The City Solution

geumho, seoul



Pictured above: Seoul, South Korea


Cities can become a huge headache if not managed well – numerous examples, say, Lagos or Jakarta, can say a lot about it. But, looking at it on the other perspective, cities can also offer a great lesson for some of the world’s most cumbersome problems in 21st century, in particular the solutions policymakers are seeking.

Take a look back at this National Geographic’s December 2011 edition article.




The fear of urbanization has not been good for cities, or for their countries, or for the planet. South Korea, ironically, has never quite shaken the notion that its great capital is a tumor sucking life from the rest of the country. Right now the government is building a second capital 75 miles to the south; starting in 2012, it plans to move half its ministries there and to scatter other public institutions around the country, in the hope of spreading Seoul’s wealth. The nation’s efforts to stop Seoul’s growth go back to Park Chung-Hee, the dictator who jump-started the economy. In 1971, as the city’s population was skyrocketing past five million, Park took a page from the book of Ebenezer Howard. He surrounded the city with a wide greenbelt to halt further development, just as London had in 1947.

Both greenbelts preserved open space, but neither stopped the growth of the city; people now commute from suburbs that leapfrogged the restraints. “Greenbelts have had the effect of pushing people farther out, sometimes absurdly far,” says Peter Hall, a planner and historian at University College London. Brasília, the planned capital of Brazil, was designed for 500,000 people; two million more now live beyond the lake and park that were supposed to block the city’s expansion. When you try to stop urban growth, it seems, you just amplify sprawl.

Sprawl preoccupies urban planners today, as its antithesis, density, did a century ago. London is no longer decried as a tumor, but Atlanta has been called “a pulsating slime mold” (by James Howard Kunstler, a colorful critic of suburbia) on account of its extreme sprawl. Greenbelts aren’t the cause of sprawl; most cities don’t have them. Other government policies, such as subsidies for highways and home ownership, have coaxed the suburbs outward. So has that other great shaper of the destiny of cities—the choices made by individual residents. Ebenezer Howard was right about that much: A lot of people want nice houses with gardens.




Eric Liu: Why ordinary people need to understand power

citizen university



Beforehand, I’ve posted one TED talk about the uncontrolled inequities between the plutocrats and the commoners. And, here’s again another power-related one, which pretty much can explain about the previous video: ordinary people’s illiteracy, and blatant ignorance, of the importance of power. Given this rationale, it is why power – and much of the vacuum left by ignorance – is concentrated only among a handful elsewhere, not just in United States, but also across the world. Democracy, in sum, hasn’t been completely realized.

Eric Liu, a Seattle-based civics educator and also pioneer of Citizen University, wants to debunk the ongoing cycle, and provides one proof where civic engagement is possible, and thanks to globalization, can become a contagious ‘positive virus’ as well: cities. Cities, in his idea, can become great social laboratories to engineer changes for the sake of the people, particularly at a time when national governments mostly end up in deadlocks for partisan, stalled negotiations.

He offers some examples where we should learn:

1. The idea of ‘bike-friendly cities’ that kick-started in Copenhagen, Denmark, and spread to dozens of cities across the world

2. How Seattle led the initiatives of numerous major cities across the United States to set targets for reduction of carbon production; at a time when the country, overall, refused to participate in Kyoto Protocol

3. When national government in Washington, D.C., was highly paralyzed due to partisan conflicts of interests, it is instead local cities, towns, and lower-level administrative divisions that continued providing essential services for the people

4. How ‘participatory budgeting’ in Porto Alegre, Brazil, by which city dwellers decide together how much funds the city should be allocated for expenditure by sectors, spreads into numerous major cities across the planet

5. The rise of grassroots movements in China to oppose corrupt authorities at a local level, and the rate is rising

Learn more about this potential by tuning in to his TED talk below.


“Metropolis II”, by Chris Burden

metropolis 2



Picture source: Sploid

Look at this replica, and it somewhat will remind us all the daily topsy-turvydom, all the mess, all the crowd, and all the bustle, that resuscitate the whole powerhouse we call ‘the city’. Without which, the whole system ends up insentient, completely stone cold.

Words can hardly describe all the intense hard work Chris Burden, an American artist, has put in for over 4 years to incarnate his masterpiece. Watch the video below to know more why.


Bonus: read Burden’s full biography in Wikipedia.

Old China Hand: peeping into 1930s’ China

old china



Why you should visit this website: China was not as completely ‘Oriental’ as most Westerners would often perceive.

In 1930s, China, at that time under the rule of Republic of China (which later relocated to Taiwan in 1949), was one of the world’s most populous countries, and also a fragile, recently emerging industrial powerhouse. Nevertheless, income inequality, social instability, civil war, foreign aggression, chronic corruption, and rampant authoritarianism remained huge challenges in stabilizing this behemoth nation. While major coastal cities, such as Shanghai, Nanjing, and Guangzhou, had prospered with numerous buildings, constructed in European architectural styles, sparkling over the main urban areas, most of the rural areas remained impoverished, and millions were even left starving. Northeast China, at that Manchukuo, became Japan’s puppet state; the government, then led by Chiang Kai-shek, mostly focused solely on their efforts to eradicate Communist elements, overlooking other larger potential dangers that were following ahead. Many major cities remained as foreign colonies, with Hong Kong under British rule, some segments of Shanghai under French administration, much of Tianjin handled by numerous European powers, etc. Life was uneasy, and oftentimes brutal, at the moment, but it was also one of hopes, sweet memories, and unforgotten scenes of romantic simplicity.

