Dhaka hustle and bustle

Saturday, 11 March, 2017 0 Comments

Between air pollution, poverty, corruption and rising sea levels, Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is one of the least liveable cities in the world. This is tough for its 17 million residents as Dhaka has the potential to be one of Eurasia’s great urban centres. Location, location, location: Dhaka is located near several rivers, including the vast Ganges-Brahmaputra delta, which benefits Bangladesh’s agricultural economy, while the country’s mountains are rich with minerals, biodiversity and forests. In other words, Dhaka has access to all the resources it needs to prosper.

Farhan Hussain, Sajeed Sarwar and Safat Chowdhory are Bengali Film Makers and their Dhaka is full of life: “The smiling Rickshawala, the hustle and bustle of the street, the entrepreneurship spirit, the smell of freshly cooked Biriyani, the Falgun colours!”

People of the book

Friday, 7 February, 2014 0 Comments

On 10 May 1953, the old German city of Chemnitz was renamed Karl-Marx-Stadt (Karl Marx City) by its Communist rulers. On 21 June 1990, Marx was deposited in the dustbin of European history and Chemnitz was Chemnitz once more. The city is home to many attractions, including the Lessing & Kompanie bookshop. According to the German book trade magazine, Börsenblatt, the owner of Lessing & Kompanie, Klaus Kowalke, invested €3,500 in an all-day session with a professional photographer taking 1,700 snaps of 127 of his customers in the shop, with their favourite books. The result is a charming Tumblr.

Lessing & Kompanie

As cities get smarter

Friday, 11 October, 2013 0 Comments

There will be nine billion people on this planet by 2050 and the number of mega cities — defined as those with more than 10 million residents — is set to rise from 24 at the moment to 100 by the middle of this century. As a result, IT that helps cities better manage their resources will be big business. Intel, Cisco, Google, Microsoft, GE, BMW, Siemens and many others are looking to use software and sensors to guide urban development by analyzing and visualizing the big data sets that will be amassed daily in cities. The goal is the “smart city,” where sustainability, technology, security and economic opportunity integrate, and the idea is to use water, power, transportation systems and communication networks much more efficiently.

To get to there from here, new thinking is needed and IBM’s “People for Smarter Cities” initiative is encouraging urban dwellers to think laterally. Take billboards. They’re ubiquitous, so why not have them do something practical along with selling stuff? How about adding a simple curve to the top or bottom of a billboard to create shelter or seating for passers by?

Enabling the future city with its smart grids, smart transport, smart waste management and smart building systems is going to be one of the major 21st century challenges, but the benefits will be enormous for the players — telcos, IT companies, utilities providers and property developers — who successfully harness the technologies needed to for the task. We’re still a long way from living in the data-driven cities that many have been envisioning, but the conversation has started.

Toronto rises thanks to rooftopping

Tuesday, 8 October, 2013 0 Comments

Heard of the daring Ukranian known as “Mustang Wanted”? He’s the star of a newish trend that cannot be defined by any single word. Essentially, it involves climbing buildings and bridges and then hanging on to the edges. Maybe it should be called “skywalking” after Vitaly Skywalker, who pioneered the hobby, but he ran into trouble with the law in Russia and his place has been taken by intrepid Mustang Wanted.

Instead of skywalking, Tom Ryaboi does “rooftopping,” which, in his case, involves climbing tall buildings to get the best photographic angles on an urban scene. Last year, Ryaboi decided that he wanted to create a video clip of Toronto where “the boundary between earth and sky is unclear.” With the help of a theatrical score by Hans Zimmer, these rooftopped shots are breathtaking. Tomorrow, here, in honour of the opening of the Frankfurt Book Fair, an Austerian interlude.

An all-female enclave of Islamic business feminists

Wednesday, 8 May, 2013 0 Comments

Is this the cityscape of the future? “In 2050, the nouveau-riche arrivistes stake their big skyline claims on the public eye. That glassy, twisting spire, as gaudy as any Christmas ornament, is owned by offshore Chinese. The gloomy tower with 85 stories of modestly greyed-out windows is an all-female enclave of Islamic business feminists. The scary heap that resembles a patchwork quilt of iron was entirely crowd-sourced.” According to the American science fiction author, Bruce Sterling, that’s a possible (frightening) scenario for our urban destiny.

