Local idiosyncrasies

Would our earlier imaginary drive have been different travelling into a huge Asian or Latin American city? Again, yes and no. With, say, Japan or India there is a completely contrasting experience from that in the US or Europe. The overall sense of noise, bedlam, visual chaos, dilapidation, trading, traffic, smell and many, many more people lends a cab ride around New Delhi, Buenos Aires, Caracas or Manila a different feel to an equivalent journey in Europe or North America. But flagship Asian cities such as Tokyo, Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong rise up like the best the West can offer, if not better. Glass and steel challenge concrete's hegemony. Their fast, efficient, frequent public transit systems far outstrip those in the West.

What is different and what is similar as you take an eagle's eye view of cities across the globe? Mending a car in Punta Arenas, Southern Chile, surely serves the same core function as in Kirkenes on the Barents Sea, Maputo in Mozambique, Kanazawa in Japan, Oshkosh, Wisconsin or Cebu in the Philippines. The same should be true for building a house, fixing the roads or putting in electricity, going shopping, having a break, drinking a beer, getting rid of rubbish or saving something for a rainy day. Superficially doing many of these things looks the same and has the same output: shelter, sustenance, getting by and getting around. The differences, however, are in the logistics, organization, process, technique, technology, management and cultural idiosyncrasy which shape the comprehensive flow of urban dynamics. Interactively they shape the look and feel of cities and are in turn shaped by them.

We have to consider cities globally as an interconnected system of settlements. Chains of causes and effects circulate in feedback loops with real daily consequences on the ground. Whatever loca-tional advantages a city might have had in the past, now its physical and cultural resources, its intrinsic gifts and the skills of its people are all part of a global network.

To consider in isolation a piece of the world urban map, say Europe or Africa, is to ignore the interdependencies. Every action in one place can affect a world away. The shape, structure and stage of economic development are determined by threads of history from past colonialisms to current global terms of trade. In the development rush we rarely stand back and assess the balance of gains and losses in places as different as Memphis, Port of Spain, Bamako, Oulu, Norilsk, Frankfurt, Qatar and Chennai. It is as if only one rational approach counted: the unfettered logic of capital and property values inexorably drives the evolution of cities and their shape, segregating rich from poor and casting light or shadow depending on perspective or circumstance. The market economy has no mechanism within itself that ensures ethics or trust; it is the embodiment of self-interest. Using money values to drive progress to create more monetary assets means monetizing all aspects of life, even relationships. On its own it is an impoverished theory of decision-making which excludes considerations of forms of sociability, exchange and bonding, as exemplified in bartering or other voluntary exchanges of favour. It also curtails the imagination in recreating anew forms of free exchange, cooperation and endeavour and circumscribes thinking about alternatives. It puts its monetary stamp on everything; someone has to make money somewhere. Capital's gleam lies in its seeming simplicity. It works, too, in a way, if you forget all the downstream consequences and look at the world through the narrow prism of 'economic man'.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment