Resilient cities

 

Toxic places

The only thing needed for the triumph of Evil is for good men to do nothing.

Edmund Burke.

On a morning of March, I decided to travel the world in a different way from the way I have been doing in the past, as I was reaching the end of my career options going on my late thirties; I decided to go as a professional traveler, looking for professional contacts to enrich my database.

My first destination was for Berlin, when I flew out bringing my desk, i.e. my computer, and eventually the hopes that many years of discriminative abuse in my country have bleached. I went away without any fixed plan except watching what is up there with social creativity and entrepreneurship.

An abundant literature pointed out the lack of inclusivity in tech culture driven by white male technocrats as well as a culture for competition that tends to exclude the new comers. But I needed to try it all before leaving tech.

I recorded my experiences by writing them down as some others might have the same issues, concerns or wants. I used the methods of auto-ethnography, qualitative observations, web data and community experiences. I wasn’t pretending to provide a general view of the issue but giving my personal account and views.

It is a nomad research that fits certain constraints like it doesn’t allow much access to external sources and references as research implies access to books, shelves and written notes for anchorage.

That’s a new method for collecting information in which I’d like to see myself like a feminine and scientific version of Kerouac into the wild’s poetry but I was facing some limitations due to high abrasivity. Also Kerouac apart of writing on the topic constantly wrote from his mother’s house where I’m pretty sure he didn’t face much abrasivity.

So here I was, flying to Berlin with only a couple of weeks left. I have traveled many places in my life, too much to list them here, of course, and I had wonderful and tremendous experiences mostly in emerging economy countries all over the world that maybe haven’t adopted yet the imperialistic codes of western culture.

But traveling in the North has become quite challenging now with the rise of nationalism.

Even in short time, there are some hints that can give you a quick insight of the culture like its openness to foreigners and its will to welcome people and surround them with a tradition of enabling access to women, strangers, nomads or disabled or its capacity to connect people and knowledge via technology to make the local culture accessible to others.

Unfortunately none of these traits were present in the progressive and liberal cultures I observed in Berlin or Montréal. Instead a model of ultra-competition and intolerance seemed to prevail based on the combination of boys club culture, tribalism and nationalism.

This model became really viral and popular among young and hipster cultures and is really difficult to fight on the individual plan as it is drawn within broader social logics (nov 17).

I categorized these traits as a predisposal to discrimination based on a set of behaviors that aims at belittling and dismissing certain persons versus other types of person in order to make them look or feel like inferior (edit nov 17). An absence of consciousness about discrimination creates a serious level of dangerosity for women single travelers that makes the city look quite reluctant in spite of its patrimonial and modern infrastructures apparent richness.

In Paris where all is walls, museums and routes, the concientization about human identity and attempts to identities having been a bit left behind since the socialist post-industrialization times (wars might be the cause), the porosity of interactions is quite reduced.

In Berlin, it’s not the absence of education and access that has to be noticed, but the resurgence of fascism through harsh comments, attitudes and repeated micro-assaults that makes the transient experience dreadful.

Taking some legitimacy from the appealing fiction of terrorism, using images as women’s kamikazes or foreign travelers causing troubles, these toxic places enable the foreign woman to become an ideal target for a spirale of agressions with no end.

To give examples, I was denied access and voice to some places and venues. My voice or claims were being ignored or dismissed. My emails never got responses or worse aggressive responses. My meeting were frequently cancelled last minute. My rights systematically denied. My work copied without accreditation or ignored (nov 17).

In any case, I faced retaliation everytime I voiced my concerns. The problem with discriminative bias is that it creates mental walls that are making people blind to social realities and prejudices your authority and legitimacy.

I think it is pretty conscious as I noticed how people muted their behaviours regarding if I was alone or not. It happened in a train between Copenhagen and Sweden, once I was travelling alone with a bike, that people seated where to put the bike didn’t want to let me sit or leave my bike in the bike compartment when there were plenty of free seats in the wagon (had to call the ticket agent), and this happening in a bike friendly culture. The next time, same situation occurred but I was travelling with a Swedish friend, so people spontaneously offered to leave their seats.

