Gandásegui, Urban chaos and a glimmer of hope

rat race
Hamster wheel painting by Lucas Hauser.

The city: violence, corruption — and hope

by Marco Gandásegui, hijo

Among the most often heard complaints these days you find the apparent loss of control in the city. Violence seems to be what most worries the inhabitants of cities, big or small. Public spaces in communities have been lost. People tend to lock themselves intp their homes. In more recent decades, the problem of the environment has become a dilemma without solution. These problems affect the roads, the schools and, obviously, social relations.

Many times we forget that the city really isn’t the problem. Urban chaos is the result of a greater evil. The society that created the modern city stands on several unsustainable pillars. First, the alleged competition to accumulate more wealth that generates inequality and disorder. This clash polarizes a few rich against many poor. Second, there is the concentration of real estate in the hands of large urban landowners who monopolize access to spaces. Third, the rules imposed by accumulation create the conditions for corruption to flourish.

Polls, no matter where in the world, show that the main concerns of residents are violence, corruption and unemployment. The solutions to these problems are at hand. But capitalist society is like a body with two hands: One left and one right. The left wants to change the system or at least reform it. The right wants to “change everything so that nothing changes.” That is, it wants to keep everything as it is.

Latin America’s experiences are very common. Governments with plans to change arise and at once conservative detractors appear. This is the case of Venezuela and everything indicates that President López Obrador’s Mexico will be added to the list in the near future.

The 21st century city is a space where all the problems that have accumulated since its modern conception 500 years ago converge. From its mercantile beginnings through the Industrial Revolution, we arrive at the present day city.

We are not “citizens” in the ancient Greek sense. We live alienated from our environment. We are captive to the usurers, patrons and rentiers. The modern city is a rat race where those who dominate us make us run in competition against others.

The basic unit of the social class to which everybody belongs is the family. For social reasons, the family institution can’t be constituted in this system of inequality. That’s the reality in Panama and in the rest of the world. Panamanian statistics indicate that 70 percent of births occur outside of marriage. The social identity of the individual is diluted and bonds of solidarity are undone.

The urban population is turned into a mass of people who don’t identify with their social roots, who move about in what seems to be chaos on the transport system, who, through education, the media and communities, reproduce to conserve the status quo – chaos – for the benefit of a few.

The city, the community and the family can only – jointly and harmoniously – generate a sense of wellbeing when social groups (or social classes) are organized around their productive activities and give a collective meaning to coexistence. That is, culture.

The “citizens” still lack that material base and solidary identity to turn the city into a space that we can call our own, and bequeath to our children.

What city do we want? We know what city we do not want: Without the poor, without the unemployed, without disorder, without indecent homes. We want to build the city we want, without ignoring the past, with a look towards the future.


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