Flourishing in The City

Nils von Kalm
December 10, 2021
4 minute read
Content warning: mentions thoughts of suicide

What is the importance of cities? How do cities promote or hinder human flourishing? When looking at CBBC’s Flourishing Framework®, how do people’s experiences of living in cities affect their sense of meaning, belonging, having basic needs met, the opportunity to lament and celebrate, and to develop a sense of spirituality?

According to the United Nations, more than half the world’s population now live in cities, and this is only going to grow.

Projections state that, by 2050, more than two-thirds of people will be urban dwellers.[1] The 2020 World Cities Report also states that 90 per cent of urban growth by 2050 will occur in less developed regions of the world.[2]

One of the challenges of the rapidly increasing urbanisation in the world is the effect on families. For example, over many years in China, the push to increase urbanisation has split families apart as workers travel from rural areas to the city for work. Increased urbanisation is also expected to take place in Africa. Reasons include failed crops, a changing climate, and the hope of greater prosperity in cities. The 2020 World Cities Report states that in Africa “Ninety-six per cent of urban growth will occur...accounting for 35 per cent of the total increase in global urban population from 2018 to 2050.”[3]

Inequality is another factor in the rapid urbanisation occurring in less affluent countries. The 2020 World Cities Report states that “for more than two-thirds of the world’s urban population, income inequality has increased since 1980.”[4]Again, much of this is taking place in Africa. Today, many African cities “have levels of inequality higher than their respective countries.”[5]

One of the pitfalls of urban living is that it is often simply not conducive to a sense of community.

The nature of life in cities means that people often live alone and do not know their neighbours.

There are many reasons for this. One involves an inequality in power and the effect that this has on relationships between urban dwellers. This can have both negative and positive effects as people from vastly differing backgrounds come together in close proximity to each other.

Social researcher and author, Johann Hari, tells a story of a situation in Berlin where a disparate group of renters banded together to save their housing estate.[6]

The story begins with 63-year-old Nuriye posting a notice in her window saying that she was being evicted from her home for being behind in her rent and that in a week’s time she was going to end her life. This began a process of extraordinary social connection.

This housing project contained only three groups of people: recent Muslim immigrants, punk squatters, and gay men. As Hari says, you can imagine that these three groups did not get along.

What started happening though was extraordinary. People started walking past Nuriye’s window and they saw her sign saying she was planning to take her own life. So they knocked on her door and asked her if she needed any help.

At the time, many people were being evicted from this housing project because rents were increasing so much across Berlin. Understandably, people were angry about this injustice.

The people in the area then decided to take action by blocking the main road through the area and staging a protest. They thought that some pressure on the authorities might mean that Nuriye could stay in her apartment. They also thought it might even keep their own rents down.

In the end, the people received their rent freeze and then launched a referendum to keep rents down across the whole of Berlin. They received the largest number of written signatures in the history of Berlin.

Hari says that the last time he saw Nuriye, she told him that while it was enormously beneficial that she was able to stay in her apartment, more important to her was the fact that, all along, she was surrounded by a group of caring people who wanted to help her. She would otherwise never have known that.

When these people were isolated, they were distressed, depressed and anxious. In order to flourish, they needed to be together. They needed to foster a sense of belonging to each other and believe in their ability to contribute to making a positive difference to their situation and to the community and city more broadly.

The problems that were unsolvable when they were alone, were solvable when they were together.

Another example of social connection happening in an urban space is in New Zealand. Gap Filler is described as a “creative placemaking agency operating at the crossroads of community development, urban design, art and public intervention.” It creates “the conditions for engaging, experimental and playful encounters to connect people to place.”[7]

Including initiatives such as a do-it-yourself dance party, a public book exchange located inside a recycled fridge, a relocatable mini grandstand, and an outdoor arcade game system, Gap Filler brings different groups of people together and gives them a sense of belonging.

These stories are a wonderful reminder of the power of community in creating a sense of flourishing in what is often a large, lonely space. CBBC’s Flourishing Framework® includes the same elements that allowed the housing project in Berlin to flourish, and that allows Gap Filler in New Zealand to bring a sense of place to many disparate people.

Human flourishing is indeed possible in the big city!

If Nuriye’s story has brought up issues for you, please talk to someone. Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, anywhere in Australia. If you need help:
In an emergency, call 000.

[1] https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html, accessed on 29 October, 2021.
[2] https://unhabitat.org/wcr/, accessed on 29 October, 2021.
[3] https://unhabitat.org/World%20Cities%20Report%202020, accessed on 3 December, 2021.
[4] https://unhabitat.org/World%20Cities%20Report%202020, accessed on 3 December 2021.
[5] .Ibid.
[6] Hari, Johann., Lost Connections: Why You’re Depressed And How To Find Hope., Bloomsbury, USA, 2018, pp. 165-177.
[7] https://gapfiller.org.nz/about/, accessed on 29 October, 2021.

Header photo by by mauro mora on Unsplash
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