Movie Night on #SustainableJustCities: Community stories from around the world with “Tomorrow”

The second online “Movie Night on #SustainableJustCities” was organized on the 1st of December 2020 with the “Tomorrow” documentary, which focuses on creative solutions from sustainable communities across the world. It was organized as part of the Vital Cities & Citizens (VCC) initiative of the Erasmus University of Rotterdam, in collaboration with the UrbanA project and DRIFT. This blog summarizes the main insights from the movie night and shares the main resources.

We often feel powerless in front of the various crises of our times such as social justice or ecological sustainability. We urgently need to focus on new pathways that lead to common prosperity, resilience, and sustainable communities for the sake of our planet. The online movie night series aims to engage a diverse audience with the theme of sustainable and just cities and focus on tangible urban challenges (e.g. housing, energy, mobility, health). Using an interactive format we share and connect our research, concepts and resources to stimulate people to take action themselves.

For the second movie night, we organized a voting between “Tomorrow” and “This Changes Everything” to allow people to select the documentary of their choice. The “Tomorrow” documentary emerged as the winner with 50 % of the votes. This movie focuses on creative solutions by communities that strive to create a more sustainable and just way of life. The documentary has a very positive and affirming outlook and discusses five themes - agriculture, energy, economy, democracy and education. It takes the viewers on a journey through permaculture farms, urban agriculture projects, community-owned renewable projects, local currencies, creative schools, ambitious recycling projects, and many other examples. According to the famous environmentalist Paul Hawken:  

“Without question, this is absolutely the best and most creative film on the future of humanity and the environment”. ⁠

The movie night event consisted of three main sections spread over 3.5 hours and followed a similar style and format as for the first movie night (see the first movie night blog here). We began with a short introduction by Dr. Flor Avelino, theme-lead of Sustainable & Just Cities for the VCC initiative. She introduced sustainable and just cities as cities that strive to improve quality of life and well-being, meet the needs of both present and future generations, enable justice and equity, and live within ecosystem limits (in reference to Castán Broto & Westman 2016) (see slides of the presentation under the heading 'Resources' below). 

Next, participants watched the documentary individually on Vimeo. This was followed by an interactive World Café discussion, using break-out groups with 3-5 people over two rounds of 15 minutes each. The discussion was self-organized and allowed the participants to share the learnings from the documentary and their engagement with justice and sustainability. Then we had a short plenary session with final remarks and the event ended with an optional after-talks to share initiatives and network with other professionals. The participation was free of charge and the royalties for the filmmaker have been offered by the VCC initiative. 

A total of 220 people registered for the event, of which 125 people attended the introduction and movie, and 40 people attended the World Café discussion afterwards. About 30% of these participants were from the Netherlands while others joined from both European and non-European countries including USA, UK, Portugal, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Ireland, India and Hungary. Most of these participants were researchers and/or teachers, students, activists, entrepreneurs and others. 

World Café Discussion

Below we discuss the summary of discussion from the two rounds of the World Café.

#1: What did you like the most about the movie? What could we learn for #sustainablejustcities?

“Tomorrow” documentary shows us stories of creative community-led solutions in the field of agriculture, energy, economy, democracy and education. Several groups liked that the documentary embraced a variety of problems and solutions which were identified from different geographical locations, varied in scale, involved multiple actors and informed by expert opinions. Most people expressed that the movie left them hopeful, inspired, positive and in a constructive spirit. As one participant said: “we wanted to go out and get started straight away”.

Attention for climate change has become more mainstream, yet the solutions often seem to remain too abstract for many people. The documentary showed practical, scalable, and quantifiable solutions using simple explanations and normalized language that one can even relate at a neighbourhood level. For example: How can we travel more sustainably? What percentage of citizens are walking, cycling, using cars or public transport? What are the targets set by the local government? There were also some solutions that were new, surprising and even puzzling such as the idea of a complementary economic system and local currencies.

One participant noted that “change has to come from all origins”. One of the important aspects of the documentary was also that it showed linkages and intersections between the different problems and the ways to resolve them. It was refreshing to see good, if not perfect solutions and innovative collective practices rather than blaming the ‘other’. The film also uses the powerful tool of making us think about our own kids, future generations and the legacy we can leave behind to inspire action.

