Nabila Alibhai says exercising imagination makes us more resilient post-Covid

Nabila Alibhai says exercising imagination makes us more resilient post-Covid
Image: Courtesy Nabila Alibhai
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It took a global pandemic and stay-at-home orders for 1.5 billion people worldwide, but something is finally occurring to us: The future we thought we expected may not be the one we get.

We know that things will change; how they’ll change is a mystery. To envision a future altered by coronavirus, Quartz asked dozens of experts for their best predictions on how the world will be different in five years.

Below is an answer from Nabila Alibhai. She is the founder of inCOMMONS—”a new cultural production lab focused on invigorating public spaces and building collective responsibility for our shared places,” according to its web site. She was named a Quartz Africa Innovator in 2018.

The new world will see more reliance on the artist-mind, reconsideration of the relationship between space and wellbeing, and a contraction of sovereign frontlines.

The art of resilience

For many, art and creativity have helped maintain sanity during this time of isolation. As South African poet Lebongong Mashile so aptly put it, “In this time people are consuming and creating art in order to survive.” But, art and creativity will also help us redefine ourselves in the context of a new reality. That more children and adults have engaged in creative pursuits at this time will have long-term implications on the future. The legacy will be seen not just in material art produced in this time of incubation, but also in the integration of creativity as a muscle to be exercised to adapt to changing conditions, design new solutions, and envision possibilities. I strongly believe that the ability to imagine and create is a critical competency for resilience through all types of uncertainties we will inevitably face.

2. Covid-shaped community

For everyone from the homeless to the affluent, the pandemic has highlighted the value of space. The attributes of spaces that are havens will depend on one’s income and health profile and may include considerations of safety, security, and beauty.  For those fortunate enough to have homes, we are likely to see more investment into the quality of the home-base and aspiration toward home ownership. Open spaces from balconies to home gardens and kitchen gardens will be more common. Beyond the home, we are already seeing the rise of the 15 minute community—where all basic family needs can be met within a short walk/bike ride radius from the house. We have also seen more investment into shared resources e.g. washing facilities near bus stops in Rwanda, and I hope this direction continues into the future. In some countries, we are already seeing a rededication of space to include more sidewalks and bike lanes and a greater appreciation of public spaces. In population-dense areas, public spaces are important arenas for wellbeing, relief (mental and physical health), and sharing of resources.

3. Urban frontlines

There is a contradiction taking place—the pandemic is highlighting the universality of problems while pushing for more local responses. The pandemic has illuminated blind spots in inequalities, failings in statehood and institutions, as well as redundancies in power and budgets. These problems are not unique, but their solutions have required a reconnection of citizens to systems of support that address their safety and wellbeing at the level of the neighborhood. This has arguably made mayors more critical in sustaining citizen welfare. By extension, public service providers have had to increase their level of contact for immediate, targeted and efficient responses at the neighborhood and city level. This shift in political and administrative power is likely to sustain for years to come. Public participation in decision-making will likely mean that local governments will become better at ‘listening’ but also relying more on private sector and civil society partners for their knowledge and capacity to deliver.