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Agnieszka Hensoldt

Agnieszka Hensoldt

Title: Reclaiming cities for living beings

Abstract: Cities and in particular megacities are symbols of the Anthropocene. Today, some 56% of the world’s population – 4.4 billion inhabitants – live in cities. This trend is expected to continue, with the urban population more than doubling its current size by 2050, at which point nearly 7 of 10 people will live in cities. Urbanization leads to the transformation of land for residential, commercial, industrial and transportation purposes. Thus, cities are examples of terra-formation to prioritising human beings. They are spaces where all other forms of life are at best subjected to human needs but in most cases excluded (or even eliminated) from the space taken over by city’s infrastructure. However, it does not mean that cities are human paradise, that they are perfect places to live or even livable. This is one of Anthropocene paradoxes that although they were designed and built to meet human needs, the basic human needs have been lost or neglected in the process.

The 20th-century rampant motorization and automotive lobbies made cities car-centric instead of human-centric. According to various studies concerning numerous cities around the world the city surface dedicated to transports makes from 20% to 30% of the whole city area, with much over 50% of the ground transport space dedicated to cars. It gives 50% to 90% (!) of public urban space.

The title of the presentation refers to the name of the British collective “Reclaim the Streets” established in 1995. The original idea of the movement was the resistance opposed to the car as the dominant mode of transport. The issue of my presentation is somehow wider. As car-centric culture fuels some of planetary crises (the climate change: heat waves, heavy downpours; air, soil and water pollution among other things) and additionally has a negative impact on human physical and psychical health, what is needed is re-thinking, re-design and conversion of our cities. These are not only streets which have to be reclaimed from cars but also we have to regain contact with our bodies and relations with other human and non-human beings. Moreover not only humans but also non-human beings (plants, birds, pollinators) deserve their right to live in cities being respected.

In my presentation I shall refer to few ideas of reclaiming urban space: Ciclovia in Bogota. the 15-Minute City by Carlos Moreno, Janette Sadik-Khan transportation policy for New York City, the Woonerf concepts and “garden streets” from Europe. Finally I shall try to find out what hindrances stand in the way of conversion of our cities and I shall formulate some suggestions how to address them.

Bio: Agnieszka Hensoldt – philosopher, economist, eco-feminist, degrowther, cyclist. Currently based in Instytut Nauk o Polityce i Administracji in University of Opole, lecturing “Sustainable Development” and “Global Ethics” to international students from all over the world (at Europa Masters and Global Studies programs).