Our multiple and overlapping crises of humanity are fundamentally a crisis of care. Ken Loach’s recent I, Daniel Blake captures with harrowing intensity the inhumanity of the institutions of the British welfare state of the 21st century where food banks are in growing insult and reality. The film portrays in equal measure the depth of warmth and kindness among people suffering the injustices of an uncaring system that utterly alienates and lets down.
Whether it’s a matter of a lack of decent, affordable housing or a secure and welcoming home, precarious and unsafe lives as refugees and asylum-seekers in Europe, discriminated people from religious and ethic minorities or dissident creatives and visionary groups of folk to name just a few, injustices across several, cross-cutting lines of identity abound in our cities and regions. Urgent action is a matter of necessity now.
The core objective of ENLIGHTEN is rooted in the impediments for achieving the noble objective of spatial justice through progressive regeneration among economic actors at European, national, regional, urban and local levels. The objective is restricted by growing social inequalities in European cities brought on by the global financial crisis (and especially by the deepening spatial polarisation), combined with the EU debt crisis and related neoliberal austerity measures. The failure of urban politics and governance of regeneration actions to articulate and advance a progressive postsecular crossover politics of religious, humanist and secular forces marks another factor.
The power of the ENLIGHTEN project lies in focusing on a combination of the underlying material and social conditions of inequality that simultaneously constrain and enable a new progressive postsecular politics of hope. The research stands to make an innovative, original and lasting contribution to our knowledge in this area in countries across Europe and also in the EU where a new model of “unity in diversity” is an important and hotly debated concern. Our assumption is that only progressive regeneration that reconciles postsecularity, radical difference and sustainability in the public sphere can tackle spatial injustices and achieve territorial cohesion within cities and regions but also across European space. New ways of seeing power relations between people at multiple scales and frameworks for interaction of people typically described as ‘foreign’, ‘diverse’ or ‘requiring integration’ are integral to this vision. Novel approaches to governance and democracy of difference are at stake.
ENLIGHTEN will pursue these objectives through theoretically informed empirical inquiries into spatial justice in several cities and their regional contexts across Europe. Particular attention will be paid to existing as well as new approaches to: (1) democratic decision-making and progressive engagement with citizens in regeneration activities; (2) reaching “alternative publics” based on solidarity and equality, as well as challenging discrimination and persistent stereotypes in the regeneration process; and (3) full respect towards and engagement with artistic and cultural dimensions of urban regeneration actions. “Regeneration” is referred to in a purposely broad sense to cover fields of political, professional and administrative domains of engagement that encompass renewal of existing internal components of the urban-regional body or system, new arrivals to the system such as refugees from outside European territory and inclusive and just processes of change to deal with threats imposed by radical Islamism.
Particular empirical attention will be paid to “alternative publics” in progressive regeneration actions. By focusing on these publics we ensure that hitherto excluded groups are brought central stage into the research. Four targets groups are: (1) refugees from outside the EU; (2) homeless and insecurely housed people; (3) religious, ethnic, cultural minority groups, all low income and disadvantaged; (d) destitute artists, visionaries, bohemians, radicals, above, below and beyond a policy-ionized cadre of Richard Florida-esque “creatives” today. Intensive ethnographic research on these groups and progressive regeneration actions will take place across all the urban and regional cases of the project.