Rana Dasgupta on the new-found glamour of the Third World City:
These are the early symptoms of a huge shift in the west’s perception of the world: the third-world metropolis is becoming the symbol of the “new”. This is all the more thrilling for its improbability: surely, those suffocating slums are too exhausted, too moribund, to bring forth futures? Yet it seems to me this is exactly what is happening. If, for the better part of the 20th century, it was New York and its glistening imitations that symbolised the future, it is now the stacked-up, sprawling, impromptu city-countries of the third world. The idea of the total, centralised, maximally efficient, planned city has long since lost its futuristic appeal: its confidence and ambition have turned to anxiety and besiegement; its homogenising obsession has induced counter-fantasies of insubordination, excess and life forms in chaotic variety. Such desires find in the third-world metropolis a scope, a speed, a more fecund ecology.
…and what lies beneath the fascination:
This brings us to the most perverse suspicion of all. Perhaps the third-world city is more than the source of the things that will define the future, but actually is the future of the western city. Perhaps some of those tourists who look to the third world for an image of their own past are reflecting uneasily on how all the basic realities of the third-world city are already becoming more pronounced in their own cities: vast gulfs between sectors of the population across which almost no sympathetic intelligence can flow; gleaming gated communities; parallel economies and legal systems; growing numbers of people who have almost no desire or ability to participate in official systems; innovations in residential housing involving corrugated iron and tarpaulin. But perhaps we are not yet ready to contemplate the possibility that our sudden desire to map the universe in books and films is because it will orient us better for survival in London, New York or Paris.