Daily Archives: May 8, 2010

Megacities of the world: a glimpse of how we’ll live tomorrow

Christian Science Monitor | May 5, 2010

By Harry Bruinius Harry Bruinius

New York – On a teeming street in Mumbai’s Dharavi slum, amid a colorful swirl of sweet lime carts and red-clay pottery, Pastor Bala Singh brings an assortment of buckets to retrieve his daily ration of water. The indoor spigot he uses provides water only three hours a day. It is the only source for the six small homes on his street, and each family has 30 minutes to fill its containers.

Pastor Singh is not complaining, though. Things are greatly improved from when he first immigrated to Dharavi – the most crowded part of one the world’s most crowded cities. “The roads were muddy,” he says from his second-floor office, above the popping sizzle of a man welding, sans protective gear, downstairs. “Now they put down bricks.” Singh ministers to a small congregation that meets above the church-sponsored kindergarten where his wife has taught for 17 years. Though relatives have begged him to come home to Tamil Nadu, 700 miles east, he has no plans to leave.

“Three times I tried to go back to my native place,” the pastor says, explaining that there were no jobs there. “I don’t want to live here … but God’s plan is different.”

Singh’s migration to the city, a combination of divine impulsion and the simple need to work, is part of what could be called an epic trend affecting billions of people worldwide. Sometime in 2007, for the first time in human history, more people began to live within the cacophonous swirl of cities than in rural hamlets or on countryside farms.

It’s a fundamental shift that may be altering the very fabric of human life, from the intimate, intricate structures of individual families to the massive, far-flung infrastructures of human civilizations. In 1950, fewer than 30 percent of the world’s 2.5 billion inhabitants lived in urban regions. By 2050, almost 70 percent of the world’s estimated 10 billion inhabitants – or more than the number of people living today – will be part of massive urban networks, according to the Population Division of the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

These staggering statistical trends are driving the evolution of the “megacity,” defined as an urban agglomeration of more than 10 million people. Sixty years ago there were only two: New York/Newark and Tokyo. Today there are 22 such megacities – the majority in the developing countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America – and by 2025 there will probably be 30 or more.

Consider just India. Though the country is still largely one of villagers – about 70 percent of India’s 1.2 billion inhabitants live in rural areas – immigration and internal migrations have transformed it into a country with 25 of the 100 fastest-growing cities worldwide. Two of them, Mumbai (Bombay) and Delhi, already rank among the top five most populous urban areas.

In the “developed” countries of the West, this trend had been building since the Industrial Revolution, which sparked, relatively quickly, the exponential growth of cities seen today. The quest for “efficiency” and the corresponding divisions of labor generated technological innovations that obliterated the need for farm laborers and local artisans. This drove populations from the country to the city over time and transformed the plow and the hoe into mere tools for backyard gardeners.

Today, on average, 3 out of 4 people living in modern industrialized states are already building their lives within an urban area – a ratio that will jump to more than 5 in 6 by 2050. By contrast, today in the least-developed regions of the world, more than 2 out of 3 people still eke out a living in a rural area. For these people, even the slumdog existence in places like Dharavi can offer more opportunities than their villages ever could. And within these developing regions, according to UN-HABITAT, cities are gaining an average of 5 million new residents – per month.

“Most of these [urban immigrants] couldn’t earn cash in their rural situations,” says Chuck Redman, director of the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University in Tempe. “There’s not as much of a cash economy there, but they still want cash to buy radios and mobile phones or TVs – or even send their kids to school, which costs money in many of these countries.”

Call it the lag of modernity: The changes wrought by industrialization began slowly 200 years ago, accelerated through the 20th century in the West, and now are spreading exponentially around the globe. Many observers see great promise in this urbanizing trend: The efficiencies of cities can cut energy consumption up to 20 percent, transportation costs for goods and labor can drop significantly, and entertainment industries can thrive when millions live together. In other words, cities are giant cash machines, the primary locus of economic growth.

“Some companies look at this as a huge opportunity,” says Fariborz Ghadar, director of Penn State’s Center for Global Business Studies and the author of a book on megacities. “We’re going to build roads, we’re going to build buildings, and [tech companies] love this because you can put the Internet in concentrated cities much more efficiently.”

Yet, as megacities evolve in the developing world, many groan under the weight of a sudden, massive, and unprecedented demand for services never seen in the West. The basic necessities of clean water, of sanitation systems to remove megatons of garbage and human waste, of transportation systems to shuttle millions of workers, not to mention the need for electrical networks, health-care facilities, and policing and security, are, simply put, creating one of the greatest logistical challenges ever seen in human history. And this is even before factoring in the challenges of climate change, terrorism, and the preservation of human dignity.

