Joan-Francesc Mira: “The Mediterranean isn’t a zone of harmony. It’s a zone of conflict”

February 1st, 2017 No Comments

I tell Joan-Francesc Mira that the 2017 “Barcelona Debate”, “Old Europe, New Utopias” discusses, among other matters, whether there is a relationship between the ageing of the European population and the ageing of the European project. He gives me a severe look and says that the correlation might work intuitively but, on paper, it’s not so clear. We talk about identities, of clean people and people who defile, of cities that triumph and fail, of Napoleon, Adenauer and the feats and villainy of Mitterrand.

Joan Francesc Mira al CCCB © CCCB, 2016, Glòria Solsona

Joan Francesc Mira at CCCB © CCCB, 2016, Glòria Solsona

AP: Lyon, Avignon, Ravenna and Montpellier, the cities you mentioned in your lecture “Dante and Llull: Cultures, Languages and Worlds”, citing them as important urban centres in the lives of these two thinkers, now play no role in Europe. Do the political splendour and cultural splendour of cities go together? 

Joan Francesc Mira: On the one hand, they do. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, London was only relatively important on the European scale, and more in dynastic than economic or cultural terms. Hamburg, Amsterdam and Vienna didn’t have the importance they would later attain. Berlin, needless to say, only began to figure towards the end of the eighteenth century. Munich was something else. So was Prague. The more you move down, the more important the urban centres were. Milan began its rise with that of the Visconti family. Venice, yes, was important in every domain, especially in trade with the East. And Florence was a great centre of finance.

The European cities of the north didn’t yet have the power they would acquire after the industrial revolution. But, on the other hand, I also cited Paris, which was an extremely important centre in the ninth and tenth centuries. The French dynasty wielded so much power that it even began to overshadow the papacy. Moreover, with its university, Paris was a great centre of philosophical and theological authority.

Vista de la universitat de la Sorbona en 1550. CC Edward August, Fourquemin, Nousveaux

University of the Sorbonne view in 1550. CC Edward August, Fourquemin, Nousveaux

You need to remember that neither Llull nor Dante thought in global terms, as we do now. For Dante, Naples was something remote. His itinerary took him to Rome, which was important but, demographically speaking, it only had 30,000 inhabitants. Valencia, by the time the Borjas arrived, already had twice as many inhabitants.

So, the answer is yes and no. It’s not that the cities of Ramon Llull and Dante were very important, though they had a lot of autonomy in the political realm and this made them stand out with their intrigues, military pacts and trade agreements. But the active life of these cities isn’t the same as their real significance.

AP: What kind of relations did these Mediterranean cities have?

JFM: Conflict. The Mediterranean isn’t a zone of harmony. It’s a zone of conflict. It was only under the Roman Empire that there was unity among the Mediterranean peoples. The territorial unity came to an end with the barbarian invasions and the expansion of Islam with its religious unity. We are still living in a duality, with a south—North Africa and the Middle East —of Semitic, Islamised origins, and a European, Christian north.

But we need to be careful about Christian Europe. Recall that the Turks reached the gates of Vienna at the end of the seventeenth century and that Hungary, which is now part of Central Europe, belonged to the Turkish Empire for centuries.

“Europe is an ideological product of the Enlightenment and romanticism”

AP: There is no millenarian European Christian identity.

JFM: Well, the Turks and the “Europeans” thought in terms of Christendom rather than Europe. Europe was then a geographical reference, as America was to become. Europe is an ideological product of the Enlightenment and romanticism and, above all, of the twentieth century when attempts were made to reinterpret history in terms of the identity of an old project that never existed.

The old project which certainly was important was that resulting from the breakup of the Roman Empire. In the eastern Empire, where Constantine built the new capital in Constantinople—the ancient Byzantium which was later to become Istanbul—they still spoke Greek and had a Christianised Greek culture, which then became part of the Slavic world. This Greek Empire developed a kind of Caesaropapism, a structure in which civil authority—the Byzantine emperor—was also the religious authority. In the Western Empire there was no unified civil authority. This was only recovered with Charlemagne but then it fell apart again.

