The Global City: Melting Pot and Pressure Cooker

24/08/2011 / Kaj

The city has long been a microcosm of the diverse and interconnected world we live in.  Whether Stockholm, with its vibrant expat Iraqi population (one of the largest in the world) or Rio de Janeiro neighbourhood, with its Afro-samba heritage, these are the places where histories, customs and languages intertwine to create global communities at a local level. Here, music, food, dance and theatre are traded freely in open markets of cultural exchange.

Regrettably, these microcosms contain many of the dysfunctional elements of a globalized world too. In all great cities there exist those inhabitants who do not consider themselves citizens. They form an alienated demographic who feel that they have neither anything to contribute or to gain from a society which seems distant and negligent.

Recent events have demonstrated the dangers such ostracism can give rise to. In suburban Paris, and now in inner city London, we have witnessed the violence wrought when dormant resentments erupt. Rioters, who ravage their own neighborhoods and set fire to their local high streets, clearly believe they have no stake in their community.

Similar problems exist in cities in the developing world, where many slums, far from being integrated into the surrounding neighborhoods, are not even granted legitimacy. Residents are thus denied citizenship whilst living under the constant threat of government bulldozers.

How can an all-embracing cohesion be built over economic disparities and social disenfranchisement? Any solution would require a great social restructuring which only time and great political conviction can bring about, and is certainly beyond the scope of this blog.  But, in a time when concept of Sustianble City is on the top of the agenda – don´t forget that cities development are not only about Architects, Energy, Energy Efficiency, Transportation or to fight Climate Change. The integration of social and culture values and solutions are necessary in both develop and developing countries creation of the future Sustainable cities.

However, I would like to finish by briefly mentioning some different types of initiative – from both the developing world and the developed world – that, in my view, should feature in any comprehensive solution.

The first is a project from Kongo . For me, the music in Staff Benda Bilili returns to Bouna Vista Social Club, which also pumped out the beats with a the strong link to African roots.

The second is from Rio de Janeiro. The Karanba project is an expression of the role sports can play in social progress.

The third is related to Paris – The Homeless World Cup

The fourth is a simple, yet highly effective, top-down initiative, which has helped democratize the arts in London: free museums and galleries for everyone. Admissions have more than doubled since the subsidy was introduced. As a result, a far greater number of school children from disadvantaged backgrounds have been able to access their national and global cultural heritage.

I leave you with Tate Gallery Joan Miró exhibition.  Joan Miro’s (many of whose masterpieces are housed in the Tate Modern’s permanent collection and can be seen free of charge) reflections on the artist’s role in society:

“I understand the artist to be someone who uses his voice to say something, and who has the obligation that this thing not be useless but something that offers a service to man. To be in a certain sense, the voice of its community… For when an artist speaks in an environment in which freedom is difficult, he must turn each of his works into a negation of the negations, in an untying of all oppressions [and] all prejudices.”

Stockholm 24th of August 2011
Kaj Embrén

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