“There's always room for a story that can transport people…
The time of the ARTS project has come to an end. The last papers are written, the last public sessions have been concluded and the last articles are being typed. Where will all the people involved in the project disperse to? Which seed planted during these three years will grow? And where?
As we have stated a few times during the ARTS project, change is happening constantly, but not simultaneously, on multiple levels. As write, I reflect and I look back on what has happened in the last three years. What has changed in Dresden? And what has changed in me?
As I have written in my view back at the beginning of this year a lot of things have started to grow in Dresden already. The ARTS research team of the IOER in town have done their best to actually make divers people meet in the process of the project. During formal and informal sessions, through establishing personal and professional connections and through consistent encouragement of all stakeholders, they have helped immensely forging bonds between unlikely allies.
Not very often before have high ranking administration officers and young activists from civil society met at eye level to exchange about their opinions of what the change towards sustainability should look like in Dresden.
I wonder, if the project application for the Future City Dresden 2030+ would have been written as easily and would have drawn people of this diversity together to envision a common future for the city without ARTS preparing the ground.
Maybe the ARTS project came about at the right time. A time, when there is a generational shift between the first wave of activists of Dresden, who started a sustainability movement in this town in the early nineties, and the activists who started since 2007. A time, when our town has a few more progressive points on the agenda, since over 20 years of monolithic reign of one party, who saw no necessity to change our ways.
Through the prescribed arts contest within the ARTS project the research team helped to start and strengthen the local initiative Stories of Change, which broadcasts existing local stories of change within Dresden. This helps actors to network and encourages new actions for change in town.
From what I can observe, I see an acceleration and an affiliation of activities and initiatives towards a liveable future for all in Dresden. And yet I am wondering if the project’s title may contain a seed of the mindsets it wants to change. Because within “ARTS – Acceleration and Rescaling Transitions to Sustainability” I never liked the term “accelerate”. Because to me it inherits the same ingrained thought patterns of the system whose flaws it wants to transform. The thought patterns of “The more, the better!”, “Everything right here, right now!”, “Growth!” and “Efficiency for Progress!”.
Yes, there is urgency to act. And yes, there are hundreds and thousands of people acting or trying to help since decades and centuries. Has it helped so far? Has it slowed down the destructiveness and collision course of our current system on a global scale? I am not sure. So maybe it is time to reflect instead of acting, contemplating instead of panicking and diving deep to find the true reasons for our basically self-destructive behavior. Science can only play one part in this quest, because also science is part of the system.
For me personally, the journey with the ARTS project was accompanied by the constant widening of my horizon and comfort zone. Recognizing and respecting the many more actors working since years towards a sustainable future have given me hope and also has put my efforts into persepective.
In spite of my inherent impatience I have started to realize, that a transformation of the scale we are approaching, will need and take more than my lifetime. This implicates, that more destruction will happen until then. And all I can really do about that, is to stay aware and feel the suffering we are causing to ourselves. I only have a small role to play in this enormous shift. And my contribution will be not be judged by the quantity of “good” that I will be doing in this lifetime, but by my intentions and the quality of what I bring into this world.
And what is sustainability, after all? What are we aiming for? Can we create something truly new within the thought patterns of the old? And how to think and be new, when you have grown up in the old?
Regarding this question, I really liked the picture envisioned by the speakers of the podium at this year’s Informed City Forum in Dresden. The picture, that the yourney towards a sustainable life for our society is like climbing a mountain nobody of us can see clearly. A mountain of unknown height and shape, where the ways to the top are not signposted but have to be found step by step. And many people are climbing the mountain already. From many angles, with different shoes, all with a different pace.
Where do we go from here? The ARTS team of Dresden distilled their observations into the ARTS Road Map, a collection of recommended actions directed at the civil society of Dresden, it’s activists and it’s governmental officials. I hope with this gift for the city’s future the actors and networks in Dresden will grow together and cooperate better to be braced for the unavoidable challenges ahead of all of us.
We cannot fight for a better future. Fight and conquest are tactics of the dying old mindsets. We have to nuture and let our common future grow in its own ways into a vibrant and fruitful plant, not the shape we want to engineer it to. Maybe that is, what we and I have to accept. That we can only hope for the best.