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In a world changing faster now than ever before, the dispossessed and the ambitious are
flooding into cities swollen out of all recognition. Poor cities are struggling to cope.
Rich cities are reconfiguring themselves at breakneck speed. China has created an
industrial powerhouse from what were fishing villages in the 1970s. Lagos and Dhaka
attract a thousand new arrivals every day. In Britain, central London’s population has
started to grow again after 50 years of decline.
We have more big cities now than at any time in our history. In 1900, only sixteen had
a population of one million; now it’s more than 400. Not only are there more of them,
they are larger than ever. In 1851, London had two million people. It was the largest
city in the world by a long way, twice the size of Paris, its nearest rival. That version of
London would seem like a village now. By the official definition, London has getting
on for eight million people, but in practical terms, it’s a city of 18 million, straggling
most of the way from Ipswich to Bournemouth in an unforgiving rash of business parks
and designer outlets, gated housing and logistics depots.
Having invented the modern city, 19th century Britain promptly reeled back in horror
at what it had done. To the Victorians exploring the cholera-ridden back alleys of
London’s East End, the city was a hideous tumour sucking the life out of the
countryside and creating in its place a vast polluted landscape of squalor, disease and
crime. In their eyes, the city was a place to be feared, controlled and, if possible,
Such attitudes continue to shape thinking about the city. Yet, like it or not, at some
point in 2008, the city finally swallowed the world. The number of people living in
cities overtook those left behind in the fields. It’s a statistic that seems to suggest some
sort of fundamental species change, like the moment when mankind stopped being
hunter gatherers and took up agriculture.
The future of the city has suddenly become the only subject in town. It ranges from
tough topics such as managing water resources, economic policy, transport planning,
racial tolerance and law enforcement to what is usually presented as the fluffier end of
the scale, such as making public spaces people want to spend time in and deciding the
colour of the buses. But it is this diversity which powerfully affirms the city as
mankind’s greatest single invention.
For all their agonies, cities must be counted as a positive force. They are an engine of
growth, a machine for putting the rural poor onto the first rung of urban prosperity and
freedom. Look at London, a city that existed for several centuries before anything
approximating England had been thought of. It has a far stronger sense of itself and its
identity than Britain as a whole or England. It has grown, layer on layer, for 2000
years, sustaining generation after generation of newcomers.
You see their traces in the Spitalfields district, where a French Huguenot chapel
became, successively, a synagogue and a mosque, tracking the movement of waves of
migrants from poverty to suburban comfort. London’s a place without an apparent
structure that has proved extraordinarily successful at growing and changing. Its old
residential core, sheltering in the approaches to its Tower of London fortress, has made
the transition into the world’s busiest banking centre. Its market halls and power
stations have become art galleries and piazzas. Its simple terraced streets, built for the
In this passa ge, the jour nalist Deyan Sudjic, writing in
The Observer
newspaper in March
2008, considers the irresistible growth of cities in the modern world.
Page three
clerks of the Great Western Railway in Southall, have become home to the largest Sikh
community outside India.
And all of these worlds overlap in space and time. London is different for all its people.
They make the most of the elements in it that have meaning for them and ignore the
rest. A city is an à la carte menu. That is what makes it different from a village, which
has little room for tolerance and difference. And a great city is one in which as many
people as possible can make the widest of choices from its menu.
The cities that work best are those that keep their options open, that allow the
possibility of change. The ones that are stuck, overwhelmed by rigid, state-owned
social housing, or by economic systems that offer the poor no way out of the slums, are
in trouble. A successful city is one that makes room for surprises. A city that has been
trapped by too much gentrification or too many shopping malls will have trouble
generating the spark that is essential to making a city that works.
Successful cities are the ones that allow people to be what they want; unsuccessful ones
try to force them to be what others want them to be. A city of freeways like Houston or
Los Angeles forces people to be car drivers or else traps them in poverty. A successful
city has a public transport system that is easy to use; an unsuccessful city tries to ban
A successful city has room for more than the obvious ideas about city life, because, in
the end, a city is about the unexpected, about a life shared with strangers and open to
new ideas. An unsuccessful city has closed its mind to the future.
Glasgow is a city which has experienced constant change and adaptation, from its
period as a great industrial city and as the Second City of Empire, to its latter day
reinvention as the City of Culture and the Second City of Shopping. This is a city
with pull, buzz, excitement, and a sense of style and its own importance. It has a
potent international reach and influence. Glasgow’s story continually weaves in and
out of a global urban tapestry: following the trade threads of Empire, there are nearly
two dozen towns and cities around the world named after Glasgow—from Jamaica to
Montana to Nova Scotia. And there is even a Glasgow on the moon.
