By OMA © All rights reserved
|Reinier de Graaf|
On the growth of cities and our attempts to rank them; at this
year's PICNIC conference, Reinier de Graaf discusses
the "livability" rankings of global cities, and the blatant
shortcomings and blindspots in the criteria used to construct these
increasingly popular indices. In a world no longer defined by a
dominant West, livability rankings represent the frustrations of
aging nations, a final futile attempt to assert superiority over
urban conditions they no longer understand or control. Citing a
booming Lagos, a decaying Detroit, and the increasingly
heterogenous cities of Essen and Birmingham, de Graaf discusses the
21st century evolution of the city, and the new modes of planning
and analysis that are needed.
|Amsterdam, , 23 September 2010|
I would like to start with what I guess one can call a very simplistic view of the world. A single land mass inhabited by roughly seven billion of the same species. However, all is not equal; the circumstances in which these species inhabit the world are vastly different and there are increasingly elaborate systems which attempt to rank the circumstances of everyone. The most known one is the United Nations Human Development index, which ranks the world along three major criteria: life expectancy, education, and income. The world falls apart and falls apart into different categories of development. There is the first world, as we know it, then there is a large zone of gray, and Africa is black, and almost falls into the sea, and is the least developed.
Be that as it may, these ranking systems are increasingly
showing fundamental flaws. In 2007, the most livable country in the
world was Iceland. Less than a year later, Iceland was the epitome
of the credit crunch and currently Iceland is actually at the
bottom of the list in terms of economic performance.
In 1950, predominantly Western cities topped the rankings of the
world's largest cities. In 2020, Tokyo will be the only currently
"rich" city to feature in the top ten largest cities in the
However, the phenomena, irrespective of those qualifications, cannot be ignored. Megacities, now in many cases, have a GDP that surpasses the GDP of an entire country. Mexico City overtakes Australia, Sao Paulo overtakes Sweden. Of the 33 megalopolises predicted in 2020, 28 will be located in the world's least developed countries.
Another graph indicates cities in the west continuing to grow economically; but it also indicates cities in the developing world which suffer a huge population explosion in the absence of an economic means to deal with that explosion.
One particular example that we've studied is Lagos. Lagos is a city built by the British colonizers, with an infrastructure equipped to deal with about a tenth of the population the city currently has and that leads to a very evident breakdown of the city. You can argue whether this is a city or a syndrome, but it also means that the traditional way of planning a city and dealing with a city doesn't apply.
This is a cloverleaf, part of that infrastructure, but it's also the largest secondhand car market in Africa. This is a traffic jam. Somehow the end of the morning peak coincides with the beginning of the evening peak, so the traffic jam, in a way, becomes a car park. Since one cannot travel anymore to economic activity, economic activity travels to the car park, so this is in a way, a travel jam that becomes the biggest open air market in Africa.
Another point, and probably a more interesting point, is that now the most rapidly developing cities are not only in the least developed part of the world, they're also in the part of the world that is the least democratic. There are three colors in this picture. Blue is democratic, that's where you have elections, yellow is pseudo-democratic, that's where you have elections but you know the outcome in advance, and red is where you don't have elections at all. The vast majority of rapidly developing cities are in the blue and in the red, which means that a whole planning system, the way we know it, of approvals and procedures, simply doesn't apply. This means cities can grow very quickly.
This is Dubai in 1990. This is Dubai in 2003, and even this picture is hopelessly out of date if you take into account the way the city looks now. Dubai is a cross between a city and a Walt Disney theme park, but this is the way Dubai is being planned. The owners of the Emirates' largest development companies are also ministers in the government. So where actually in the democratic part of the world, once you assume public office you ostensibly have to leave your business interests behind, there, business interests are a prerequisite to even being in government.
This is Facebook. This is the largest cities compared to Facebook. In a way they are wonderfully out of touch, and what these images show is that Facebook participants are becoming a minority in the world, rather than a majority. And it declares that whole world a marginal phenomenon.
The top ten megacities over time, in 1950, 2010, 2025, shows us that the world's centre of gravity and the location of the main metropolises is simply no longer in the west but rather in the east. Asia currently assumes more than half of the world's population. That growth, and the growth of these cities, largely happens in the absence of theories. What you see here are successive waves of urbanization where Asia is the bottom orange curve and the other titles underneath are the titles of important books that have been written about the city. The point of the image is that the biggest wave of urbanization in the history of mankind is happening at a moment - the last of these books was in 1972 - when there is an absence of a proper theory. Cities in the east have started to grow at the moment when we in the west have stopped thinking about the city. Theories have been replaced by "visions". "Vision2020", Vision2025 for India, Vision 2030 for Jamaica, Vision 2020 for Moscow. Visions, rather than planning the cities, try to predict elements of the city that cannot be planned, hence, the emergence of the "Creative City Taskforce Report." As if creativity is just the outcome of a taskforce you put onto something.
City planners have been replaced by consultants. PriceWaterhouseCoopers offers "value for you," Jones Lang Lassel offers "value in the changing world," McKinsey offers "value through transformation." "Vision Mumbai" is written by one of these consultants. India plans five megacities for 2025, but the vision for Mumbai applies the criteria safety, environment, water sanitation, education, healthcare onto the city, to turn this city into this, where the skyline starts to reflect the bar graphs of their economic statistics.