AP: And this means…

JFM: An eastern Christendom and a western Christendom with totally different characteristics. It’s also explained by the evolution of cities, as you mentioned. In the east there were no urban communes in the style of Florence or Barcelona with, for example the community councils, autonomy, codes of law, statutes, regulated trade and universities. There were no medieval, Renaissance, Enlightenment or bourgeois universities in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Although they were frequently ruled by a king, the autonomous Mediterranean communes were the forerunners of representative democracy. Or culturally speaking, Dante was a pre-humanist and was interested in the ancient Roman model, an ethical, ideological and aesthetic model which is independent from the Christian model. Here, there is an independence of thought and aesthetics vis-à-vis sacred doctrine, an autonomy which never existed in eastern Christianity.

«Putin ha reactivado la hostilidad oriental contra el occidentalismo»

AP: And where does this western Christianity begin and end?

JFM: Well, wherever there’s a gothic cathedral, there’s been this whole kind of western culture and society. Take, for example, the idea of studying law or medicine at the university. The university gives you a licence to teach, or it recognises you as a doctor or, in other words, it endows you with the capacity to establish doctrine. All of this represents a very specific mentality, kind of politics, artistic expressions and way of living extending from Finland to Venice, and including the Croatian coast (indeed, what is now Dubrovnik was the Republic of Ragusa in Italian culture).

Putin is bringing about a revival of this difference between the two worlds and the Orthodox Church is recognising him as a kind of tsar, as the authority over the church. He is the great backer of universal reactionism. He finances Marine Le Pen, Hungarian reactionism, the adversaries of the European Union and the restoration of the monasteries on Mount Athos. He has reignited eastern hostility against Occidentalism.

AP: Occidentalism is also a strange concept. For many centuries—and, in fact, it seems like a cyclical phenomenon—it was believed that there was a gulf between Latin and Anglo-Saxon cultures which was impossible to bridge.

JFM: This has a real basis. In the beginning it was an ethnic contrast: Romans versus Germanic “barbarians”. But the peoples were slowly mixing and, by the Late Middle Ages, the division no longer mattered. But what happened is that there was a resurgence because the two peoples embarked on different forms of economic evolution. The people of the north began to prosper and modernise more quickly. There is a kind of mercantile capitalism that works better there because there is more economic freedom. In the protestant zone, in particular, the activation of an advanced urban culture was faster, with cleaner, tidier and better organised cities. And after the eighteenth century, this gave rise to different ways of life and forms of collective consciousness. Nevertheless, a citizen of Hamburg, or Rotterdam or London or Edinburgh will mistakenly still keep seeing us as a backward people.

AP: And, despite these differences, there has been an attempt to construct a European identity.

JFM: The first to try it was Napoleon but, naturally, not out of any ideological conviction regarding some kind of European culture. What he wanted was to give a historical or cultural veneer to his military empire. After him the Nazis tried it, mainly because of their opposition to the Soviet Union which, for them, represented Asian peoples. During the Second World War, this opposition you noted between north and south was superseded by an opposition between east and west.

The idea of Europe as a political structure built by communal agreement between different peoples made its appearance after the Second World War. Since the eighteenth century with its Thirty Years’ War, we have never stopped killing each other. Europe is sixty years old and it was designed to bring peace.

.

Quadre Entry of Napoleon I into Berlin, 27th October 1806. CC C. Meynie, 1810

Entry of Napoleon I into Berlin, 27th October 1806. CC C. Meynie, 1810

AP: Also, maybe, so that its countries could play a role in the global world. 

JFM: No. You have to see it from within. In 1945, for the first time in two centuries, Germany was totally destroyed and occupied. Only then could it be submitted to a union which—or so the other countries believed—would lessen its power. In fact, the first attempt was the European Cole and Steel Community. Why? Because if you control the production and use of steel, you control the war industry. Without that control, you can’t deploy your own heavy weapons. Hence, this was the definitive proof of Germany’s good faith: steel production had to be submitted to the scrutiny of a supranational authority.