Mexico City: on a bowl of pudding

An orange metal elevator heads deep into the bowels of Mexico City, where a crew of technicians and engineers is inspecting a 900-ton machine, longer than a football field, that burrows through a muddy mélange of rock, silt, and water. It’s the first stage of the city’s plan to build a massive new tunnel that officials hope will relieve the pressures on Mexico City’s drainage system.

Nearly 1,000 feet into the passageway, made up of adjacent rings each composed of concrete slabs weighing some 4 tons each, the air is thin. Oxygen roars in through a tube, providing relief for those working on the project’s edge. Workers crawl along scaffolding, crouching under an Erector Set of tanks and pipes that pump out water and hurl the deep-earth’s rock and mud to the surface.

Their task is to prevent large portions of Mexico City, one of the world’s most populous megacities, from catastrophic flooding. The area’s growing population has placed demands on water supplies that are simply unsustainable. Its 20 million residents have laid down an urban jungle that obstructs water from naturally filtering into the ground.

Today, the city is sucking up water from the natural aquifers at twice the rate they are being replenished. The result: Mexico City is sinking, in some areas up to 16 inches a year, threatening its entire infrastructure. This includes the city’s deteriorating drainage system, whose capacity has diminished by 30 percent since 1975 while the area’s population has doubled.

“It’s an alarming situation,” says Felipe Arreguin, the technical general subdirector at Mexico’s National Water Commission (Conagua), which is building the drainage tunnel. “We are taking [out] so much water, the city is sinking. What if an entire block were to go under?”

It nearly has. In 2007, a giant sinkhole swallowed a large swath of a busy street. At Revolution Monument, a water pipe installed over 75 years ago now stands near nearly 30 feet above ground. Given Mexico City’s history as a “floating city” in the middle of a lake, it’s no surprise that water is what vexes most urban planners here. When the Spaniards arrived to conquer the great Aztec Empire, the mode of transportation was not horses but canoes. Today, the city sits essentially on a bowl of pudding. Jose Miguel Guevara, the general coordinator for water supply and drainage projects at Conagua, calls this basin a giant “saucepan,” with no natural exit for the torrential rains that fall each year. But these drainage problems and the corresponding threats of catastrophic flooding belie one of the great ironies of its urban plumbing. When it comes to water, the city is also facing the kind of shortages that plague the rest of the globe. Mexico City, which sits at an altitude of over 7,300 feet, must pump water up 3,000 feet to reach residents. Last year it had to ration water after one of the worst droughts in six decades. The drainage program includes plans for treatment plants to turn runoff into clean water for use by farmers.

These problems, and the enormously complex engineering and plumbing challenges they create, reveal a much larger global concern. Like Mexico City, megacities around the world must find ways to control runoff while providing clean water for millions of inhabitants. With 1.1 billion people – or 18 percent of the world’s population – now lacking access to safe drinking water, according to the World Health Organization, governments of developing countries need the money and know-how to build massive public works.

In São Paulo, Brazil, for instance, planners are struggling to cope with a drainage system that was built when the city was a fraction of its current size. Poor maintenance has left much of it clogged, while forest and parkland have given way to haphazard housing in many areas of the world’s third-largest city. Now there are fewer green areas to soak up incessant rains.

“Irregular construction and expansion have taken place in areas that the rain runs into, and, as the weather has been so bad over the last six months, these areas that act as natural reservoirs have become flooded,” says state meteorologist Marcelo Schneider. “Now they are occupied, but people shouldn’t really be there. It is the poor that suffer.”

Beijing: The commute that never ends

Zhao Ning lives just outside Beijing’s Fifth Ring Road, one of the massive concentric expressways that circle the center of China’s second-largest city. She wakes up at 5:30 a.m. each workday morning, quickly puts on makeup, and then rushes out to catch her first bus for her interminable commute to work. She barely has time for breakfast.

She transfers to a second bus, which takes her to the subway. Then she transfers twice more, needing three different lines to make her way to another bus that will take her to her office in northwest Beijing, where she is the associate director of an American study-abroad program. The subway system is only two-thirds the size of New York’s, but it carries the same number of daily commuters, more than 5 million.

“Each day I spend four hours on the road,” she says. “It is very exhausting and it puts so much pressure on me, especially in the morning.”

Despite Beijing’s modern, well-kept web of beltways and feeder roads into the city, driving is not an option now for Ms. Zhao, even though she and her husband own a car. Like most sprawling megacities, traffic – and the resulting, oft-reported pollution problem – is a constant urban plague. More than 4 million cars jostle along Beijing’s roadways, with nearly 1,300 added every day, according to the city’s Traffic Management Bureau. In April, the city began to adjust the working hours for nearly 810,000 of these commuters, hoping to alleviate the morning and evening rush.

