Ian Christie, on crowds

250px-Jubilee_crowdThe great US novelist Don Delillo wrote in his book MAO II that ‘the future belongs to crowds’. And he didn’t mean that in a good way. The August riots of 2011 gave a sense of what a grim future of crowds could be like. But in 2012 I found myself twice in enormous, benign, multi-cultural crowds that needed barely any policing or cleaning up in their wake. One was in the Strand on the Sunday of the Diamond Jubilee, and the other was in the middle of the London Olympics. There is something very moving about being in the midst of a peaceful crowd, where the better angels of our nature are in control, and strangers mingle in the justified expectation that they can trust one another. For a moment it felt like a whole city was building social capital in front of your eyes, as in the famous barn-raising scene in the Amish film Witness. We can do it if we try…

Joe Ballantyne, on Brasilia

1813895617_8135099eb1I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Brasilia earlier this year. The Brazilian capital has an interesting history: construction started in 1956 and was completed in less than 4 years. The city was designed as a rational, modernist alternative to the chaos of Rio and Sao Paulo. Brasilia’s design divided it into numbered blocks and sectors for specific activities (the hotel sector, the embassy sector, the bank sector), and in some ways represents a 1950s view of what the future should look like. The place reminded me more of Los Angeles than any Latin American city.

Brasilia is most associated with the architect Oscar Neimeyer, and many of his buildings really are spectacular. But – to my eyes – the goal of creating somewhere more efficient, safe and clean than the urban chaos of Rio or pollution of Sao Paulo was only partly successful: the city design over emphasised the car at the expense of pedestrians or public transport, has limited usable public space in the centre, and lacks a lot of the density, complexity and chaos that – as Jane Jacobs or Edward Glaeser argue – create a durable and vibrant city life. And the residents seem to agree, too: my plane out was full of civil servants escaping to the unplanned excitement of Rio.

The photo of National Congress of Brazil, Brasilia Senate & Chamber of deputies is by (c) Julian Weyer, and comes via The Mid-Century Modernist blog, which has a dazzling collection of further images of Brasilia by Weyer. The photo of the crowds on the mall is from Wikimedia. Both are used with thanks.

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