Remember that in 1946 and 1947 the Germans lost more than a third of their territory. That means fourteen or fifteen million Germans expelled from what is now Poland or the Czech Republic or the Königsberg zone—which is now Russian—and subsequently taken in by East Germany. Now we are scandalised by the 400,000 Palestinians uprooted by the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, but the neighbouring Arab countries were never able to take them in.

«The three great ideological and political fathers of the Union were Konrad Adenauer, Alcide De Gasperi and Robert Schuman»

AP: Let’s go back to Germany’s weakness? Who benefits?

JFM: Who indeed! The ones who joined the Union as a dominant power were the French who, despite the myth of the resistance and de Gaulle, had lost the war. By means of the Union, they tried to control the Germans and, moreover, gratify their craving for historic grandeur.

The three great ideological and political fathers of the Union were Konrad Adenauer, Alcide De Gasperi and Robert Schuman, all three of them from borderlands, or of mixed origins, and all German speakers. By this I mean that Adenauer came from the most French-influenced part of Germany, De Gasperi was a northern Italian born in the old Austria-Hungary, and Schuman was a Frenchman of German origin. Forty years on, Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand would represent the spiritual European reconciliation. Mitterrand was a great politician and also a great crook who protected French war criminals who had worked with the Nazis. But he was a great politician who was able to see that the time had come to consolidate the project.

AP: ¿Quo vadis, Europa?

JFM: Well look, first of all, since the end of the communist era there has been an impressive resurrection of the Christian faith right across orthodox Europe. And not just in Putin’s Russia. Don’t forget that Tsipras is in power thanks to an ultra-nationalist, ultra-religious and ultra-Greek party supported by both the military and the church.

In our Europe everything is more uncertain. I wouldn’t say that there is a revival of Catholic religious practice here. There’s a permanent need for some kind of religion but religion has been replaced by absurd esoteric beliefs. And there’s also a wave of evangelical Protestantism coming from South America and the United States. This is very reactionary, totally literal in its interpretation of the Bible, completely divorced from the original Protestantism, and increasingly visible. Then again, there are 45 million Muslims in Europe with beliefs akin to those of the most rigorous Christians centuries ago. And this has a potential for mobilisation that is lacking the values on which our democracies are founded, as is demonstrated by the way we have to confront jihadist attacks. I don’t know about the future, but this will be the linchpin. I don’t like having to say it. But that’s the way things are.

Zygmunt Bauman’s Bequest to the CCCB

January 18th, 2017 No Comments

Recalling anecdotes and moments shared with the sociologist-philosopher

Zygmunt Bauman en el ciclo Fronteres, CCCB, 2004

Zygmunt Bauman in the cycle Fronteres, CCCB, 2004

If there is one name that will remain forever linked with the history of the Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona, it is that of the sociologist-philosopher Zygmunt Bauman who died in Leeds on 9 January 2017 at the age of ninety-one. A few weeks before his death, the Centre for Documentation and Debates had contacted him to ask him to open the next Barcelona Debate, “Old Europe, New Utopias” . In his affable response, he did not decline the invitation but regretted that his state of health was delicate so, given the risk, said he would leave the final decision to the CCCB team.

The period from this recent contact and going back to 2004, which was the first time Bauman (who was then relatively unknown, at least in Barcelona) set foot in the CCCB, covers thirteen years and fourteen lectures, more than a decade of working together and relationship. We mourn our loss because Bauman was pleasant, friendly and loveable, but we also look back with pride because we have worked with one of the most lucid thinkers of our times and we have conserved a good part of his ideas in our archive.

We have published six books of lectures he has given at the CCCB in the series BREUS CCCB (published in Catalan and English): Noves fronteres i valors universals (New Frontiers and Universal Values), Arxipèlag d’excepcions (Archipelago of Exceptions), La felicitat es fa, no es compra (Joys of Life Made, Not Bought), and El destí de la desigualtat social en la fase líquida de la modernitat (The Fate of Social Inequality in Liquid-Modern Times) and, in the DIXIT series (in Spanish), Archipiélago de excepciones (Archipelago of Exceptions) and Múltiples culturas, una sola humanidad (Many Cultures, One Humanity) as well as two articles in the publications Fronteres and Europe City.

