The Rise of the Right

So what happened? Across the West we are seeing a wave of xenophobia and politicking that is fast becoming a ‘hyper-norm’ for hundreds of millions who remember a less volatile and divisive upbringing. Entire countries lurching towards the right after years of complicit media campaigns, with a resultant lurch to the left for its opposition parties. From Greece’s dalliance with Golden Dawn to Brexit, France’s Marine Le Pen to America’s Trump, the Netherlands’ tellingly named Party for Freedom to Hungary’s correctional Jobbik. Even Turkey, bastion of secularism in a sea of religiosity on either side of its continental spans, is undergoing transition back to its purported roots under Erdogan. There are of course the countries that have swerved against the momentum – Portugal, Romania and a trend-bucking Greece with their new left wing governments, and a Russia playing all sides from staging neo-Nazi rallies to funding anti-Nazi leagues with the self same sword. But overall the story is one of a steady quickstep to the right, in the manifold glow of patriotism, rhetoric and righteousness, offset by virulent pleas and increasingly angered remonstrations of a once apolitical youth. Indeed, what did happen to put us in this spin?

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To sum it up: regional destabilisation. If we were to try and pinpoint one episode that set it off we can look to Cheney’s puppeteered invasion of Iraq in 2003, that the CIA warned would unbalance the entire region. We could look further back to what led to that invasion – 911, Amerika’s final decade of oil independence, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, WWII, colonialism – but the latest boot up the arse that we can say pushed us off the collective edge would be Gulf War 2.0.

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Let’s try and put it in a sentence: Gulf War = legitimisation of Sunni/Shia conflict = destabilisation of the Middle East = Arab Spring = destabilisation of North Africa also = ISIS-Daesh = terrorism = more refugees = increasing destabilisation of Europe = destabilisation of the US. All to a backdrop of a media agenda in which the waves of right wing populism support the status quo of the global elite, notably a certain media baron that is the de-facto Head of State of several powerful nations.

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No it’s not all conspiracy theories, but we will have to wait a good few decades before it becomes textbook history, in which we’ll look back from afar and think: Gawd what fools, that could never happen in this day and age. But look at history; we never seem to learn. Give it approximately 75 years- in short the lifespan of the last possible survivors – and we repeat the same mistakes. Amber Rudd’s fiery 2016 speech in the Conservative Party Conference following Brexit (a year after the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII), calling on companies to submit lists of their foreign workers in a name-and-shame campaign, was highlighted as enacting chapter II of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Some went on to suggest she should garner a task force called the Greater Europe Search, Transfer, And Prevent Operation, or GESTAPO.

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The similar rise of hate-speech and media portrayal of entire peoples following the grisly terrorist acts across Europe this year mirrored those following Zionist bombings and the burning down of the Reichstag in the 1930s. Not to mention the turning away of thousands of refugees, closing down of borders and an utter lack of empathy for the dispossessed finding parallels to the forgotten flotillas of Jews fleeing continental Europe, only to be turned back to a certain fate. Yet all these past lessons flow under a generalised, collective blinkerdom, behind an epic assault of the here and now with a swipe of the phone.

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It’s enough to make writers and journos turn to their window and think of writing a lovely misty piece on autumnal colours instead. That is of course the head-burying stance of  much of today’s youth, enamoured by social media and Kim Kardashian’s abusive, powder keg relationships with diamonds and make up. There are infinitely more hits and cultural change attributed to shouty, always-late pop idols, or cool places to travel to, or American pranking on camera, or Russian dash-cam amazingness than any kind of socio-political legacy and their cronyist, bickering leaders of a certain vintage.

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Yawn, what were we talking about again? It’s the end of the West, the end of now, the end of thinking, as we scroll through memes and kitten gifs and blockbuster trailers, but can you blame us? Disillusionment is the name of the day, propelling the voting as well as the lack of. It’s so much more enticing being cozy and nosy, and loved and funny than wrestling with socio-political discourse each and every damn day. Yes, there are indeed the battalions of celebs and kittens decrying the fall of America or Europe to suburban fencing (and the lone, haunting tweets of Clint Eastwood and er, Kirsty Alley who celebrate it), but overall it’s gonna be a  long while before their PR teams realise the potential in actually getting arrested, and spray painting those picket fences with allegiant colours.

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Only a little more than a quarter of eligible voters were needed to see in the triumphant Trump to power, with 90 million abstaining or busy watching teevee, or just tired after the endless rounds of voting in the average US year, with more not having registered ,and the complications involved. Even in higher voter turn-outs, such as the Brexit referendum it still only took 26% of the population to win and direct the outcome for the remaining 74%. To add another layer of murkiness, voters have differing powers depending on where they live, and by default, even how even much they earn, their age or their ethnic (read: ‘native’ or ‘non-native’) background. Hillary even won the ‘popular’ vote, with 2.9 million more voting for her than the questionable hair piece (more than the win for Kennedy), but by dint of regional representation in which seats are allocated to jurisdictional areas rather than equalised population catchments, rural, sparsely populated plots can have more voting power than teeming cities. If you read between the lines this is not democracy. This is another dimension to what fuels the disillusionment: the utter complexity, seriousness, and draining task ahead in taking on the rot in the system.

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It’s becoming increasingly evident democracy needs safeguards. On the one hand it needs to ensure it is a democracy in the first place, and not the kind of regional representation that leads to one or two party states, with an elitist slant to power of certain moneyed demographics as the UK and US are now experiencing. On the other hand, even if it is a bona fide democracy it needs to ensure it doesn’t vote to you know, kill the Jews or the Tutsis or the Gypsies. Or lock up the Syrians or the gays or the women, or the poor. Humans can’t really be trusted not to wreck each others lives, turn a blind eye and grab the money, even with the lessons of history. That’s why we have constitutions, and differing lines of political thought. To manage our base instincts of battling over the remaining resources, mammoth carcasses and available females, while instating hierarchies, power, control, and economic pyramid schemes.

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So let’s make this as snappy and invigorating as a giant herd of kittens taking over Kim and Justin’s bathtime. It’s like a reaallly cool story bro.

Back in 1950s time (think Marilyn Monroe and Elvis and milkshakes and lynching) Paris was the place to be for the coolcats. The youth were like, always asking questions after that really bad world war, and seeing in the commies on one side and coca cola on the other. So basically there were two sides: free to be free (coke), or forced to be free (commies), coz like people wouldn’t know otherwise ya know.

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On the one side there was coke and water skiing and bikinis and the American dream of a pin-up housewife, giant car, meatloaf and a retro pad with perfect lawn and no Black folk to bother ya’ll. You were free to be free. To buy all these cool things and one day, one day… get a whole fucking hoover and even a tele-vision, that would make all universities obsolete within the decade as we’d all be learning from it and going to the moon and shit and not shooting each other. After you know, an initial period of gross inequality, crime, corruption, and greed depending on your looks or race or class or gender. Individualism would be something to nurture and flower, like a selfie with 10 million hits of fame, and anyone could be anything if you wanted it enough. This we can dub Negative Freedom.

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On the other side you were forced made to be free, where everyone agreed to share the goodness of the earth and their work and the profits, and bask in this playground of light and industry and light industry, after you know, an initial period of killing off reeducating the old elite into equally likeable, free spirits working for a greater good, no matter your background, gender, race and class – I mean, what’s class again? People can’t be trusted you know, they need to be guided, at least until one day when they can be free from the stricture of law and prejudice and even governing. With all this collectivised effort we’d be going to the moon and shit and not shooting each other. The meaning of your life was not to merely buy crap, but to go all worker’s paradise in family, friends, children, and forwarding the arts, society and culture for the progression of all, so everyone could be everything if you worked for it together. This we can dub Positive Freedom.

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So some of these students coming out of Parisian universities at the time took these ideas of positive freedom to the holiday homes that Europe had set up around the world, those places like Algeria. This extension block of France had the pesky problem called Algerians, who lived there, and didn’t much like not having you know, a vote, and getting rule and divide, generations of mis-education and their resources stripped. How annoying right!?

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Anyhoo these students believed they had to force people to be free, so they started a civil war, but a really efficient one where they could plant a single bomb on some trendy cafe in Algiers and kill only a few people yet getting loads of attention and fear (almost as bad as accidentally clicking the Facebook Like button on porn). Plus undo the economy and stuff that would make things more expensive to police and fix than keep, a bit like iPhones. Rather than launch a badly thought out battle like you see in Zulu or cowboy movies, where loads and loads of savage darkies get mown down by the gazillion and quite a handful of handsome whities too, you could do the one selfie blow up and get a million hits overnight. No staging of overnight coups, picking battlefields or recalibrating satellites nosiree.

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This was a really good way to win. They used hardly any arguing and resources compared to you know, Game of Thrones, although the killing turned out pretty bad when France went all Call of Duty on them. But they still won, and the European holiday homes and farmsteads and mining operations and slave colonies around the world fell one by one following the same inordinately successful technique, in which some of the world’s poorest nations usurped many of the world’s richest, although at a cost of millions of lives. Most of these places switched after the initial war from positive freedom (forced to be free) straight into negative freedom (free to be free), as democratic, capitalist states (which means you watch teevee all day and buy stuff off TVC).

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However the European nations they had freed themselves from would have charged them for the years and years of ‘looking after them’, for every brick built, rail laid and bullet shot in that time, as terms of independence, but kind of forgetting you know, the years of er, human and cultural genocide, plus nabbing the oil and gold and labour and crown jewels.

But hey, a few years of debt and astronomical interest rates on the mastercard is priceless for that sweet freedom right? We’ll have everything up and running again in no time – no matter the generations of miseducation, rule and divide and the fact we’re really made up of several countries and several hundred ethnic groups that won’t bicker a-Tall. Not once democracy sets in and the majority (group) get the final say. They won’t behave like the colonial powers they just booted out, no.

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So the result is these nations become instantly chavvy and start fighting among themselves. Places like Sudan, speaking 200 languages, launching into 6 simultaneous civil wars from day one that it’s still fighting today, and mirrored across much of Africa and all those places where the world holds its resources… but strangely also most of its poverty and wars. And those European powers? Well we can call them ‘multinationals’ now coz everyone rich from everywhere has jumped in on it too. For every $1 billion given in aid $8 billion is taken back in interest payments (not even debt repayment, which has already been paid back several times over), and most of the resources (like water, land) bought up again and sold back to the darkies at a million percent profit. But as we said, we can’t be trusted. Places like Philippines became one big shoe shop for the queenie there, while America went on funding baddies and wars all over the place to keep itself rich and pretending to be a goody. The negative freedom (coke) in these cases resulted in so much corruption, division and inequality we can see humans were free to be free, but also free to step all over each other into total fails, aka ‘Failed States’.

Mogadishu Tense As Islamists Reinforce Southern Positions

Meanwhile other places continued their revolutions even after winning, and becoming positive democracies, like Eye-Ran. The country, inspired by Harry Truman’s promise to defend and free the oppressed peoples of the world, had originally elected a president, Mohammed Mossadegh, who promised no religious or royalty crap and instead democracy and taking the oil out of the hands of the Brits, that even won him Time Magazine Man of the Year back in the 50s. But then the Yanks got a new president, and in league with the Brits ousted Mossie-Dig from power, reinstating the King, and taking control AGAIN of all the oil with half now going to the USAians. So in the end the Eye-Ranians rose up AGAIN, this time opting for the positive freedom package. Like SO predictable yeah.

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Where people were forced to be free, the new leader, Mr Ayatollah Khomeini (pronounced Iyatoller Hominee) had a masterstroke of combining religion with politics (usually one cancelled the other), a bit like finally setting up Ant with Dec as a duo, after Ant kept shitting over Dec for years. Mr Hominy said that religion had all these sayings which supported positive freedom, bits like where women were free from inequality, fear, attack, rape and upskirt phone-cams by dressing them up in black picnic blankets and taking them out of dangerous situations, such as rooms with men in them.

Iran Revolution 1978

When the big war with Eye-Rack next door finally loomed, backed by Western guns, Eye-Ran got surrounded with nowhere to turn. It was seemingly Game Over. But once again there was that masterstroke of having religion be the back up buddy when they ferried legions of voluntary teenagers into becoming martyrs, by marching them into minefields to form an escape route for the rest. So Eye-Ran was no longer running, but winning, in thanks to the fact it’s Shia Muslim, which kinda, possibly maybe, means you could sacrifice yourself in the name of your faith, like that adorable nutterdad in Independence Day who first zaps the alien destructo-laser. Shia Muslims have this thing they do like in their version of Christmas or something where instead of giving presents they beat themselves with chains and whips and fire walk in respect of the sacrifice someone or other made sometime in the Book, and they’re not meant to enjoy it or pay anyone to do it by the hour either.

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This shocked the rest of the Sunni Muslim world, where suicide was considered a totally uncool thing to do, as only the Big Guy, peace be upon him, could decide where and when you popped your Nike-Airs. But it was a pretty rad idea and this cleric on the other side in Sunny-land Arabia said it was all a-okay and there was suddenly stuff about 72 virgins and all-you-can-eat ice cream thrown in, and everyone was like STILL NO, but some of them were like okaaaaay, lets see. So they did, and Ham Ass from Palestine went and started bombing Israelis, officially targeting citizens for the first time, in buses and cafes and beaches, much like in Algeria not so long ago, but all kamikaze style and justified, and starting a hero-worship culture.

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Meanwhile there was this place nearby called Syria, led by this ruthless dude called Hafez al-Assad (pronouced Ass Ad), who looked a bit like Frankenstein but a bit nerdier. Even though he was a scary mutherhumper he had some great visions for the Arab (pronounced Ay-rab)  world, which could extricate itself from the predatory West, like some vast horrible octopus sitting on its left, starting wars and overturning ships and planes and nations with its sucking tentacles, covered in oil and blood over 500 million people. Ass Ad was given all these promises, and played by the West, only to be betrayed in the war against Israel. So he went all gloomy and hellbent on revenge, and started to fund suicide bombing against the Israelis and Americans in Lebanon (killing 270 in one barracks). Which shortly after led to the Americans pulling out, humiliated. Re-sult!

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However the U.S of A had found a different fall guy, in the richest guy in the world, drum roll please… Mr Colonel Gaddafi. A bit of a weirdo who had been stationed in the UK, near a delightful little model village called Beaconskot, and who endured racist bullying from ex-colonial officers. As leader of his country he was mad as a bag of snakes, always going on about his ‘Third Way’ which was the dangerously upsetting alternative to negative and positive freedom, as bolstered by contemporaries such as Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. Gaddafi’s version of the Third Way united right wing economics with left wing socialism, but this time from out of the yoke of Western imperialism and its motherfucking legolands.

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Except he wasn’t all that batshit crazy, what with setting up a state safety net giving out free education, healthcare, electricity, unemployment benefit equal to their professions, starter homes, starter cars, and child funds, and ensuring each person shared in the profits made from the voluminous amount of state oil. Anyhoo, they blamed the Lockerbie plane bombing on him (despite the CIA saying it had come from Eye-Ran, in retaliation for a similar jumbo jet lost to a US missile), and a Berlin nightclub bombing that killed three including American servicemen (most likely Syrian). They said he had weapons of mass destruction, then bombed the capital, and his gaudy palace, and reportedly his adopted 3 year old daughter, if she existed.

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So now we have quite a complicated picture, a bit like Bieber’s tour dates, causing grief and demonstrations across the globe. This vast squid thing has its tips inserted in pies so far in: Algeria, Eye-Ran, Eye-Rack, Libya, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria (oh and Egypt, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Pakistan, Turkey, Yemen and Jordan too). Fast forward a few decades and through 11 Western backed wars and the suicidal/ positive freedom, once unleashed by Syria is now biting it on its own arse. This malignant beast we can now call Eye-Sis. A certain Monsieur Gaddaffi is suddenly of use again. In a screeching u-turn the world leaders announce he’s one of the good guys all of a sudden. They shake hands in a blizzard of flashes, sign glitzy new trade deals, take in his family into their glittering celeb elites, and eye up the $200 billion the guy has in his South African bank accounts. He does of course, have to admit he will destroy his non-existent weapons of mass destruction, own up to the Lockerbie bombing and promise not to do anything batshit crazy again in order to get this rehabilitation, and a platform for his Third Way. Despite the European and American intelligence agencies agreeing he did / owned none of these.

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But then came the Arab Spring. Like the Paris Spring of 1968, when all those positive freedom students finally took to the streets of the French capital protesting the old skool bling, it would come full circle again. A poor Tunisian dude called Mohamed Bouazizi (sod it, if you can’t pronounce it just try and remember that name), was publicly humiliated and left destitute one day at the start of 2011 by a police officer who took away his livelihood when she confiscated his unlicensed market stall, and slapped him in the face too, the fat bitch. This was not the first time. The poor guy went and stood outside the police station, and in his final act, set himself on fire, and straight into a culture changing force.

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Like FUCK! He really went up like a candle into history. The publicity started protests, already blazed up by a WikiLeaks special a coupla months earlier exposing the corruption of the Tunisian state, with its high inflation, unemployment and corruption, and the demos getting bigger and bigger and setting off copycat movements across the Arab world. Powered by social media that could organise and reorganise people power with an instant tweet or status update, government after government fell, including Libya.

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It was all quite embarrassing really, here was people-power in action, long upheld by other democracies as the way to be and go. But these people were protesting the Western-backed regimes, that had so long kept them in the shitter. And they were demanding what the Arabs had wanted for so long – not religious righteousness, or historical rightings of wrongs, or land or resources or power. They wanted jobs, they wanted equal opportunities, they wanted an end to poverty and corruption and having to hustle up sex and drugs but no rock n roll for a living. But in the end, the absence of any viable alternative saw religion step into the void to unite the  disparate voices. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Ever more AWKWARD. Even the journos found it hard to report on the unsavoury aspects of people power, and what they fought against – notably us, the tyrannical ‘we’ in the West – despite it being the biggest wobbling of the world seen for generations to come. Here were heartfelt images of people uniting for a common cause, for freedom, after years of subjugation and that would change the world forever – but one against the regimes that we had kept propped in power, against the globalised culture we tried to sow.

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This was highly fucked, like a selfie on your loo uploaded everywhere ever. Batshit Crazy Gaddafi had only just joined the cool kids at the table, now he was exposed as a tyrant and a dictator that they were all sharing lunch with, and everyone suddenly wanted to leave. And maybe chuck a grenade or three behind them, to pretend none of this ever happened, and that they weren’t just having a jolly with his handsome sons and daughters after inviting them out at prom. Gadaffi’s end came when a US drone bombed his convoy, then beaten and shot by a rebel group as he hid in a service tunnel.

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So there we have it: one vast tentacle eating its way through several nations, then biting back on itself, and clawing a way out again. This happened again, on a much larger scale, involving several wandering, bloodthirsty limbs.

When the Americans invaded Eye-Rack a second time, it planned for the war, but not the ‘peace’. As seen in Africa, the onset of democracy meant the competition of those straining for representation, especially the minorities that would lose votes by dint of lower numbers, and thus their bling. Democracy in this case kind of means if you’re all sassy and hawt – but there’s only you – the bigger guys get to take your iphone and selfie stick and pearls to share. This means fight fight fight!

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Eye-Rack soon broke up into squabbles and bombings and massacres when the Americans instated a corrupt government that would  have automatically put the majority (70%) Shias in power, leading in turn to an insurgency that led to the real extreme kid on the block to rise, Eye-Sis, or Eye-Sill, or Daesh for short. Of the myriad fighting groups in neighbouring Syria, now stricken by its much bloodier version of the Arab Spring and a new helmsman at the fore in the more-flattering-but-just-as-vicious, Basher al Ass Ad, Daesh proved to be the longest lasting kingpin to sway his power.

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This guy Dish was bad, real bad. And savvy. He knew the inherent weaknesses of every bully in the playground let alone every kid. He used their own social media against them to highlight their failings, and to bully them too – setting up horrific websites selling ransomed prisoners, shock scenes in their captured cities, mass executions – plus different websites, targeting schizos and those smelly people on buses that talk to themselves to blow people up, or run them over. Haunting things designed to disturb the comfy echelons that ruled from afar, as yet relatively divided from the horrors on the ground. So this of course leads to millions and millions of refugees, in turn fleeing a society gone mad and a war with an estimated 700 sides.

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The story so far: two tentacles have embarked on a path to positive freedom, war, and suicide bombing and see their return by bombing and terrorising their own body back in Syria and Europe. Now other arms are sending refugees by the million, across treacherous waters, through minefields, deserts, soldiers, bombs and predatory gangs. Organised crime spots the opportunity to recruit a wealth of sex workers, kidnap children and exploit the desperate dispossessed, while innocents drown in their thousands off Trip Advisor highlights.

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Aylan Kurdi.

So the European population is 750 million, they can absorb a million or three more surely? Plus its ageing population and slowing economies are calling out for precisely this kind of youthful, independent boost that will be a demographic dividend for generations to come. Not likely. A wave of revulsion from the right wing press, the terrorised and the patriotic has made it a destabilising issue, as a path is forged to the voting booths across the region to keep them out, and any others. Europe, the late 20th Century and 21st Century destination of choice for the worlds’ migrants, is full they say. Many of its states, once the world’s most popular tourist destinations, are now finding themselves on the list of most dangerous places in the world to visit, due to a wave of horrific suicide attacks, and a traumatised public dealing with the fall out. Never mind that out of the 2,984 terrorist attacks in Europe over the last 7 years,  only 18 were Islamist (that’s 99.3% being committed by other nutters for other politics – mostly independence movements), the coverage was global, bloody and penetrating.

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And look again at the stats. Of the world’s largest refugee hosting nations they are dominated by the Developing World, not the Developed, the poor guys not the rich, many of whom suffer their own internal conflicts and refugee movements.

  1. Jordan >4.5 million (70% of the population)
  2. Turkey, 3.1 million
  3. Lebanon 2 million ( a jump from the 69th largest refugee population in only 3 years, and now making up 45% of the population)
  4. Saudi Arabia 1.7million (not part of the UN agreement on refugees, but accepting them in all but name)
  5. Pakistan 1.6 million
  6. Iran >1 million
  7. Germany 1 million
  8. Ethiopia 700,000
  9. Uganda 700,000
  10. Kenya 600,000
  11. Chad 500,000
  12. Sudan 330,000 (likely to double this year).

For comparison the US comes in at 17th (267,000), less than China (300,000) or even those fleeing TO Iraq (300,000), a country already struggling with 4 million internally displaced refugees. UK is 30th with 117,000.

(Btw Iraq, despite, and perhaps because of its troubles, happens to be the worlds most charitable nation, with 70% of the population having helped out a stranger in the last week.)

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So there you have it, it’s a big fuss over nothing, a drop in the ocean, but a big big something in the background. Never mind the million+ dead, the faces of the survivors, or the fates of those to await, now is a time as Adam Curtis puts it, to give up the complexities of the real world and indulge in the comforts of the fake one. The Hypernormalisation of the craziness, blood lust and intricacies of all that is around, but photo bombed by what we want, not what we need.

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If there is a lesson in all of this, we perhaps need to wrest the reins from the propaganda merchants for at least one last leg of the journey to the cliff, and not to lie willingly while our world and our judgments go the way of shit hitteth the fan. History has taught us, like a stuck record, skipping CD  corrupted download, to ignore it is to see it worsen, until it becomes that huge glowering thing of nightmares behind the bed nothing can swipe away. That the seeds our elected leaders sow do have consequences, no matter how much we brush it under the carpet, like a giant quivering mound of triffid smelling of wee and death.

And even if it really, really is just about us, it’s gonna take a chump out of our future, and in terms of self preservation, that’s not good. We can still try and feel safe, and loved with a future that beckons, where we will grow up to do great things and discover a life, but to ignore it is to tempt fate.

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And our journos may do well to respect the tradition of truth, even in a post-Truth world, where controversy and exposé do little to dent popularity based on our inbuilt chauvinism – even powers it, through the orators du jour that cater to what we want to hear not what we need to. Patriotism makes us feel warm, righteous and gives us meaning. It rekindles and celebrates our culture under the onslaught of constant change, it defends our proud history. It nurtures the kind of heroism reserved for fighting for others, and legitimised by a complicit media and millions of our kin. But beware what you bring into the room, it needs feeding.

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Anyhoo, enough doom and gloom, in the great new journalistic tradition – less of Robot Wars and more of Strictly, so lets end on a high note. No article can be complete without a cat in it somewhere. We know this. May we all live long and prosper. Choose Life. Or something profound like that.

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http://www.warrenphotographic.co.uk/

The Olympicked Chalice

Who wants to win the Olympics?

That moment when your host city beams to the world its assertions of civilisation, finds its cultural identity out of a globalised melting pot, celebrates its diversity, reminds us of its historical achievements, and wheels out its mystery celebs. All in a lovely package of inclusiveness, modern thinking, and children. Lots of children – alone, in groups, singing, dancing, being disabled; smiling for months till their cute little faces wrinkle preternaturally for the rest of their lives.

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www.dailyrepublic.com

But squint again and behind those dazzling teeth and choreographed lightshows is a helluva lot of worry. Will that vast stage behold an architectural and community legacy? Or be a money sucking, windblown embarrassment for decades to come? Will the computers work the show faultlessly, or mechanical breakdown create an epic, global case of schadenfreude? Will we spend too much, drawing negative criticism by the tax indentured populace, or too little, drawing the dubbing of an ‘austerity Olympics’? Or worse – spending loads but having nothing to wow with despite.

Will terrorism raise its underlying head, or freak accidents mar the history? Will corruption claim millions, or worse, be publicly found out to have claimed millions? Will the Olympic spirit die beneath the spotlights?

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^Helen Sharman and the Olympic flame, World Universiade 1991. Helen is from Slough.

In short the Olympics is like sitting a difficult exam or a lesson in complex public speaking, but with the world watching (and all of history), where every fault is indelible, will cost millions, and draw waves of unabashed laughter and criticism, with people paid to heckle. A merciless stage. Even beforehand the vast roving interest of the world, not unlike the Great Eye of Sauron, will beam down at your preparations, go through your friends list (and ex-friends) launching investigations, reading your old diary and spending a good few hours chortling at your fat photos, or sharing the bit where you admitted to stealing a Boyzone mag off Chantelle Norris.

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It is in short a poisoned chalice, your chance to shine, and fall, all over youtube. And it’ll cost you in crippling loans, cancelled holidays, stress, and psychiatrists for the foreseeable future no matter the outcome.

The turning point can be attributed to Athens 2004. Beforehand the huge burning eye of the world’s press was more or less politely unbecoming, or too bored to really pay attention until the big day, with a flurry of activity  before everyone sodded off again. But their own chance to shine came with the increasing spotlight on the delayed construction of the Olympic venues as the big day came ever closer. Olympic Committees arrived to study the progress, or lack of, and came away tutting with some stern words on taking it all away, and never buying olive oil again.

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www.rediff.com

Like a countdown, the papers could get more and more clicks with every update, wallowing in the Greek mess of infrastructure woes, bureaucratic red tape, lazy work ethic and employment rights (the much frowned upon opportunity to strike). Ignoring the fact Greeks work the longest hours in the West, were one of the poorest members of the EU, and have a damned right to have rights (what with the birth of democracy and all that), it was all too sordid and sardonic not to shake ones head or roll our cultural eyes. Even after they completed on time, launched a highly artistic, emotive and epic opening ceremony that’s the template for every one after, and went more or less without global incident or stage blooper (except the bit where the marathon runner from Brazil got rugby tackled by a mad Irish priest, and lost his lead). Still the effortlessly gorgeous conversion of the national stadium by Santiago Calatrava has been the most beautiful yet devised and a testament for decades to come- a lesson in geometry, natural lines and low cost.

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athens-olympic-stadium

www.greece.com

Yet we cannot bring ourselves to ignore the perceived ruination of a nation. The Olympic legacy, costing 10,000 Euros of upkeep a week for some buildings to lie vacant, sun-stunned and overgrown. The Handball Arena is now littered with UNHCR tents as use for a refugee camp, while the iconic diving pools lie empty. Or rather we prefer to look at that and ignore the other legacies (such as a highway network, a sparkling new metro and airport etc). Also to look at Greece’s current debt crisis, and put the blame on the elaborate staging, rather than the cook-the-books routine that we all partook in pre-Crisis. To this day news still report on the weed grown facilities looking much like the Classical ruins a metro ride away, despite that countdown long having finished. They will also report unfailingly on libertine passengers not paying on that new metro route.

at

www.dailymail.co.uk

Then came Beijing 2008, China’s much heralded coming out party with all the fanfare and billions to invest on her make up. And if you thought Greece went through a PR disaster before her debut, China went through a real test of fire, complete with flamethrowers and paparazzi fast on her Jimmy Choo heels. The year according to Chinese astrology would not be a good one from the outset, despite 8 being the number of choice for luck. The Olympic mascots – the Fuwa, or good luck dolls symbolising the ancient Chinese elements of Water, Earth, Fire, Wood and Air- rather became sinister, cursed symbols of disaster that year. The Five Horsemen:

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Jingjing the Earth panda, native to Sichuan province, was quickly associated with the devastating earthquake that Spring that wiped out 90,000 lives there. Nini the Air swallow, who looks like a kite, was portent of doom to a highly embarrassing train crash, that killed 40 on the country’s much lauded new HSR (High Speed Rail) network – in Weifang, the ‘kite city’. Yingying the Tibetan Wood antelope saw in the biggest wave of protest and race riots in Tibet since occupation, while Watery Beibei the South Chinese sturgeon, saw in flooding in South China that killed 150 and displaced a whopping 1.5 million. All that remained was Huanhuan the Olympic Fire torch cutey and the protests that dogged him throughout the world, so much so they effectively banned foreign flame routes from thereon. China was literally introducing herself to each member state with a round of publicity to her (in)human rights record; and the Fuwa would forever be known as ‘wuwa’ or witch-dolls after.

-

agnesngoy.blogspot.com

As for PR, Beijing did indeed wow the world with a glorious, elaborately staged opening ceremony that gave a soft touch to totalitarian synchronisation, and became the benchmark for all that followed. But even that soon drew criticism. ‘Live’ footage of the fireworks marking out 29 huge footprints across the city to the stadium was widely reported as being faked, thanks to the noticeable onscreen graphics (in reality the fireworks did go off but couldn’t be filmed from above due to danger to the choppers). The insectoid little girl singing the national anthem was found not only to have been miming, but mouthing along to another not-as-sweetie’s voice after a politburo member deemed the vocals substandard (though the girl in Sydney’s previous ceremony, and the norm for all the others, would have been guilty of the same).

Kent News & Pictures Ltd/(01622) 755133

Video Grab/Kent News & Pictures Ltd

They did go off, capitalist dogs:

bjj

Further controversy followed when it was revealed some members of China’s 56 minority groups showing off national dress were Han Chinese, and not the stated ethnicity (though bear in mind ‘colour-blind casting’ was employed in every ceremony since, from London’s Victorian opening theme to Rio’s historical journey of race). For all China’s trump and glory, it became obvious her  detractors would not be missing a beat from the get go.

The Olympics was indeed an overall success: the capital cleaned up and laced herself with state of the art infrastructure, the weather held off, and a memorable Games as could possibly be was beamed to the largest ever global audience of 5 billion. But it also heralded the officialisation of an anti-Chinese rhetoric in the world’s media that continued after the poppers ended. After that mixed year Beijing’s leading Google association became tied to ‘pollution’, rather than being an ancient capital of the world’s biggest population or richest country. Beijing was smog, China was totalitarianism, and its economic rise one to fear, or belittle; its culture aping, uncivilised and enchained. That looked funny and talked funny. It wasn’t the ‘lifting of the sky’ of a billion people on some far off horizon, more a inviting your bling-bedecked Auntie Shazza to a Tuscan wedding.

torch

When London’s turn was up, envisaged protests to Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War to its extensive colonial er, legacy saw its Olympic torch route kept strictly within the host nation for the first time. It was initially dubbed the Austerity Olympics to be held during the global financial crisis  -London would be the first city to hold it a third time, but both times before were after the world wars and had effectively defaulted there for minimalised costs. The original plans were billed far lower, despite increasing realisation this would be a last once-in-a-lifetime chance to hold a fully fledged Olympic thingy, rather than yet another bare bones offering involving a big pie to go round and some spirited bunting.

worst-party-5

Luckily, it appears the politicians ‘forgot’ to include tax, inflation, infrastructure or contingency funds in their public bid. Nevertheless local protest to the increasing cost of the Games began to garner as the plans began to balloon. Then someone went out and bought a really big bell. In the end it worked out as the second most expensive after Beijing, climbing from initial budgets of under $4 billion to a $15 billion whopper (not including infrastructure).

lon

In the run up to the opening, more criticism – and laughs – came, thicker, leaner, faster. The beds to gangly athletes in the Olympic Village were found to be too short. Northern drivers, bussed in by private firms and refusing to use newfangled technologies such as er, satnav, were lost for hours trying to transport athletes from the airport, as their captives launched their ordeal on social media.

The worst fiasco came when the world’s largest private security firm, G4S, completely failed to deliver for such a sensitive, highly scaled event, with the army stepping in at the 11th hour to cover the shortfalls. The firm had seen its personnel requirements doubled to 23,000- and subsequently demanded a payrise from £7.3 million to £60 million, half of which it spent on its gold leafed, water-walking management and only £2.8 million on the extra recruitment, to utter ineffect.

loo

http://www.theguardian.com

A further show of unbridled commercialisation at the expense of Olympic spirit came when viewers noticed the legions of empty seats at many events, despite all tickets having sold out. They were of course the large amount given over to sponsors and associated members, who never bothered to attend, or spent their time at the bar watching footie or dancing like fat twats in suits.

