Capturing the Zeitgeist

In every age there are battles to capture the Zeitgeist, because when on your side it is a powerful ally. The goal is to portray adversaries as if they are acting against history in some sense. So, for instance, hardened reactionaries will accuse emergent trends of being woolly or devoid of reality in an attempt to put them down. Today the battles and dividing lines centre on your views around a series of faultlines, which determine whether you are 'one of us'.

The emergent spirit has an ethical twist and includes a concern for the following:

• Distinctiveness - fostering authenticity of places to strengthen their identity and ultimately their competitiveness.

• A learning community - encouraging participation and listening. The city becomes a place of many learners and leaders.

• Wider accounting - balancing economic goals with others such as liveability and quality of life.

• Idealism - encouraging activism and a values-based approach to running a city. Not shying away from altruism.

• Holism - having a whole systems view so sharing a concern for ecology or culture.

• Diversity - having an interest in difference and cross-cultural consolidation and rejecting intolerance.

• Gendered approaches - having an interest in the other sex's perspectives on running cities.

• Beyond technology - technology is not the answer to every problem. It is not a white knight that can address all urban problems, from segregation to gang culture. We also need to encourage behavioural change, while stopping short of engineering society.11

Cityness is Everywhere

The world's urban population has just passed 50 per cent. This is an iconic figure. We are inexorably leaving the rural world behind; everything will in future be determined by the urban. Of course, in more developed places in the world, the urban population is already well over 50 per cent - over 74 per cent in Europe and 80 per cent in the Middle East and Australia - but this is a critical moment, the turning point from rural to urban.

'Cityness' is the state most of us find ourselves in. Cityness is everywhere because even when we are nominally far away from cities, the city's maelstrom draws us in. Its tentacles, template and footprint reach out into its wide surrounds, shaping the physical look, the emotional feel, the atmosphere and economics. The

Source: Charles Landry

The city is more than 'roads, rates and rubbish', as the Australians say (or 'pipes, potholes and police', as the Americans say)

perceptual reach and physical impact of London, for example, stretches 70km in all directions, that of New York even further, that of Tokyo well beyond. Their networks of roads, pipes and pylons stretch into the far yonder. And the same is true even for smaller settlements - each has a catchment area or dynamic pull around itself. When these magnetic maelstroms and catchments are added together, nearly nothing is left of what was once called nature. The overarching aura is the city.

Urbanism is the discipline which helps us understand this aura and see the dynamics, resources and potential of the city and city-ness in a richer way; urban literacy is the ability and skill to 'read' the city and understand how cities work and is developed by learning about urbanism. Urbanism and urban literacy are linked generic and overarching skills, and a full understanding of urbanism only occurs by looking at the city with different perspectives, insights and multiple eyes. Overlaying it is cultural literacy - the understanding of how cultures work - which ultimately is key.12

Night maps show the extent of urban ubiquity most graphically. The entire Japanese nation shines like a beacon. Osaka to

Tokyo is nearly one built mass, a contiguous city of 80 million people stretching 515km. The Pearl River Delta in Southern China went from paddy fields to near complete urbanization in 50 years. Even more extreme, the seaboard of the east coast of China will soon be one strip of urbanization. The east coast of the US is all but completely urbanized from Boston to Washington, which is 710km, and the lights extend inland too. From the east coast inwards are 1000km stretches of light blur. Forty years ago the Spanish coastline seen from the air was punctuated by a few large cities, such as Barcelona, Valencia, Alicante, Almeria and Malaga with some speckled fishing villages in between. Now it is almost completely built up along a 970km stretch. The same is true for Marseille in France to Genoa in Italy (440km). Only Africa is a far dimmer continent, rarely punctuated by bright interruptions.

The inexorable movement of people, who hope cities can fulfil their dreams, expectations or sheer need for survival, feeds cities. But this is not happening uniformly. In Europe populations have stabilized and are about to begin their decline.13 During industrializing eras concentration is the dominant force, as witnessed in Europe and the US, with populations shifting from smaller towns to large cities. A second pattern now emerging is a parallel counter-urbanization - larger cities are stuttering, with the largest percentage gains seen in smaller cities and rural areas - though the rebirth of the city in the West is curtailing that trend somewhat, bolstered by attempts to make cities safer, more attractive, vital and vibrant, so enticing various subgroups such as empty-nesters or young professionals.

In East Asia and the rest of the developing world, by contrast, the pull to the city continues unabated, fed by hope and need. We are witnessing the largest movement of people in history. Wave upon wave of incomers are arriving. The vast majority are poor, but once semi-settled there are layers of deprivation within this poverty and each layer has differing economic prospects. In spite of abject poverty at the lowest levels in the booming cities in Africa, Asia and Latin America, each stratum can provide services to the group slightly better off. So it partly fulfils its aspirations. This ranges from selling cooked meals to personal services as one moves up the chain. There is exploitative production-line work and transport services, then building and construction, and finally financial activities or leisure provision similar to those meeting demands in the West. This makes slums complex. They have their own class structure and stratifications.

Imagine the impact of Sao Paulo's expansion from 10 million in 1984 to 20 million in 1999 - over 600,000 newcomers per year. Or, perhaps the starkest example, Shenzhen, a 90-minute train ride from Hong Kong, which has grown from a rice-growing village in the late 1970s to a city of over 10 million people today. In some sense the achievement is astonishing.

Imagine the physical infrastructure needed. Imagine the psychological stresses. The figures are telling, but the added zeros barely touch the impact of dense living, exacerbating pollution, grinding poverty, the urban rush, the ugly slipshod-built buildings or the escalating sense of things being out of control. The zeros do not put across the heaving weight of fates fulfilled or destroyed, the sadnesses lived through, injustices endured, helplessness put up with, and occasional delight.

In 1900 only 160 million people, 10 per cent of the world's population, lived in cities. In 1950 it was 730 million people or 34 per cent. Today 3250 million or 50 per cent are urban dwellers -the equivalent of every single person in Europe, the Americas, Africa, Oceania and Western Asia living in cities.14 These average figures, however, mask gaping differences. Ninety-seven per cent of Belgians, 89 per cent of British and 88 per cent of Germans live in urban areas, against 74 per cent of Europeans as a whole. Every year another 68 million people move to cities, the equivalent of the entire French and Belgian populations combined. Mercifully, if predictions are correct, the world's population will stabilize at 9 billion in 2050. Population has already stabilized in Europe, and the remaining the growth is expected to come from Asia and Africa.

In 1900 the ten biggest cities in the world were in the North. Now that hemisphere has only New York and Los Angeles in the top ten and by 2015 will have none. In 1800 London was the world's largest city, with 1 million people. Today 326 metropolitan areas have more than 1 million people. By 2025 there are expected to be 650. Many of these cities of a million you will have never heard of: Ranchi, Sholapur, San Luis, Potosi or Gaziantep, Nampo and Datong, Tanjungkarang, Davao and Urumqi. Who would have thought that Chungking had nearly 8 million people or Ahmadabad just over 5 million and Wuhan and Harbin just under? The number of megacities, cities of more than 10 million, has climbed from 5 in 1975 to 14 in 1995 and is expected to reach 26 by 2015. Lagos' population in 1980 was 2.8 million and is now 13 million and

Kampala's population has tripled over the same period. We could go on ...

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment