Boredom in a Globalized World

At the center of the city of Kashgar, on the far western edge of China, is a city of twisting streets lined by mud and brick buildings dating back centuries, to when Kashgar was a trading post along the Silk Road. The Chinese filled in a moat to create a ring road back in the 1980s, and built a highway through the middle of the historic center a few years later, but this historic urban core remained largely intact until recently. Today, Party officials in Beijing have issued a death sentence to historic Kashgar, citing earthquake-preparedness as an excuse for removing the largely Muslim population and leveling the neighborhood house by house as the residents leave.

I've never been to Kashgar; and yet, I find this news deeply disturbing. Reading a recent New York Times article about the Kashgar "redevelopment" on the heels of Katia's post about the planned clearance and "redevelopment" of Dharavi yesterday got me thinking about the effects that clearance projects have on the sociocultural fabric of our cities, and wondering what local changes might signal in the broader context of globalization.

China and India are the undisputed leaders of the pack in the developing world; anyone looking to learn about how globalization will affect cities in our rapidly globalizing world should look no further than the massive metropolises of these rising giants. Slum clearance is the name of the game in cities of all sizes in both of these countries; in places like Kashgar, such projects break up ethnic and cultural enclaves, spreading their tightly-knit populations across the sprawling, newer areas on the edge of the city. Drew's post on Monday pointed out the danger in not making room for smaller, less commercially-viable artistic and cultural scenes: when the grassroots scene dries up, the entire city's cultural cachet declines. Or, as Richard Florida likes to quote Jane Jacobs as saying, "When a place gets boring, even the rich people leave."

What happens to a globalized city when it becomes boring? Could the decline of cultural diversity eventually undermine growing economic centers? Looking beyond the effect of cultural shifts on cities, what happens to a country in a globalized world when that country becomes boring?

As they become more economically established, India and China are edging in on the cultural and economic dominance of the United States and the EU; what happens to the West once these two juggernauts are operating at full tilt? It's possible that everything will go smoothly. It's also highly unlikely. And with plenty of countries lining up for their chance at some record-growth years (think: Brazil, Turkey, Iran, Vietnam, Malaysia), it's the West that's getting increasingly "boring," to extend the metaphor.

Perhaps that's why the destruction of a place that I've never seen is so disturbing to me: in a globalized world where cities are the new neighborhoods and countries the new cities, the cycle of cultural turnover could eventually make entire regions irrelevant at a pace we've never seen before. It's important to remember that, while many cities are benefitting greatly from the effects of globalization, there is something to be said for keeping some aspects of culture local.

(Photos from Flickr users nakamamin and sake.vanderwall. The original full-sized versions can be viewed by clicking the photo.)

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