"After interviews that went well, the people involved would often…
Photos couresy of Vigh IÖR
The ARTS project is drawing to a close, the UK has left the EU leaving an uncertain future for research, and the world hurtles onwards in its path towards irreversible climate change. There doesn’t seem to be a lot to be positive about, coming from this small island that has chosen to cut itself off from the rest of Europe. But yet, I can’t help to be thankful for bearing witness to the Informed Cities Conference in Dresden.
A small group of talented and committed people gathered in a converted church to ask ourselves the difficult questions, and create the partnerships necessary to make that make change. These people, and their relationship to power and partnerships, should give us hope for the future of transitions and transformations to sustainability.
The church is now a theatre, and is a transitional building. Ania Rok described how the building represented a goal for the transition movement. A church is a centre of a community, and its heart.
Leen Gorissen, in the first session of the conference, said something which became an oft-repeated phrase over the next two days. “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts”. When thinking about this within the ARTS context, I saw the struggle between making visible, quantifiable change and the individual stories that are uncountable but matter just as much to transitional projects.
Mundano, founder of Pimp My Carroca, became the symbol of this throughout the conference. His inspiring speech on how “invisible people” are responsible for most of the recycling efforts in Sao Paulo, and his work on improving their emotional and political standing showed how unrecognisable that which counts may be, or how what can be counted can hide a problem instead of showing a solution. catadores (collectors) in Brazil may be ignored, but they do 96% of Sao Paulo’s recycling, and they are what counts to the city’s recycling.
With the conference’s title of “people’s, power and partnerships”, the question of how do we communicate effectively between people of different power strands or within different groups became salient. Many speakers spoke of using existing networks to mobilise support, or using opportunities that already exist to change an agenda to include transition. The question of outsiders was rarely addressed however. The outsider, the person who has no relationship to the sustainability movements or groups, how do we bring them into the active movement of partnership-building in the sustainability-based world? This question, to me at least, remains unanswered. The people that count are the ones we ignore, and I look forward to future discussions on including the excluded, just as the church aims to bring in those separated from the community.
The session on power recognised the illusion that we have of our own powerlessness. Asked who has the most power, very few people in the room – from the funder to the activist – thought it was themselves. This lack of recognition of our personal power may be holding back many people from the change they can – and do – create. Despite being inspired by every speaker or every attendee, few of these inspirational people held the faith in themselves to deliver the answers they know they have to the problems of transition. Is faith, again that symbol of the church, the key to unlocking our personal power to make a change?
But what about the idea that we are all powerless alone, but together we are powerful? A conference recognising partnerships couldn’t be complete without an acknowledgement of the collective power we all hold. And as the conference closed, and every participant was brought on stage to say one word that comes to mind about the Informed Cities Forum, the power of us all – together – to make change was clear. That is something to give us hope in uncertain times.
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