Tuesday, May 08, 2007

May you live in interesting places

Remember Ryan Heath? He's the young Australian writer who last year claimed that Australia had no world city. Sydney, he thought, couldn't compare with places like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Sydney was old, white and easy, whereas the Brazilian cities were colourful, crazy and out of control. They were more interesting.

Australians, added Ryan, were too chauvinistic and deluded to follow the Brazilian lead in building world cities:

The truth is that Australia doesn't really have a world city - and it's too deluded to realise what it needs to do to create one.

Reading the morning papers in the aftermath of the 2005 London bombings, I was struck by the faces of London. Thirty-two of the 39 photos of victims that stared at us that next morning were under 35 and looked like the United Nations. That's when I realised what a real "world city" is. It's not easy; it's not white; it's not old. It's crazy and colourful and out of control in a way I don't recognise in Australia. Sydney isn't the fifth column after New York, London, Tokyo and Paris ... Sydney is middle-ranking and miles ahead of its Australian rivals at that.

Indeed, it takes no great leap of the imagination to put Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro or Johannesburg on the same footing as Sydney. But it's a real challenge for white chauvinists to think that a Portuguese-speaking city might be more interesting.

So what is life like in these "interesting" Brazilian cities? Maybe a little too interesting according to a recent report by Amnesty International:

Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo have reached a tragic impasse. Criminal gangs – be they drug factions, death squads or para-police – have rushed to fill the vacuum left by the state, balkanising the cities into a patchwork of violent fiefdoms. The crumbling prison system has incubated sophisticated organised crime rings. The police themselves have been left vulnerable to attack, weakening their ability to play their part in protecting Brazilian citizens. Meanwhile, poor communities continue to suffer – hit by stray bullets, placed under effective curfew during police operations, and extorted by militias or traffickers.

The AI report goes on to discuss the recent history of São Paulo:

Over nine days in May 2006, 493 people were shot dead in São Paulo State ... On 11 May, the first day of the violence, the criminal organisation known as the PCC shot 7 policemen dead, and wounded a further 8. The following day rebellions spread through the prison system, many involving hostage taking ... By the end of the second day, 22 police officers and five prison guards had been shot dead. Gang members, including some of the over 12,000 inmates on temporary release for Mother’s Day, were now sowing panic in the city, burning buses, throwing grenades and hand-made bombs at banks, police stations and public buildings. São Paulo was gridlocked by a 100km tailback as people tried to get out of the city centre, where many of the attacks were taking place. Small businesses and shopping centres closed, public transport shut down, school children and university students stayed at home.

As for Rio:

In 1999 Anthony Garotinho took office as governor of Rio de Janeiro promising to introduce profound reforms to combat years of spiralling criminal violence ... But when Rosinha Matheus Garotinho (wife of Anthony Garotinho, and his successor as governor of Rio de Janeiro) ended her term in office in December 2006, Rio was still mired in violence. Seven years on the homicide rate was still running at over 6,000 deaths a year, with official statistics for killings by police hovering around the 1,000 mark per year. Drug factions were entrenched in most of the city’s favelas as well as dominant in the prison system. The police were resorting to increasingly militaristic approaches to public security, including the sporadic use of the armed forces. Corruption and criminality remained embedded in law enforcement agencies. And in a more recent development which threatens to further destabilise the city, para-policing groups or "milícias" have begun contesting control of favelas in the vacuum left by the state.

Do we really want to create more of these world cities, these mini-UNs, in which outbursts of violent crime are met with equally violent repression?


  1. The truth is that Australia doesn't really have a world city - and it's too deluded to realise what it needs to do to create one.

    Dear God!

    Do we care?!!

  2. Lyl, not me.

    The only "world city" worth having has a history, character and life of its own so that it forms its own world, rather than being an unstable, internationalist mishmash of everything.

  3. Just checking but are you suggesting that the chaos and insanity of Rio and Sao Paulo are a function of multi-culturalism or the "mini-UN" look to it? Trust me if sydney was the city on the way to the USA for trade of drugs things would probably be just as violent. Drugs pay big bucks and many people white or not will do horrible things to gain control of the drug market.

    That said I agree, people tend to vilify the "white" towns and white culture. I see it all the time in Toronto, especially from whites! I don't know why people worship multiculturalism so much. It dilutes the very thing that they want to promote...anyways thats all. peace

  4. No, Mark, I didn't think you would care!

    What amazes me is why such people could think that anyone else would care about their opinions.

    The only "world city" worth having has a history, character and life of its own


    I don't know why people worship multiculturalism so much.

    It's the pretty colours and the yummy food.