Could we ever imagine those extraordinary circumstances of Paris’s Commune becoming somehow ordinary, embedded in a city life released from a competitive free for all? What happened in 2020 has been something extraordinary. COVID-19 instigated its own revolution in daily life, a passive, if deadly, revolution. But what of Henri Lefebvre’s active revolution, and his right to the city? Could a de-commodified, de-capitalised city life ever become a little less extraordinary, maybe even something completely normal? What if real cooperation became the order of day, that our hands and eyes were in the front and behind—as Marx suggested—and that we became “to a certain extent omnipresent”? We’ve seen what a strong state can do when it intervenes in our economy and society, what it can do at a crisis moment; now we need reimagine it intervening once the crisis has passed, intervening democratically, fostering cooperation and participation, enabling some bottom-up reconstruction of a world that has undergone so much topdown destruction.
Lefebvre said the right to the city, if ever it came to pass, would resemble a giant social and spatial contract. Associative ties would bond people together, bond them to each other and to their city. What we might add, in an age of public health crisis, is that these “rights” now need to be complemented by “duties.” The Commune, again, is suggestive. Communards gave to the city, recognised that to make their city function they had responsibilities. Public space wasn’t just about them, exclusively about individuals. Public service meant respecting the collective, respecting each other in the realm of one another. Freedom here came through collective necessity, through contributing towards the common good—existentially profiting from this common wealth, primarily because people were helping create it themselves. The sense of unselfish achievement was legion.