Sterling is one of seven experts commissioned by the BBC to look at ways cities may evolve. “Bruce’s Sterling’s vision of the future city,” which kicks of the series, deserves the term dystopian. “The mid-century city has created means of food production that are post-agricultural. With swordfish extinct and cattle way beyond the budget, the people eat — well, to put it bluntly, they mostly eat algae, insects and microbes. Of course this tasty goop has been effectively refined, rebranded, and skeuomorphically re-packaged as noodles, tofu, and hamburger substitute. Soylent Green is crickets.”

Interestingly, Sterling mentions Dubai and followers of his Beyond the Beyond Wired column will be aware of his interest in “Gulf Futurism“, in which a recurring theme is the ubiquity of the shopping mall. “Only engineers and architects will ever rub their hand at this dreadful prospect,” writes Sterling, not just about the Gulf mall, but about the future city. And then he hits his stride:

“These modernists are in secret collusion with the feral urban crows and hungry pigeons picking over the blast zone. For years, while a sentimental mankind clung to a museum economy, they have rehearsed another city, some angular, rational monster with an urban fabric that’s a whole lot more nano-, robo-, and geno; buildings they can shape, and that will henceforth shape the rest of us.”

His conclusion is bleak: “To tell the truth, we never liked that city. But it just keeps happening.” By the way, Bruce Sterling does live in a city, an old one. Around 28 BC, the Romans created a military camp there and called it Castra Taurinorum.

Zen and the art of being Italian

Friday, 22 February, 2013 0 Comments

We round out our week of all things Italian here with a recommendation: Zen. No, not the school of Mahayana Buddhism that originated in China during the 6th century and which became famous in the 1970s when it was briefly associated with motorcycle maintenance. Rather, our Zen is Aurelio Zen, a fictional Italian detective created by the late, lamented crime writer Michael Dibdin.

Although your blogger has been a long-time admirer of Italy and has visited the country many times, it was only through reading of Dibdin’s murder mysteries that the true nature of contemporary Italian society became clear. The books are filled with vice, la dolce vita, politics, passion, omerta, commerce, history, humanity, food, wine and love of place. Zen teaches the reader that Italy is not a modern nation-state, but a set of city-states living in constant familial rivalry with each other. But despite the fragmentation, the sum of the parts is still a force to be reckoned with. Reuters headline this morning: “Global shares, euro tumble on economic concerns, Italy vote.”

BBC Scotland and Left Bank Pictures produced three dramas based on the Dibdin books. Shot in Rome, they starred English actor Rufus Sewell as Aurelio Zen, and Italian actress Caterina Murino is Tania Moretti, his colleague. Eccellente!

City: A Guidebook for the Urban Age

Thursday, 2 August, 2012

It is August after all, so it’s not too early to be thinking about things like the-book-of-the-year awards. Top of the list right now is City: A Guidebook for the Urban Age by PD Smith. The scope is vast and the writing is superb. Snippets: “Like so many aspects of urban life, infrastructure is not […]

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Global cities of the future

Thursday, 26 January, 2012

Over the next 15 years, 600 cities will account for more than 60 percent of global GDP growth. Which of them will contribute the largest number of children or elderly to the world’s population? Which will see the fastest expansion of new entrants to the consuming middle classes? How will regional patterns of growth differ? Those are some of the questions posed and answered in “Urban world: Mapping the economic power of cities” by the McKinsey Global Institute. The interactive inforgraphics turn the mapping and the exploring into a rewarding journey through our urban future.

Note: “Half of global GDP in 2007 came from 380 cities in developed-regions, with more than 20 percent of global GDP coming from 190 North American cities alone. The 220 largest cities in developing-regions contributed another 10 percent. But by 2025, one-third of these developed-market cities will no longer make the top 600; and one out of every 20 cities in emerging-markets is likely to see its rank drop out of the top 600. By 2025, 136 new cities are expected to enter the top 600, all of them from the developing world and overwhelmingly — 100 new cities —from China.”

600 cities