Category Archives: Urbanisation

Lagos la Vida Loca

Traffic jams, Lagos

By next year, more than half the world’s population will for the first time in history be living in cities. Current’s Mariana van Zeller tours Lagos, Nigeria, the world’s fastest-growing “Megacity”, creating a thought-provoking vision of one of Africa’s most difficult cities.

Don’t miss it.

Stuffed and Starved

Patel's Stuffed and Starved book-cover

You know a book is good when not one, but three different friends write to you unprompted to recommend it. And you know it’s a masterpiece when it spawns a Facebook fanclub group! So today I bought Stuffed and Starved, Raj Patel’s new study on the absurdities and political interests lying behind the current global food system, which leaves millions fighting obesity while millions more struggle to get a meal a day.

Felicity Lawrence on The Guardian sings its praise:

Unless you are a corporate food executive, the food system isn’t working for you. If you are one of the world’s rural poor dependent on agriculture for your livelihood – and roughly half the global population of 6 billion fall into this category – you are likely to be one of the starved. If you are an urban consumer, whether an affluent metropolitan or slum-dwelling industrial labourer, you are likely to be one of the stuffed, suffering from obesity or other diet-related ills.

Raj Patel’s fascinating first book examines this apparent paradox. His thesis is that the simultaneous existence of nearly 1 billion who are malnourished and nearly 1 billion who are overweight is in fact the inevitable corollary of a system in which a handful of corporations have been allowed to capture the value of the food chain. Moreover, government policies through history have been designed to control our food. Their aim has been to provide cheap food for the urban masses and so prevent dissent at home. The instruments of colonial command may have been replaced with newer mechanisms that give a greater role to the private sector, but control our food they still do with disastrous social consequences, despite all the neo-liberal rhetoric of free trade and choice.

Another book joining my awful backlog of to-do reading…

Claudio Ethos in Grottaglie

Paintalicious writes about Claudio Ethos, the talented graffiti artist who was recently filmed (above) while working in Grottaglie, Italy:

We are entering into an incredibly productive phase of urban street art, where talented artists like Brazilian Claudio Ethos are creating stunning and dramatic artworks. Ethos’ artworks contain sharp social commentary obviously inspired from the “sprawling metropolis” of Sao Paulo – the new “shrine to graffiti”. While many street artists today prefer the stencil method, Ethos prefers to paint using freehand style to create these unique figurative paintings. They would indeed enrich the surrounding of any living space.

You can find most of Claudio’s work at Unfortunately, street art is usually short lived, gone within days or certainly weeks after it is completed. The only permanent record of these works are photographs. Here are [28] more photos for the record, capturing ethos’ spectacular ephemeral pieces… more…

[via Wooster Collective]

Peripheral Landscapes

Last post of the day, I promise.

Via Juan’s awe-inspiring blog, I came across this video, which offers a brilliant visualisation of Mexico City’s formal and informal expansion through photographic and digital media:

The video is a close relation to the Tate Modern’s current exhibition on Global Cities, which also sports an excellent film on the growth and future of urban conglomerates, and seems lifted straight out of one of Saskia Sassen’s excellent books. I came across this cool video showing a time-lapse of the installation of the exhibition. Check it out:

Ruleless: on the self-organisation of road traffic

Juan Freire posts two interesting videos on the subject of self-organising systems. In particular, these videos deal with traffic self-regulation based on crowd behaviour in two very different contexts, India and Russia. He had previously presented similar scenarios in Vietnam.

As Juan points out, what makes self-organising systems so interesting is precisely their unpredictability:

We could attempt to build a new theoretical model based on the “Russian anomaly” (different cultural standards, or the fact that a ruleless crossing in a country where such a thing is quite common is not quite the same thing as a ruleless crossing where such a thing is an exception). Or we could resort to more banal explanations: the vodka effect.

The post recalls a Wired article published a few years ago about Hans Monderman, the traffic engineer whose counter-intuitive logic on traffic regulation is conquering Europe: Build roads that seem dangerous, and they’ll be safer.

I have certainly noticed this to be the case in London, where 4,171 people were killed or seriously injured in road accidents in 2004, compared to 346 people in Rome. Everyone knows Rome has a terrible traffic, but – unlike London’s – it tends to self-regulate itself. If you jaywalk in Rome, chances are people will insult you, your mother and your whole ancestry, but you’ll survive. In London, bus drivers wouldn’t even bother touching the brakes, simply because they are ‘in the right’ and you are not on a pedestrian crossing.

Perhaps the explanation lies not, as Juan suggests, in the vodka effect, but in the stark legacy of societies accustomed to self-organise themselves, versus societies that have been living for centuries in highly-centralised socio-political and cultural systems.