Monday, August 4, 2008

The Future is being built in China and the Middle East

More people are now living in cities than in the country and the urban agenda has become the global agenda. In recent years, internal migration has led hundreds of millions to cities.

The "cities of the future" are not in Europe or North America but in the developing world – China, the Middle East and Africa.

Their "instant cities" have little in common but the speed with which they are being built. The two that spark most debate – Shanghai (right) and Dubai – have become symbols of approaches to urbanism that both fascinate and frighten; fascinate because these are cities where anything goes, frighten because absence of context means absence of meaning. Those of us consigned to cities of yesterday – the vast majority of the planet – are left feeling both reassured and unnerved by these futuristic new cities. We would rather stay where we are but, on the other hand, where does that leave us?

Most established cities spend years debating any change while during that same period, Shanghai and Dubai (as well as Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Abu Dhabi) have been transformed, top to bottom.

Architects who have worked in China and the United Arab Emirates talk with amazement about how quickly things happen in these top-down countries while the rest of the world struggles under a system that leads overwhelmingly to inaction and stasis.

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