partners are working from home and continuing to work away from their offices. As well as practical difficulties, there are conceptual ones too: post-covid, right to the city issues aren’t quite the same.
In Sevilla, before the pandemic, ZEMOS98 were coordinating an initiative with local campaigners to document low-wage precarious work in the tourism sector. When tourism to the city was effectively suspended in March the initiative became impossible. The same organisations are now working on a way to produce a form of web documentary to document ‘the new normal’ in the city. They will have to find a way to document the impact of social distance while observing it too.
The idea to focus on precariousness in the tourism sector came from a ‘hackcamp’ last autumn. Hackcamps have been hosted by all the project’s partner organisations and are gatherings of young activists interested in ‘right to the city’ issues and media making. In Marseille, Les Têtes de L’Art found their hackcamp’s participants proposed a project interrogating Marseille’s ‘labellisation’ in city-branding initiatives. Now in the wake of the coronavirus, and one of the most draconian lockdowns in Europe, the project will look at both the language used in city communications and new measures to survey the movement of citizens: the point at which the conceptual control of a city’s identity, overlaps with the explicit control of its citizens movements. The project has the working title ‘The Office of Nothingism’.
Although Zagreb locked down soon enough to avoid the worst of the coronavirus it was hit by a crisis of its own in the form of an earthquake on March 22nd. It damaged 26,000 buildings and killed one person. Both the earthquake and the measures to reduce the effect of coronavirus have exposed the precariousness of tenants in privately rented accomodation. Now Kursiv, who coordinate the project in Zagreb, are working with local activists to produce a digital manual gathering legal advice for tenants across the city.
Of all the local initiatives, Krytyka Polityczna’s has been the least affected by Covid-19. They are currently getting to know artists and activists interested in the future of Zakole Wawerskie - a wetland habitat, near the centre of the city which is under-threat of development. The wetland has remained open to the public for the duration of the lockdown. Most of us who have lived through the lockdown in cities have become more aware of nature around us - there probably could be a better time to start talking about the value of places like Zakole Wawerskie.
Since the lockdown, issues of land and space have also become prominent in the wing of the project lead by Fanzingo who are based in Botkyrka, a suburb of Stockholm. The young people they work with have become interested in who owns cultivable land in the municipality. It seems that the vast majority of it is owned by one company.
When we began this project it was with the feeling that Right to the City issues had deep roots. Addressing them required time to think, reflect and anticipate. The pandemic has changed much of that - as we struggle to work out what will come next, sometimes now it seems that the best we can do is react, and as fast as we can.
Image credit: Jamie Bennett