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A final pluck at the strings came with another instance of breakdown. A clock froze during the fencing at the start of the Games, which lead to Shin A Lam unfairly losing a medal, made worse by the decision to uphold the result despite the cause being mechanical failure. It not only exposed the Olympic flaws, but its embarrassing propriety when they muttered painfully to the South Koreans that one has to pay to have an appeal considered. The view of a lone player sitting on an emptied stage, to half an hour of a visibly slow-clapping crowd (to leave the arena means you accept the decision), leaves an imprint.

shin a lam

All in all London did manage to pull off an inordinately successful campaign – the Opening Ceremony – the first section especially- was one of the most memorable of all time, the Games went off without further hitch, and the PR armies of gurning volunteers, an array of citywide cultural events and fun facilities meant it was one of the most enjoyable ever. The legacy of mixed use buildings, and a deprived district now becoming a polished hub ensured no international follow-ups. They even turned a marginal profit thanks to £1 billion of the contingency fund not being needed, and the following year London became the world’s most visited city. As a sign of its confidence, even in the closing ceremony, they included a poignant shot of Shin A Lam sitting in silence as her world burned. Like the Opening Ceremony, it showed not just the rosy image of revision, but the blood, sweat and tears also.

lond

In reality the legacy  was a mixed one. For all the much lauded intentions, much of which won London the Games in the first place, they have not been the complete success as widely reported. The route to the Olympic Park remains from day one, as through the city’s largest shopping mall, a festival of money parting and commercialisation; as apt today as it has ever been. The stadium itself was intended to be downscaled and kept for athletics, but the unjustified cost to keep it running led to completely reneging on that idea. And at further cost – adversely dismantling the permanent features while keeping the temporary ones, to the tune of $1 billion, to change it into a football arena as first proposed. FFS.

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The legacy of turning a nation to sports – the ‘Singapore Promise’ to “Inspire a generation” was neither fulfilled. The heartrendingly humble video they played at the bidding, of children from all over Britain and the world seeing the Games and one day becoming Olympians, thus underlying the importance of investment in public sport, does not seem to have transpired. Public facilities across the country have closed, school budgets have been axed and sports participation is dramatically down (people playing sport once a week, shrinking by over 200,000 every six months), despite £325 million invested in getting their dimpled arses off the sofa each year by the state quango.

sprts

At the end of the day London was a success and an English apple of the eye, but behind closed doors not as amazing as trumpeted. The city does have a legacy, just not so much the one it promised about you know, not staring at the fridge, and changing society n crap. More about lining the pockets of investors and landlords, and fulfilling that raison d’etre of sticking two fingers up at the French.

Neither do the Winter Olympics escape, especially if it’s a non-Western country. Although Western countries do get noticeable concessions. Vancouver 2010 garnered its fair share of critique even before it started  following the tragic death of 21 year old Nodar Kumaritashvili of Georgia a few days into practice. Following  driver error he hit a steel support pole that should have been protected, on a luge track that was 12% faster than its intended limit. Also marring preparations was opposition from certain First Nations members, advocates to the colonial record of one of the major sponsors – the Hudson Bay Company, the repeated vandalism of the Olympic flame, and the plight of the low-income families displaced by the building projects, none of which were beautiful thanks to budget. These were little reported outside national papers, though the British press did castigate the games as overly nationalistic, in a purported attempt at embellishing London’s follow up.

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Vancouver’s opening ceremony heavily featured mechanical failure in a rather sketchy opening show – overall beautiful, alluding to the virginal nature of the First Nations plus a mesmeric song by KD Lang, but also involving an er, stand up comedy sketch, Donald Sutherland as the be-all and end-all of Canadian fame, and a malfunctioning arm of the Olympic flame that denied the opportunity for LeMay Doan to light it. But never mind that, and don’t worry too much about the Georgian unpronounceable either – they gave his family $10,000 to renovate their house in a ‘goodwill gesture’, and Canada’s a nice, civilised Western country anyway, like Britain or Australia. Sydney was great, that was the bestest games ever before all this controversy began (just don’t mention the bribes during the bidding process).

vancouver2

However, Sochi 2014 in Russia truly marked the shining benchmark of public(ised) criticism, the El Dorado for reporters from rival trade blocs the world over. The world’s most exorbitantly spent-on Olympics, costing $51 billion (tick), in a non-Western (tick) populace that can ill afford it (tick), under a charmless dictator-in-all-but-name (tick), with problems with democracy (tick), a lack of gay rights (tick), garnering accordant social media campaign (tick), in a place more famed for its palm trees and the warmest location yet devised (tick). And an unimaginable amount of graft with billions siphoned off to fellow cronies and friends of Putin (tick). Oh and unfinished buildings in the run-up (tick). And of course, a questionable legacy, with which the story can still be milked for decades to come (tick).

sochi

Oh Russia, you glorious summit for cultural disdain, you embellished standard of socio-economic disaster, you God’s gift to dash-cam Youtube, you. Oh mystical horizon of fur-lined intrigue and chemical factories, how we have missed you. When one of your Olympic rings failed to bloom in the Opening ceremony our collective hearts swilled with drunken love, and bloomed with laughter. Oh the mirth, uniting peoples the world over, in Olympic based spirit. Add to that the cherry on top of the current doping scandal banning much of the team, and replacing medals all the way back to 2014 – and you’ve got the best ever tally won by a single country, now being taken down by a rung or three. Thank you so much. We feel so much better for ourselves.

soch

Now Rio, you seductress of the south. With your teeming, drug fueled favelas, high profile kidnappings and police shootings. Where to turn the world’s eye – the blinding inequality? Racial politics? High homicide rate and petty crime? The nationwide protests at rising costs and price hikes? The indentured former terrorist / torture victim/ President being impeached? The deepening recession, crumbling the dreams of much of the Developing World? The bacterial gardens of the Guanabara Bay? The unfinished construction? And full circle to Olympic Committee threats to take the Games elsewhere (and never to hold it in a Developing country again)? So much to choose from, so little airtime.

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Okay, the ceremony went without a hitch – though there was that little girl, now summarily executed, talking the whole time behind the first Oympic Laureate making his speech. It was evocative, emotive, fun and held its message for a Green Games, plus it’s amazing, eco-friendly Olympic cauldron shining like a gorgeous, mirrored beacon. And the marathon man who got rugby tackled by that Irish priest in Athens 2004, and who lost his winning medal as a result, got to light the flame. Heart warming. Classy like.

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brazi

But then one of the Olympic pools just turned fart-smelling GREEN, inexplicably so, so wa-hey! We’re back on.

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What can we expect from Tokyo 2020? The Japanese are a nice bunch, they’re the sweetest, most polite of peoples, eminently civilised and welcoming, economically great, with a winning allure (food, arts, media) and defining popular culture. Low inequality, high social justice, low crime, high environmentalism. Bullet trains, geishas, anime, Michelin stars, forest cover, zen, bamboo, shrines, cherry blossom, sushi, cat cafes, bunny islands. What could possibly go wrong?

jap

Well the whales, the war, the yakuza, the comfort women, the weirdness. The suicide rate, the groping, the live food, the history textbooks, the depopulation, the porn, the radiation, the homogeneity, the ageing, the Senkaku Islands. Actually this is gonna be fantastic!

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It’s a telling sign their inital logo already got sued by Belgian designer Olivier Debie, forcing a later redrawing:

olovie

 

As we all know the Olympics has traditionally been the time when we all lay down arms and the world stops fighting for the duration of the Games (except in er, WWI, and er, II, and er, every postwar war after that). But anyhoo it’s the thought that counts. The Games are apolitical, yeah. No, I mean no. It’s not a forum to bring up injustice, failure, a few billion dollars, prejudice or scorn. Nosiree.

It’s just our media are increasingly finding the Olympics as a useful tool to promote our  own rhetoric, and the superiority of whatever is the regional demagogue du jour. Start off with a good kilo of global audience, add 100g of competition, 100g of emotion, a generous sprinkling of national pride (hell just throw the damn box in), and feed it through a tight nozzle of media interpretation. In hindsight Hitler’s attempt at making the 1936 Olympics a [failed] promotion of his political ideals was a masterstroke so to speak. We’re just here for the mutherfucking cake.

1936

So just think, one day… one day… America just might get it again. Another misty, headline grabbing land  ripe with opportunity, hegemony and questionable choices. And what a seasoned gift to the world that would be, inspiring generations of tabloid stories, internet forums and culture bloggers, long in the running. We, as a global community, can once again dare to dream.

eofw

 

Got to the end? Do comment.

What would you think would happen if your country were picked to host the Olympics? What would your city do well or not so well?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The World’s Most Highrise City

Lets look at the raw stats. According to Emporis, a website that employs data from skyline fanatics the world over, Hong Kong has traditionally been the worlds most highrise city. Not only did it have the most highrise buildings (anything 35m-100m tall, or anything 12 floors or higher) with 7,931  -nearly 1,800 more than NYC – it also has the most skyscrapers (150m or over) with 315 monoliths compared to New York’s 242.

Let’s stop there for a second. 8,000 highrises, incuding 315 skyscrapers. Imagine what this looks like. Imagine yourself on a Hong Kong style street. Highrises block out the sky along the whole street, not completely unremarkable, but not completely remarkable either to a city dweller – from your angle midrises and highrises present the same bulk. You can’t see either end, or past that wall to see how many other highrises there are. Even going up in a chopper you’d get the awesome scale, but not completely due to perspective.

hong-kong-street-photography-1

www.shootingfilm.net

Now lets imagine some atomic cloud comes over all fluffy and transmogrifies you into a traffic stopping, stampede inducing giant 300 ft tall. Bummer. Your lower arm would be bigger than a Blue Whale or the largest museum dino; you could sit King Kong in the palm of your hand, or a tiny car between your thumb and forefinger if you weren’t particularly nice. In reality you’d be so big you’d instantly catastrophically collapse into yourself, anything bigger than your lower arm would start melting down to gravity, and lifting a finger so weighty would likely break it.

grn.png

www.greengiantcanada.ca

Now lets imagine you’re breaking the laws of physics and can now see the top of many of the heads of these highrises, also transmogrifying into human like shapes. You are now in a crowd of 8,000, spiked by hundreds of people twice as tall as you, and a handful of goons three times bigger who REALLY look like freaks even to the giant you. Imagine your middle or high school assembly of similarly gargantuan people standing to attention, but the crowd 10 to 20x bigger. Then look at that tiny toy car balanced on your fingertip, and the tiny worried looking people inside, in comparison to that giant milling mass of flesh. That huge auditorium full of building shaped giants would be Hong Kong. And the fly on the floor of that arena would be you.

crowd

www.pond5.com

As for supertalls (those freaks of 300m or over, scooping up ships and walking into bridges)  Hong Kong’s well pipped by Dubai, which has 22 to New York’s 12 or Hong Kong’s measly 6 (Shenzhen is second place though with 14, and Kuala Lumpur with 13). Dubai and KL though have far fewer highrises overall, despite their impressive forests of skyscrapers, so are out of the running.

