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Learning from destruction, learning from reconstruction. Ypres and World War I.

In these dark days, where few lessons are learned from history, and war rages in Ukraine, it might be helpful to look at the utter destruction World War I wreaked upon Europe, and what happened afterwards. Around Ypres, in Western Flanders, over a million people died in 1914-1918, and the name of Passchendaele is still synonymous with unimaginable suffering in muddy trenches. Thinking of current trenches in Europe right now, not much has changed.

Ypres shows that the destruction is deeper than often thought, and includes not only people and their cityscapes but also whole landscapes, their infrastructures and productive capacities, as well as systems of governance and stories about past, future, and identity. Ideologies and narratives lose their persuasive power, actors cannot act, institutions cannot coordinate. Yet, in this chaos, some identities are reinvented and reinforced, new forms of coordination emerge, and after the shock of war is over, the need to take big decisions on reconstruction creates a drive towards coordination, towards shared futures and collective goods.

New paper in Land, with Monica Gruezmacher:

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