Skip to main content

‘Together we’ve got this’ - creating space for social sustainability in Bristol

Towards the bottom of Park Street large white letters against a pink backdrop read ‘Together, we’ve got this’. Alongside it the words ‘Bristol together’ are framed above an inscription reading: ‘Bristol’s safely reopening. Help us keep it open by washing your hands, wearing a face covering and keeping a safe distance from other shoppers. Thank you and enjoy your visit.’ I first spotted this sign in September last year. However, in the months that have slowly crept by since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic filled with lockdowns, isolating and social distancing, the word ‘together’ seems to have popped up all over the city. It can be found on street corners and shop fronts all along the Park Street-Queens Road-Whiteladies Road corridor that runs through the University’s campus, connecting the harbour and city centre to the Downs. Along this strip, a sign outside a cafe encourages social distancing with the words ‘We stand together by standing apart’, while a notice on the glossy sliding doors of a supermarket and the red and yellow of a post office poster remind patrons that ‘We’re all in this together’. Yet my personal favourite is the board outside a frozen food shop I spotted one day proclaiming ‘Together never tasted this good’ above a picture of a cheesecake. But what is it about ‘together’ that tastes so good? And, perhaps more importantly, what is togetherness? (If not an Eton mess cheesecake).

Two years ago I set out to explore the question ‘How do people live together in cities?’ through a PhD. Growing up in post-apartheid South Africa the idea of togetherness has always haunted me like an ungraspable treasure chest at the end of our so-called rainbow nation. As many readers will appreciate the dominant narrative about post-apartheid South Africa is one in which the lasting legacy of segregation is well documented such that the ‘post’ of post-apartheid is rendered something of a fantasy and a failure. And yet I had noticed that despite the country’s long history of apartness, urban life in South Africa seemed to be full of small moments of togetherness which defy the common grammar of apartness with which accounts of South African cities are typically written. One such moment arrived in April 2020 when, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic a collective called ‘Cape Town Together’ was born. Through neighbourhood based mutual aid groups residents in Cape Town came together under to self-organise and share resources and information in response to the pandemic. My research has been dedicated to studying practices such as these in answer to the question: ‘How do people live together in cities?’ and the related question of what togetherness is.

Three themes emerged in response to these questions which I argue are not only applicable to Cape Town, but also to cities elsewhere such as Bristol. First, in answer to the question ‘What is togetherness?’, I learnt that it is as much, if not more, a practice as it is a sentiment or a state of being. This is significant because the implication is that, despite what form it takes (whether it be empathy, solidarity, or sharing,) togetherness takes practice; through repeated action we learn to be together by practicing togetherness and in doing so forming new habits and repertoires for living together. Secondly, I learnt that togetherness has a spatial component. Public space in the city provides an ever present training ground on which people can practice togetherness; rehearse social interactions, test, and develop new repertoires of being together. But the practices of togetherness which emerge also shape and are shaped by by the spaces in which they occur. This means that the quality of public space in the city matters because it has an impact on shaping social relations. Finally, togetherness is mediated by institutions just like the University of Bristol which provide places and repeated opportunities for practice along with guidelines, and pre-existing repertoires for social interactions.

Earlier this year the Cabot Institute for the Environment put out a call for short video submissions about activities and ideas for how the University could create positive impact by addressing a sustainability challenge in Bristol. This blog piece stems from the idea I pitched to create spaces where people can practice togetherness as a step towards realising greater social sustainability in our city. To return to the cheesecake, perhaps togetherness has never tasted this good because we’ve never craved it this much. In the wake of COVID-19, which has introduced a host of new ways to be apart and to be together, the University and city are thus presented with an opportunity to build truly inclusive spaces which not only bring or ‘throw’ (to use Geographer Doreen Massey’s term) people together but encourage engagement and practice in learning how to be together.

------------------------------

This blog is written by Cara Mazetti Claassen, PhD Candidate at the Cabot Institute for the Environment.

Cara Mazetti Claassen


Popular posts from this blog

Are you a journalist looking for climate experts? We've got you covered

We've got lots of media trained climate change experts. If you need an expert for an interview, here is a list of Caboteers you can approach. All media enquiries should be made via  Victoria Tagg , our dedicated Media and PR Manager at the University of Bristol. Email victoria.tagg@bristol.ac.uk or call +44 (0)117 428 2489. Climate change / climate emergency / climate science / climate-induced disasters Dr Eunice Lo - expert in changes in extreme weather events such as heatwaves and cold spells , and how these changes translate to negative health outcomes including illnesses and deaths. Follow on Twitter @EuniceLoClimate . Professor Daniela Schmidt - expert in the causes and effects of climate change on marine systems . Dani is also a Lead Author on the IPCC reports. Dani will be at COP26. Dr Katerina Michalides - expert in drylands, drought and desertification and helping East African rural communities to adapt to droughts and future climate change. Follow on Twitter @_k

Urban gardens are crucial food sources for pollinators - here’s what to plant for every season

A bumblebee visits a blooming honeysuckle plant. Sidorova Mariya | Shutterstock Pollinators are struggling to survive in the countryside, where flower-rich meadows, hedges and fields have been replaced by green monocultures , the result of modern industrialised farming. Yet an unlikely refuge could come in the form of city gardens. Research has shown how the havens that urban gardeners create provide plentiful nectar , the energy-rich sugar solution that pollinators harvest from flowers to keep themselves flying. In a city, flying insects like bees, butterflies and hoverflies, can flit from one garden to the next and by doing so ensure they find food whenever they need it. These urban gardens produce some 85% of the nectar found in a city. Countryside nectar supplies, by contrast, have declined by one-third in Britain since the 1930s. Our new research has found that this urban food supply for pollinators is also more diverse and continuous

#CabotNext10 Spotlight on City Futures

In conversation with Dr Katharina Burger, theme lead at the Cabot Institute for the Environment. Dr Katharina Burger Why did you choose to become a theme leader at Cabot Institute ? I applied to become a Theme Leader at Cabot, a voluntary role, to bring together scientists from different faculties to help us jointly develop proposals to address some of the major challenges facing our urban environments. My educational background is in Civil Engineering at Bristol and I am now in the School of Management, I felt that this combination would allow me to build links and communicate across different ways of thinking about socio-technical challenges and systems. In your opinion, what is one of the biggest global challenges associated with your theme? (Feel free to name others if there is more than one) The biggest challenge is to evolve environmentally sustainable, resilient, socially inclusive, safe and violence-free and economically productive cities. The following areas are part of this c