How well do you know your city?

Ambika Shaligram
Thursday, 14 September 2017

Dr Roman Gerodimos, at a recent literary event held in Pune, urged us to take a closer look at the design of our neighbourhood, and engage more with local people

Next time you have a little time on your hands and want to travel, go on a tour of the city you are living in. “How many of us have observed our city, its layout, engaged with people in a pro-diverse city, visited the areas where ‘they’ live?” queries Dr Roman Gerodimos. He mentioned it in his conversation with Thomas Biebl of Salzburg Global Seminar at the recently-concluded Pune International Literary Festival 2017 in a session titled ‘The Human Library: Urbanisation, Multiculturalism and the Art of Listening’.

Prior to the Q and A about living and understanding the cityscape, a film by Gerodimos titled, At the Edge of the Present, was screened. The short film talked about the designs of cities, need of public spaces for people to engage. “But, more often than not, in megapolises at least, people prefer to stay in blocks — their own ethnic block, community block, refusing to go out and interact. Here, the local becomes parochial,” explained Dr Gerodimos.

The Athens resident said that the cities have to be designed in such a way that they ought to nurture co-existence, which should be inspired by tolerance and dialogue. “Even if there is a conflict of opinion, you should be able to air your opinion. That’s necessary. So pro-diverse, multi-ethnicities should be welcomed. But what usually happens is that we shut them off on a range of excuses like ‘I am tired’, ‘It’s too late to go out and party’, etc. Thus we lose out on opportunities to connect with people, different from us,” he added.

“This behaviour also ensures that structures like brothels, cemeteries and mental asylums are build on the fringes of the city or town. They become the ‘other’,” he pointed out.

More and more people are getting comfortable with the idea of virtual reality, but even that has its pitfalls. “Taking time out for yourself is important. So the city architecture or your home ought to provide you with that. At least take out five minutes to introspect and have a dialogue with yourself. In the recent past, people got hooked on to social media, and now the same group is spending money to get de-wired, to ‘close down’ the various websites they are associated with. People are aching for a real-life contact,” said Dr Geromidos, who also hosted ‘The Human Library’ concept in Athens.  

Talking about it, he said, “The concept of The Human Library started off in one of the US universities, some 17 years ago. I started the concept in Athens. Here, there are books (actually people) falling under the genres of abuse, bullying, persecution, loneliness or even a mundane life. So if you connect with the title of ‘persecution’ then you can become its reader. To become a reader means you sit with the book/human and chat with him/her, flip through the pages. In Athens, it turned out to be quite a cathartic response so much so that around midnight we had to drag the reader away from the book.”

If you want to start your own human library, Dr Geromidos said, “Hold the meeting in a public place, like a town hall or a public library. You don’t need 20-25 books (people), but even four to five serious ones will do. Explain the concept properly to both the book and the reader and let the sharing process begin.”

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