Open Cities 27 Openness: The Big Picture

Openness and tolerance

What one tends to understand intuitively by ‘Open City’ is tolerating one’s neighbours from hell and their outlandish lifestyles, mobilising equal opportunities at work, improving equality in schools, or sharing the public realm with a pluri-icultural society in a deprived inner urban area.

1_dia Teaching equality in school

Yet openness is not just about what individuals can achieve in the city where they live, work or play. It could be argued that without openness at a much larger scale - at the level of nations and even the world - open cities will not be able to achieve their full potential.

Openness: a commodity?

The fact that the powerful force of globalisation is affecting cities has become ‘conventional wisdom’. Cities are expected to compete globally for their economic survival locally.

2_dia League table of city liveability

‘Conventional wisdom’ has also added openness to the competitive advantages of cities. Thus openness has moved on from a societal nicety to an essential ingredient of city branding and figures prominently in city literature for inward investment. In the ubiquitous market economy everything is tradeable, so why not a social asset? Openness is marketed as a commodity, in the same way as an international airport, four star hotels, business services or a safe environment. All one needs to do is to look up any city rank order of preferences selected by the business community to find openness in one disguise or other among them.

3_dia City marketing

Openness at the macro scale

How does the desirable feature of openness manifest itself at the macro scale and how can it be of practical value for cities to increase their openness?

Let us refer at random to current events. The successful rescue of the Chilean miners was a truly global event observed the world over. Every effort was made to bring the trapped miners back. This did not happen in a city but in a remote place. Why was it a contribution to openness locally? The meaning of this event affects urbanity.

4 dia Chilean miners rescue

The compassion for the worth of every single life is an aspect of humanity which makes living among people from all walks of life in cities a civilised experience. Individualism and litigation have curtailed spontaneous assistance between fellow human beings, but surely a precious asset of city life remains the presence of the many people who are offering their help regardless of who is in need. Such spontaneous generosity can be seen as one of many features of open cities. The readiness by all to rescue the miners is a reminder of the worth of generosity also in cities and an opportunity to re-engage philanthropy in everyday city life.

5_dia European Trade Union anti austerity demonstration

Demonstrations against austerity and its devastating effects on the most vulnerable are another manifestation of human compassion. Putting wellbeing of fellow humans before market dictates is a feature of open cities, of caring for all those who are sharing our commons. Even specific gestures, such as cities accepting their share of those held in Guantanamo Bay without trial are part of global openness with local repercussions.

Media and openness

The instantaneity of the media makes it possible to diffuse such manifestations to the smallest and most remote communities at once. The media facilitate local responses to universal issues and the reactions they provoke may reflect the degree of openness in these places. Caring for workers in dangerous conditions should be a universal concern of civilisation. In the light of the accident in Chile, better safety and rescue measures may be introduced in mines throughout the world.

Curtailing pensions will affect people regardless where they live, and global demonstrations may help protecting pensions locally.

6_dia Pensioners and workers demonstrate together

In response to the attribution of Guantanamo Bay detainees, voices were spreading fear of what they called potential terrorists amidst innocent bystanders, but many others supported the plighted men who were unable to return to their countries and had to choose exile instead.

7_dia Switzerland accepts Guantanamo Bay detainees

These events and responses may be far fetched for the discourse on open cities. However, when concrete changes which improve openness and caring are diffused from one place to many others, they reflect how the macro level can influence cities to become more open.

8_dia global diffusion of climate change action (China)