However in 2015 a new top-spot came into light, when Moscow shouldered in with 11,676 documented highrises (the majority just making the threshold) to Hong Kong’s 7,931, thanks to some very devoted online fans.

mos

imgur.com

However Hong Kong still leads if you stacked all the tall buildings together it comes to a teetering 333,836m, with NYC in second place – but a third the combined total – at 109,720m. So thus it’s official: chattering, blazing, odiferous Hong Kong is the reigning champion, and three times more ‘built up’ than a ripped NYC. It’s urban areas cover almost the exact size of 59 km² Manhattan, but have triple the built density.

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hk

https://500px.com/alfredkhc

hon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/coolbiere

But criticism of Emporis shows it is not the authority in any way. The website rather imperiously only accepts data in English and German (where it is based), and refuses nominations from places like China, where Shanghai’s occasional contributions surmount to less than gentrified old London’s, or Kiev’s for that matter.

Most notably some bright spark noticed on the Shanghai Council’s dizzyingly complex open data website that number of floors had been included on an annual survey of housing and class, which contradicted Emporis’ presentations of factuality a tad:

shanghai council 2013

Basically the column on the left is the number of floors, the one on far right is the amount of buildings. Shanghai had an eye-popping total 14,479 buildings over 16 storeys in 2013, almost ten times more than Emporis claimed.

This compares with buildings over 12 storeys (note the lower threshold despite):

Moscow (2015) 11, 676

HK (2014) 7,931

Sao Paulo (2015) 6,332

NYC (2015) 6,154

Further back-up comes from aerial photos at the same scale.

Hong Kong:

hkae

Shanghai:

shae.jpg

But for all these inconsistencies, Sao Paulo may hint at a potential unrecognised rival, like a vast, unnamed termite colony of Brazilianess teeming in the south, being all sultry and knifey and sexy:

spSaoPaulo2

Sao Paulo however has only 7 skyscrapers, and 0 supertalls thanks to the relatively close proximity of the airport.

Also there’s the large question mark over other Chinese cities, notably Shenzhen and Guangzhou, which are actually contiguous now. If there’s anywhere in the world that’s building up at the moment, it’s Shenzhen, currently going through a construction boom that makes pre-Crisis Dubai look like it was making a few sand castles on holiday. It currently has 60 buildings over 200m, and a whopping 135 under construction, which is basically more than doubling New York’s strutting skyline. An additional 50 supertalls are under construction or approved, and all that is not even considering Guangzhou, the even larger beast in competition at the other end of the city.

Shenzhen 1986, an unremarkable border town of 30,000:

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2016, population and its 15 million hawking, squawking inhabitants (urban population conjoined with Guangzhou, 41 million):

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szzz

But let’s for now, consider Shanghai, Pearl of the Orient / Whore of the East, the current reigning champ. We’ll end on more skyscraper porn from that city:

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https://blackstation.tuchong.com

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In 2003 the city began sinking from the weight of so many buildings, with a moratorium declared on highrises for a whole year.

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https://www.flickr.com/people/8281403@N07/

The city council now dictates that x amount of people must live within y vicinity of z amount of green space (yep, good luck with that). To overcome the ruling the newer areas such as Pudong, enact a Courbousien tower-in-the-park idea, though much more lush and grandly utilised than the dystopian bleakscapes in postwar Europe.

shap3.jpg

https://www.flickr.com/people/8281403@N07/

The Puxi side of the river is far denser, where the traditional fabric of the city is still extant, and people actually socialise:

shap5

https://www.flickr.com/people/8281403@N07

But take a telescope between the highrises and you’ll spot the city’s Sino-Anglo terraces and courtyard homes  known as shikumen or longtang lane housing.

shap8

https://www.flickr.com/people/8281403@N07/

shap9

https://www.flickr.com/people/8281403@N07/

Large tracts of this historic housing remain, though highly endangered after years of fatheaded destruction. The old stock (most of which is 80-160 years old) covered an area almost equivalent to the City of Paris, saved from WWII destruction by a ground war (that incidentally took out 300,000 lives in ‘China’s Stalingrad’) rather than an aerial one. Then kept in aspic during the postwar years by a Communist govt intent on keeping a lid on the notoriously renegade, soul-selling city (this is where China was at its  most shockingly Capitalist, and where its Communism was born as a result).

pux

shik

Despite the countless losses, and the much more visible skylines, from satellite it’s more obvious that the russet coloured roofs are still about – even dominant, and after 30 years of dancing with a wrecking ball are finally being saved after the bigwigs realised they were quite profitable, with gentrification into chichi shopping or entertainment districts. Although this often rendered the residents just as homeless (though compensated), with some ‘misguided’ opportunity areas involving bulldozing the history and rebuilding it with mod cons for millionaires. A more favourable wave of protection has finally arrived as culturally restorative -beautifying the buildings but sodding the lattes, and keeping the damn residents, finally.

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It is poetic to end on a city that is in short the world’s largest skyline grafted on onto one of the world’s largest old cities. Both coexist, both are hidden to a large extent, at ground level, in global profile, and psychologically. It seems the most obvious of contenders appears to be also one of the least.

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The World’s Most Built Up City

So we’ve dallied enough in terms of scale and size, in hard numbers. That was all based on population. So what of the built environment? Which city is most impressive in terms of the size you actually see and experience? For example, let’s forego the fact Karachi has 25 million people and Chicago only 9 million – which city feels and looks bigger? And let’s conveniently  forget every street in Karachi looks like a stadium just emptied next to Camden Market. With cars. -Well otherwise Chicago would be more impressive from it’s dense stacks of skyscrapers as you wander round it’s centre (and not its unending lowrise suburbs). The city has 116 skyscrapers -defined as a building 150m or over in height – whilst Karachi only has one. 341 highrises over 100m, while Karachi has 12 (though watch this space – Karachi has 7 skyscrapers, and 7 highrises under construction). Karachi  may actually feel more built up only if you travel interminably across it’s horizons, but Chicago far outweighs in its centre, which would be the more common experience for the average visitor without a bi-plane.

karachwww.dawn.com

chicahttp://www.justinlagace.com

Globally there’s an obvious contender for the top spot here. New York, New York. Built on a narrow granite island it’s natural line of development was upward, spiking ever highward on a sturdy piece of rock that could take the weight and foundations of a ballooning population and economy. Its sheer density of building is almost unimaginable, famously creating ‘canyon’ streets sided by overarching walls of concrete and glass. The city is astoundingly built up, feels astoundingly huge, and has done for a century. It is the city of the mind when people think of cities.

new.jpg

neww.jpghttp://www.hdtimelapse.net/

NYC has a whopping 794 highrises, of which 247 are skyscrapers. It’s also going through a building boom as developers rush to get a portfolio of tall buildings into plan before a new zoning law gets called in. The island is so packed already a new phenomenon is rising – small plots but exorbitantly high and profitable buildings rising like slivers, some so tall and thin they look liable to totter the next time a periodic Hollywood tsunami/ meteor strike/ giant monster revisits. By 2030 the city will resemble a glittering porcupine:

nyccccwww.popularmechanics.com

Once again it may be dwarfed by other cities populations (it’s barely if at all in the top 10), but off paper its skyscrapers look and count more impressively. NYC has such a density of tall buildings, little seen elsewhere, it’s streets resemble canyons. Even Dubai with its greater catchment of supertalls had to artificially create it’s one concrete gorge on the Sheikh Zayed Road, whilst all around is lowrise and desert.

Broadway, http://www.cepolina.com:

New-York-street-skyscrapers-Broadway

Dubaitravelisfree.com:

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New York on the other hand had to build up due to its islanded constraints – and more interestingly – it could. There are of course other islanded city centres (Montreal, pre-Columbian Mexico City, Vancouver, Malé), but they didn’t build upward to the same extent due to the lower population or business demand, and notably, greater difficulty.

Malé, Maldives

maldives

New York is lucky enough to sit on granite, strong enough for all that weight and without the need for hundred foot foundations, as in clay-based, alluvial London or Shanghai, the latter of which began sinking from all the concrete, and a high-rise moratorium declared in 2003. Ever wondered why European metropolises aren’t especially highrise savvy, especially after the wartime clearances? Well they’re further lumped with restrictive zoning laws in the form of historic protection, and ‘viewing corridors’ that forbid any impinging structures on celebrated views.

London has no less than 14 of these hallowed visions stretching across vast swathes of the capital to its 5 UNESCO World Heritage sites, plus one cathedral, so that you can see the small bump of St Paul’s dome on the horizon from a bush 16km away, whose existence controls the world’s premier business district. When one surly pensioner hacked a hole in said bush to restore the 18th Century viewing point, it laid waste to 4 planned skyscrapers in the 1980s.

lonvie

Only two other major cities share New York’s perfect storm of constraints, freedoms, demand and bedrock. The granite island of Hong Kong, and the granite peninsular of Yujiapu in Chongqing, both of which require high rises stacked closely, and the canyons they create.

Chongqing:

yujia

Hong Kong

A bird's eye view of residential and com

MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images .

blogs.ft.com

Singapore is another contender in the making, especially as its population balloons, but the presence of its nearby airport keeps the height limit at 280m or lower – pretty much a Hong Kong highrise-fest but with fewer really tall buildings. On the horizon though is Mumbai, a 233 sq mile peninsular of 12.5 million (metro 21 million) that gets smaller the busier it gets, until it dwindles uncharitably into the sea:

bombay_L7_lrg

The city now has over 70 skyscrapers topped out, with another 33 over 250m to come. And a helluva lot of profitable land reclamation for the future.

mumbai

https://www.flickr.com/photos/illumination-photography

For decades many Tokyoites believed their rival city in the States to be bigger due to the famed skyscraper thicket there, when in truth Tokyo was the world’s largest just before WWII destruction, and again by the 1960’s, a title it’s held till last year. Tokyo’s skyline is still impressive but dampened considerably by being in a notorious earthquake zone, with strict height limits enforced. It’s still deceptively big in terms of highrises (coming in at 139 skyscrapers and 556 highrises), but they form disparate nodes or lone towers (and one REALLY big one), compared to Manhattan’s forest of centrality.

toky

Tokyo still has multiple winding lanes, midrises and even one storey townhouses throughout it’s centre, interspersed with the usual roaring pedestrian streets and skyscraper districts. It’s not for nothing that Monocle awarded it ‘the World’s Best City’ title in its 2015 rankings, for its dichotomous ability for peaceful ambiance combined with jaw-dropping size; how very Japanese.

shinkpingmag.tumblr.com

tokyohttp://worldneighborhoods.com

But look again at Tokyo’s highrises. The modus operandi of many Japanese based multinationals favour large trading floors. Add on the height limits of say 150m-250m (or 500ft-750ft) and you create a market for titanic sized buildings. Huge floors and sheer walls, squat and overbearing in bulk. In any other city – for example NYC, Shanghai or Hong Kong – they would be twice as narrow and twice as tall.

