Better City, Better Life

World Cities Day is celebrated each year on the 31st of October. But what is it about? A newcomer to Berlin, Clotilde Vivier gives us a global perspective on future cities and suggests a few grassroots initiatives to get involved with and become more engaged in Berlin’s multicultural urban life.

World Cities Day is an international day set by the United Nations in order to shine light on contemporary challenges emerging from the trend of global urbanization. It is meant to promote a sustainable way of building and living in the modern city. It’s linked to one of the Sustainable Goals as set by the UN (THE 17 GOALS | Sustainable Development) – namely the 11th, which aims to “Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable“. 

In order to reach these goals, a web of interconnected issues that are to be addressed on different levels; poverty, environmental risks, inequality, gentrification, isolation, air pollution, housing, social segregation, among others. World Cities Day prompts events across the globe where actors from public and private sectors, NGOs, academic institutions come together to exchange ideas on how to meet these challenges and think up solutions on multiple scales.

The general theme of World Cities Day is “Better City, Better Life”. How can initiatives like Give Something Back to Berlin contribute to building a better city for all?

Give Something Back to Berlin’s goal is to foster community in the heart of a bustling metropole. By offering free activities, open to all – no matter people’s origin, age, language, or anything else – it allows established and new Berliners to share their resources with each other, help each other in multiple ways, and challenge the individualistic urban model. Everyone needs help, people, and warmth, and everyone has something to offer. One may find a job by meeting someone at a workshop who has the right contact. One may find a home in the daunting new city.

In that way, Give Something Back to Berlin helps make the city of Berlin more inclusive, breaking the barriers that separate people sharing this space, and redefining what it means to be well integrated in the Berlin landscape. Being integrated does not necessarily mean speaking perfect German, having the most secure German job, and staying in an apartment with a registered address at German authorities. It can simply be finding belonging among other foreigners whom you could never have imagined crossing paths with before.

Future cities don’t have to resemble the stressful, hyper-commercial urban centers we have created not only in the so-called West, but also across the globe. Today, we can already imagine a new city, one that is centered on communities, where individuals cooperate, connect, interact, and make decisions together. A space where people are mindful of each other’s differences and consider them as assets, rather than obstacles; where all can learn and thrive despite difficulties some might be experiencing; where basic services are being provided safely and for free. In short, a city that is defined by its inhabitants for its inhabitants.

Governments and public authorities often shape the cities we live in, but actually, anyone can participate in this process, thinking towards and creating practical ways to reclaim the city. Be it by building community gardens, advocating for affordable housing for all, nurturing spaces for repairs, resource and skill sharing, participating in worker-owned co-ops focused on local production and circular economy, etc.

Find out about such initiatives happening in Berlin! ⇒ 

id22: Institute for Creative Sustainability 

Allmende Kontor e.V. 

Prinzessinnengarten – “A Garden as the City of Tomorrow” 

Deutsche Wohnen enteignen!

Rückenwind – Bikes for refugees at Refugio!

Berliner Obdachlosenhilfe eV I Helfen ist einfach! 

Let us not let the current trends be an inevitability. There is power in the “local”. All initiatives, no matter how small they are, can contribute to a global effort to make cities (and lives) better.

“Fundamentally, the way we shape cities is a manifestation of the kind of humanity we bring to bear.” – Peter Calthorpe, urban planner and designer.