If you have the good fortune to visit the second greatest city in the world (after Toronto) this summer, you should head over to the Tate Modern in London where the Global Cities exhibit has taken over the massive and magnificent Turbine Hall (follow the link to the Tate site and lots of online material). It’s free, and I spent a few hours there last Wednesday, completely overwhelmed (yep, that’s the word) and excited. So exited that I walked by the Picassos, Warhols and Rothkos in a blur afterwards, hardly noticing, because they had nothing to do with cities.
Global Cities examines the “social and spacial” conditions in ten “large, dynamic cities” — Cairo, Istanbul, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Mumbai, Sao Paulo, Shanghai and Toyko. Toronto isn’t included, but makes an appearance on a few maps and charts that look at other cities.
To those who follow city-stuff, some/much of the “facts” will be not be completely new, but the way they are presented — in such a larger-than-life way — was quite something. It reminded me a bit of the way Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth packaged climate change information: big and emphatic. Simple but fantastic things like a 25 meter wide projection screen with slow aerial pans over sprawling cities with a minimal blip-bloop electronic soundtrack to wall-size photographs of cities you can walk right up to, giving a sense of just how big some of them are, are wonderful. The exhibit focuses on five thematic lenses: size, speed, form, density and diversity.
Included among the information are a number of art pieces and films (such as Mixtacity by Nigel Coates, above. He created an alternative model of the London Thames Gateway in the near future that reminded me of two Toronto things: Marlena Zuber’s map included in the first uTOpia volume, and the UpBag (Upper Parkdale Benevelont Art Guild) Collective’s Soft City project that people may have seen at last year’s Toronto the Good party at Fort York).
What was most exciting was seeing the huge scale of it (arguably the Turbine Hall is the biggest permanent exhibition space in the world and it has been given over to this subject during the busiest season). It is sort of confirmation that all this interest in cities at the local level is on the right track. We argue about what buildings we like, and how crappy or how wonderful a public square is, but I think being from a place like Toronto, where there is so much genuine care about these issues — from big sprawling ideas all the way down to matters on the sidewalk out front of our homes — had me thinking we’re ahead of, or at, the curve here with our public conversations about these things. People might argue it’s a bit fluffy, and too much into the dramatic, big-font effect, but I think it’s emotionally helpful from time to time to see the stuff you’re into presented a Bruckheimer-blockbuster-big way. It might make the local battles easier to take, like losing a bike-lane to Case Oates or something — those things that can suck a person’s enthusiasm and energy. A visit to Global Cities confirms that the Oates style folks are on the wrong side of history (and maybe, more importanty, the wrong side of the Tate Modern).