Sunday, 28 July 2013

Density and intensity...about the modern city.

This is Shanghai from Rob Whitworth on Vimeo.

OK it's a great video intended to show the City at its best, it doesn't include the dark side, the bad buildings, the deprivation, the people without papers living on the fringes of developments. But it shows a city that's alive - buzzing with activity and opportunity (often despite the preferences of the stifling People's Republic bureaucracy).

Contrast this with the images we see of Detroit - emptyness, dereliction, inactivity and a poverty of spirit that seems to scream out; "there is no hope."

Whatever we do to make our cities work, it's clear that density and intensity are essential. And that this doesn't come from the managerialism of government, from licenses, controls and taxes. As one observer points out about Detroit:

[The] per capita tax burden on City residents is the highest in Michigan. This tax burden is particularly severe because it is imposed on a population that has relatively low levels of per capita income.

The City’s income tax… is the highest in Michigan.

Detroit residents pay the highest total property tax rates (inclusive of property taxes paid to all overlapping jurisdictions; e.g., the City, the State, Wayne County) of those paid by residents of Michigan cities having a population over 50,000.

Detroit is the only city in Michigan that levies an excise tax on utility users (at a rate of 5%). 

The answer - or perhaps something that just gives cities a chance to succeed - is to allow them to chop taxes, to tear up regulations and to prefer that crowded wonder of the market to deliver growth. The secret lies in allowing people to do things rather than finding reasons to stop them. To let people have the fruits of their own success to spend, to invest, to play with. And to eschew the planning and second-guessing that municipal authorities so love.

In Shanghai there's a fantastic model of the city showing how it will be in the future. However, almost from the moment of its completion this half-acre model was out of dat - no maglev, no new city and a seemingly endless parade of identical tower blocks. Shanghai show that, even with planning, a city can fight back and deliver growth, change, innovation and excitement.

The most frightening thing here is that we see pride, excitement, dynamism and change in China - a communist state - and dereliction, destruction, depression and decay in the land of the free. And that should be a wake up call to us all.

However much we wish to pretend otherwise, too much of our 'regeneration' does not work.


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