If you look at the criteria applied there seems a weird conspiracy in place between these consultants and the same people who actually publish livability indexes, in the sense that the criteria that these people are trying to optimize are the same criteria that these people use to measure the city's success. So there seems to be a total conspiracy, based on a limited number of criteria which actually serve to hold western values as a mirror for developing cities rather than taking them on their own terms.
It's not surprising that these cities feature in the list of the best, and that the developing cities feature in the list of the worst, because these lists are a symptom of an assumed dominance by the west in a time when it actually no longer has the initiative in the world. So these lists are maybe as much a sign of frustration, disappointment, or envy, as they are the sign of a real livability.
In 2030, less than 10 percent of the world's population will live in developed countries. That is largely because the rest of the world continues to grow much faster than we do. You can offset the number of these rapidly growing cities in the developing world by an increasing number of cities in the developed world that are decreasing. One of the most dramatic examples is Detroit, a thriving, booming city based on the car industry in the 1950s and currently, through the demise of that industry, a city dealing with great economic problems. As a result of that, we have an aging population but also largely a departing population. The population of the city has decreased by one million since the 1950s. The whole downtown has become subject to a kind of thinning to reflect the decrease in population. This is currently what the centre of Detroit looks like, exacerbated by the Detroit foreclosures as a result of the credit crunch. You can now really wonder whether this is rural land or whether it is still a city. The National Guard makes sure that groceries are properly delivered, simply because of a lack of social control through depopulation. Detroit looks like a dacha in the centre of Siberia more than the large American city that it is. On the upside, it's the first city where McDonalds are not opening but closing. Walmarts are closing. Properties lie with empty swimming pools, previously well-visited theme parks now lie derelict.
There is a trick to these images because they actually aren't in Detroit, but in Essen, Germany. Essen was also an industrial city, the industrial powerhouse before and during the Second World War, now completely transformed. This is the old industry, now a kind of nature reserve. Essen contains a huge amount of car infrastructure inhabited by an increasingly dwindling number of people. It's a provincial city that suffers from an overdose of infrastructure. A city that in western Europe is like a hole in the ozone layer, in the sense that the numbers that populate the city are ever decreasing. If Europe grows less fast than the rest of the world, Essen, the Ruhr Valley, grows less fast than Europe and that's actually a reason that it is losing people.
In 2030 almost half of the population living in developed countries will be older than 65 years. In 2030 the average age of the European will be 52. This is western Europe and the amount of people who are aging. This is the age pyramid of Europe vis-à-vis the world, where you see in the world a healthy number of young people taking care of a relatively small amount of old people. Europe has a very evident problem. The only thing is that in Europe, in parts, people immigrate, and this is the only factor correcting the unhealthy demographic situation. The cities that we look at have increasing numbers of unpronounceable names next to the doorbells. The cultural shifts that are occurring as a result of this are also noteworthy. This is a pizza. Now, a pizza is Italian. But in the city of Essen, in the yellow pages, there is actually only one Italian, amidst Moroccans, Turkish, Afghan, Iranians, and even Germans aspiring to be Italians, as the new cool European breed.
One can decide two things. One can decide that the inevitable is unwanted or one can embrace the inevitable and I think that's the situation Western cities are facing. This is Birmingham, which has taken a different course. A former industrial city, like Detroit, like Essen, past its heyday, with the main industries long departed. Nevertheless it has a relatively thriving centre, typically English, nothing to write home about, but its population is now, after being on the decrease, rapidly on the rise. That is largely accounted for by a population that is increasingly less and less English: 26.6 percent of the city's population are from a non-white ethnic group, compared with 9.1 percent for England. So it's almost 20 percent above the national average in terms of ethnic diversity.
This is Birmingham currently divided according to prevalent religions, and this is the Birmingham predicted in 2030, when Christianity will be a minority. This religious composition almost mirrors the religious compositions of the world more than it mirrors that of England. In a way, the city of Birmingham, over time, will be more like the rest of the world than the country it is located in. It will be more like the world than it will be like Britain. We might, for us to be very protective of that situation, declare a UN protectorate around the city to make sure the national politics didn't interfere with the natural process taking place within the city.
I would like to end with the conclusion of the story of the three cities. At the outset of the 21st century, 130 million people live outside their country of birth. Every year, 2-3 million people emigrate. In addition, an estimated 10 million people per year change country illegally. This is another image, comparing the price of a budget journey to any country in the developed world via Ryanair and Easyjet vis-à-vis the bribes that refugees pay human traffickers to enter Europe. We are looking at a hundred-factor difference, sometimes. An easy journey outward, but an incredibly hard journey inward. How smart is that, and how smart is it to divide the world into two categories per se?
Because, in a way, the problem or energy generated in one half
of the world could actually be the answer to a number of looming
problems in the other part of the world. Many of our cities start
to look like developing cities in the sense that the green holes in
our cities that are the former industrial estates sort of mirror
the rice fields in for instance, China, in the cities that have not
yet been urbanized. Parts of our cities that are no longer
urbanized start to mirror parts of the cities that are not yet
urbanized. This offers the strange chance encounter somewhere in
the middle. It reminded us of an image like from Blade Runner: in
the end, there will not be two categories of cities, maybe there
will be one category of city, which is a microcosm of the
demographic composition of the world at large, where street signs
are in English, Chinese, and Japanese.