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Feral Cities

One of the podcasts I’ve been enjoying as of late its Tim Harford’s Pop Up Ideas from the BBC. In the latest episode David Kilcullen talks about feral cities (direct MP3 link), which essentially flip the idea of the failed state on its head, suggesting that it’s not the state that fails the city, but rather the city that fails the state (the podcast has a deeper explanation). Here’s a bit more from a short New York Times piece on the idea from a few years ago:

Richard Norton, a Naval War College scholar who has developed a taxonomy of what he calls feral cities, says that there are numerous places slipping toward Mogadishu, perhaps the only fully feral city nowadays. As public services disintegrate, residents are forced to hire private security or pay criminals for protection. The police in Brazil have fallen back on a containment policy against gangs ruling the favelas, while the rich try to stay above the fray, fueling the busiest civilian helicopter traffic in the world (there are 240 helipads in S-o Paulo; there are 10 in New York City). In Johannesburg, much of downtown, including the stock exchange, has been abandoned to squatters and drug gangs. In Mexico City, crime is soaring despite the presence of 91,000 policemen. Karachi, Pakistan, where 40 percent of the population lives in slums, plays host to gangland violence and to Al Qaeda cells.

July 27, 2013 // This post is about: , , , , , ,


  • Elenor says:

    What a fascinating way to view the world. I’ve never heard of the term “feral city” but I think it is a construct that deserves much thought. The notion that society will find untraditional ways to function when government fails makes so much sense I’m surprised this is the first time I’ve heard of it, or thought of it. In Somali it happened because rural people flooded the capital and government was unable to react quickly enough. That can happen anywhere and finding solutions is fascinating work. Something the UN could tackle if it was a constructive, organized presence in the world. I could see multi-national teams being outplaced to Mexico City, Dakka or Mogadishu to work on transportation, education, communication, water delivery, etc. My trip to Brazil leads me to believe that Sao Paulino’s would be very eager to participate in transportation solutions, for example, with a team of experts from around the world.

    Fascinating idea, Noah, thanks for sharing it!

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