“The City Is Full of Oppression”
WHEN the Bible prophet Ezekiel referred to a city “full of oppression,” he knew nothing about the problems that plague today’s cities. (Ezekiel 9:9, An American Translation) Nor were his words a cryptic way of foretelling these problems. Nevertheless, what he wrote would be an accurate description of 20th-century cities.
The book 5000 Days to Save the Planet noted: “Stark and sterile, our cities have become ugly to live in and ugly to look at. . . . The buildings that increasingly dominate our cities have been built with little or no consideration of those who must live and work in them.”
Unflattering Facts About Cities
Nine cities, located in various parts of the world, have been described by newspapers and magazines as follows. Can you identify each city by its correct name?
City A, located in Latin America, is noted for its young contract killers and high homicide rate. It is also known as the home of a drug cartel.
City B is “the worst city in the [United States] for street robberies.” During the first two months of 1990, killings were “up 20 percent from the same period” the year before.
“Several million people a year move to the urban centers of South America, Africa, and Asia . . . , migrating toward their vision of the promised land.” Not finding it, many are forced to live in poverty, reduced to begging or stealing in order to survive. Half the citizens of African City C and Asian City D—as well as 70 percent of Asian City E—reportedly have substandard living quarters.
“While [City F] is among the safest large urban centers in North America, growing unemployment, a rising crime rate and ethnic animosity have made its citizens wonder about the downside of success. Crime . . . has deflated the city’s spirits. Sexual assaults are up 19% . . . Murders are up almost 50%.”
“Every day 1,600 people move to [Latin American City G] . . . If [it] continues to grow at this pace 30 million people will live there by the end of the century. They will struggle through the city at a snail’s pace in 11 million cars, trapped in traffic jams for hours at a time . . . Air pollution . . . is a hundred times the acceptable level. . . . Forty per cent of all residents suffer chronic bronchitis. . . . During peak traffic hours the noise level in the city center climbs to between 90 and 120 decibels; 70 decibels is considered unbearable.”
“Each day 20 tons of dog droppings are picked up from the streets and sidewalks of [European City H]. . . . In addition to the cost and nuisance, a more serious factor has come to light. Dog waste is the source of a disease caused by the parasite Toxocara canis. Half the children’s play areas and sandboxes of [the city] were found to be contaminated with the highly resistant microscopic eggs of the parasite, which enter homes on the soles of shoes and on the paws of household pets. . . . Fatigue, abdominal pain, allergies, heart and arterial problems are early symptoms of the disease.”
“Although [Asian City I] is afflicted with all the problems of an overdeveloped metropolis in an underdeveloped country—poverty, crime, pollution—it has begun to establish itself as one of the capital cities of the 21st century.”
Exceptions or the Rule?
Were you able to identify these cities by their proper names? Possibly not, because none of the problems referred to are unique to any one city. Rather, they are symptomatic of what is wrong with almost every city of any size in the entire world.
City A, according to the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung is Medellín, Colombia. The number of murders dropped from 7,081 in 1991 to “only” 6,622 in 1992. Still, reports the Colombian daily El Tiempo, during the past decade, almost 45,000 persons have died there by violent means. Various civic groups are therefore presently trying hard to clean up the city and improve its reputation.
The identification by The New York Times of City B as New York City probably comes as no surprise to people who have visited there in recent years and most certainly not for its citizens.
The figures given by the German magazine Der Spiegel regarding the number of people living in conditions of poverty in Nairobi, Kenya (C), Manila, Philippines (D), and Calcutta, India (E) indicate that more people are trapped in unsavory living quarters in these three cities alone than live in entire affluent European countries such as Denmark or Switzerland.
City F—Toronto, Canada—was described in 1991 by Time magazine in an article somewhat less flattering than the one it published three years earlier. The first report, entitled “Finally, a City That Works,” praised the city that “impresses almost everyone.” It quoted a visitor as having said: “This place could almost make me believe in cities again.” Sorry to say, the “city that works” is apparently now falling victim to the same problems that afflict other degenerating cities.
Although speaking of City G as “one of the most handsome and stylish cities in the Americas, and one of the most sophisticated,” Time magazine nevertheless admits that this “is the Mexico City of the rich, of course, and of the tourists.” Meanwhile, according to World Press Review, the poor huddle together “in one of the capital’s 500 slums” in barracks “hammered together of industrial rubbish, cardboard cartons, wrecked cars, and stolen building materials.”
City H is identified by the French weekly magazine L’Express as Paris, which, according to The New Encyclopædia Britannica, “for hundreds and hundreds of years, by a process never successfully explained, . . . has radiated an enchantment irresistible to millions around the world.” In the face of serious problems, however, some of the enchantment of “Gay Paree” has faded.
Of City I, Time says: “Once seen romantically by the West as the drowsy, dreamy capital of old Siam, a ‘Venice of the East,’ today’s quicksilver city of angels and golden temples is Asia’s latest boomtown.” Even its angels and its temples have failed to prevent Bangkok, Thailand, from becoming, at least for a time, “the world capital of the sex trade.”
Taking a Closer Look at Cities
A decade ago a journalist noted that although large cities seem to “share the same crises, each has a character of its own, and thus a special way of struggling for survival.” In 1994, cities are still struggling, each in its own way.
Not everyone thinks the struggle for survival has been lost. A former Toronto mayor, for example, expressed optimism, saying: “I don’t think the city is breaking down. It is challenged, but I think we can solve this problem.” True, some cities have successfully met, or at least alleviated, certain of their problems. But this required much more than just optimism.
Last January journalist Eugene Linden wrote: “The fate of the world is entwined with the fate of its cities.” For better or for worse, cities have shaped our world, and they continue to do so. Also, whether ancient or modern, they have affected us personally—probably more than we might imagine. That is why their survival is intricately tied in with ours.
Taking a closer look at cities, then, is not simply for the purpose of enhancing general knowledge. More important, it will alert us to the precarious situation in which the world now finds itself. So let us begin “Taking a Closer Look at Cities.” We hope this six-part Awake! series will interest, edify, and encourage our readers. Despite serious world problems—on spectacular display in our cities’ struggle for survival—all is not without hope!
[Blurb on page 6]
“The fate of the world is entwined with the fate of its cities.”—Writer Eugene Linden
[Picture on page 7]
Traveling from city to city may be easy, but solving their problems is not