When Zhao once tried to drive, her car was quickly entombed in traffic. “I was so worried – like an ant dancing in a hot pan,” she says, using a classic Chinese expression. “Since then I haven’t driven to work.”

Indeed, along with water and sanitation, the challenges of mobility virtually define the growth of megacities. At the same time, they reveal the profound social and political upheaval the world’s transition to city life can create. Cities bring economic growth and the expansion of the middle class. Members of the middle class want to own property – homes and, increasingly, cars.

That is certainly the case in São Paulo. Brazil’s economy has grown enormously over the past few years and a full 15 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product is based here. The country’s family aid programs and a progressive government have helped more than 20 million people become middle-class since 2000. Big-ticket items like cars and houses are now within reach. More than 600 additional vehicles hit São Paulo’s roads every day.

“One of the main characteristics of the city is that it grows horizontally,” says Dr. Marcel Solimeo, the chief economist of the São Paulo Commercial Association, an interest group. “Housing is further and further away, and jobs are concentrated in the city center. The amount of time we spend getting to work is enormous.”

The city and state have added bus lanes, and authorities have put restrictions on trucks and other big vehicles. But it is the city’s nascent rail system that holds the key to easing gridlock on the roads. São Paulo currently has just 37 miles of rail line. The city hopes to expand that sevenfold by the time it hosts the soccer World Cup in 2014

“All investments were based on cars, but that is starting to change and the focus is moving towards organizing public transport,” says Antonio Carlos Barrossi, an urban expert at the University of São Paulo. “Now it is about people. It is late, but it is important.”

A major problem confronting expanding cities is how to graft new subways and sewer systems onto existing neighborhoods. In China, authorities have tried to circumvent that by creating entire cities from scratch. As part of the government’s aggressive urbanization program, it has poured large resources into building new communities, especially deep within the mainland. In fact, many of the most educated Chinese professionals on the coast have never heard of cities in their own country, some with populations the size of Houston.

In 1980, only 51 cities with more than 500,000 people existed in China, according to UN figures. Since then, that number has jumped to 236. By 2025, the UN estimates, China will add 100 more cities to this group, as it pursues moving millions of rural peasants into vast urban networks. And with its robust rate of economic growth, China has the money to pursue the theorem, “If we build it, they will come.” Its centralized political system also makes it easier to plan new urban networks without significant resistance.

India, by contrast, is a democracy that must confront layers of competing political interests as it plans new large-scale projects for its megacities. The building of the Bangalore airport, finished just last year, took more than 15 years to plan and develop, and many consider the process a disaster.

Yet the massive migration to cities is causing challenges beyond taxed sewer systems and tribal politics. Mumbai, for instance, is experiencing the arrival of 500 newcomers a day, many of whom compete with locals for jobs. This has caused a backlash among regional politicians, who are trying to pass laws to preserve work for area residents.

“While European cities are struggling with multiculturalism [from other countries], we are coping with cities that have huge proportions of internal migrants – and internal migrants who are still diverse,” says Amita Bhide, an urban expert at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai.

In China, the effects of massive urbanization may be more political. As its middle class grows, the freedoms that come with greater wealth could put more pressure on Beijing to open up its political system.

For now, though, people like Zhao are simply enjoying the allure of urban life. “I think the most attractive thing about big cities like Beijing is the invisible halo it brings to me,” says Zhao. “My friends back home think I’m amazing that I can survive and even have a good life in a big city like Beijing.”

Tokyo: the megacity that works

Zhao’s friends raise a basic question: As the world tilts inexorably urban, will the megacities of tomorrow even be livable? Experts point to cities like Lagos, Nigeria, as the kind of urban beehive that doesn’t work – traffic, untold pollution, the lack of even the most basic services.

Yet other megacities have certainly found the right blend of concrete and urban cachet. Most notable is the world’s largest urban conglomeration – Tokyo. Though the multitudes in Tokyo proper are shoehorned into a relatively small area, the city consistently ranks near the top in surveys of the world’s most livable places. It boasts high-quality goods and services, a wealth of world-class restaurants, and an enviable choice of museums, galleries, and architectural wonders.

But its near-faultless transportation system may be the most impressive and efficient means of public mobility ever built. Many residents cite the ease with which they can explore their city as a primary reason Tokyo is a desirable place to live.

“You can be anywhere in the city within an hour, easily,” says Mami Ishikawa, a university student.

