Monday, February 23, 2009

Journey Into the Urban Jungle

Last year the UN released a report that by the end of 2008 more than half of the world's population would live in cities.  For the first time in history most humans will be urban dwellers.  The UN projects that by 2050 more than 70% of the population will live in urban areas even though cities cover just 3% of the Earth's land surface.  Urban growth is being driven by the developing world where Asian and African cities are growing by a million people a week.

Right now I am struck by the idea of the urban jungle and how it is actually denser and more impenentrable than the real jungle.  The truly remote places of the next century won't be in the rural wilderness but in the urban underbelly.

Here is a link to a National Geographic article about the UN's report.

About the photo:  I took this photo in the spring of 2005 in the back alleys of Islamic Cairo near Khan al Khalili.  Click on the photo to enlarge and you can really see a lot of things going on in this street scene.  This photo is especially timely as last night a bomb went off in Cairo not too far away from where this photo was taken.

Mapping a Route

I've been able to put together a rough plan for the route I'm going to take for the first leg of the trip.  I'm going to the Indian subcontinent first because it is the most dense with fast growing cities.  Several cities on the list are close together and the railway system connects most all of them.

After entering in Mumbai, I'm going to head north to Surat in Gujarat.  Surat is interesting because most of the world's diamonds move through there against the backdrop of incredibly fast growing urban slums.

From Surat I'll make my way north to Delhi to the fast growing satellite cities around the indian capital.  I'll have to spend some time in Delhi to get an entry visa for Bangladesh.

From Delhi its a long train ride to Calcutta where I'll catch the 'Maitree (Friendship) Express', an international train from Calcutta to Dhaka that just started running in 2008. After Dhaka I'll move on to Chittagong to finish off the first leg.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The start of a trip that will take me around the world

I am beginning a journey to find the fastest growing cities in the world. I don't know my full plan but I know that I have a plane ticket and visa to India to start out. I plan on going to the slums and shantytowns on the urban outskirts that are driving the growth in these places to see if I can pick up on the hum of the people's story there.

So far I've used statistics as my guide to plan out an itinerary. City Mayors - - has published a list of the projected fastest growing cities from now to 2020 using UN statistics and regional growth projections.

The top 20 cities on the list:

1) Beihai, China
2) Ghaziabad, India
3) Sana'a, Yemen
4) Surat, India
5) Kabul, Afghanistan
6) Bamako, Mali
7) Lagos, Nigeria
8) Faridabad, India
9) Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
10) Chittagong, Bangladesh
11) Toluca, Mexico
12) Lubumbashi, Congo
13) Kampala, Uganda
14) Santa Cruz, Bolivia
15) Luanda, Angola
16) Nashik, India
17) Kinshasa, Congo
18) Nairobi, Kenya
19) Dhaka, Bangladesh
20) Antananarivo, Madagascar

I'm going to travel to as many of these cities as my funding will allow . I am travelling alone and trying to experience the street vibration of these places and see if there is some common thread that links them and put it together into a book. Growing up, my hometown was on its decline; its heyday was in the 1920's making brooms and carpets. I've always wanted to experience what it must have been like when it was filled with the hustle of growth in 1900 and 1910; I've wanted to experience that vibration of a place that is bursting at its seams.

The nerves and self doubt that come with planning a trip like this can feel overwhelming on a bad day, but right now I have to jump and not think too much. The starting place will be in India and Bangladesh because there are several cities relatively close together on the Indian sub-continent.

About this photo:  This photo was taken in the summer of 2007 from a rooftop in Pahar Ganj in New Delhi.