Our crisis is a crisis of care

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.

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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.

Treating people respectfully as human beings the way forward

We require a revived, authentic engagement with each other as human beings. Thus recognising our differences and focusing on what unites us. No insidious witch-hunt or blaming the victim. Forgetting this simple idea and we risk sinking ever deeper into the multiple crises that afflict Europe and the world stage at large.

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Refugees are not the problem. Click here for more on this topic. The way we treat children should be a measure of how developed and sophisticated our values actually are. The post-Jungle fiasco underlines how wrong we repeatedly get it.

DiEM25 remains committed to the humanisation of the European polity. The Enlightened city research agenda sees humanisation as a necessary component of progressive urban and regional renewal at the core of a revitalized Europe.

The overall aim of the ENLIGHTEN project is to generate novel approaches to achieve spatial justice and territorial cohesion through progressive regeneration in Europe of the 21st century. Through transnational migration and increased mobility on a planetary scale, more people now belong simultaneously to two or more societies than at any time in human history. Ensuring that people of diverse cultures and heritages can live together in spaces of tolerance, with fair access to resources and life chances, presents a formidable and growing challenge for policy-makers at all levels.

Academic and policy literatures are replete with studies of social justice and the right to the city, despite a great deal of attention to “ghettos” or “banlieues” in France, too little is known about how to manage and mitigate spatial injustices across European urban and regional space. The absence of studies that fully integrate questions of religious identity, adherence and relation with secular identities in urban politics and governance are a major oversight.

To advance this agenda our ambitious project centres on the notion of the “enlightened city”, conceived as interrelations between postsecularity, radical difference and sustainability. The distinctive empirical focus is on progressive postsecular politics of hope, spatial justice and urban regeneration within a regional context. The project consists of a partnership representing 10 countries, with eight universities and two carefully selected non-profit organizations. We understand postsecularity as the recognition that modern societies once considered fully secular have entered into a process of accommodating and managing diverse value systems and inequalities including people of faith and no-faith. This development is particularly visible in urban and regional Europe.

Frightening rise of the populist right in Hungary and Europe as a whole

The rise of the xenophobic, anti-immigrant and authoritarian right in Hungary has frightening parallels with Europe’s past. Despite the odds, progressives in all countries and at all scales of governance need to step over and transcend their differences of identity and forge a new unity in diversity to challenge these dark impulses and offer alternatives. The enlightened city agenda is committed to such progressive alliance formation.

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Click here for more on the rise of the Hungarian populist right.

Writing on these developments our colleague Viktoria in Budapest notes:

“Unfortunately this is the actual political situation: the current Hungarian government wants to strengthen its weakening political power. In the last period they committed several political mistakes and the opposition parties and the press revealed a lot of corruption issues. Today it is more and more clear that the state centralization is renewed again in the education and the health care systems. The central government took away the autonomy of the institutions. The leaders of the universities were replaced; the judges were retired to change the people who are loyal to the actual power. In addition, the local autonomy of the municipalities are also whittling away.

Of course, the dissatisfaction developed, but especially among the urban elite groups and the consequences were the formation of the new civil movements. They protested again the nationalization. The workers groups did not participated in this movement (perhaps only the nurses). In the rural areas the extreme right party (Jobbik) and the right side (Fidesz) have a strong influence, due to increasing rural poverty. This government has sill 2 years before the next election, and they want to save the power based on the mobilization of the people’s fears against the migrants. The government state: if the migrants will arrive the Hungarian people will lose jobs, and their securities as well. I have to highlight also that in Hungary historically there is strong xenophobia. (you can think of the construction of the fence at the borders!) This attitude is used by the government. Orbán received the special support by the governments of Visegrad 4 as well. I think he wants to be a European politician later based on the anti-migration rhetoric.

In these days the cities, the streets are full of posters to vote against Brussels and migrants, because ‘you have to save the jobs’ (and in rural areas to save the social aid, because the migrants would like to take away this money. ) in these days there is a great deal of terrible propaganda everywhere.

Today (30 September) there was a quite large civil protest against this propaganda before the parliament. The opposition parties suggest for the people to remain at home in order to that the vote will be invalid. So, we will see. But I am very sad.”

Thoughts on progressive regeneration in the 21st century