The ancient town of Dresden was razed to the ground in horrific fashion during the closing weeks of the second world war. It was witnessed by Kurt Vonnegut and described in vivid detail in Slaughterhouse 5. Prior to the firebombing by Allied forces, Dresden was so culturally significant that the United Nations declared a great chunk of it a UNESCO World Heritage Site – giving it the same ‘protection’ as the Pyramids of Giza and the Taj Mahal.
And after it was firebombed, over the following 50 years it was rebuilt- including the synagogue, the opera houses and the church that were destroyed.
Contrast this with Chinese ‘ghost cities’. These cities are the anti-Dresden.
The inhabitants of these cities haven’t been born yet. Chinese investors are playing the long game. But until the humans arrive, they are maintained by a skeleton staff of private police, cadres and caretakers who tidy up the confetti after the groups of bride and grooms who visit to have their pictures taken outside the British pub or the French Patisserie. Another example is the many abandoned amusement parks that are built but never visited, now only providing amusement to enthusiasts of pictures of abandoned places (porn).
So what’s a city without people? It’s just some drawings a few privileged individuals made and then some less privileged people were paid to build. Legacies of vanity. It’s happening right now in my own neighbourhood. Of course, it will be maintained there were ‘proper public consultation’. The planning notice was very clearly printed on A4 paper and glued to a lamppost nearby.
When a city evolves over a thousand years, it’s razed to the ground, it’s still a city. The city is the people.
Try to build a city in a couple of years and it’s desolate.
You see this pattern time and time again- systems built for big organisations like the NHS or the BBC. Gargantuan failures, without people, without usage, cast aside, ignored. Thousands, sometimes millions of hours of human endeavour expunged. Sure there are jobs created but what for? What’s the point of creating jobs without purpose?
That’s where big thinking gets us.