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The Future of Cities

A Guernica special issue.

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Illustration by Jason Arias.

When Ingrid Rojas Contreras writes about Bogotà, in which peace seems as impossible as snow, she reminds us that the “myth of the city is immured in each generation’s view of the past.” And so in The Future of Cities, our second special issue of the year, we also look backwards. And consider the struggles of those before us: for peace, for clean air, for justice.

What we find are cities grimed by human hands: by pollution and greed, by corruption and terrorism, by neglect and artificiality, by brutal colonization and apartheid and war. In “Cities of the Future,” ten writers use the past to meditate on the futures of the cities they call—or once called—home. Alas, some of these forecasts are grim: Kaya Genç imagines a day when Istanbul’s “protean transformations will be complete, when this capital of syntheticity will outgrow nature and all things natural”; Rachel Holmes sees a Cape Town forever aching from apartheid, in which “domestic workers, gardeners, security guards, waiters, and shop assistants are squeezed into basements, storage, and ‘servant’s quarters’”; Frederic Tuten laments the deterioration of New York City, whose future is a “homogenous enclave, with only one class and those who commute to serve them.” And Daniel Saldaña París describes the boa constrictor—“the hyper-diversification of narco-capitalism“—that he fears will soon strangle Mexico City.

Yet, strikingly, many of these accounts also see hope, with humanism as their foundation: Xiaolu Guo dreams of an unpolluted future in which “residents of Beijing can walk in the fresh air without masking their faces”; of New Delhi, Rana Dasgupta writes that “the dull culture of superiority will be reanimated with a much-needed jolt of modernism”; Salar Abdoh describes a Tehran that will “stop an express bus far from its station for a lost guest.” Dan Sheehan will watch from afar as “the door to a better future for thousands [is] thrown open” in Dublin, as the constitutional ban on abortion is lifted; and Etgar Keret imagines peace in Tel Aviv, a city “that continues to draw to it many who still believe we can build a better future through action and not just through prayer.”

In “Where There Is No Water and Nothing Grows,” Sunil Yapa recounts a trip he took with his father to Port-au-Prince and its neglected suburbs. Here, too, is humanism: “If the reason Haiti suffers is just bad luck, some voodoo curse, then maybe we bear no responsibility,” he writes, “and better yet, maybe we can confine it to some distant dimension.” And Roberto Lovato travels to Paris after the deadliest attacks in France since World War II. He reflects on the hot air balloons that once “elevated humanity to breathtaking new heights” in late-eighteenth-century Paris, and reconciles this levity with the heaviness of the massacre, along with his own family’s homeland of San Salvador, now “the most violent place on earth.”

In interviews, Ann Deslandes talks with city planner Theresa Williamson, whose many years of work in Rio have brought her to understand the city’s favelas as marginalized, stigmatized communities whose urban informality actually fosters “creative, community-based solutions.” Gemma de Choisy interviews Kenyan journalist Cynara Vetch about the state of postcolonial Nairobi and the multimedia campaign to promote the work of the Kenyan women who are at the center of the city’s political, economic, and artistic boom. And Heather Radke speaks with the Chicago-based urban design team Place Lab about its transformation of abandoned buildings into useful, community-serving spaces, and the artist behind the “do-tank,” Theaster Gates, whose work is devoted to “space and race and blackness.”

In art, Nicole Miller speaks with ICP curator Charlotte Cotton about an exhibition that explores the lines between public and private, voyeurism and surveillance, collective exhibitionism and narcissism. And Jill J. Tan interviews artist Jave Yoshimoto about his paintings of contemporary disasters, both natural and man-made, in Japan, Nepal, and New York. Yoshimoto’s work is, at its heart, humanist: “I think it’s worth caring about the human spirit. We can overcome any adversity if we choose to.”

In “Friend of the Indians,” a short story by Theodore McCombs, a man brokers ancient and abandoned Spanish towns. In Arthur Diamond’s “DOB,” two “good workers”—one American, one Russian, and both employees of the Department of Buildings—show up at a man’s doorstep to deliver a complaint against him. And in poetry: Cynthia Dewi Oka’s “Migrant Is Not a Metaphor” and sam sax’s “Labor Day.”

In this issue:

Features:

Sunil Yapa: Where There Is No Water and Nothing Grows

Roberto Lovato: Rich Eyes and Poor Hands

Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Dan Sheehan, Kaya Genç, Xiaolu Guo, Salar Abdoh, Frederic Tuten, Daniel Saldaña París, Rana Dasgupta, Etgar Keret, Rachel Holmes: Cities of the Future

David L. Ulin: Trespass



Interviews:

Beautiful Objects, Blighted Spaces: Heather Radke interviews the members of Place Lab

Women, Winning: Gemma de Choisy interviews Cynara Vetch

Opportunity for the Unknown: Ann Deslandes interviews Theresa Williamson

Moments in Eternal Cities: Sara Elkamel interviews Tamer El Said



Art:

A Changeless Place: Jill J. Tan interviews Jave Yoshimoto

Surveillance Revisited: Nicole Miller interviews Charlotte Cotton



Fiction:

Theodore McCombs: Friend of the Indians

Arthur Diamond: DOB



Poetry:

Cynthia Dewi Oka: Migrant Is Not a Metaphor

sam sax: Labor Day

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  • Rich Eyes and Poor HandsRich Eyes and Poor Hands The Future of Cities: In the aftermath of the most recent attacks in Paris, the writer considers a city wavering between gravity and light.
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  • Beautiful Objects, Blighted SpacesBeautiful Objects, Blighted Spaces The Future of Cities: The Chicago-based urban design team on rebuilding neighborhoods, gentrification, and the “magic” of Theaster Gates.

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