Gemma John: Ways of Knowing (in) Cities – Sustainability, Wellbeing and Community

Gemma John
25 Oct 2019

Gemma John: Ways of Knowing (in) Cities – Sustainability, Wellbeing and Community

How is ‘sustainability’ imagined and understood by real estate businesses seeking to provide young people with affordable housing? What version of ‘wellbeing’ underpins the creation and construction of built-to-rent residential accommodation? Why is ‘community’ a key priority when measuring the success of new buildings and spaces in densifying cities?

In her talk, Gemma John reflects on her engagement with built environment professionals who have designed and developed alternative models for living in European cities – such as shared accommodation schemes like co-housing and co-living spaces. Whilst there is an urgent need to ‘create spaces where people can thrive’, she asks, what assumptions and expectations about ‘sustainability’, ‘wellbeing’, and ‘community’ inform the creation of these new types of spaces? What role does anthropology play in opening up new ways of knowing?

In the UK, new legislation, such as the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2013, means that the time is ripe for anthropologists to ‘speak for the social’. For whom do we speak? How should we speak? What techniques can anthropologists use to illuminate and explain the everyday experiences of city inhabitants? By reflecting on applied research as an ‘embodied’ practice, Gemma John argues that we must embrace innovative knowledge transfer methods yet remain acutely aware of their effects.

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