On our website it is also possible to consult videos of his lectures, an interview and a chronicle of the last debate in which he appeared. This, in 2013, was followed by more than 700 people in the CCCB hall, which made him not just one of the oldest speakers at the CCCB but also one of the most popular with the public. He was our very own rock star (and we were his fans!), so we would like to remember him from a more personal standpoint. We have asked several members of the CCCB team who had more direct dealings with him—the former director of the CCCB Josep Ramoneda; the head of the Centre for Documentation and Debates, Judit Carrera; the head of press, Mònica Muñoz; and the debates coordinator Susana Arias—to share their memories of Zygmunt Bauman with us.

“Bauman’s words were totally in tune with the spirit of the CCCB” Josep Ramoneda, former director of the CCCB

On 22 March 2004, Zygmunt Bauman gave his first lecture at the CCCB. Small, full of energy, accompanying his words with gesticulating arms and hands which made him fill the stage more and more, he gave a true lesson in a genre which is antiquated, or so it is fashionable to believe. Yet I have found few forms of presentation and discussion of ideas that can improve upon a good lecture. Bauman’s was precisely that. PowerPoint and panel discussions have wrecked a genre that is highly exigent. In order to give a good lecture, it is not enough to think about it and write it up. You have to deliver it. And delivering it is very difficult. PowerPoint is a great enemy of the good lecture. A lecture is an act of creation which, as such, is submitted for the interpretation and consideration of the audience.

Zygmunt Bauman i Josep Ramoneda al cicle Fronteres, CCCB, 2004

Zygmunt Bauman and Josep Ramoneda in the cycle Fronteres, CCCB, 2004

That day, Bauman explained to us how, in the city, general and abstract statements about conflicts between civilisations and cultures are translated into the experience of relationships with specific individuals, for example the people next door or from the neighbourhood. To paraphrase, he said that you don’t know these people as walking embodiments of an imminent clash of civilisations but as shopkeepers, waiters, workers, people who work in the same factory as you do, neighbours, parents of your children’s classmates and, little by little but unfailingly, they keep shifting from the abstract category of “alien civilisation” to that of individual human beings. Hence, slowly, and not without moments of conflict, fear of the great unknown begins to dissipate and the terrifying foreigners are no more than ordinary human beings with the same desires and wishes as you.

Bauman’s skilfulness with metaphors, the secret of his publishing success—and how much sociological soup has been cooked up from his liquid society!—has meant that he is also sometimes pigeonholed. But, that day, his words were totally in tune with the spirit of the CCCB.

Another memory I have is the day we opened a seminar with a discussion between him and Giorgio Agamben. I was impressed by the compelling power of the maestro’s presence. Everyone expected a certain theoretical confrontation and yet Agamben behaved like a young man intimidated by authority. He simply let Bauman lead the way.

Bauman has many potent expressions, but one will always be with me. To paraphrase again, he pointed out that one of the great catchwords of the twentieth century was liquidate: liquidate the Jew, liquidate the class enemy. We must make sure that the main programme of the twenty-first century does not turn out to be that of liquidating mankind. These words sum up an intellectual life that was very typical of the last century: a Polish Jew who escapes the Holocaust, who grows up and is trained under the post-war communist regime in which he comes to occupy a position of responsibility in the military, and who goes into exile in 1968 at a time of a certain anti-Semitic crusade, first to Israel and then to Leeds where he forges his intellectual career. His vigour emanated life and his cordiality was warming.

A Most Surprising Interview. Mònica Muñoz-Castanyer, head of press at the CCCB

I remember most especially Lluís Amiguet’s interview with Bauman in November 2005. In order to ensure a good interview, it is necessary to give both interviewee and interviewer sufficient time and a comfortable setting. Neither of these was provided on the occasion of this interview for La Contra (the back page) of the daily La Vanguardia. Having prepared a lot of interviews for Bauman, which he resignedly and gracefully accepted, we led him to different parts of the CCCB, always in the company of his wife. First, there were photos in the courtyard, the Pati de les Dones, then a meeting with journalists in the Mirador space and, next, a recorded interview for the CCCB Archive. Bauman was showing signs of impatience and his wife was nodding her approval. But the main interview was yet to come: one hour with Amiguet!

