State Street parade, Chicago
This morning I found myself musing about temporary cities – cities that live powerfully in our memory and imagination, perhaps shaping and defining our view of the world, but cities that nonetheless come and go.
Burning Man, an annual arts event, in the Nevada desert
Some of these have been celebratory cities. Perhaps the most notable of these was the White City, conceived by Daniel Burnham and colleagues for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.
1893 World’s Columbian Exposition
And of course some of these have been concocted out of catastrophe, to meet urgent needs until permanent solutions can be constructed.
Tsunami refugee camp, Chennai, India
FEMA Katrina trailers
A related class of city, perhaps less temporary but always circumstantial and provisional, is the shantytown, the squatter’s community, the slum. In Mumbai, authorities often bulldoze whole segments of the city’s shantytowns, but they are immediately reconstructed. Over a million people live in the shantytown called Dharavi alone, where rent is around $4 a month. Dharavi has an internal economy that generates between $500m and $600m annually.
I was listening to a panel discussion of slum and shantytown experts recently. One of them said that by the year 2030, nearly one third of the world’s population will live in a shantytown. That certainly offered me a bit of perspective on temporary cities, and the roles they play in our city lives.
Dharavi, in Mumbai, India, one of Asia’s largest shantytowns