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Rotterdam: It’s the small things that count

As she drinks a morning coffee on her doorstep, Pascalle witnesses how the atmosphere of her Rotterdam neighbourhood has changed over the past days. While otherwise her neighbours seem to be disconnected, she observes how people are coming together despite the empty streets. She hopes this feeling survives the current crisis.

And then it happened. What we’d first waved off as irrational fears and even sci-fi scenarios became real. I hadn’t seen it coming the way it did. But then the fear got me too, and now I’m stuck inside. Streets are empty, and what is normally the bustling city centre has now been completely abandoned. Especially in a city, being at home can feel like being locked up. You suddenly find yourself confined to a little space with limited options to go out. Isolation and complete disconnect can be scary.

'Especially in a city, being at home can feel like being locked up'

But it’s the small things that count.

Sitting on my doorstep with a cup of coffee has become a daily routine, trying to still make the most of enjoying the sunny spring weather. That’s when I suddenly start to notice the little details: I’ve never realised how the sun appears from behind the houses on the other side of the road throughout the day, or how that one lop-sided tile in front of our house makes a passing person lose their balance once in a while.

But it’s mostly the interaction that catches my attention. Living in a neighbourhood in which people are normally completely disconnected from each other and with cars, trams, bikes and people racing past without paying heed to their environment, I have witnessed a complete shift in atmosphere. The street is empty, but people are coming together. Or, well, in a figurative way. Not literally.

'The street is empty, but people are coming together. Or well, in a figurative way. Not literally'

My neighbour comes out, sweeping dirt off the pavements, muttering to us: “Now has never been a better time to start with this. This neighbourhood is a mess”. As she proceeds scuffling about, people with gloves and masks walk by. Despite their fear of the virus, they still find it hard to keep their distance. The owner of the bookshop at the other side of the street comes out and installs a mobile library for the neighbourhood with several of her own books to start with. Why? For “Love in times of Corona”.

"Free books, love in times of Corona". Photo by Pascalle Sebus.

And the small thing I believe counts most for the neighbourhood: people smile and greet each other again, talk to each other on the streets (albeit at proper distance), help each other make the most of this time. And that’s the best thing that can happen to a disconnected neighbourhood in times like these.

Will this be the new norm after all this is over? It’s definitely worth a try. Especially a city like Rotterdam can only become better after all this. We’ll get there, together.

How do you experience living in your city under Coronavirus? Share your story and join us to Spread stories, not the virus.

This story was shared by Pascalle Sebus, a master's student of Place, Culture and Tourism at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Next to her studies, she works as a project assistant at BRAND, a strategic branding agency creating impact in cities.

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