Glasgow’s constant proclamation of its present success story is justified on the basis
that it benefits the city: confidence will breed confidence, tourists will visit, businesses
will relocate and students will enrol. But, despite the gains this approach has brought
for Glasgow and cities like it, there are signs that the wind is starting to come out of the
sails. What felt radical when Dublin, Barcelona and Glasgow embarked on the city
makeover path in the late 1980s and early 1990s, now feels derivative and is delivering
diminishing returns. When every city has commissioned a celebrity architect and
pedestrianised a cultural quarter, distinctiveness is reduced to a formula.
Yet “official” Glasgow continues to celebrate its new-found status as a shopping mecca
and top tourist destination, revelling in the city’s new role as a place for conspicuous
consumption, affluent lifestyles and global city breaks. There are several problems
with this. One is that this is a city with historic and deep inequalities, a city of sharp
The following passage is adapted fr om
The Dreaming City,
a report about Glasgow’s future
produced by a political think tank in 2007.
Page four
divisions in income, employment, life chances and health. Another is that it can be
seen as promoting a way of living that is unsustainable in terms of people’s
disposable income and growing levels of debt. And yet another problem is the
clutter of cities on the world-class trail with the same familiar formula supporting
their campaign—shopping, tourism, mega-events, cultural events, iconic
architecture and casinos—leaving little room for distinctiveness.
The politicians and the Establishment talk the language of “opportunity”, “choice”
and “diversity” for the people of the city, but do not really believe in or practise
them. They impose a set menu, rather than the choice offered “à la carte”,
confident that they know best. For all the rhetoric about new ways of working,
partnership and collaboration, there can still be a very old-fashioned top-down
approach in parts of institutional Glasgow that retains a faith that experts and
professionals must hold all the answers. There is an implicit belief that people are
poor because of low aspirations and Glaswegians are unhealthy because they won’t
accept responsibility, make the right choices and eat healthily.
This dichotomy between the powerful and the powerless undermines the whole
concept of the “resurgence” of cities such as Glasgow. At the moment, the city and
its people only come together for mega-events such as the Commonwealth Games or
City of Music bids. The question is whether this unity can be mobilised in a more
sustained way. There is an urgent need to find some new shared values and vision to
help bridge the gap between the city and its people—to close the gap between the
cities people want and the cities people get.
Questions on Passage 1
Read lines 1– 6.
) Explain which groups of people are being attracted to cities.
) Show how any
examples of word choice in this paragraph emphasise
the impact of the growth of cities.
Referring to lines 7–14, explain
ways in which “That version of London
would seem like a village now” (lines 10 –11).
Show how the writer’s use of language in lines 15–20 conveys the Victorians’
disgust at the city they had created. You should refer in your answer to such
features as imagery, word choice, sentence structure . . .
In lines 21–25, the writer tells us that for the first time in history more people
are now living in cities than in the countryside. Show how the writer’s use of
language in this paragraph emphasises the momentous nature of this change.
Read lines 26 – 31.
Explain in detail why the writer thinks the city is “mankind’s greatest single
invention” (line 31).
Read lines 32–37.
Give any
reasons why cities “must be counted as a positive force”.
Read lines 38 – 46.
) Explain how any
of the examples in these lines illustrates the
surprising nature of the way London has changed over time.
) Show how the sentence structure of the paragraph as a whole emphasises
the idea of change.
Show how the image of the “à la carte menu” illustrates the point the writer is
making in lines 47–51.
Read lines 52– 65.
) According to the writer, what is the key difference between successful
cities and unsuccessful cities?
) Show how the writer’s use of language in these lines emphasises this
You are reminded of the instruction on the front cover:
When answering questions coded “U—Understanding”, use your own words as far as is
reasonably possible and do not simply repeat the wording of the passage.
Page three
Questions on Passage 2
Read lines 1– 8.
) Explain why, according to the writer, Glasgow was in the past an
important world city.
) Explain why Glasgow could be considered important now.
) Show how the writer’s use of language in lines 3– 8 (“This is a city . . . the
moon.”) emphasises Glasgow’s importance.
Read lines 9 –16.
) What does the writer mean by the words “radical” (line 13) and
“derivative” (line 14) in his discussion of city development?
) Show how the writer’s use of language in lines 9–16 suggests his doubts
about the alleged “success story” of Glasgow.
Read lines 17–26.
) “There are several problems with this.” (lines 19 –20). Explain briefly
what these “problems” are.
) Explain fully how the structure of lines 19 –26 (“There are . . . room for
distinctiveness.”) helps to clarify the writer’s argument.
Read lines 27–35.
) What is the writer’s main criticism of the way the “politicians and the
Establishment” run Glasgow?
) Show how the writer’s use of language in this paragraph creates a tone of
Read lines 36 – 42.
Explain the approach the writer would prefer to see in the way Glasgow is
Question on both Passages
Which passage do you think offers the more thought-provoking ideas about
the nature of cities?
Justify your choice by close reference to the
both passages

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