The Endless Cities

Here’s a thought : i’m a subscriber to the excellent Jon Snow’s daily e-mail from Channel 4 News…. Ok, it’s not as good as Ros’s (i have to say that) but

Here’s a bit from last night’s e-mail…

Spiralling urbanisation;

The centrepiece of tonight’s programme is a very remarkable film from Nigeria about urbanization. The UN has just declared the world has reached a tipping point in that more people live in cities than in rural areas for the first time in human kind’s development. The sprawl of shanty housing across the capitals of the South is beautifully exemplified in Lagos – development is informal and constant and no government or organisation can keep pace with it.”

I watched the report  and it was as Mr Snow says “very remarkable”. Apart from a fine bit of journalism it brought back memories of my own very short time spent in Lagos , a city i found unbearable (ok, i did have a minor car crash there), though many who work here love the place. But of course they don’t have to live there for economic reasons.

Right, i’ve plugged a rival news programme , a rival presenter, and a rival daily e-mail and now i’m going to plug someone else’s book. Well, i haven’t read it, but one of the guests after the report was Ricky Burdett who’s not only a professor at the nearby LSE, he’s written this– which, helpfully, isn’t out yet.  His book (and as i say, i haven’t read it- but will definitely be buying it) is- so i gather -mainly  about Mexico City but in the C4 interview he talked about Sao Paulo in Brazil and Bogota in Colombia (as well as New York and LA)  and the steps being taken there to solve some of the massive problems of rich/poor divides, transportation and the economy because – as was raised in the interview- there are fears that if – as in Lagos- a thousand new people a day arrive to live in the city, one day it’s going to socially explode, with appalling consequences. 

So the UN says more of us live in cities now. Some work a damn sight better than others. Some think slum clearance is the answer, others high rise buildings, others low level housing , others cycle lanes and congestion charges. 

If we’re facing a future which is overwhelmingly urban, what can be done to make that work ? What’s happening in your city – good and bad ? Are there lessons we can all learn ? Professor Burdett talked about big groups of people in a city can be a positive thing- have changes been made where you live that have worked or failed ?  

It could make a really good discussion. Once again, over to you- and thanks to Channel 4 and Professor Burdett , who i’m going to be e-mailing to invite on the programe, for getting me thinking.

5 Responses to “The Endless Cities”

  1. 1 George USA
    February 13, 2008 at 20:01

    How to develop slums:

    Atlanta has it down pat, study this to develop slums in your own country.

    Take beautiful neighborhoods build with porches, excellent houses with good architecture, and community businesses.

    “Sell” the idea of “white flight” from the neighborhoods, and build “McMansions” out of fiberboard wrapped in plastic so it does not dissolve the first rain at hundreds of thousands of dollars profit per home.

    Finance with floating interest loans, then wrap them and sell them as “assets” in the financial market worldwide. Give them to anyone who walks in the door.

    Move the population to new over priced suburbs leaving the old neighborhoods to become ghetto slums of unemployed people.

    Now take the Military bases south of Atlanta and close them using BRAC for developers to cut up for more development.

    Just wipe out the jobs, historic sites of the bases, and do not worry the military cannot replace them with anything but cement slab throw up buildings elsewhere at many times the price of chopping up a piece of our heritage and history. Bribe some congressmen, make a bundle.

    That closed Ford plant that supported a thriving town well, tear that down and “develop” it, so what if there is no more job base for the population, quick profit is the name of the game, the town will become ghetto slum with half empty buildings and houses- so what.

    When you are finished turning pristine neighborhoods, military bases and former employers into slums, the real estate bubble busts, and there is no job base left, take those millions of development profits and bribes and move somewhere nice, away from Atlanta.

    Follow this formula as close as possible for vast ugly expanses of half empty wastelands of poverty and crime.

    Remember the object is quick profit then leave.

    It is a developers dream come true.

  2. February 13, 2008 at 21:48

    HELLO Mark and very Happy Valentine’s day to you… Well, what’s happening in my Baghdad ?! Many Baghdadis were forced to leave Baghdad since 2003 either to other Iraqi provinces or to the outside of Iraq. Also you’d find many immigrants’ camps and tents in the suburbs of Baghdad. “mixed neighbourhoods” i.e. neighbourhoods where Shiites and Sunnis used to live together are now a history. Baghdadis get national electricity only 2 or 3 hours a day, and although the river Tigris passes through Baghdad, but the water supplies are so scarce as well. May Allah help you Baghdad ! With my love ! Yours forever, Lubna !

  3. 3 Thomas Murray
    February 13, 2008 at 22:45

    Having lived in Los Angeles for 3 years I can attest to the frustration of its never-ending traffic jams. (And about which, from 1991 to 2002, seems to have gotten 3 times as congested.)

    LA itself contains a pupulation of over 12 million people, but its sprawl over the desert southwest is said to contain 18 million.

    So, question: Is there a critical mass, or upper limit, to urban density before it becomes intolerable? How can you tell? What are the conditions? And what happens when it surpasses it?

    Thnaks, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.

  4. 4 John in Salem
    February 14, 2008 at 13:40

    The most credible visions of the future in science fiction depict a world that is very much like the world of today, only MORE – more people, more congestion, more pollution, more everything.
    The old limitations on the size of our cities- plague and starvation – have largely been removed. If cities erect barricades to keep new people from coming in those people will build new cities outside their gates until the old will be indistinguishable from the new.
    I suspect nature has a mechanism to rebalance itself, and I hope I don’t live long enough to see what it is…

  5. 5 BritPatJax
    February 14, 2008 at 15:20

    I lived in Pensacola at first in 2001 coming from UK and had experience of surrounding small towns and then came to huge Jacksonville. There is more amenity and culture in Jax and they care for the senior much more. I can circumnavigate the big city for free on the buses. Of course I rarely do and then is it safe with 150 plus shootings last year alone? As someone who has suffered from the failed bureaucracy of a nation in deep knee jerk responses one after the other, I know that I did the right thing as in the city you can blend and exist and are no so judged by your pocketbook. In small town south America you are expected to clone to the ideals. You are only someone if you have served in the military and if you have a big car and a big house and have a fat wallet. You must be Baptist and Republican. You must be pro life and anti gay. You must have a badge on your chest and a flag in your yard. You must use the word ‘nuke’ frequently. You must hate the UN. You must also hate Kennedy, Baldwin, Fonda, Gore, Streisand and of course you must listen avidly to Fox talk radio. Go Figure.

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