Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Global cities - divided cities

Global Cities, the new exhibition at Tate Modern, raises big questions about the future of humanity. In the vast Turbine Hall, a banner announces that more than half of the world’s population now lives in cities. Originally made for the 10th Venice Architecture Biennale in 2006, Global Cities provides a bird’s eye tour of Cairo, Istanbul, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Mumbai, Sao Paolo, Shanghai and Tokyo. There are presently over 20 mega-cities with populations of over 10 million people, including places like Tokyo (with Yokohama it runs to 33-35 million) and Mexico City with 18 million souls. It is expected that three-quarters of us will live in cities by the year 2050. Films, computer-generated models, architects’ designs and art works and statistics show the speed of growth which has transformed human existence on the planet earth during the last couple of decades of rampant corporate globalisation and the heavy costs. In Sao Paulo 1,000 new cars are registered each day; Mexico City faces a water crisis; Los Angeles has one in five families living in poverty in one of the wealthiest cities of the world; Mumbai is in the "throes of civic emergency", lacking sanitation for half its population. One out of three city dwellers lives in slums.

Curator Ricky Burdett’s take on this process is refreshingly humanist – he does not point to human reproduction as the source of crisis. On the contrary, he focuses on the extraordinary inventiveness and flexibility of humans as social animals as well as the harmful sides of urbanisation. The intention is to stimulate debate about London at a turning point in its long history. Skyscrapers are transforming London’s cityscape as property prices continue to rocket while the surrounding green belt is under enormous pressure from government and developers. But as Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota formally opened the event yesterday, he specially thanked its sponsors - Land Securities, Savills and Derwent London. Land Securities is Europe’s largest property development and investment company with a £15bn portfolio. It focuses on "maximising the opportunities to be found in the commercial property sector". With over 140 offices and associates world-wide, Savills is one of the leading international property advisors. Its website claims: "A unique combination of sector knowledge and entrepreneurial flair give clients access to real estate expertise of the highest calibre, across the UK, Continental Europe, Asia Pacific and Africa. Our distinctive collegiate culture and highly motivated staff ensure that we are committed to getting the very best results for our clients - every time." Derwent London describes itself as a leading central London office specialist with a combined portfolio valued at over £2.5 billion, and says its strategy "is to add value to buildings and sites… to deliver an above average annualised total return to shareholders." The cultural paradoxes of today’s corporate-driven globalisation could hardly be sharper. With most Londoners priced out of the property market and 62,000 households in temporary accommodation, the profit-driven control of the property market results in vast fortunes for some and misery for many others. Not so much a global city but a divided city.

Corinna Lotz, AWTW secretary

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