We had already crossed the passageway on the first floor, heading for a meeting room in the CCCB office space where we had planned to hold the interview, when Zygmunt Bauman raised his arms, opened his left hand (in the right hand he was holding his inseparable pipe) and, in the middle of the chill-out area (a break space for workers on the office floor on the CCCB with coffee and snacks machines), said, “We’ll do the interview right here.” Before I could convince him to change his mind, he and his wife were sitting in the chairs of the chill-out space. I broke out in a sweat. The journalist sat down beside him, turned on his recorder and started the interview. It was a total disaster. Added to the infernal racket of the old escalators, were the rumbling of the dispensing machines, footsteps, voices of the Centre’s workers moving from here to there, and sounds of visitors wandering around the CCCB at the time. It was one hour of utter torment which, nonetheless, turned into this Contra in La Vanguardia. We have never again held an interview in the chill-out space and, thanks to Zygmunt Bauman, I will always be well-equipped to tell people where one should never hold an interview.

Visiting Bauman in Leeds. Judit Carrera, head of the Centre for Documentation and Debates

I visited Zygmunt Bauman at his home in Leeds in the winter of 2008. The father of the theory of liquid modernity had been living in that house for thirty-seven years, sharing it with his wife Janina in a marriage that lasted 62 years until she died in 2009. They both welcomed me with their usual friendliness and, displaying an excellent sense of humour, assured me that their long marriage was the exception that confirmed the rule of a liquid world. Their mutual deep understanding was evident. They spoke Polish together and, at times, rather stiff English. They worked in different parts of the house and met twice a day to smoke together. They said that smoking was a routine, a way of thinking. And they smoked non-stop

Their house was a typical two-storey English home in a narrow street near a big avenue which cut them off from the centre of Leeds. Cosy and with a Central European feel, it was austere but full of books. Their messy library had not diminished even though they had ceded 2,500 volumes to Prague University to express their gratitude to a city which had taken them in after they were expelled from Poland when the communist regime embarked on an anti-Semitic campaign in 1968. Three years later, in 1971, they arrived in Leeds, invited by the university there. After that Zygmunt Bauman never moved from Leeds or its university. It was surprising that a man with such solid pillars in his life should have been so able to interpret the uncertainty and fluidity of today’s world.

Judit Carrera entrevista Zygmunt Bauman l’última vegada que el sociòleg va visitar el CCCB, Jordi Gomez, 2013

Judit Carrera entrevista Zygmunt Bauman l’última vegada que el sociòleg va visitar el CCCB, Jordi Gomez, 2013

Despite their advanced age, they were lucid, very well informed and up-to-date. They asked me about the CCCB, about the newly inaugurated high-speed train between Barcelona and Madrid, and the Law of Historical Memory. Owing to Janina’s delicate health, they were no longer travelling but were still writing because writing, they said, was their way of life. Their manners were exquisite and their happiness contagious. Yet there was also a hint of a certain tension between their vivacious curiosity and the slowness imposed by age.

After some hours, Bauman walked with me to the taxi and authorised me to publish one of his texts in the “BREUS” collection. Saying goodbye, he added that, as long as he lived, we could always count on him.

Bauman’s Last Email. Susana Arias, debates coordinator

Our last correspondence with Bauman was just a few weeks ago when we invited him to open this year’s Barcelona Debate. With his usual loyalty to the CCCB, he thought about the invitation to return to “my beloved Barcelona” but warned us that his fragile health all but ruled out travel. He ended his email saying, “Think about whether it’s worth running the risk,” and closing with “Love – Z”.

In his memory and to farewell him in the company of the audience that so greatly admired him, we shall dedicate the Barcelona Debate 2017, “Old Europe, New Utopias”, to Zygmunt Bauman. The Debate opens on 6 February.

We have opened a space in the CCCB Archive where members of the public can consult a collection of Zygmunt Bauman’s work.