Tokyo’s monsters:

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Many are unapologetically wide and overbearing, creating a certain monolithic grandeur to the city that could almost be described as beautiful; thoroughly in keeping with age old Japanese functionalism, while others more diplomatically disguise their bulk by splitting into (or pretending to be) multiple towers and setbacks. They are the fat ambassadors wives gracing the charity ball circuit:

Tokyo_Skyscrapers.jpgacecombat.wikia.com

Look at the Mori tower, a snippet of modesty at 238m (780ft), yet holding almost the same floorspace as the Willis Tower in Chicago – the world’s tallest building for nearly 25 years, at 442m (1,450ft), nearly double the height and imposition.

Mori:

tokmoritokyo.grand.hyatt.com

Willis:

searswww.getyourguide.com

Likewise the even bigger Tokyo Midtown tower, with twice the floorspace of One World Trade Center (formerly the Freedom Tower) in NYC though half the height. This is one deceptive power dresser. Note the backing for her – the thin off-gold strip at left, glimpsed from street level:

midtown02bartman905.wordpress.com

In reality the ‘thin’ strip, made of green glass doubles the floorspace, though hidden from street angle. From the air one can see better the bulk of the place; a perfect expression of Japanese culture where the public face of tatamae hides – even compliments – the personal truth of honne.  The gargantuan building debuts with the ultimate socially acceptable accolade: that from whichever angle you see it, she looks half her weight :

midt.jpg

In short Tokyo has the biggest buildings of any city, not measured in terms of height, but on average floorspace. Not just that they’re lower or deceptive in format, but the city itself is so large (with a centre that’s arguably the world’s largest) that its massive buildings don’t need to pack it in to create a Manhattanesque thicket. Rather they are interspersed with lowrises and midrises that form the majority of the urban landscape of the region. However, travel the city seeing in the vastness of its infrastructure, its verdant crowds or taking a flight above it all, and the seething vastness reveals itself.

tokyos

https://www.flickr.com/photos/phakorns/with/27509876881/

tokyos2

https://www.flickr.com/photos/sbisaro/with/24327171882/

tokyo-aerial-view-30472-1920x1080 (1)

Tokyo was of course the biggest city that ever was (multiple times over), for a good 50 years. Its breakneck growth saw in one of the biggest construction booms in history, best measured by population growth. Before the war it had just usurped NYC as the world’s largest city with 12.6 million, but of course plummeted during the war (the bit where it became the world’s most destroyed piece of urbanity ever). It then climbed spectacularly again as a phoenix – between 1960 and 1970 it went from 17.5 million to 24 million, or 650,000 newcomers a year.

Only a few other cities compare. Between 2000 and 2010 Beijing grew by 605,000 a year, Shanghai by 626,000. However… we have a winner: Seoul between 1970 and 1980 added 700,000 a year.

Visitors mention that Tokyo may not feel immediately larger than New York due to its greater preponderance of smaller buildings, but Seoul delivers in spades. A city of 24.5 million Seoul has traditionally been the world’s second largest city, yet one of it’s most obscure, with a surprisingly low global profile for much of the 20th Century – though things have now changed due to the Korean Wave of music, movies, tech and trends (and a certain catchy dance video about a certain highrise district).

se.jpg

Seoul is perhaps the world’s densest of the highrise megacities if you’re just counting the urban areas. The country has the densest urbanity in general (not taking into account the countryside, or the 70% forest cover of the nation). Much more so than its rival across the sea, it houses the majority of its population in dense tracts of highrise housing, coursing over or around the local topography like a studded sea.

soul

https://www.flickr.com/photos/136566837@N06/

It does however have far fewer skyscrapers, deemed a handicap if they were used as landmarks for bombers flying in from the North. Only recently has it thrown heed to the wind and built a swanky new supertall that’s over half a km high and as subtle as the burning eye of Sauron.

sauron

www.a-news.co.kr

To rival Seoul, there’s The Pearl River  Metropolis made up of the conjoined cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen as mentioned previously (not to be confused with the much wider Pearl River Megalopolis). Like Tokyo it combines massively built scale and population, but is much more high rise. It has 278 skyscrapers (buildings 150m or over) – less than Hong Kong’s 315 but more than New York’s 242, or Tokyo’s 139, plus an almost incalculable amount of highrises to compliment.

Guangzhou’s centre…

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…is a mind-numbing 140 km from Shenzhen’s centre, though both are part of a single contiguous urban area. This definitely takes on the northern twins of Seoul and Tokyo for built size:

szz

It does however, like Seoul, swirl around the many hills or are broken by remaining patches of farmland here and there, so not as blanketing as Tokyo. Best appreciated hovering from the air or a fine green hilltop which the city has many, but not flying for miles across an unbroken sea of buildings.

sz1

Final answer, the most built up city is of course the one with most built living space. I would take that as New York with its skyscraper centre and vast tracts of large single/double storeyed suburbs, covering the biggest land area, but bear in mind the majority of that would resemble a green, sparsely populated forest. Like Milton Keynes, that forgot to stop.

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If you’re talking building up, well that would be the Pearl River Delta (or Shanghai/ Sao Paulo, but that’s on the next post). If you’re flying a plane, that would be Tokyo’s vast picnic sea of urbanity from horizon to horizon.

If you’re talking feel – 24 hr, highrise happy, neon drenched, slightly totalitarian Seoul. The future – Mumbai? Dubai? Chongqing?

And if you’re talking city centre, imo that’s back to the Big Apple baby.

NYCC

hqwallbase.online

No, wait…

-isn’t Tokyo twice the size of NYC?

More? The World’s Most Highrise City

The World’s Biggest City

One thing that does seem to pervade insidiously in terms of ‘greatness’ is size. Whether on its merit alone or backing up any other spurious claim, a good bolstering on size – especially if it’s First World to boot (and thus filled with plenty of money, the arts and opportunistic fads) – tends to silence most hecklers. It is if you like, the vast, hinted-at base to the argument. The penis measuring contest behind the thumbpot war. For all London’s claims to fame (easily ignoring that Paris is richer or LA more powerful, or Moscow more highrise), the New York camp like to point out it has many aspects we enjoy, just that it’s bigger. And that does piss on our parade a bit.

manh

-Or is it bigger?

Size as relating to city population is the most accepted measure by geographers. A city’s ‘size’ judged purely on the area it covers can easily mislead due to different densities of buildings and inhabitants. For example New York City may cover the largest area, but most of that is made up of lowrise sprawl with generous plots, at population densities lower than most rural areas. And multiple times larger than Manhattan or the 5 boroughs that people normally envision the city in scale. The reality is NYC may have a  famously dense centre but the majority of it is actually lowrise and low density, where the majority live. More obvious examples see places such as San Juan, Puerto Rico (pop 2.2 million) covering areas almost 50% larger than Greater London (pop 8.7 million), yet no one would accord San Juan – great that it is – the bigger moniker over London (or Seoul, at 25 million a pop for that matter).

san juanfoundtheworld.com

So back to population, and by golly, does it get complicated once more. Where does one stop counting? That is the biggest source of bickering as only nerdy online geographers can know, as multiple institutions use multiple ways to measure. By the official city boundaries (aka City Proper) places like Los Angeles shrink to 4 million, and lose a good 10 million urbanites . Almost all cities lose inhabitants that way if they go by the official – but outdated – city boundaries. Paris shrinks to 2.2 million, The City of London to, my goodness, only 14,000 rather lonely, albeit gilded, individuals due to these boundaries having been dreamt up when herding cows were the traffic jam of choice. Though not all cities. Some would actually gain. ‘Difficult’ places such as the eponymously named er, Ningbo, that we do not speak about among geographer circles, and the rumoured status of Shanghai to boot. All in all, urban legislation at its best.

Another spanner in the works was the adoption of Statistical Areas (Municipal or Consolidated depending on the fine print) in the US that takes in vast swathes of countryside, any adjacent towns, villages and entire counties, cows and all, based on commuting habits. The idea is that those who work in the city but live in ‘dormitory suburbs’ are still part of the city’s functioning contributors, never mind they equally contribute, if not more, to their hometown where they actually live, shop, school, wifeswap, pay taxes and make babies.

nyc

Also on closer inspection, the threshold for inclusion gets increasingly lax each year, with as few as 10% of people in one county (that commutes into the next rural county along- not even to the general city) still getting the rest of the 90% of their neighbours suddenly counted as citydwellers. One area of Pike County even gets included due to ‘receiving the New York TV signal’ (thank you small print).

In the end this sees central nodes like LA, NYC, Boston or Atlanta commanding mostly rural, low density areas the size of small countries, such as NYC covering more than Wales & Northern Ireland combined. Confusingly they are dubbed ‘metropolitan areas’, despite the rest of the world considering that term merely the city and its conjoined suburbs, and will often show their inflated figures in the self same league.

nycc

nyc2www.fhwa.dot.gov

The rest of the world is cottoning on though – China now operates a similar stratagem, with Chongqing, at over 30 million, claimed as the world’s biggest city for a short time before someone pointed out it was a municipality involving several cities in an area the size of Belgium, plus a few million farmers, ducks and geese.

chq.jpg

Okay, so far so complicated. Let’s just try and count the number of people in the continuous urban sprawl without large breaks of countryside. But given the differing ways governments have urbanised this is also contentious. London – thanks to its protected Green Belt – sees its natural old growth suburbia confined into myriad high density dormitories surrounded by countryside, rather than the usual blanketing sprawl. In other words its suburbs are broken up into thousands, by law. It’s a surprise to learn from satellite views that there is no real ‘belt’ or expanse of greenery, merely a dense peppering of thousands of commuter towns and new villages, connected by a dense web of roads and train tracks. The jury’s out on whether they created a protected environment, or merely upped the scale on a monstrous semi-urban, semi-rural monster.

london-united-kingdom

The Alps is a similar contender, both urban regions being part of Western Europe known as the ‘Blue Banana’ megalopolis, the world’s largest – scientifically named as that’s the shape and hue it takes on satellite imagery. This form of forcibly disparate -yet unified- urbanity stretches in a vast swathe of highly peppered development from Leeds to Milan.

bb

bbb

Thus London ultimately weighs in at slightly larger than the NYC ‘metro’ if these artifices are taken into account, but significantly less if not – 14 to 23.6 million ‘Londoners’ and 17 – 20.5 million ‘New Yorkers’ depending on where you stop. Still, the latest inflation from over the pond sees the NYC area nearly doubled to take in another 3 million in a strongly rural, little-commuting landscape.

