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World Cities, urban nightmares?

Tower block in mumbai
Mumbai is embracing tower blocks to re-house slum dwellers.

BBC Radio 4's Analysis: Global Cities is broadcast on Thursday 20th November at 20:30 GMT and repeated on Sunday 23rd November at 21.30 GMT.

It's 7.30 am on the sub-tropical railway platform in Virar, 40 miles north of Mumbai. 3,000 people are shoving, screaming and leaping in the fight for a seat on the commuter train. Stock traders jostle with street cleaners, on a three hour return journey to work.

It's about winning. The idea that you can have a city that is truly a metropole such as London is something that people want to boast about
Wally Olins

It's a scene repeated across the world's existing and aspiring "world cities" - the poor and middle class priced out of the glitzy centre, increasingly geared towards the needs of global corporations.

For Analysis, Mukul Devichand looks at how and why cities across the world are making uncannily similar choices about housing patterns and architectural styles. From New York to Shanghai, Manchester to Sao Paulo, cities are competing for economic supremacy and globalised services.

Commuters infront of Canary Wharf
Are global financial centres such as London a wise model to emulate?

He shuttles between three so-called "world cities," reporting from London, Delhi and Mumbai. In Delhi, Chief Minister Sheila Dixit is remarkably candid, claiming her city has the right to repeat the mistakes of London's housing policy - tower blocks and gentrification - as it gears up for the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

Mukul interviews Professor Saskia Sassen, whose writings on the "global city" have become hugely influential. She describes how London and New York were rejuvenated by globalisation during the Thatcher-Reagan era.

Now it's a stock-market city, an entertainment city, a service economy city. In this Bombay, they don't want the poor

Raju Korde

But Professor Sassen maintains there has always been a downside, with inequality creating a declining quality of life for the poor. Mukul asks if these downsides are a necessary sacrifice for the wealth these cities generate.

In Mumbai, Mukul visits shanty towns slated for demolition and asks officials what they intend to do about the urban poor. He visits New Bombay - a development meant to alleviate the worst effects of globalisation.

banra kurla dharavi development in Mumbai
A new commercial development next to Mumbai's slums.

In Delhi, he rides the new metro and explores the city's growing social polarisation. Mukul brings out the remarkable parallels between the transformation of Asian cities, and the legacy of London - where City Hall is now desperately working to create more affordable housing.

Probing into questions of governance and justice in urban planning, Mukul asks if the race to build "world cities" is really wise. In these times of global recession and the collapse of financial markets, he asks how existing and aspiring "world cities" can manage a more livable urban future.

Presenter: Mukul Devichand
Producer: Simon Coates
Editor: Hugh Levinson

Coming up

Frances Cairncross examines what lessons must be learned from the seismic shocks of the credit crunch and how they will affect us all.




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