 

(Català) Viure més, i millor

December 21st, 2016 No Comments

David Harvey: “There are very good reasons right now to be anti-capitalist”

December 15th, 2016 No Comments

British geographer and social theorist David Harvey, a special guest at the opening of L’Alternativa independent film festival, visited the CCCB to explain the relationship between modern capitalism and the political impact of Donald Trump’s election win

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After over forty years spent teaching Marx’s Capital – now also from his YouTube  channel – Harvey’s view on the free market system reveals itself as clear, organised and categorical. We interviewed him to find out more about what his assessment is of the latest political changes.

Why Donald Trump?

For David Harvey, the question should be turned around: Why didn’t Hillary Clinton win? The fact that anyone can read in the media that “Clinton went to talk for Goldman Sachs and received 270,000 dollars for one speech” gave a lot of fuel to Trump’s arguments. On the basis that voters in the big cities – such as New York – are more inclined to vote Democrat, it was in rural areas and among the most vulnerable social classes where the American magnate’s discourse made the deepest impression.

According to Harvey, on a popular level, typical people talking in bars, it was felt that Hillary Clinton was not the kind of person who was going to work for them. The determining idea that led to Trump’s electoral victory was that “he made his own money”, which furthermore embodies the old ideal of the American dream. Meanwhile, Clinton was viewed as a person who, favoured by her position of power, was in politics purely to make a lot of money.

The economic boom

Capitalism has always been about growth. According to this British professor, the growth rate of societies with a free market economic system, since it always follows an exponential curve, can reach an inflection point. A point where the curve can no longer hold out. Harvey uses China as an example of the country that has grown most significantly and that has also kept global capitalism stable since 2008, thanks to a massive urbanisation programme

In fact, between the years 2011 and 2013, China consumed 45% more cement than the United States consumed in the whole of the 20th century. So, what will Trump do? “Nobody knows exactly what he’s going to do, but what I can guarantee is that he’ll try to create a boom in the US economy through urbanisation programmes, just like China did. He has to provide answers to all the people on low wages who voted for him”, comments Harvey.

 Transition to a zero growth economy

The consequences of this urbanisation process, if it really does happen, may be very different. But the key, according to this geographer, is that we are going to move towards a new inflection point in the economy. “The growth will have to stop, inevitably. And copying the Chinese model, apart from the consequences it may have for the environment and socio-political contexts, creates political fighting and all the social tensions that we are seeing today”.

“There are very good reasons to be anti-capitalist right now”, Harvey affirms. The situation that a new mass urbanisation process could lead us to should make us think about what we will do when that inflection point arrives. “We have to say to people explicitly that we need to manage this transition to a zero growth economy and it must be done in a way that is socially equitable”.

So now what?

Leaving aside the racist solutions offered by the Trump side, we still find other alternatives. Harvey points out that in the United States what might happen, for example, is that the political faction led by Bernie Sanders, who lost to Hillary Clinton in the primaries, may become dominant inside the Democratic Party. “This may lead to solutions in terms of building something that truly responds to the problems of growth”.

In the United Kingdom, something similar is happening with Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Here is the case of a politician with little support among Labour MPs, but tremendous support from the mass party. This antagonism within the party itself has grown very quickly, along with new memberships to enable people to vote for him in internal processes.

Meanwhile, in relation to Barcelona and similar cities, Harvey observes certain movements with a popular base that, on a municipal level, are making the effort to change the nature of the urbanisation process and the effects of mass tourism. In this sense, these movements are becoming a response to one of the great challenges of the current time: “building cities to live in, as opposed to cities to invest in”.

The lecture by David Harvey at CCCB is available here.

“We have to politicize our judgment of urban transformation”

November 17th, 2016 No Comments

Interview with David Bravo, architect and CCCB collaborator

What are the most worrying housing and urban development problems at worldwide scale? Do governments, businesses and institutions agree as to how to tackle them? Do cities have similar problems and conflicts? Habitat III, the third international conference on Housing and Sustainable Development, took place in Quito in October 2016. The UN holds this summit every 20 years to define what it calls the “New Urban Agenda”, the roadmap that states and organizations should follow as regards urban planning or development.