Outside Shinjuku Station, the busiest train station in the world, a swarm of 3.64 million commuters per day spill out onto the streets, seemingly in unison, via countless exits and well-designed traffic lights. Innovative “cycle trees,” multilevel mechanized parking lots for cyclists, make it simple to get around without a car.

Yet Tokyo’s urban efficiency is due as much to social factors as it is to its transportation system and technological prowess. “Cultural aspects, such as the Japanese penchant for order, respect for social rules and norms, and reluctance to intrude on others’ private realms is also very important to minimizing friction,” says Julian Worrall, an expert at Waseda University.

Undeniably, Tokyo has its challenges: high costs, dense living, patience-sapping gridlock for those brave enough to drive. Mr. Worrall points to aesthetic deficiencies, too – the spread of high-rise condos, the lack of urban space devoted to something other than consumption and production.

Maybe so. But to someone like Pastor Singh, who has to line up each day in Mumbai just to get water, those might seem like petty annoyances.

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Ahmadinejad: ‘Osama bin Laden is living in Washington’

“He’s there. Because he was a previous partner of Mr. Bush.” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad  Photo: REX FEATURES

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s President, has denied reports that Osama bin Laden is in Tehran and insisted that the al-Qaeda leader is, in fact, in the US capital of Washington.

Telegraph | May 5, 2010

“Rest assured that he’s in Washington. I think there’s a high chance he’s there,” the Iranian leader told ABC television in an interview.

Without backing up the claim, the Iranian leader said he had “heard” that bin Laden was in the US capital.

“Yes, I did. He’s there. Because he was a previous partner of Mr. Bush,” he said referring to former President George W. Bush.

“They were colleagues, in fact, in the old days. You know that. They were in the oil business together. They worked together. Mr bin Laden never co-operated with Iran but he co-operated with Mr. Bush,” Mr Ahmadinejad said.

He added that, at any rate, US officials ought to know the extremist Islamic leaders whereabouts.

“The US government has invaded Afghanistan in order to arrest bin Laden. They probably know where bin Laden is. If they don’t know he is, why did they invade? Could we know the intelligence?” he asked ABC.

“First they should have tried to find his location, then invade, those who did not know about his location first they invaded and then they tried to find out where he is, is that logical?”

Osama bin Laden ‘living in luxury in Iran’

Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted man, is living in the lap of luxury in an apartment in Iran and spends his time falconing, according to a new documentary.

Telegraph | May 5, 2010

Far from huddling in a cave in Afghanistan fearing for his life, the al-Qaeda leader has been enjoying the protection of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard with his wife and children since 2003, the film Feathered Cocaine asserts.

The documentary features Alan Parrot, one of the world’s foremost falconers, who claims that bin Laden, an avid falcon hunter, has been taking part in the sport relatively freely in Teheran, Fox News reports.

Mr Parrot, who was once the chief falconer for the Shah of Iran and who has worked for the royal families of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, used his contacts in Iran to talk about bin Laden’s life there.

He took two Icelandic filmmakers, Om Marino Arnarson and Thorkell S. Hardarson, into the secretive world of falconers where some birds can sell for over $1 million, and in which the elite of the Middle East conduct business and politics in remote desert camps.

One contact, said to be a warlord from the country’s north, claims to have met bin Laden on hunting trips six times since 2003.

He said that the terrorist leader was calm, healthy and so comfortable that “he travels with only four bodyguards.”

Mr Parrot told Fox News that the warlord, who supplies the falcon camps bin Laden visits on hunting forays, agreed to talk only because one of Mr Parrot’s men had saved his life.

“This was the repayment,” Mr Parrot said. “He was asked to talk. He wasn’t happy about it.”

The last confirmed meeting between bin Laden and the warlord was in 2008, Mr Parrot said.

“There may have been more since then, but I haven’t talked to my source since we left Iran,” he said.

Parrot’s story is supported in the documentary by former CIA agent Robert Baer, an outspoken critic of US policy in the Middle East on whom the film Syriana is based.

. . .

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Website exposes names of Freemasons to show “The full extent of masonic influence”

Freemasons’ names published on website

Western Mail | May 5, 2010

by Martin Shipton

A DIRECTORY containing the names of 13,000 Welsh freemasons has been published by an investigative website.

It is the first time such an extensive list has been made publicly available.

Rebecca, a magazine set up by Paddy French in the 1970s, has been resurrected this month as an online publication.

French, a former senior current affairs producer with ITV Wales, said: “The full extent of masonic influence will never be known until the identity of all freemasons is revealed. There are a quarter of a million masons in England and Wales, and Cardiff alone has 65 lodges [branches].

