Politics of Urban Nature

The cities of the future must be created by more and better collaboration. Power must be distributed. Conversations must engage many more actors than what is mostly the case today. Corporate as well as public leaders and institutions will have to overcome the separation strategies and approaches to knowledge that still dominate most economy, science, and politics.

That challenge means that we have to reach across the divides that are present today between different actors in a city, when it comes building, demolishing, refurbishing, and so on, in the urban common space.

The greatest challenge is probably the condition that land and water ownership is a serious hindrance to a common political dialogue. This, however, is a condition that I will park for now. It is beyond our influence at this point – but it won’t be for always. So I will relate instead to the conversations and what we can do to improve them.

All actors in a space like this – a green common in the middle of a city – belong to the same reality. All actors are also limited by the conditions given to us by the surroundings. They mean that we, for instance, cannot all stay here indefinitely simultaneously. There are limitations and limits.

Even the actors who live in symbiotic relation with each other, still also perceive existence from their own needs and criteria for a good life now and in the future. We are embedded in each other, yet all perceive with different eyes. If we have eyes, that is.

Politics of Nature grew from a thought that has been presented many times throughout history, the idea that it is possible to communicate even though we do see the world from our own needs. As long as we can establish the proper condition for that communication.

The sociologist Bruno Latour sketched his version of the idea in 1999, explaining how we could create “collectives in expansion” rather than spheres of mutual exclusion. The collective conversations replace the politics of knowing better and excluding others with listening and awareness within a conversation in steady growth. This means a rise in complexity, so we have to proceed carefully.

[A green frog, resident of Amager Fælled, 2 kms from the center of Copenhagen]

Let’s take¬†Amager F√¶lled¬†as an example, since that is where we are: right now, there is a tendency for the conversations to take place in mutually excluding echo chambers where everyone pretty much agrees, and only limited amount of perceptions are present. The chambers take turns in proposing actions or opinions, in transposed, mediated realities.

Such a situation clearly only benefits those with the greatest power of action or opinion making. It would be wrong to say that it is a very ideal democratic situation or method. In fact, this condition implies that those who are capable either of making the most noise – or capable of acting the fastest making no noise at all – are part of a conversation in which there are many more absent citizens than present ones.

For instance, you have this human who often takes the word to protect a particular frog species. That’s fine, and the human is good at getting heard, being a bit famous already and all. But the public does not actually get a clear picture of whether we are listening to the perspective of the frog or of the human only. We are witnessing a kind of state of exception, as the human is stating that it’s a matter of life and death for the frog (and other species in this area).

A state of exception is not a political condition in which you would want to remain Рas philosopher Giorgio Agamben has analyzed so amply in the past 30 years. On the other hand, an institution such as By & Havn [created to generate income for the city of Copenhagen through identification, maturing, and development of territories Рand owned by the city and the state, ed.] can act through being backed up by two majorities: they are owned by all (legal) citizens and can claim their right to act on behalf of the people. And they have to earn money for as of yet unborn citizens, a future majority that do not actually have a voice in the present. Popular state of exception based action vs legalized illegitimate action.

So then what? Who is not in and what should we do? The first question is easy. All of those who don’t have a voice they can talk with in a human conversation, that is worms, orchids, humus, trees – but also those who are not present because they are either dead, not born yet, or abstract beings. They exist as calculations, expectations or memories, but they only speak by proxy. Add to those the ones that could speak but don’t – the¬†silent majority: they speak through actions, e.g. when they vote (or abstain from doing so) at the next election or referendum. They motives remain silent, and only surface as numbers or delegations. So what is to be done?

Well, that’s why we are here today. To start unraveling the impossible conversation, the improbable collective – to resist the impossibility and start anyway. This is the first step in a longer process, which will lead to the development of digital solutions based on VR, AI, Blockchain – technologies, media, tools. But that is precisely why we are starting by a very analogue event. We want to explore the sensitivities at stake here, when we dream of making it possible to bring as many different perspectives and voices together in one process.

As we move forward, we might run into having created something highly complex, maybe a universe that just keeps getting more and more complex. So at this point, we have just asked people in the city to join us in this experiment, asking them to bring a vision (their own or what they believe they can represent). We are in the site that is being contested from many sides. between the former and the future zone of combat – or coexistence. We think it makes a difference being here. But frankly, we are all here to learn. We will be going through a¬†‘cratic platform’¬†process, designed by Rolf Bjerre.

This is all quite new to us. We are very grateful for your help. After the event, we will follow up with summaries, reflections, and invitations for the processes leading from here: both the processes that point to the communities and collectives of Amager Fælled and Copenhagen, and the processes that lead to developing new tools, as well as continuing our work in Amsterdam, Uganda, South Africa, Malta..

If you want to know more about this, or if you are simply intrigued by the publishing of this rambling opening speech for an event you don’t understand, express yourself and share your thoughts. Everything happening here is open source. More sources and links will be added!

By Oleg Koefoed (Growing Pathways)