But let’s forge ahead and do it anyway; sorry London. Let’s count the city contiguous, and omit large stretches of pasture, cows and forest. For years Tokyo was head and shoulders above the rest, a city with a vast, dense centre, as well as blanketing sprawl – but in such significant densities they could easily be included without fuss.  Even with all the differing ways of counting, Tokyo was conveniently well ahead – at a whopping 29-39 million. Second spot (Seoul –Incheon at 24.5 million) was still a good 5-10 million off, and at any projection Tokyo looked to hold on for two decades or more, before finally losing ground to Delhi in maybe 2030.

tokyo-aerial-view-30472-1920x1080suwalls.com

tokk.jpg

But then along came Jakarta, a vastly under-measured region of cities and suburbs that had begun molding together, not as neatly as Tokyo, but putting on the heat nevertheless. ‘Jabotabek’ was made up of Jakarta, Bogor, Tangerrang and Bekasi, a term used since the late 1980s, but soon became the even snazzier ‘Jabodetabek’ to include Depok. When faced with more lyrically challenging towns such as Karawang, Sukabuni, and Puwakarta about to join they decided suddenly on ’Greater Jakarta’ rather than break into scat rap each time.  It currently counts over 30 million, and is slowly knitting together townships and suburbs towards Bandung, a city of 2.4 million, with another 6 million urbanites in its environs.

jak

 

Then suddenly the jump. It was announced this year there was a new biggest city in the world, contiguously linked, appearing seemingly out of nowhere in China, and leapfrogging both Tokyo and Greater Jakarta in one fell swoop. Something that had been glowering in the background, growing deceptively.

prd

http://www.landsd.gov.hk

The new kid on the block was Guangzhou, an ancient city of 14 million, whose breakneck growth as China’s manufacturing backbone had coursed west into adjacent cities, and more notably downriver into two huge cities doing the same. One was Dongguan, a manufacturing city of 8 million most famous for having the world’s largest shopping mall, and having it empty also. In turn Dongguan had merged in eddies and swirls around the local hilly topography to connect up with a wandering finger of Shenzhen, the golden child of the China Rise. Once a village of 30,000 Shenzhen had grown to be the richest city in the country, with 12 million inhabitants, within 30 years. All in all 42 million call the ‘Pearl River Metropolis’ home, with 55 million in its ‘metro’ region. It lies on the doorstep of Hong Kong, glimpsed across a border that stands ground on a no-man’s-land of rice paddies right below the skyscrapers of Shenzhen’s CBD.

prd

But Hong Kong is not counted – the border, however porous, is not enough to justify its inclusion into the greater fold, and moreover there are a good few miles before one reaches the cityscapes of Kowloon. In other words, just behind the mountainous curtain of one of the most popular, and famous cities in the world, lies an unseen giant, of glittering skyscrapers, dingy alleys, vast avenues, cutting edge galleries, manicured parkland, teeming markets, dirty tenements, and hidden history rich in street life, wealth and endless highrises, all connected by the world’s largest infrastructure and state of the art transportation systems. (Don’t get too excited though, it’s no longer as pedestrian friendly, and despite being millennia old, 95% of its built history is under 30). Go though (Zhujiang New City, the latest CBD), if you like Bladerunner, or fantastic dim sum, or the sheer vastness of the place.

gz

In terms of scale this little known metropolis is indeed the world’s ‘greatest’ city. It is large in area (though not the largest), but in such high densities of population and highrise building it even beats Tokyo in sheer unending scale. It takes a high speed train hours to reach between the city’s multiple central nodes, and all you see are concrete highrises.

Guangzhou anchors one end:

gz1http://lokya.poco.cn/

Shenzhen the other, at 140 km distant. You can even fly commercially from one end to another:

szzh

深南向上

In a similar vein  is Shanghai (25 million), already connected to Suzhou (4.5 million) and Wuxi (3.5 million) via Kunshan (1.7 million), and about to thread along (if not already at the rate Chinese cities terraform) to Changzhou (3.5 million), to bring a total of 38.3 million urbanites busily being busy. Close, but not the biggest, and still behind Tokyo too.

yrd

shanghai

shngbreathe city by Black station, on Flickr

But what is interesting about Shanghai’s metropolis is the  immediate area – the potential to knit up even more in a metro that is the worlds biggest collection of adjacent cities, that form the Yangtze River Delta, 120 million strong, many of whom live in thousands of sq km of highrises and midrises whether urban or rural (farmer’s apartments that look like a vast city for hundreds of km). This will likely be the new title holder in the years to come.

The ‘countryside’ for over 200km, classed as rural. It takes a bullet train, with stops only for the city centres, 3 hrs to cross it:

chhWayne Cheng Photography

ch

yt

 

-So is this it?

A sea of middle class highrises that is the be all and end all of the world’s ‘greatest’ city? Surely people are individual enough, can decide for themselves, or well, don’t really care and can happily live their lives regardless of monikers? People who are loving Kettering or Venice, so be it, and not being upstaged by a mass of glorified tower blocks?

The short answer is yes, of course it is. Don’t be silly thinking otherwise. This is a penis measuring contest and begad someone’s got to win it.

For all the talk about size – and what a wormhole that was – surely there is a city that ticks off the size bracket, but holds much more than the PRD can offer? -In short yes, the all-rounders. Size: yes, yes and yes again. But also economy (tick), business (tick), culture (tick),  creativity (tick), beauty (tick), history (tick, tick, tick), the arts (tick),  food (er, tick), nightlife (tick), cosmopolitanism (tick, tick, tick), social mix (tick), global influence (tick), an army of visitors (tick), digital opportunity (tick), and an ever-changing contemporary society (tick).

So yes, London has it.

But I might be biased there. By living in the world’s greatest city. There’s nothing to argue about at all. The prices are completely fine, the weather’s brilliant, and I love living in a shoe box. Brexit won’t change a thing, no.

londono

 

Up next: SCALE. The World’s Most Built Up City

 

The World’s Tastiest City

Tokyo’s 90,000 restaurants (compared to NYC’s 24,000 or Paris’ 40,000) and 160,000 total eating establishments garners no less than 216 Michelin starred places to dine in (down from 226 in 2015 and 267 the year before that), but still head and shoulders above second place Paris, with merely 105. It was also named as the World’s Best Food city by Saveur Magazine  last year, harking on  not just about the quality of local food but also its French and Italian offerings (plus the whiskey, omg the whiskey), and the vast array of global cuisine in general from Belarusian to Senegalese.

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However on closer inspection Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto and Nara are geographically one city, though Michelin divides them into three distinct guides, so really that entity beats the lot. On Michelin stars per person (taking away those small villages like Baiersbronn, Germany, Bray, UK, Yountsville, California and er Knokke-Heist, Belgium) Paris beats Tokyo, not just on per capita, but equal on the almost impossible 3 star rated restaurants (they each have ten) – though the Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe metropolis beats both with 14 triple starred restaurants.

These cities may not have the range over Tokyo but pack well above their weight in stars awarded, as do Barcelona (29 stars for 4.6 million), or Hong Kong-Macau ( 92 stars for 7.3 million), both in turn bettered by little old Brussels (30 stars for 1.2 million). But eminent above them all, by quite a margin would be Kyoto with 100 Michelin starred places for 1.5 million inhabitants– the world’s undeclared epicenter of exceptional places to eat. Meanwhile London toots the horn of most different types of cuisine awarded in one place, serving up British, Basque, Chinese, French, Indian, Italian, Japanese, pan-Mediterranean, Peruvian, Spanish, and Nordic cuisine with the appropriate(d) stars.

tok

Anyhoo this is the way it looks for the top selected cities, by number of starred restaurants as of 2016. Lift those trumpets:

  1. Osaka metropolis: (includes Kobe-Kyoto-Nara this is one contiguous city that merged together decades ago, not to be confused with a megalopolis, metro or CSA) 258 restaurants 353 stars
  2. Tokyo: 217 restaurants 294 stars
  3. Paris: 105 restaurants   135 stars
  4. Kyoto: 100 restaurants 139 stars
  5. Osaka: 89 restaurants 117 stars
  6. New York City: 75 restaurants 97 stars
  7. Hong Kong-Macau: 65 restaurants 92 stars
  8. London area: 70 restaurants 87 stars (London boundaries 65 restaurants 80 stars)
  9. Kobe-Hanshin : 53 restaurants 76 stars
  10. San Francisco: (Bay area) 31 restaurants 41 stars
  11. Brussels: 25 restaurants 30 stars
  12. Barcelona area: 25 restaurants 29 stars

Inhabitants per restaurant / star looks markedly different. As counted by the contiguous city (not metro), it looks like this. These are the single best places to land your chopper for foraging, provided your PA team did their homework:

  1. Kyoto  (1.5 million) 15,000 per restaurant 10,791 per star
  2. Brussels (1.2 million) 48,000 per restaurant 40,000 per star
  3. Kobe –Hanshin (3.1million) 58,490 per restaurant, 40,790 per star
  4. Osaka metropolis (14.2 million) 55,039 per restaurant 40,227 per star
  5. Osaka  (8.8 million) 98,876 per restaurant, 75,213 per star
  6. Paris (10.55 million): 100,476 per restaurant  78,148 per star
  7. Hong Kong- Macau (7.3 million): 112,308 per restaurant, 79,347 per star
  8. Tokyo (29 million) 133,640 per restaurant, 98,639 per star
  9. London (10.4 million): 148,571 per restaurant 119,540 per star
  10. Barcelona (4.64 million) 185,600, 160,000 per star
  11. New York (17.5 million) 233,333 per restaurant 180,412 per star
  12. San Francisco -Bay Area (7.65 million) 246,774 per restaurant 186,585 per star

It’s notable how the Michelin people rate restaurants extensively in Europe, covering small towns, villages and hovels across France, UK and Spain but sees a notable drop once upstate a few miles from NYC or Tokyo for example (or was this coverage merely due to well-known celeb chefs opening in small retreats?). Likewise the large gap of unrated Chinese mainland between HK and Macau, which would prove rich findings I’m sure due to the beating heart – now bypassed- of Cantonese cuisine in Guangzhou. The Osaka metropolis however gets European level coverage due to its slew of city centres and different gastronomic regions within the city (Kobe beef a good example). Nevertheless it did get its annual share of doubts for some restaurants that went unrated (did someone drop a fork and not pick it up?).

dimsum.jpgwww.recipeshubs.com

Michelin gets further complaints that they are biased toward French cuisine, and over-awed literally by Japanese, with some coughing abruptly and mentioning how the guide is opening up a new market there that coincides with its generous ratings. –Still, opposing camps complain they don’t rate Japanese cuisine high enough, with its complexities of flavor and form, plus subtleties of acquired taste, and the fact a few thousand stellar restaurants go unrated each year.

fran

en.wikipedia.org

Even then there are so many countries of gastronomic greatness not even rated by Michelin (Tokyo only got rated in 2007), with cities such as Bangkok, Beijing, Beirut, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Casablanca, Chengdu, Chennai, Chongqing, George Town, Guangzhou, Delhi, Dubai, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur, Lima, Melbourne, Mexico City, Moscow, Mumbai, Rio, Santiago, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore,  Sydney, Taipei, Tbilisi, Tehran, and Tel Aviv world famous yet still trembling in the wings for the ‘ultimate’ accolade to visit. Shanghai, with 120,000 places to eat is drumming her fingers, and Bangkok, busily tidying away its global capital of street food is especially impatient as vendors disappear.

varq.jpgtaj.tajhotels.com

Michelin, let me remind you, is a tyre manufacturer that publishes road guides (and thus got delving into the foodie scene by awarding stars to rest stops back in 1926), so does not have road guides as yet that would cover for example, the whole of China, or the backroads of Morocco, which in turn would warrant the accompanying restaurant booklet.

michhttp://www.michelin.fr/

The final nail in the hickory coffin is frankly, well not everyone dines out in Michelin starred establishments. It’s not like the 15,000 per capita Kyotoites are funneling into its chichi places to dine each day, let alone year. Edible flowers and gold leaf is not necessarily reflective of the average Parisian dinner, as cool minimalism and outrageous art is not the table at which Hong Kongers usually eat. What’s worse is the galling fact one can have amazing restaurants but terrible cuisine at large – just visit Moscow, or dare I say it, Berlin whose wonderful places to eat – and the extensive waiting lists that reflect that – are like diamonds sold in naff catalogues for Argos. After 50 years of communist austerity.

germany.jpgwww.tomb.net

But of course Michelin has its Bibs Gourmands, nods of approval to places that cost below $40 a head. Though even then, the vibrant street food of Shanghai, market stalls of Fez, food vans of LA, or hole-in-the-walls of Hong Kong –although lightly covered- would still sorely miss out, some of the best tasting options on the planet, but heavily penalized on their non-existent, obsolete ‘ambience’ and ‘service’ ratings.

