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The Clash Between Environmental Reality And Utopian Dreams

La Candelaria neighborhood in Bogota
La Candelaria neighborhood in Bogota
Julio Carrizosa Umaña*


BOGOTA“Thinking that everything can stay the same is the biggest utopia of all...” Margarita Marino de Botero is a Colombian environmentalist who aims to be as creative as she is dedicated.

Environmentalism — dynamic and obsessed with changing reality — is continually touching upon the concept of utopia. This is, in fact, its main goal, but it is also its key weakness. Attacking environmentalists is commonplace and can in fact be very easy to do, calling us romantic or, worse, nutcases.

Botero’s words are aimed at undermining these attacks.

Environmentalist imagination must be directed toward two main facets — rural and urban. The rural environmental utopia is the older of the two and can be found in Asian and Greek texts. It is implicit in pantheism and animism. It created Rousseau. It flourished in hippy communes and, even though it is hardly recognizable, it is the foundation of many modern-day agrarian policies.

Urban utopia also has a background in religious thought and has produced some of the most beautiful cities in the world, but today it has become negativist. The constant overload thrown at us by the urban reality makes it very difficult to imagine anything better.

How can we impose limits on environmentalist utopias? Initially, it would seem that the two concepts — limits and utopias — are contradictory, but both are fundamental to environmentalist thinking. Perhaps the key resides in knowledge, in truly acknowledging reality as it is with all its inaccuracies and ups and downs. Recognizing its complexity and its uncertainties can keep us away from an unlimited utopia without limits — from too much optimism and obsessive pessimism, from possible paradise and certain hell.

Some currently see Colombia as a space to create a utopia. The majority believe that any possibility for peace — the most important part of our utopia — resides in the countryside. Others, and I count myself among them, think that the Colombian countryside has known limits that would only produce great disappointment, and we suggest that the options to produce peace need to be scrutinized from urban perspectives.

For each group, the opposite proposal seems preposterous. When I wrote about the possibility of designing and building cities for peace, those who have dedicated their lives to the belief that the countryside will be the source of peace were outraged. Only time will tell who was right.

*Julio Carrizosa Umaña is Colombia’s former minister of environment.

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food / travel

When Racism Poisons Italy's Culinary Scene

This is the case of chef Mareme Cisse, a black woman, who was called a slur after a couple found out that she was the one who would be preparing their meal.

Photo of Mareme Cisse cooking

Mareme Cisse in the kitchen of Ginger People&Food

Caterina Suffici


TURIN — Guess who's not coming to dinner. It seems like a scene from the American Deep South during the decades of segregation. But this happened in Italy, in this summer of 2023.

Two Italians, in their sixties, got up from the restaurant table and left (without saying goodbye, as the owner points out), when they declared that they didn't want to eat in a restaurant where the chef was what they called: an 'n-word.'

Racists, poor things. And ignorant, in the sense of not knowing basic facts. They don't realize that we are all made of mixtures, come from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. And that food, of course, are blends of different ingredients and recipes.

The restaurant is called Ginger People&Food, and these visitors from out of town probably didn't understand that either.

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