2020 was unprecedented. We lived through a year that was turbulent to say the least and heartbreaking at the worst. Lives were lost in a reckless and careless fashion; we turned to systems like healthcare that failed us. In this essay as an opening to Crisis Cities Symposium, Thomas J Sugrue professor of social and cultural analysis and history at New York University says: “Just as COVID-19 is particularly dangerous to populations with preexisting conditions, the virus has ferociously swept through urban areas because of their preexisting social conditions: the precarity of work; the unaffordability of housing; the depth of racial, ethnic, and class divides; a profoundly unequal global economy; and the failure of many governments worldwide to rise to the challenges.”
The COVID-19 crisis reminded us globally of the corrosive and distinctive characteristics of urban life. But it was also a reminder for us about the intrinsic nature of interdependence embedded in our urban life. It reminded us to care not just about ourselves but about those in our immediate neighbourhood; elderly in our buildings, the migrant workers in our cities and so much more.
As someone who spent most of the year alone with her cats, I thought about interdependence and mutual aid a lot. I struggled in the early months because most of my care circle, my family and friends lived in another city. The distance was hard. However, once the lockdown was lifted enough to send packages and presents, I continued interacting with my friends and loved ones who lived far away from me through presents – and they in turn sent me gifts. During the course of these months, my postwoman couldn’t knock on my house door because of restrictions. So she began to call me when she came with a package. Slowly, we got to know each other by our first names. In fact, last week, she delivered a package to me with some of the address missing because of her recognising my name and my phone number. I smiled at this because of the fondness in her voice when she told me to be careful cause what if she was not on duty?
As this new year begins again, it feels important for me to revisit and rekindle the ways in which our lives are dependent on each other; imagine ways we can build relationships and deepen our engagement with everyone around. How can we respond to these crises we are witnessing by leaving no one behind and building new systems of care? What systems and institutions will we need to change to deepen our connections and not alienate each other in these new times? What does healthcare look like in a country as vast as ours? What alternatives will we need to create to respond to the current crises? And of course, how will we get there?
Our society often valorises independence and “getting things done”. But more than ever now, we are witnessing the need for us to accept and inhabit the world together, through mutual aid and interdependence. I often turn to Mia Mingus, disability justice advocate and activist who says: “Interdependency is both ‘you’ and ‘I’ and ‘we’. It is solidarity, in the best sense of the word. It is inscribing community on our skin over and over and over again. It is truly moving together in an oppressive world towards liberation and refusing to let the personal be a scapegoat for the political.”
We have of course no answers about the future, but it seems evident that it begins by re-imagining our cities through lenses of collective care, interdependence and community.
We hope you will send us your thoughts on how we can reimagine our cities, our lives, our neighbourhoods in the year to come. May the year ahead be full of new imaginings and coming together for you! We have made a few changes to our newsletter format as well and look forward to hearing from you about them.