When was the last time you sat with two strangers and told them the story of your life, in three minutes?
Mine was eight weeks ago. It is harder than you think. And not just because of the embarrassment factor, but because one too rarely thinks of one’s whole life, let alone presenting it in three minutes. But it does achieve something precious: it tears down silos. Silos of me and you, of all those ideas of what makes us different, of what divides us, of the ‘what I do’ identities. It leaves you with something simpler, something about a shared humanity and a sense of what probably does matter and what probably does not (at least not that much).
U for University
It is from within this space that thirty-two people from fifteen countries began a journey to explore ‘The Future Of Universities, as if Sustainability Mattered’: a training programme centred around the question of how universities can be a positive force for transformation and change towards a more sustainable future.
The key words here being ‘future’ and ‘sustainability’, since both inevitably require a normative exploration engaging with ‘evaluative claims about what is good’. And to add to the discomfort that at least some of us are already feeling with ‘being normative’, let me introduce the killer application: during a whole week, we were asked to use bodies (the ones in the room), emotions and, yes, minds. That was meant to take care of the centuries-long arguments around separation between thought and feeling.
One of the first things that called my attention in Lisbon, when I first arrived from Brazil, was the amount of used and unused green areas available within city limits. As I disembarked straight from Rio de Janeiro, a city that struggles with land scarcity, real estate development and gentrification, Lisbon’s land availability confused and amused me at the same time. On my everyday commute, I would think about all the possibilities these areas had to offer to local communities` improvement, for food production enhancement and for the overall promotion of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Worldwide, cities have the challenging task of how to pursue multiple SDGs, and Urban Food Gardens (UFGs) may present an interesting window of opportunity, with numerous options. These gardens, where ‘open spaces are managed and operated by members of the local community in which food or flowers are cultivated’ within urban or peri-urban limits, have the potential to address both municipal specific issues or wider regional goals if properly integrated in local/regional policy frameworks, boosting Lisbon’s food security, food systems’ design and overall social well-being.
When we look at urban planning strategies and policies, food systems are less visible and seem to be less of a priority than other systems, like housing, transportation and employment generation, and Lisbon is, in this sense, no different. However, as urban populations grow and climate change impacts become more frequent, food systems need to be looked at more comprehensively, and different institutional arrangements must be considered in order to tackle key food security and urban challenges.
A observação de um campo de refugiados ao longo do tempo – de resto, como acontecerá com tantos outros lugares – informa acerca da história e política(s), sobre dinâmicas socioeconómicas e ambientais, sobre o evoluir das relações entre a esfera humanitária e do desenvolvimento, tanto ao nível regional como global. Desde 2012 que acompanho a situação no campo de refugiados de Meheba (Northwestern Province, Zâmbia), com incursões regulares no terreno (2012, 2014 e 2018) observando as várias transformações aí experienciadas, e reflectindo, entre outras coisas, acerca de qual o fim desse lugar muito além da emergência que lhe deu origem, bem como dos respectivos habitantes.
Criado em 1971 com vista a acolher populações que escapavam do conflito angolano, o campo de refugiados de Meheba iria crescer ao longo do tempo. Ecoando os picos de violência regional, o campo viria a receber também indivíduos oriundos da República Democrática do Congo (RDC), Ruanda, Burundi, Somália, entre outros países menos representativos. As sucessivas vagas de refugiados, a par do carácter agrícola (a cada núcleo familiar eram atribuídos cerca de 5ha de terra arável com vista à auto-suficiência), explicam os mais de 720km2 de área deste lugar. Da estrada alcatroada que liga as cidades de Solwezi e Mwinilunga parte a via principal do campo que, ao longo de mais de 35km, articula, em forma de espinha de peixe, os seus oito blocos. Até recentemente, uma leitura sócio-espacial informava, de modo mais ou menos linear, acerca de quarenta anos de conflitos na região. Hoje em dia, Meheba apresenta um panorama sócio-espacial e demográfico bastante mais complexo e heterogéneo, explicitando uma série de transformações políticas, socioeconómicas e humanitárias.
A reflexão estrutura-se em duas partes. Na primeira parte, a partir do uso de estatísticas oficiais, apresento evidências que demonstram a existência de problemas nos mercados de habitação e na situação económico-financeira das autarquias, que apelam, a meu ver, a uma nova abordagem na captura dos aumentos de valor do solo e dos edifícios que resultam de decisões e de ações do planeamento urbano. Na segunda parte, apresento o exemplo da Inglaterra, país onde prevalece uma agenda ideológica neoliberal, marcada pela crença na centralidade dos mercados, mas também um consenso alargado sobre a necessidade das autoridades locais, a bem da sustentabilidade económico-financeira das autarquias e da justiça social, utilizarem instrumentos de captura dos planning gain – como coloquialmente têm vindo a ser designados.
On February 14, 2018, Dutch former Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers passed away at the age of 78. Lubbers was the Netherlands youngest and longest-serving Prime Minister, governing the country between 1982 and 1994. When I received the news, I immediately remembered the time I had the chance to meet Mr. Lubbers in person. About 12 years ago, on January 28 2006, I was invited to a meeting of the newly established Earth Charter Youth Network. Ruud Lubbers was there to promote the Earth Charter: A declaration of fundamental principles for building a just, sustainable, and peaceful global society for the 21st century. When reading this definition nowadays, it is easy to draw a link with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. As a tribute to Ruud Lubbers, this post compares the Earth Charter Principles with the SDGs, shows how they are complementary frameworks, and emphasizes how the SDGs could use Ruud´s Earth Charter as ethical inspiration.
The concept of sustainable development is often seen as a contradiction in terms (i.e. an oxymoron). No form of economic development can be sustained indefinitely, given the inherent limitations of both humans and the ecosystems we depend upon to, for example, access good quality water and food. Economists continue to debate alternatives based on, for example, the concepts of ‘steady state economy’ and ‘degrowth’. Ultimately, I argue, any form of long term development centred on human well-being must safeguard the health of our rivers, aquifers, lakes and reservoirs.