“The governing body, the United Grand Lodge of England, holds computerised registers and it would be a simple matter for them to place these online.

“At a stroke this would make freemasonry completely respectable. Time and time again, the United Grand Lodge has refused to give information to Rebecca.”

The directory, which lists about two-thirds of freemasons in Wales, includes the names of police officers and prominent lawyers.

As well as written journalism, the website will show video investigations.

A trailer for Rebecca TV: Brothers In The Shadows

. . .

THE FULL extent of masonic influence will never be known until the identity of all freemasons is revealed.

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Pope’s ally probed over child sex abuse claims

Bishop Walter Mixa  Photo: REUTERS

A close friend of Pope Benedict XVI who has already offered to resign after admitting that he hit children in his care is now being investigated over allegations of paedophilia.

Telegraph | May 7, 2010

Prosecutors in the southern city of Augsburg said that they had opened a preliminary probe into Walter Mixa after media reports said he had been accused of sexually abusing a boy while bishop of Eichstaett between 1996 and 2005.

The 69-year-old bishop for weeks rebuffed allegations that he beat children at a Roman Catholic orphanage in the 1970s and 1980s. But, in the face of several sworn statements from his accusers, the bishop from the Pope’s native Bavaria later admitted that he “may have” slapped the children while a priest. On April 21 he tendered his resignation after admitting giving youngsters in his care “a slap in the face or two”, which he said was “completely normal back then.”

The scandal has badly damaged the standing of the Roman Catholic Church in Germany, and also of the Pope, whose appointment five years ago as leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics was a source of great national pride.

The Augsburger Allgemeine daily cited a lawyer for Bishop Mixa, long known as a hardliner who in February blamed sexual abuse of children by priests in part on “the so-called sexual revolution”, as rejecting the latest accusations.

The diocese of Augsburg said it had alerted prosecutors to the accusations in line with new German Bishops’ Conference guidelines following sharp criticism that the Church had not done enough to investigate in the past.

The pope has yet to respond to Bishop Mixa’s offer to quit.

Margaret Thatcher: The Queen should have last word on hung parliament


Margaret Thatcher refuses to speak publicly about the implications of a hung Parliament out of respect for the Queen. Photo: REX

Margaret Thatcher keeps her counsel on hung parliament out of respect for the Queen.

Telegraph | May 7, 2010

by Tim Walker. Edited by Richard Eden

While David Cameron is deluged with advice on the dangers of jumping into bed with Nick Clegg, the most respected voice in his party has decided to keep her counsel.

Baroness Thatcher will refuse to speak publicly about the implications of a hung parliament out of respect for the Queen, says her son.

“She knows it isn’t for her [to speak out], and there is a lot to be said at the moment for keeping one’s own counsel,” Sir Mark Thatcher tells Mandrake. “My mother has the utmost respect for the monarch.”

The 2nd baronet says his mother is sanguine about the result of the general election, which saw Cameron achieve a swing towards the Tories almost as big as that which propelled her into Number 10.

“She has always taken the view that general elections aren’t about what the people want, but what is on offer to the people,” he said.

In 2008, Lady Thatcher told me that Gordon Brown was the “greatest weapon in the Tory party’s armoury”.

Alastair Campbell’s magic

The most ill-tempered performance of election night was by Alastair Campbell, the former “spin doctor” to Tony Blair, who used an interview with Adam Boulton to attack media “bias” against Gordon Brown.

He abused the Sky anchorman, who is married to Blair’s former “gatekeeper” Anji Hunter, in the most personal terms.

The exchange prompted Kelvin Mackenzie, a former editor of The Sun, to joke that Campbell, an ex-alcoholic, had indulged in exotic substances.

“I’ve never smoked ‘magic cigarettes’,” he said, angrily.

Tessa Jowell’s Botox jibe to Joan Collins

As she celebrates increasing her majority in Dulwich and West Norwood, Tessa Jowell might be advised to steer clear of Joan Collins.

The minister chose to comment on the youthful appearance of the actress, 76, at an election party hosted by the BBC.

After the broadcaster switched from an interview with Collins to the studio guests, Jowell, 62, was compared to the actress. “Without the Botox,” she said, cattily.

Tim Montgomerie’s quick change

Tim Montgomerie, the bearded co-editor of the Conservative Home website, chastised journalists traditionally supportive of the Tories for “ill-discipline” during the election campaign and made clear that he wanted “no noises off”.

But before the results had all been declared he took to the airwaves to criticise the campaign and David Cameron’s style of leadership.

How can anyone take him seriously?