Note — May 03, 2020

The Conditions Conducive to Life

Seen in → No.124

Source → vitra.com/en-ca/magazine/details/the-condit...

Writing from Assisi, Italy, Joseph Grima considers the transition which occurred after the fall of Rome, how European society was re-configured and re-invented, to then look at today’s pandemic and propose that while we live different lives we can use the opportunity to realize that “[t]he conditions we have come to regard as necessary are no longer conducive to life, and now is the moment to consider what we are actually going to do about it.”

One reason to revisit the same themes multiple times is for the different ways various writers have of saying somewhat the same things while adding their own insights. This one is directly in line with the recent pieces I’ve shared on the topic of “what follows,” yet it does exactly that: frames things slightly differently and adds new touches that help fine-tune the early stages of something like a shared vision.

As the cities emptied out, and with it the knowledge system of urban libraries, wealthy patrons and elite academies, a new form of distributed knowledge centres and distributed economies emerged that would have been unthinkable for the Romans. […]

This first Renaissance was all based on the economics of scope, the unified body of knowledge that European intellectuals and artisans could build on. The guilds may have had their secrets, but they took them along wherever Cathedrals were built. […]

What is needed, and what these days offer us a window onto, is intervention on the level of the code underlying the city, as Dan Hill himself has argued – systemic, structural change that upends our current economy’s radical dependency on movement, reprioritising instead the self-sufficiency of neighbourhoods, removing the need to travel to survive, normalising other forms of interaction – all in the name of the collective interest. […]

It will not be sufficient, let alone morally justifiable, to externalise the costs of this transformation onto the weak, poor and those we cannot see or hear. But if we are sufficiently ambitious, the reward will be worth it. We’ve done it before.