Cities, plans, chaos and life.
November 10, 2007
This video essay and interview with Richard Florida; At the intersection of immigrant and hippie is an interesting find in light of our recent trip.
There has been no functioning government in Nepal for about 12 years now – at least since the last election. Kings and parliaments and Maoist insurgents arguing over how things should be done have put a stop to any kind of local power in terms of city planning. The streets of Kensington Market are safe and civilized compared to Kathmandu.
The views of traffic, goods on the streets, people walking, taste slightly of the intensity both of Kathmandu, and a remaining street market near a now closed garment market of Old Shanghai. Both are under tremendous pressure.
The Kathmandu Valley, it is said, can support about 1.5 million people. At the last count, meaning the last time anybody actually counted, the valley held 2.5 million. It feels incredibly dense. Surrounded by mountains, they really have nowhere to sprawl.
Shanghai is an amazing city. Shanghai is a completely planned, reconstructed city that contains a nearly 20 million people.
It is hard to believe that Nepali’s can pack Kathmandu any more densely. Brick and mortar construction can only go so high, but some who go to The Emirates for a few years bring back enough money to build six and eight floor hotels with more modern building techniques – squeezed into lots in Thamel with a breath to spare. The Chinese Government just appropriates entire neighbourhoods and reconstructs them. Sprawl isn’t a problem. Flat goes in every direction.
Thamel, in Kathmandu, and Shanghai are Shopping. The streets of Shanghai are crawling with an expanding middle class with money to spend. If there’s one thing the Chinese Government understands, it’s Capitalism and if there’s one thing the Nepali Maoist understand it’s that Tourism is the heart of Nepal’s economy, and you can’t scare them away if you want income to run the country. The Chinese Government understands that it owns access to the market, and if corporations want to play, they have to pay.
A ferry ride across the river to Old Shanghai and a short walk through grey winding streets brought us to a street market. As much as you could marvel at Shanghai’s huge pedestrian mall on Nanjing Road and a walk the river along The Bund, it all seemed plastic, just a beautifully articulated surface. Old Shanghai market streets were real, genuine – like Kensington, like Thamel, alive with people working, working at living and making a living, attacking the street – the public space with vigour, need, hunger.
There’s more than just a hole at the emptiness of downtown London, a city that can sprawl because it can, where Developers have called the shots with the city trotting along on a leash. I can’t imagine any of the developer faction going to Shanghai to come back here to complain about Planning, or returning from Kathmandu and whining about needing more freedom.