As we are no longer allowed to dwell in our beloved cities, our minds should wander and stories travel. One week and 70 published stories since our launch, the team behind 'Spread stories, not the virus' reflects on what we have learned about why a platform for citizens to share their experiences and reflections in their locked-down cities is so important.
The measures that are adopted to combat the spread of the Coronavirus are radically transforming cities and urban life. In a vast and increasing number of cities around the world, large events are banned, schools closed, and public facilities shut. As an international group of twelve young urbanists, all (former) students of the 4CITIES Erasmus Mundus master's in Urban Studies, we saw our universities closed overnight and our cities go into lockdown.
Confronted with these measures, we became intrigued by the new urban conditions that have emerged in the midst of the global outbreak of the Coronavirus. We decided to dedicate our period of self-quarantine to collect, and spread, stories of cities and citizens around the world. Instead of echoing the dystopian images of abandoned streets that dominate the media coverage, we wanted to provide a platform for citizens to share their experiences and reflections in their cities on lockdown.
'Instead of echoing the dystopian images of abandoned streets that dominate the media coverage, we wanted to provide a platform for citizens to share their experiences and reflections in their cities on lockdown'
Our curiosity about the conditions of life in our cities was answered by a chorus of voices in ways that surprised and moved us. Since our launch one week ago, we have published more than 60 stories on our website - which have appeared in English and often in the native language of the authors. 60+ stories that offer particular and alternative perspectives on the kind of city that emerges when people have to practice social distancing and are confined to their homes. 60+ stories shared by a diverse body of contributors, originating from cities all over the world.
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Photo by Felies Zomerplaag
The stories they tell are richer and more nuanced than we could have anticipated. Academics from Turkey worry about the fear creeping through their delicate societies; a midwife from the north Italian frontline shared her hopeful thoughts; a budding architect from Syria showed us the city in the inky intricacies of a drawing. We’ve been prompted to reflect on urban mobility, about the self-isolating practices of monks and nuns, and on love in times when the touch of skin was taboo.
Our initiative has been featured in several media outlets, and has received endorsements from academics, policymakers and politicians around the world. We have seen our readership growing to 7,000 unique visitors. Through social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, we share our latest stories on a daily basis with hundreds of followers.
We could have never imagined that our initial fascination would rapidly grow to become a space where citizens from all over the world share their stories to an audience of thousands of people. The excitement we feel every time we receive a new contribution strengthens our belief that now more than ever, we need to capture how citizens thrive in their cities and provide a platform to share their creative, constructive and reflective stories.
We hear so often already that everything will be different after Coronavirus; but how could it be different, how should it be different? Out of lived experience and diverse imaginations, we hope this collection will contribute glimpses of that future. We hope too that it might be, in real-time, a modest, first-draft part of the people’s history of these exceptional events.
'We hope too that it might be, in real-time, a modest, first-draft part of the people’s history of these exceptional events'
As days go by, we are confronted with further restrictions that are crucial to keep this health crisis manageable, but at the same time have deep implications for our daily lives. Most of us have started to work or study from home, others risk losing their jobs or loved ones.
Therefore, as long as we are not allowed to dwell in our beloved cities, our minds should wander and our stories travel. As we find ourselves confined to our homes and confronted with empty streets, it is stories that have the ability to bridge the physical distance created by social distancing. Stories that connect cities and societies in lockdown.