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Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, 1946
Photo by David E. Scherman

Although the French existentialist philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre could have easily worked from his home or from one of the hotels in which he lived most of his life, he famously did most of his writing in cafés. He evidently preferred the social life of coffeehouses despite its drawbacks due to the noise and other distractions.

Since the start of the global coronavirus pandemic very few things have been discussed as passionately as how and where we should work in the future. What becomes ever clearer is that after the original euphoria about remote working, most people - although there are few exceptions, such as people with small children or domesticated animals - started longing for the socialising, companionship if not friendship, and shared experiences at workplaces, escaping the social isolation of home. Richard Sennett sees that kind of isolation increasing and as an important negative effect of the pandemic as he explained in our interview with him in MONU #33. The promises of our hyper-individualised societies, particularly in the Western World, seem to reveal ever more shortcomings. Marx might have been right that human beings are intrinsically, necessarily, and by definition social beings who, being gregarious creatures, cannot survive and meet their needs other than through social co-operation and association, because we are "political animals" that find our happiness by interacting with those around us, as was claimed by the Greek philosopher Aristotle more than two thousand years ago.

However, what we consider most striking in the discussion about social life and social isolation is not the question whether we might work at home eventually, or in the office, or alternately in both of them in a hybrid fashion, but that the discussion makes apparent that there is a current shift in the way we use our spaces and environment socially, which might exceed far beyond the realm of work penetrating many other aspects of our contemporary social urban life. That is why we think there is currently a unique chance and need to rethink what the term "social" means and should mean for cities today, whether it comes to working, living, playing, or other social urban activities and urbanism in general: how has the term changed and how will it change in relation to the past? Are we heading, for example, towards a "Super Social Urbanism" that brings together people in such large numbers that it even endangers them as we recently witnessed in the Seoul Halloween crowd crush, or are we on the way to an "Antisocial Urbanism" that is increasingly expressed though Social Media developing seemingly more and more into an antisocial medium, to name two extremes?

The pandemic clearly impacted the manner in which we inhabit and use cities socially today, not so much through physical changes in our outer urban environment, which barely took place or have been changed back, but rather through the inner mental and psychological changes in their inhabitants, making them rethink and change their focus in their lives. As a result of this, many industries and professions are struggling to find new staff these days, a phenomenon that turns out not to be merely based on the many firings during the pandemic as was thought for a while, but also on new ways people wish to spend their time and socialise. Nevertheless, this new topic of MONU does not aim to deliver another "Pandemic Urbanism" issue, but will focus predominantly on the social changes within cities. Thus, with this new issue of MONU we want to revise and re-theorise how we as social beings live and co-exist collectively and interactively in our urban realms today, and how this is different from before, thus defining a "New Social Urbanism".

Moreover with "New Social Urbanism" we intend to find out if a new and different social era is dawning in our cities and what that might look and feel like, how it could be perceived and defined. In MONU #24 we argued that our private domestic spaces are becoming progressively more public - particularly though Social Media - and that the domestic infiltrates the urban as well. Cities need to be seen as continuous fabrics of differential intensities rather than areas of enclosed categories that distinguish between private and public, house and city, or inside and outside. Furthermore, in MONU #21 we emphasised that cities might be described as massive aggregations of interior environments including our homes, our workplaces, the restaurants and bars that we socialise in, imagining a city life that is composed of a series of different and highly individuated interior islands. How communal life might be an answer to present urban challenges that appeared due to such intense social fragmentation, we demonstrated in MONU #18.

Whether we like it or not, technology and Social Media will certainly be an aspect that requires discussion in "New Social Urbanism", as in the era of the Internet the meaning of our world increasingly requires the use of tools, platforms, and infrastructures linked to the Internet leading to a transformation of social relationships into virtual entities, as we stated in MONU #33. Although recent studies underline the importance of physicality when it comes to social relationships, purely virtual connections ultimately are limited, though better than no relations at all. Therefore, we want to discuss too how today's spaces are used in a different way than before, whether they are virtual or physical, and what these spaces should provide for a "New Social Urbanism". On the other hand, how does a "New Social Urbanism" influence the shape of exterior and interior spaces? Other questions that we wish to address: whether a "New Social Urbanism" might contribute to a new social sustainability or will lead to greater social injustice with higher inequity between rich and poor within cities? And might a "New Social Urbanism" have the power to show the way to more liveable communities which would be more equitable, diverse, and connected or will it lead to less democratic cities providing a lower quality of life? The ultimate question is whether a "New Social Urbanism" will make our cities more social or less social.

To discuss all of this - and especially to figure out how a "New Social Urbanism" might manifest itself today and in the future in our cities - we created this new topic that will hopefully lead to productive debates on the changes in the social aspects of our cities. Ideally, this new issue will create momentum and movement answering the pressing philosophical question as to how we should live socially in our cities, now and in the future. And since our magazine thrives on debate and on challenging views as well as on exploring alternatives, we want to face this thought-experiment to create new insights into this large, abstract, and complex topic, envisioning a "New Social Urbanism" for the cities of our planet. To join this theoretical challenge, with this new open call for submissions for MONU #36 on "New Social Urbanism" we invite you to submit philosophical thinking, daring writing, imaginative research, mind-opening studies, problem-solving strategies, bold projects, inspiring photography, and provocative graphics. Abstracts of around 400 words, and images and illustrations in low resolution, should be sent, together with a short biography and a list of publications, as one single pdf-file that is not bigger than 1mb to before March 31, 2023. MONU's issue #36 will be published in October 2023.

Bernd Upmeyer, December 2022