Andrew Marr’s Megacities: Living in the City

Thanks to Anirudh Koul via Creative Commons

The first in the series on BBC one presented by Andrew Marr is ‘Living in the City’. I had a quick catch up session on BBC iplayer and was surprised by Marr’s findings into 5 of the worlds mega cities: London (considered the ‘grandfather’ megacity), Dhaka, Tokyo, Mexico City and Shanghai. He mentioned what has been a hotly growing trend globally: urbanisation, the movement of people from rural areas to urban ones.

Astonishingly, it is estimated that by 2050 a further 3 billion people will be living in urban areas and the population of the country side will have stopped growing (this is if we assume ‘business as usual’ factors such as counter-urbanisation from retirees and a disappointment with poverty associated with some urban lifestyles might influence this estimated growth). Additionally, 70% of the world’s population will live in cities. This is because to the outsider view, urban life is attractive for higher employment opportunities as well as a better standard of living from improved healthcare, schooling and general welfare. However, this image is not entirely true for those who migrate.

I was uncertain if these five ‘megacities’ would have much in common apart from their population size, and according to Marr’s findings, each has their own problems and merits – Tokyo’s impersonal clockwork regularity and Mexico City’s staggering crime rates and gang violence. However, I felt that the cities he visited in the developing world had a greater sense of individuality and community. The ones in the developed world (London and Tokyo) although they were different, they certainly had been globalised – the interconnectedness between the two is evident.

Harm de Blij argues that the notion of globalisation is experienced only by the privileged few – those who live in the develop world and take holidays where they only experience tourist enclaves (well-developed areas of the country that cater well for the visitor). I would have to agree with this, although there is a sense that globalisation is on the rise with the expansion of the a global middle class where luxury goods and the internet is spreading a globalised world culture. Shanghai, for example, is home to over 7000 billionaires and has a growing market for luxury goods and a well-developed infrastructure. Having visited Shanghai and Beijing in 2008 the differences in development were evident then – skyscrapers, indoor ski resorts and westernised shopping malls carrying Burberry, Louis Vuitton and the like versus unpaved streets and poor sanitation. However, to those whom are of the poorest, the globalised world still appears distant.

Another point that struck me was the sense of loneliness and uneasy familiarity in Tokyo, not to argue that I wish the entire world was a shanty town, but Marr did point out that some of the residents suffered from loneliness and reclusiveness from the cold regularity of the city (as a Londoner, it makes me a little perplexed that one has to bring in a letter from the train company to explain why you were late for work in the morning). Some people offer themselves as rentable friends, people you can hang out with for the day. Also, the types of housing made to accommodate for such a high population density means living in box-like corridor apartments, Marr admitted he’d rather sleep in the slum in India; I’m going to have to remain undecided on that one. Does becoming too developed mean a loss of personality? In stark comparison, Mexico city with its many faults, still retains a community with dance Sundays and street markets.

To conclude, in the search for a more modernised and developed world are we sacrificing our sense of place and swiftly becoming monotonous? Looking at cities in the developed world, it is easy to find yourself unable to distinguish between some places other than through the transport systems. Rapidly industrialising countries are in the process of disposing their culture and traditions – such as swapping traditional dim sum for KFC and Macdonalds in Shanghai. I guess I would like places to retain their charm and original culture, however, I fear that the global trend for industrialisation and development means sacrificing culture, unless we ensure that every government instigates some form of a heritage trust so sites and cultural history can be preserved.

Charlotte Tidman

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