#2 What kind of concrete steps towards justice and sustainability are you engaged in or would you like to engage in?

It was inspiring to connect with so many participants engaged and interested in business, education, innovation and activism for various justice and sustainability challenges. The topics in the World Café discussion varied from race, class and gender to circular economy, degrowth movements, local food systems, climate justice movements, and many others. Participants included researchers and academics trying to bring systemic change by supporting local governments, entrepreneurs creating climate positive business models, activists giving voices to vulnerable communities, elected politicians interested in best practices, and concerned citizens curious about just sustainable living. Some also indicated interest in pursuing educational programs related to sustainability.

There were several opinions on how to approach sustainability and justice such as providing more opportunities to the disadvantaged, bringing radical reforms or leading by examples. One common thread of achieving transformative change among different groups was connecting and learning from people and networks at a local and global level. One participant remarked that translocal networks can act as “a different way of ‘growing’ globally: not by growing a company but spreading the principle and connecting as a global learning network.” This can be for example, connecting indigenous struggles in Latin America to degrowth movements in Europe.

Another participant also highlighted some key topics that were not discussed in the film, such as the right to housing. Various people across the world are struggling for adequate and affordable housing, which can be seen as one of the first steps to achieving a sustainable and just city. There were also several questions raised in the World Café discussions. Such questions included: How to build strong community ties and identity? How to activate and educate people for long term solutions? How to set up and maintain alternative systems such as local food systems? These are large questions that we are working on in our research and education at institutes, projects, and initiatives like UrbanA, DRIFT and VCC. We hope to continue doing so of the coming years and be able to engage diverse audiences through events like this movie night.  

Resources from the movie night

Slides introduction presentation Flor Avelino

About the organizers

Vital Cities & Citizens (VCC) is part of Erasmus University Rotterdam and works towards improving the quality of life in cities by identifying the conditions for equal opportunities in life, safe living environments, and harmonious coexistence for an increasingly diverse population. 

Dutch Research Institute for Transitions (DRIFT) is also based at the Erasmus University Rotterdam and aims to accelerate transitions towards more just, sustainable, and resilient societies by generating new knowledge and creating societal impact. 

Urban Arenas for Sustainable and Just Cities (UrbanA) is an EU-funded project that brokers and synthesizes actionable knowledge on and for sustainable and just cities that are relevant and accessible to as many people as possible. It aims to facilitate and co-create an open-source knowledge commons and community of practice of city-makers and city-thinkers that share a passion and interest for transforming their urban environments into more sustainable and just cities.

About the authors

Vaishali Joshi is working as a research assistant for the VCC project under the theme of Sustainable & Just Cities. She has recently completed her MSc. in Development and Rural Innovation at Wageningen University & Research and has also worked as an intern at DRIFT. She has expertise in online and/or blended communication and has researched in the field of urban sustainability, justice, and migration. 

Dr. Flor Avelino is the theme lead of Sustainable & Just Cities within the Vital Cities & Citizen (VCC) initiative of the Erasmus University of Rotterdam. She works at DRIFT as senior researcher in the politics of sustainability transitions and social innovation. She specializes in power and empowerment theories, and is involved in research projects on transformative social innovation (TRANSIT), sustainable & just cities (UrbanA) and social innovation in energy transitions (SONNET & PROSEU). 

Vital Cities and Citizens 

With the Erasmus Initiative Vital Cities and Citizens Erasmus University Rotterdam wants to help improve the quality of life in cities. In vital cities, the population can achieve their life goals through education, useful work and participation in public life. The vital city is a platform for creativity and diversity, a safe meeting place for different social groups. The researchers involved focus on one of the four sub-themes:

•    Inclusive Cities and Diversity
•    Resilient Cities and People
•    Smart Cities and Communities 
•    Sustainable and Just Cities

VCC is a collaboration between Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences (ESSB), Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication (ESHCC) and International Institute of Social Studies (ISS).