If a fork falls and a Michelin critic is not there to hear it, does it make a sound?

rattsploid.gizmodo.com

Okay enough of this kitkat break. Next up:

The World’s Biggest City

The world’s most diverse city

And what about those who choose to stay rather than just visit? Not just tourists or business travelers, but those who uproot themselves to new shores and new lives? Is not the plurality and mix a wonderful measure of a city? Old and new, native and non Native, an array of food, languages, art, faiths, dress, and cultures to choose from, to fall in love with, to intermarry or not. The cross cultural pollination, the exchange of ideas and fumbling body fluids, is not why people move to cities in the first place?

nyee.jpg

theessenceofnewyork.wordpress.com

The title of world’s most cosmopolitan place can go by sheer numbers, or by percentage – in multiple categories. New Yorkers claim the most languages in the world (over 800), and most people period with foreign and/or non-White ancestry at 10 million in the metro, of which 5.65 million are foreign born. Then LA city region pipes up with its 4 million-strong Latino majority, and whopping NYC with a 75-78% foreign and/or non-White ancestry, plus a 4.4 million (24%) strong foreign born contingent. Then the two cities have a pissing contest over the fact it’s rightly or wrongly skewed by the sizeable Mexican contingent.

la

www.cnbc.com

Meanwhile Londoners like to point out they have more communities (50 – 85 depending on the size), 500 languages in a single school let alone bothering to count the rest, and that they don’t/ cannot count ancestry in the same way as the States anyhoo, especially as being Black American or Latino American, hell even Native American for the past 300 years does not make you foreign in ancestry, or cosmopolitan in culture, well according to more European terms. If you’ve been there that long you are from there indubitably. Furthermore White Britons tend to identify within a generation as White British despite foreign extraction whether they be Irish, Lithuanian, Egyptian or Azeri, in contrast to the US where for example Irish, German, Israeli (read: Jewish) and Polish Americans will still identify as such after several generations. 55% of Londoners are nevertheless ‘non-British non -White’, 40% foreign born (counting 4.2 million in the metro), 35% non White and the remainder 45% ‘native’ White Londoners – if one were to go by American style rules – share one third Irish ancestry, and an overlapping half have French. So there. London’s practically of 108% foreign ancestry na na na naa.

Confused yet?

london

Then the Torontonians weigh in with even more communities albeit on smaller numbers – but with ever higher percentages. Sod London’s ‘hidden’ ancestries, 89% fully do not identify as being of Canadian extraction (though tellingly 23.4% claim British extraction, similar to US style). Despite this, in terms of foreign born it still has 2.8 million foreigners in the metro – leaving the others behind, with 46% foreign born. NYC, London and LA metros suddenly look weedy at their respective 23-24% foreign born marks. Numbers, numbers, more numbers.

toront

www.blogto.com

Cue the smaller arrivistes with similar stats – Stockholm (23%), Amsterdam (27%), Oslo (31%),  Zurich (31%), Melbourne (35%), Auckland (39%), Sydney (40%),  Singapore (43%), Rotterdam (45%), The Hague (48%), to the upper stratospheres of Brussels (at 62%) – all of whom have ‘hidden’ ancestries from afield to add on top.

brussels

But then two words: the Middle East. Cities like Amman and Beirut are now made up of majority diaspora populations (the biggest hosts for both Palestinians and more recently Syrian refugees, transposed on an already multicultural population made up of successive waves of Twentieth Century migrants, in turn transposed  on cities built on millennia of passing trade and conquest). More controversially there are the Israeli controlled cities of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – does one consider Israeli Jews from across the 20th Century world – or Palestinians – for that matter, non-native?

Another two words: Gulf States. Cities like Riyadh and Meccah already up there with the likes of London and New York with 35-40% foreign born, but the next level up is… wow, just wow.

Kuwait City  counts about 75% foreign born. Similarly 80% for Abu Dhabi, and higher still – 85% for Dubai, with a quarter of the remainder being of Iranian extraction. The main communities are Indian (51%), Pakistani(16%), Bangladeshi(9%), Filipino (3%), and Somali (1.7%), so a bit skewed to one country, yet still these 2009 figures are even higher nowadays (as the emirate’s population has grown a whopping  42% in only these 7 years, mostly through undocumented immigration).

duba

Meanwhile Doha gets pretty up there- coming in at a screeching 92% foreign born, with hundreds of thousands each from a wider range across Asia and Africa – India 25%, Nepalis 18%, Filipino 9%, Egyptian 8.1%, Bangladeshi 6.8%, Sri Lanka 4.6%, Pakistani 4.1%, with an equally large smattering of Western ‘ex-pats’ (not to be confused with economic migrants or ‘immigrants’ in this data no, of course not, NO).

So we may have found a winner. Doha, Qatar:

doha

www.justhere.qa

Or have we? Just what makes a city cosmopolitan or multicultural?

What if a city is staunchly multicultural but is strictly segregated? The Israeli – Palestinian wall, and checkpoints. The workers dormitories of the Gulf, although improved still open to exploitation and the grate of being forever ‘guest workers’. The segregation index that puts much of the US at levels approaching Apartheid era South Africa – and worsening. The divided ghettos of Brussels, Britain’s northern cities and banlieues of Paris. Do we see this as ‘cosmopolitan’? Do we celebrate its ‘diversity’?

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Take New York City for example. National Geographic published a wonderfully detailed ethnic map of the city in one publication during the 90s, but despite all its demographic thrills revealing to all the levels of self and imposed segregation. It’s not like New Yorkers universally hate each other or don’t hang out (though a century’s worth of racially biased zoning laws and income prohibitions didn’t help), but they have the choice to live in their ethnic enclaves should they wish, where they can speak, eat, shop, dress, build a community and have their kids attend the schooling relevant to their background.

But what the graphic revealed was shocking to the extent people unilaterally opted for this, where every neighbourhood was 85-98% of one ethnic group, so strictly delineated one could cross from say an 89% Hispanic neighbourhood to a 95% White  (read: non-Latino White that is) neighbourhood just by crossing the street. Paris and its rings of notorious banlieues too comes close. Like New York it suffers that ethnicity also correlates with race, with the broad  rule being the darker you are the lower your position in society. More recent maps show how the 2001 Census stated that segregation was at pre-Civil Rights levels, and getting worse:

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Things have improved since those dark days but the self segregation is still there.  London has a much better track record, despite its community High Streets the ethnic map reveals no single minority predominates despite the city being over 55% non native. At a glance it looks majority native from the green glow, but notice it’s not a strong glow. Ergo half of each place is a mix of other races.

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The largest minority majority is in fact Central Slough ward in the metro, that’s 80% Pakistani. That’s still a far cry from New York where that’s below the norm for much of the city, or for that matter other British cities that have seen segregation and economic lines drawn, resulting in race riots as recent as 2001.

Don’t always believe the hype, London is no racial nirvana as yet (averaging 44 hate crimes a day, rising to 72 post-Brexit, which is a norm for many Western cities), and its wonderful mixing is a result of both native and foreign waves of communities bucking the media-driven or institutionalised racism, rather than any government policy.

In fact local councils were staunchly divisive to begin, following a ‘multicultural’ format rather than enforcing the ‘melting pot’ theory – the postwar waves arriving from the Caribbean and South Asia being housed in separate communities cheek by jowl with the traditional working class, and given complete freedom of religion, language, schooling, dress and culture. All in a hope they’d develop separately, making smelly food and piercings and bat voodoo in enclosed communities while still propping up the job market, NHS and transport. They did not have to swear to a flag or even speak English.

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The result a generation later was the complete opposite to that intended effect: intermarrying at the highest levels in the West, and drawing equal to or surpassing native performance in schools, higher education and jobs, and identifying as ‘feeling British’ -at least 85%- at double the rates in neighbouring France, where French language, dress and customs were enforced. The result was clearly that people are much more likely to identify with a culture if they’re not forced to do so.

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The UK is one of the few countries where for once the darker your skin the more you earn (South Asian men and Black women forming the highest tiers of society), bucking decades of the opposite trend. There are however still racial tensions, pushed glaringly to the fore by a decade of tabloid xenophobia that culminated in Brexit, and still institutionalised or subconscious prejudice (anglicised name on a CV anyone?). But the main thing that seems to be propelling London’s inordinate success is rather anticlimactically, the housing market, or to be more specific the notorious UK/London property bubbles – no one can totally afford to choose where they live, or who their neighbours are. To conclude, given half the chance I am sure Londoners would willingly segregate like other areas of the country; just they don’t have the luxury of choice,  deciding on whom they deem familiar enough to share a garden wall, a fag and a chat with.

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Which brings us to another question: do they have to be foreign born or of foreign extraction to emit these ions of exotic cosmopolitanism?

The world’s diversity index measures sub Saharan Africa, SE Asia and India as by far the most culturally diverse places in the world, even putting immigrant nations such as USA, Brazil or Australia into the shade.

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Places like Sudan speak 200 languages, Nigeria 520. Indonesia, with its national motto – unity through diversity – has 388 ethnic groups over 13,000 islands (by comparison Europe’s 750 million people and multitude of nations hosts 87 ethnicities). Ethnic maps across these regions look as multi-coloured and complex as psychedelic splatter art, coursing from Africa, through the Middle East, to Central South and SE Asia in intricate whirls, splashes and eddies that would make Pollock blush.

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India, land of 1.2 billion, speaking for three millennia no less than 122 main languages and 1600 minor ones (not to be confused with dialects that would count into the thousands), with a few thousand tribes and ethnic groups – plus 3000 castes, and 25,000 sub-caste groups, is a black hole on the map. It’s just too complex and impossible to record onto paper. And any one of its main cities would hold a few thousand of these groups.

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Make a nod to China too. When the call for National Minorities came to register in 1953 no less than 180 tried  – though only 56 had made the cut by 1979. The rest got lumped into one and the same as the ‘Han’ ethnicity, which overnight became the world’s largest, despite their differing DNA, 300 languages, distinct cultures, dress, religions, histories and looks. The main cities may hold a majority of Han (and representatives from each of the 56 officialised groups), but they speak disparate languages and live in distinct communities, from the tanned Sea Gipsies of the South China seas to the semi-nomadic, fort building Hakka, to the Polynesian sourcing Hainanese.

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Finally. Three words: PNG. Papua New Guinea, now we’re talking. 840 distinct languages (half of which are completely unrelated to each other), and thousands of dialects. Each unique thanks to 600 isolated islands and countless mountain- valley systems that have bred 37 major ethnic groups, hundreds of smaller ones and several thousand tribal ones, each isolated from their neighbours in dress, language, religion and culture. It’s mind bogglingly complex for only 7 million people. Gargantuan even.

So there it is. Port Moresby. Capital of the World.

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Continued: The World’s Greatest Food City