This website, in fact, was dedicated to one memoir published by an American graduate working for Texaco, at that time one of United States’ largest oil businesses, back in China. He managed to capture over hundreds of pictures, all worth sharing for us about the situation back then in some of the country’s major cities, many of which defied our perception about how these cities actually appeared.


Why Hong Kong never sleeps

July 2011



Before you watch the time-lapse videos below, let me ask you one question: do you thoroughly realize the ultimate hustle and bustle that never ceases preoccupying this city? Either you see it from its light-coruscated skyline, its seemingly endless flow of passers-by, vehicles, buses, and trucks going back and forth, or the slam-bang noises you hear in almost any restaurant, or even simply moving boats, ships, and passenger jets, this is undeniably true of the real spirit of Hong Kong.

Whatever people have said that situation in Hong Kong is generally deteriorating after its handover to China in 1997, or whatever they quoth that the British administration did much better, the Hong Kong spirit is still maintained to this date. But, in the long run, though, nobody can lucidly predict the long-term future afterwards.

Whatever the discomfiture, soothe down your mind awhile and watch the videos below!



The most recent one:


Monocle’s 5 loveable cities in 2013

colombo skyline

Colombo, capital of Sri Lanka

Source: Skyscrapercity


These cities may not be deemed as remarkable as the others, on a global scale, have been; yes, each of these cities faces problems, either of political instabilities or tumultuous, acute social problems, of little salubriousness or dim prospects, but things often turn out not to be one-sided. From one viewpoint they are perceived as not meritorious, but on the other hand, concurrently thanks to their setbacks, they possess rare qualities that the rest of the world may not have. They may not be considered ‘livable’ for bulk of the populace, but instead of being termed the former, they engrave a new title they probably should, in their glory, adhere to: lovable. Lovable for their uniqueness, their one-of-a-kind-ness, that tourists and globe-trotters alike may hardly find the replicate somewhere in this planet.

Monocle has just released its new list of ‘5 loveable cities in 2013’, and here are the winners:


1. Palermo (Italy)

Problems they face: run-riot mafia, endemic corruption, urban mismanagement

Good things: plentiful markets, friendly locals, picturesque beaches, tranquil urban parks

2. Colombo (Sri Lanka)

Problems they face: current recovery from civil war, poverty

Good things: economic boom, improvement in public transport, bustling tourism

3. Tel Aviv (Israel)

Problems they face: Middle East-related political violence, social insecurity

Good things: plentiful cafes, hip-hip-hurrah creativity in arts and culture, vibrant nightlife, booming start-up industry

4. Chiang Mai (Thailand)

Problems they face: barely any (only slow-paced life)

Good things: strong cultural identity, plentiful Buddhist temples, thriving arts industry, robust entrepreneurial culture

5. San Jose (Costa Rica)

Problems they face: refer to Chiang Mai

Good things: quality education, serene lifestyle, solid entrepreneurial spirit, tranquil urban parks, appreciation of historical values


Watch the video at Monocle for further description.

Magnasanti: the totalitarian city that wins over Sim City 3000




Vincent Ocasla may be a mad man, or simply an ordinary architecture student from Philippines, but his creation is beyond the former’s definition – it is, albeit a computer game simulation, painstakingly a masterpiece, with all mathematical equations having been considered and modeled after more than 4 years of uneasy hard work to embody ‘the most totalitarian Buddhist city’ in the Sims’ universe.

Magnasanti, as it is named, is Ocasla’s magnum opus – it has a population of over 6 million, all constricted to towering blocks of apartments and office buildings that resemble much of Hong Kong’s skyline – but in a more terrifying version. Through meticulously calculated mathematical models and rocket-science, overtly complicated logarithmic projections, Ocasla can make sure that with little education, healthcare, infrastructure, little space to organize a protest, and little chances to escape the city, all the city inhabitants are perpetually bound to obey the governing ‘laws’ of the police state. Nevertheless, as a consequence, life expectancy does not exceed 50 years, human quality remains utterly substandard, progress is largely impeded (reminiscent of North Korea).

Nevertheless, there is a lesson worth learning: this is an experiment that proves how urban development may unexpectedly bring us to wrong direction.


Read some of the articles here:

And most importantly, refer to this website if you want to download the city.


Technically, no one is leaving or coming into the city. Population growth is stagnant. Sims don’t need to travel long distances, because their workplace is just within walking distance. In fact they do not even need to leave their own block. Wherever they go it’s like going to the same place.

There are a lot of other problems in the city hidden under the illusion of order and greatness: Suffocating air pollution, high unemployment, no fire stations, schools, or hospitals, a regimented lifestyle – this is the price that these sims pay for living in the city with the highest population. It’s a sick and twisted goal to strive towards.

The ironic thing about it is the sims in Magnasanti tolerate it. They don’t rebel, or cause revolutions and social chaos. No one considers challenging the system by physical means since a hyper-efficient police state keeps them in line. They have all been successfully dumbed down, sickened with poor health, enslaved and mind-controlled just enough to keep this system going for thousands of years. 50,000 years to be exact. They are all imprisoned in space and time. – Vincent Ocasla, while explaining the reason why he wanted to create Magnasanti.