The architect David Bravo, a collaborator of the Centre de Cultura Contemporània in projects such as the European Prize for Urban Public Space or the exhibition Piso Piloto, of which he was co-curator, attended the summit on behalf of the CCCB. Carlota Broggi, head of the CCCB’s touring exhibitions, interviews David Bravo about his experience at Habitat III.

The need to understand housing as a right, to democratize cities and distance them from the interests of big business, gentrification or the acritical discourse surrounding so-called smart cities are common themes that concern Barcelona and Quito, and which David comments on in this interview.

 David Bravo in the CCCB. Foto: Lucía Calvo

David Bravo in the CCCB. Photo: Lucía Calvo

- What was the point of the CCCB’s presence in Quito?

- Habitat III, the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, brought together in Quito activists, thinkers and governors from all over the planet to establish the guidelines for the New Urban Agenda. The importance of this meeting is reflected in the fact that it only takes place once every 20 years. The CCCB’s presence highlighted its reflection on the urban phenomenon, which has been a part of the institution’s DNA since it was created. The CCCB has always taken an across-the-board view of the city and strived to combine such diverse disciplines as philosophy, literature, politics and urban planning. This promiscuity was particularly appropriate in the context of Quito, where voices from very differing geographical and disciplinary backgrounds made themselves heard.

- How has the debate generated at Habitat III changed your view of architecture and urban design as tools to regenerate the city?

More than changing my view, it confirmed my belief that architecture and urban planning are double-edged swords. They can serve the abuse of power by contributing to spatial injustice, property speculation, corruption in planning, public debt, wasting energy or concentrating wealth in the hands of the few. But they are also vital instruments for democracy.

Rather than regeneration, we need to talk about the democratization of the city. Too often, we are victims of a dazzling neophilia that leads us to assume that all regeneration is positive. But this is not always the case; regeneration often means breaking up a social and urban fabric, damaging its values, and excluding or casting out its disadvantaged inhabitants. So we have to politicize our judgment of urban transformation, which is never a purely technical or aesthetic question. Democratizing transformations are those that improve the life in common of those who share the city today—justice—and the survival of those who will inherit it tomorrow—sustainability—. If these two conditions are not met, we are not building democracy.

“We have to politicize our judgment of urban transformation”

- The summit invited mayors from around the world, as well as heads of management and governability. Is there a consensus that views housing as a basic need and a collective phenomenon, like public space?

- No, by no means. There is a big polarization between those who see housing as an asset and prioritize the right to ownership and those who see housing above all as a basic right and a means to democratize the city. This polarization manifests itself in various ways. The Thematic meetings held previously in various cities to prepare the Quito summit—Barcelona held one in April—produced official declarations full of alerts as to “spatial injustice” and defending the “right to the city”, concepts that were also very much present in Quito, both at the summit’s networking events and the alternative forums held alongside it. However, some UN member states reject the use of these concepts. So much so that the summit’s final declaration, as political scientist Joan Subirats remarked, is full of commercial concepts such as “smart city” while avoiding the word “democracy” and making just one, very indirect, reference to the “right to the city”.

The need to invest in smart cities was incorporated into the housing and urban design debate some years ago now. What does this concept really mean, and how did it feature in Quito?

- My main objection to the smart city current is that it places the means before the ends. You might say that it contradicts the Machiavellian thesis that “the end justifies the means”, defending instead that “the means justifies the end”, an equally mistaken statement. The smart city often presents solutions to irrelevant or non-existing problems, while avoiding solutions to the two principal problems rife in all cities: injustice and foolishness. To give one example, we don’t need sensors that allow us to find a parking space more quickly; what we do need is to produce cities that can once again function without such an unjust and unsustainable invader as the private vehicle, be it electric or self-driving.

The smart city views the urban phenomenon from the viewpoint of highly depoliticized, acritical technophilia even as it forgets—or conceals—that any urban transformation has political causes and effects—politics comes from polis, which means city! And it does this in collusion with big global corporations of doubtful reputation, like Cisco Systems or Telefónica, which concentrate great wealth in the hands of the few. Recently there has also been talk of “smart citizens”, which seems like a bit of an attempt to give a facelift to an initiative that originally overlooked the people. They is no denying that new technologies can be very useful in improving transparency, participation, collaborative coproduction or the democratic management of cities. But we have to remember that technology is just an instrument that can equally be used to serve democracy or the abuse of power.