So anonymity also is a component at play with discriminative traits.

I was assaulted physically in London, Berlin and Montréal while being in the autobus, or walking in streets as locals identified me as a foreigner, a guy trying to break my arm by grabbling it, this other guys giving shoulders shot when I was watching my texts, or this car driver wheeling out before I could find a seat.

I was assaulted by car drivers while crossing peaton paths at green lights with different range of individuals including one who deaththreated me with a warning sign who literally drove on me high speed. I had to walk on the side of the road. It raised absolute no reaction in the people around me and it was middle of the day, really busy day. I presumed it was considered as acceptable by the local population. Where society don’t say anything about violence on minorities is when it collectively enables violence.

Also nights shifts became pretty alarming. As I was hosted on Airbnb by a german woman for a week, she pretended to educate me as an animal when she was the one behaving in an uncivilized manner. I had a similar experience in Canada with sexist guys who denied that women are part of a minority and called me crazy when I talked about the subject. In Canada, I was called a mental deficient or lunatic for reporting sexist or racist acts, including by State agents or professional contacts.

In the past, I have been backpacking Brazil during months at the time it just emerged from a militarian government and never was confronting to that kind of behaviours and attitudes. People there steal or kill for money but they won’t see the point in mistreating you intentionnally.

I traveled 50 countries these last 15 years including arab countries and never faced such a climate of hostility towards women than in the westerners. And I am still grateful to that couple who wanted nothing than to let us sleep in their only room while taking the sofa in Marruecos.

While being a total autonomous self highly qualified and educated, I found myself caught into the stigma of the immigrant, ressourceless, stupid, bad intentionned, ignorant, mean, time and energy consuming which impacted my work routine or social life. I am today confronted with diary behaviors where I live in Canada and it makes my days look miserable, wanting to go away and not feeling safe.

I finally managed to escape Berlin and that asphyxiating ideological culture by taking a bus to Copenhagen after awful days of insomnia, muscular cramps, emotional stress, gingivitis and headaches caused by stress that prevented me to function daily. I have been dealing with anxiety and social phobia following these abusive situations that deeply prejudiced my work and personal life.

The drifts of fascism seemed to have impregnated the historical roots, with episodes of xenofobia and sexual violence. No one is ready for that. I wasn’t either. It is the resurgence of a medievalism to consider travelling women as a witch that deserves persecution and correction.

Many big cities that pretend to build an idea of modernity are using knowledge and wealthy networks to exclude what is different from what they know. Usually, these cities have some nevrotic personnalities that is hard to deal with either by escaping or confronting violence as it doesn’t really seem like a safe option.

I had a german friend dating an eastern guy who said to me that fascism was still well alive in Berlin.

Market places

What makes a city organically evolves and not stay still is again mysterious to me. Is it the activation of antic tokens without the integration of the newness – as the inclusion of the woman, the Other, the Alien and a sort of stiffness opposed to movement?

Resistant dynamics to change and archaic mindsets prevent real modernity to emerge. Remains of human activities are stucked into stones and still. Streets have become more concentrative hubs for markets through tourism, media and urban environment, streets have emptied from their human quality and humanity has been replaced with some forms of consumption. Selfies. Malls. Dollars. Numbness.

Technology are meant to be something else than the mere replicants in the echo chamber of the dead old world. It has to allow the integration of the human enabled by technology,  people using technology via their smartphones and computers to gather and raise awareness for change, education or artistic works.

Technology should not be used to control or design the oppressive city of ubiquitous outsiders, driven by the brutality of exclusive social forces but they should enable the reflection of the observers inside their living system. City are not objects, chiffers or projects only. They’re populated with real human selves with real emotions and feelings (nov 17).

Unfortunately, technologists biased with maths and profitability ideology hardly managed to resist the marketization of our living (nov 17).

I remember that in New York, Montreal or London, I have gone through serious precarity as I found myself almost homeless because my credit card has been locked by my bank at the end of an expensive trip of professional travels, work meetings and university paneling in New York (had not a single penny in my pocket). No way to find support as I was not having contacts in NY at that time. I skipped eating for 48 hours in a really modern city with coffee shops and snacks all around.

