Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Savouring Cities

Even now that I am spending most of my day reading, I still can't keep up with how quickly the world's attention seems to move and feel like I can have an informed opinion. There always seems to be something everyone is talking about, but it changes faster than you can wrap your head around the issue. At the moment it is 'to Grexit, or not to Grexit'. I can remember in my first year of university how excited I got when it seemed like the world had noticed what was going on in Zimbabwe. It felt like there was a swell of global opinion that could push for change. That was in early 2001. Then 9/11 happened. Attention moved.

Last year when Gaza flared up again, there was a flurry of attention. I decided I was going to make a bigger effort to understand the conflict and asked a few friends for a reading list. Good luck I guess is the best response to that attempt. Many people have completely focused their efforts and careers on finding a solution and we are still firmly in the mud. I hadn't even finished the first book and attention had moved. Syria. Egypt. North Korea. Flashes of interest and then we move on, but the problems typically bumble on.

I know I can't be alone in feeling in the dark on these issues, and yet 'the man in the street' seems to have incredibly strong opinions. Oscar Pistorius gets put on trial and suddenly everyone is a legal scholar disagreeing with a panel of judges with legal research assistants and years of experience. Greece makes the cover of the Economist again and suddenly everyone has a PHD in economics, a deep knowledge of European history, empathy for all the people involved, a advanced strategic mind to know the implications of all offered solutions... and the answer.

I suppose this comes with the increasing circle of empathy we have. The world is getting smaller in terms of travel & information flow. It is still vast and there are lots of problems. Important problems. Complicated problems. A colleague used to say to me she tried to start her day by getting three things done. Preferably smallish things that wouldn't be considered high enough her priority list. We can't always be working on the big problems. They are big energy parasites. But we can get little things done. Almost like pre-answering the question kids get asked when they get home from school. 'What did you learn today?'

I have started reading 'If Mayors Ruled the World' by Benjamin Barber. I find cities fascinating. When it comes down to the local level it seems that we can get stuff done. The issues become Garbage Collection, Transport Issues, Shared Spaces, Policing, etc. These are solvable problems. There are only so many ways to shove a whole bunch of people into a limited space in a way that improves their lives. Cities can learn from each other. Cities don't have the baggage of thousands of years of 'how we have always done things'. We've never had the huge cities we have today. Cities are cultural mixing pots with their own flavours.


We used to define ourselves by our families, then by our tribes, then by our religions, then by our nations. The beauty of defining ourselves by our cities, is that cities have porous borders and are interdependent. They solve similar problems. They work together. They have more in common than they have in conflict. But they have their own flavour. It is like enjoying craft beer, artisanal chocolate, single malt whisky or a limited edition wine. Someone who loves their City will love tasting other cities. We can savour the world's cities as Global Citizens.

In amongst the waves of stuff we don't know, I think there is still space for us to take small steps forward. Every day.
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