“The smart city offers solutions to irrelevant or non-existing problems, while avoiding solutions to the two principal problems rife in all cities: injustice and foolishness”

 David Bravo in the CCCB. Foto: Lucía Calvo

David Bravo in the CCCB. Foto: Lucía Calvo

- As a representative of the CCCB, what contribution to the general debate were you able to make at the round tables organized at Habitat III?

Most particularly, the lessons learned from the European Prize for Urban Public Space—organized since 2000 by the CCCB along with another six institutions in Frankfurt, Helsinki, Ljubljana, London, Paris and Vienna—and the reflections offered by the exhibition Piso Piloto, organized jointly by the CCCB and the Museo de Antioquia in Medellin, which explores a host of solutions that have proven their viability for implementing the right to housing and the right to the city.

- Do you think these reflections evolved during the work sessions in Quito?

- The reflections underlying Piso Piloto evolved, because they showed that, beyond the immediate context of the exhibition—the cities of Barcelona and Medellin—they are just as relevant in other settings, such as Equatorial or Mexican cities. Quito and Mexico City are also concerned about phenomena such as gentrification, the lack of social housing or the proliferation of large private developments that impoverish the urban fabric and isolate their residents in closed communities. Ultimately, we see that the right to housing and the right to the city are universal and cannot be taken apart from each other. I’d go so far as to say that in an increasingly urbanized world, these rights are the bedrock of the rest of our human rights.

If Piso Piloto argues that “the city of the future is already built”, why do you think it is useful to discuss the challenges of urbanization in the 21st century?

- When we say that “the city of the future is already built”, we don’t mean that there’s nothing left to be done, or propose that things should be left as they are. What we want is to get past the development paradigm of the 20th century, based on unlimited growth. Past the utopian logic of modern urbanism that prefers the clean slate or the new build to grappling with the complexity of a pre-existing place. Past compulsively extending urban land with mono-functional, low-density new builds. Past an outdated, highly unjust and unsustainable model that’s responsible for urban sprawl, spatial segregation, pollutant emissions, energy waste and territorial depredation.

And this is not nostalgia; it’s a really contemporary way of thinking to defend the pre-modern model of the mixed compact city, made up of small row properties, with corridor-streets that encourage local commerce, a mix of uses and social classes, pedestrian movement and the possibility of good, efficient public transport. This model is far more appropriate for dealing with the economic, ecological and political challenges of the immediate future.

Ideally, what is the best Urban Agenda for the coming years?

- As I see it, the Urban Agenda should be a firm commitment to inundate cities with democratic radicalism. And I don’t mean playing to the gallery; it has to take the form of specific, verifiable measures. Any urban transformation has to democratize the city in four principal directions:

1. Looking downwards, there’s the principle of redistribution that conveys wealth and opportunities to the base of the social pyramid. We have to democratize access to basic resources and important places, combat growing inequalities and understand that social cohesion is a necessary condition for the good functioning of any city.

2. Looking forwards, we have sustainability, which improves the legacy we leave for coming generations. We have to stop putting them in the red, stop squandering the energy resources that they will need or damaging the environment in which they will live. Promoting sensible ways of designing the city is the most effective way of combatting climate change.

3. Looking back, there is the value of memory, which draws the best lessons from the past so that each generation can progress from the best starting point. We have to fill in the gaps available in compact fabrics, activate the things we have inherited from the past with new uses and meanings that preserve their heritage values. Reform, recycle, reuse and re-inhabit what is built rather than destroying, replacing or building anew.

4. Looking up, there’s the idea of participation—bottom-up—, that allows us to combat technocracy, populism, cronyism and abuse of power. We have to use pedagogy, transparency and accountability to transform the indifferent and the selfish into responsible, rigorous, aware citizens who are involved and empowered.