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The Just Metropolis: Sidewalk Justice

by Hector Fernando Burga

A good measure of urban life can be attributed to the propensity of social encounters one may engage on the street. For this equation, I would not only consider the pleasant neighborhood stroll en route to the coffee shop, market or friendly face, but also include the unexpected, those encounters which offer potential conflict, moments on unrecognizable sidewalks disrupting a sense of place, security and belonging; encounters that question the safety of our accepted values and perceptions as residents of an urban community.

Beyond the architectural artifact serving as iconic symbol, besides the public space providing a communal living room and after the lights clamoring the urbane experience of consumption, lie the sidewalks in between, those social capillaries of mobility, where an ethics of urbanity are produced in a daily choreography of justice and injustice, suspicion and hope.

On the sidewalk the contradiction between the personal rhetoric of justice collides with action, panic, laughter, violence and indifference. In my case, I fail and succeed, negotiate and falter. I avoid certain sidewalks altogether, speed up my pace on others, turn my gaze away from some and celebrate those that I feel represent an important but personally attributed meaning. All the while, I choose my poison of progressive politics and enjoy a privileged position. I have the capacity to be heard, to have choice, of carrying awareness and possessing status.

Poverty, segregation, environmental degradation, social disenfranchisement, these are just some of the endemic challenges shaping the imagination of the Just metropolis. Far from a utopia, this place is constructed everyday outside our doorsteps, with us as main protagonists. On the sidewalk, these challenges compress in seconds to engender an outcome, as eyes cross and decipher a calculus of justice between the fear of loss and the recognition of possibility.

How can everyday encounters on sidewalks serve as laboratories to imagine a Just Metropolis? How can they turn from theaters of the absurd to platforms of change?

Credits: Photo from Hector Fernando Burga.