These are war zones… Linked with fictions of terrorism that make it just another expression of a war for money, it creates a permanent culture for threat for precarious women workers or travelers. Some disappear along the way. Even within the confins of their own territories. Fortunately I escaped that destiny. But I had to fight for. That’s probably the point many men ignore, sometimes we already survive by being here.

If not raising awareness, digital networks will grow like monsters deprived from the essential human qualities as empathy, respect for the others, we need to live together. They will enclose us into systems that comfort people into the fake beliefs, distorted views that produce disembodied cities.

I used to love Berlin.

Copenhagen

What a beautiful name. Everybody loves Copenhagen.

After Berlin, I arrived to Copenhagen by bus-boat. The remembrance of my stay with the German Fraulein and the reflection of her reality based on the distorsions of her mind about the Other suddenly vanished on the cruise. What a relief to say good bye to Berlin.

My pathway to Copenhagen has been serendipitous. I was about to fly back home. But I didn’t want to leave without seeing Copenhagen. Many people have said to me it was a huge place to go but I was fearing the disappointment, hostility or rejection. I was wrong.

Everything’s been perfect since my first seconds in there. People helped me spontaneously in casual situations as going out of the bus or finding my way to the hotel. I had the right connections with the  metro and bus. I was wonderfully hosted by the right people with good talks, a drink, some comfort and heat. Maybe they have that degree of empathy and trust a woman needs to succeed or to find the courage to start something anew. Maybe they’re just kind. Maybe they’re clever enough to get that it benefits them to help you in a way that is not material.

It’s been like a physical combustion of synchronicity. We are made of atoms and pieces of information that connect and intertwine permanently like a plasma. But the magical is not only due to one person, attitude or style, it is also linked with the nature of the city to welcome you, its capacity to vehiculate the proper energy around to be invested with the smiles and the good intentions of the people you talk to, the way they invite you into their lives and intimacy, or try to understand your accent; the attention the connected city suddenly pays at you even sometimes with the cooperation of the urban constructions, electric cables, streets’ walls, cobbles, lights and connective zones, because you are person of culture.

Sometimes relying on culture is a way to overpass cultural differences. At some point I wonder if my flamish roots played on that feeling of belonging giving the many similarities between scandinavian and northern culture.

In any case, I don’t look like northern people, I am a bit tanned and my eyes are brown, also I am quite sure I did plenty of mistakes with my attitudes not fitting the Danish culture at all but, contrary to what happened in Germany or  Quebec, I never felt I was under assimilationist pressure.

Instead people were full of understanding and curiosity with my oddity. Copenhagen after Berlin (and Paris) was like living in the dark and the electricity is invented. I plugged into it. I rode the streets with a bike in an extactic mood, talked with strangers to figure out who they are and what motivate them and visited some places of the Danish culture, taking the time to observe and acknowledge.

Biking in the city with its smart inclusive networks free of cars and sharing spaces for cyclists, peatons and public transports was a tremendous experience I will always be grateful for. Scandinavian as Flamish people are really refined persons who like to make things easy for the others and expect the same in return.

I liked what I was seeing and I liked the way people interacted with me, directly and without violence. A traveling women doesn’t need more violence as she is being exposed to some rates of abuse. I was willing to learn again because what I was seeing pleased me. I felt home, in a way. It is a really specific feeling to feel home while not being home. Quite delicious feeling actually.

It’s not an accident if our virtual civilization started with the fée electricité, the transports and the architecture our modern objects use to connect. Information flows in the antic canals remixed with the newness of media and technology and is interrelated with networks of texts, subjects and interfaces. This kind of modernity is what technology is meant to be to let models of human subjectivity survive in a new way.

While shaping our transient identities, some advanced societies have invented the way to adapt while others are derailing into contempt and self-complacency. After the war, Denmark had to rebuilt and to recover from bombing and occupation by successively the Swedish and the German, just as France. They learnt to transform and include minor narratives within their social forms of communication. This is the resilient city my resilient soul and body were calling for : the informational city made as fluid as we dreamed about.

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