At least in Finland, the days are getting chillier and the leaves on the trees begin to change color. As the summer becomes a distant blur, we thought it would be nice to remember all that we have been talking about so far this year. But, let us do this retrospective view with a little bit of music from the playlist we have created together about Cities in Music. If, while you are listening to the playlist, a song comes to mind, do share it here.
We began the blog remembering our last day in the city of Kotka in 2019; a time in which we could not even imagine what 2020 would bring with it. We were a group of about 20 participants from all over the world who could not even imagine that we would be asked to stay home; to lock-down. As for many across the world, 2020 shocked our systems, disrupted our lives and the way we live together, and it was no different for the organization of the IFHP Summer School. Everything seemed uncertain. However, this year we did not want to stay with hands crossed and watch the days go by and decided to utilize this time of uncertainty to revisit the past activities of the summer school and reflect on them.
Helsinki Market Square. Drawing by Dalia Milián Bernal.
During this time, we have had the opportunity to rethink the societal role of urban planning and, by extension, of planners and all of those involved in spatial planning practices. We discussed the consequences of Making, Shaping, or Letting Be, and how these notions (or actions or inactions) have underpinned the activities and theoretical readings of the summer school for the past years. In an era of climate and other environmental crises, as well as growing social injustices and inequalities, these notions require special attention and educational institutions, or programs such as the IFHP Summer School, must find new ways to articulate these notions into their curricula.
One way to begin to understand and engage with the meaning of these notions has been through an intensive workshop that aims to engage the summer school participants with the city in order to learn to understand a context. By exploring Helsinki, participants use their embodied experiences to generate knowledge that can help them take decisions about a particular place. Unfortunately, often policy makers and urban planners are distant to the contexts they might carelessly aim to transform.
Jätkäsaari, Helsinki. Drawing by Dalia Milián Bernal.
Another way to articulate these three notions has been by engaging participants with unofficial actors who are also transforming urban space, such as urban activists. By meeting these actors, who do not belong to governmental institutions or private companies, we are able to visualize the complexity of city making, and to discuss who gets to do what and for whom and for what purpose. A dialogue with urban activists reveals how urban space is a contested political arena.
Sharing resources is another way to think about what we make, shape, or let be. Thus, we opened a call to share resources that can help all of us grasp the severity of the our current crisis and, together, think of ways to address these issues. In addition, we opened a space to share music through which we can escape together to other worlds; to other cities through the experiences of other people and how those experiences inspired these artists to write different kinds of music. Our hope is that we can encourage our readers as well as summer school participants to seek inspiration from other’s experiences and from other places.
Last, but not least, Regitze Hess from the International Federation for Housing and Planning (IFHP), with whom I had the opportunity to share a wonderful time in Kotka and later in Helsinki, shared with us her long experience with the summer school and the summertime she has spent in Finland and reminded us that we are, indeed, a beautiful, growing, and ever changing community.
Sibelius Monument and Cafe Regatta, Helsinki. Drawing by Dalia Milián Bernal.