The Tate Modern Gallery in London has a vivid and informative exhibition called ‘Global Cities ‘ filling much of the huge space of the main hall, and we were there yesterday. Using London as a template, it presents and explores the social, cultural, environmental and architectural life of nine rapidly expanding cities. With a range of existing films, videos and photographs by artists who have some relation to the ten cities, and other works commissioned by the Gallery, the exhibition raises specific issues such as sustainability, public space and social inclusion whilst also addressing the effect of escalating climate change.
The cities are Tokyo, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Shanghai, Cairo, Istanbul, Los Angeles, Mumbai, Johannesburg, and – the smallest – London, with amazing contrasts between them all. Istanbul for example covers an area similar to London but has a population 30% larger. Tokyo is the largest urban region in the world and Tokyo Bay (once seen as a buffer against tornadoes) has been progressively in- filled to create more land for offices and housing.
Eighteen million people live in Mumbai (Bombay) and more than half of them live in slums, and with governance split between the state and central government, there is a lack of power and knowledge to implement necessary change.
With a population about nine times that of London, Cairo has one of the lowest ratios of green space per inhabitant in the world. 66% of the population in Sao Paulo – the largest Spanish city outside Spain – are under 20. Ethnically diverse, a major project in the city is to erect a hundred new schools. In Mexico City, located on a high plateau with few geographic boundaries to curb its growth, the attempt to lure people back to the historic areas of the city has merely increased the price of housing there. Bottled water is more expensive than petrol.
When we began this series of blogs on Cities in Europe, I quoted from a 1950’s book by Lewis Mumford who claimed that ‘soon’ half the world’s population will live in cities or be affected by city culture. Now apparently there are twenty mega cities with populations of over ten million and four hundred and fifty with more than one million. According to the United Nations, we have now reached and exceeded Mumford’s forecast. And it is estimated that the number is set to rise to 75% by 2050.
We found the exhibition moving, alarming, but also unifying. If this is how most of the world’s people are going to live through this millennium, what happens to cities should be everyone’s concern.