Creative destruction, or destructive creations? Part 1, out with the old?
When you demolish an urbanized informal or ancient settlement, are your motives pure or impure?
Guilty or innocent?
If you are Robert Mugabe, the answer is clear: it’s slow genocide by bulldozer.
If you’re the City of
If you’re the City of
I’ll just take my house and walk
What about Kashgar, in
- Benevolent. Altruistically protecting a precious microcosm from earthquake and calamity?
- Malevolent. Cynically using the language of urban redevelopment to wipe out culture and political opposition?
Reader, it’s up to you to form your own view.
The evidence is divided, as revealed in this New York Times article:
To Protect an
Of course the Times, while pretending to dispassion, makes little secret of its sympathies, starting with its headline echoing the infamous Vietnam-Era apocryphal quote: “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”
The town of
KASHGAR, China — A thousand years ago, the northern and southern branches of the Silk Road converged at this oasis town near the western edge of the
On the Asian side of the vast mountains dividing the formerly-Soviet stans from western
The traders are now joined by tourists exploring the donkey-cart alleys and mud-and-straw buildings once window-shopped, then sacked, by Tamerlane and Genghis Khan.
Alley in kashgar
Now, Kashgar is about to be sacked again.
Sacking sounds the same theme of violent ravaging.
Portrait of Genghis Khan, 1226
Kashgar Uighur, 2009
Nine hundred families already have been moved from Kashgar’s Old City, “the best-preserved example of a traditional Islamic city to be found anywhere in central Asia,” as the architect and historian George Michell wrote in the 2008 book “Kashgar: Oasis City on China’s Old Silk Road.”
Sweeping the streets of Kashgar
Over the next few years, city officials say, they will demolish at least 85% of this warren of picturesque, if run-down homes and shops.
Demolition is deemed an urgent necessity because an earthquake could strike at any time, collapsing centuries-old buildings and killing thousands. “The entire Kashgar area is in a special area in danger of earthquakes,” Mr. Xu said. “I ask you: What country’s government would not protect its citizens from the dangers of natural disaster?”
A quake could well be devastating:
Kashgar officials do have good reason to worry about earthquakes. Last October, a 6.8 magnitude quake struck barely 100 miles away.
A Richter 6.8 quake could do enormous damage, as proven by the one that struck L’Aquila,
A gentler earthquake and better buildings, but still devastating
In 1902, an 8.0-magnitude quake, one of the 20th century’s biggest, killed 667 residents.
Undoubtedly it would kill many more today, with the cities more dense.
Urban reconstruction during
When their homes are destroyed, the local community will have to be relocated:
Many of its 13,000 families, Muslims from a Turkic ethnic group called the Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gurs), will be moved.
Would you live there? Kashgar’s new high-rises
Aside from the loss of a unique historical legacy, the focus of a group calling itself Protect Kashgar old town, there’s the potential destruction of a whole community, a fragile yet sophisticated web of people that I have called, after the hardy desert plant life, cities’ cryptobiotica:
Slums are economically rational, they serve a natural market purpose within cities. To see them as the byproducts of evil landlords or shiftless residents is to miss the point. Slums will disappear only when the conditions that make them sensible disappear, and that is a function of government plus time.
And they serve a purpose, most particularly the purpose of forming urban society.
How? By harnessing the wetware credit bureau, the slum community’s distributed intelligence and knowledge.
The ladies of savings co-operative Mahila
Slums, whatever else they may be, elevate the human element above all other considerations. Slums are people living together in unbelievable proximity, knowing about each other and holding that knowledge inside themselves.
Urban renewal, if done badly – and it was mostly done badly – destroys that knowledge. The community is blasted, and the results echo those in desert areas, as described by the U. S. Geological Survey:
Loss of soil also means loss of site fertility through loss of organic matter, fine soil particles, nutrients, and microbial populations in soils (Harper and Marble, 1988; Schimel et al., 1985). Moving sediments further destabilize adjoining areas by burying adjacent crusts, leading to their death, or by providing material for “sandblasting” nearby surfaces, thus increasing wind erosion rates (Belnap, 1995; McKenna-Neumann et al., 1996).
In other words, if you trample it, it dissolves into nothingness in an instant, and you cannot put it back together again.
Cobblers in Kashgar: can they ply their trade in high-rises?
Desert cryptobiotica gets crushed because it cannot speak.
Beware the wrecking ball, my son.
Unlike cryptobiotica, people can speak.
Mumbai: they’re against displacement
Slumdwellers can speak; in the voting booth wealth disappears. People who live in slums are just as smart as any of us. Even though individual slumdwellers are as nothing politically, when they join together and take control of their vote bank potential, they become a force that the highest officials respond to.
Sometimes the voice is anger and destruction.
Just as government is a factory that produces two products (money and laws), politics is a game with two counters, money and votes. Individually, slumdwellers can be ignored; they are effective only when collective.
The Chinese government envisions a shining
In its place will rise a new Old City, a mix of midrise apartments, plazas, alleys widened into avenues and reproductions of ancient Islamic architecture “to preserve the Uighur culture,” Kashgar’s vice mayor, Xu Jianrong, said in a phone interview.
Critics fret about a different disaster.
“From a cultural and historical perspective, this plan of theirs is stupid,” said Wu Lili, the managing director of the Beijing Cultural Protection Center, a nongovernmental group devoted to historic preservation. “From the perspective of the locals, it’s cruel.”
What will rise in its place, and why?
[Continued tomorrow in Part 2.]