Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Arrival City

Arrival City: The final migration and our next world by Doug Saunders

The word slum or favela comes with a preconceived notion of overcrowded shacks, garbage pile-ups, crime and poverty mostly because of television/cinematic images and magazine stories. But who are the people living in these locations and where do they come from? How is their average day spent? How much distance do they travel for their everyday jobs? A 10 second clip on a news channel, where the camera merely pans across the landscape, won't give much answers.

Doug Saunders rightly points out that words such as slum and favela do not highlight the true nature of these locations. Instead, he prefers the word arrival city which properly conveys the dynamic nature of such locations where people are constantly arriving from villages or leaving for middle class neighborhoods. Such ‘arrival cities’, which exist mostly on the outskirts of a city or are hidden within a city's core, serve as a transition point for the new migrants in their attempt to carve out a better life. These locations are not the migrants final destination as may be incorrectly inferred by the stagnant image portrayed by the word slum. In fact, people make an arrival city their first stop because it is the easiest way to establish a footprint in a vast metropolis. The migrants share a common dream that once they save up enough money, they can then move to a better neighborhood and own their own apartment or house. Ofcourse, as a certain percentage of migrants leave an arrival city, another group move in to take their place.

Saunders’ Arrival City paints a vibrant picture about some of the people who have taken the brave step of leaving their village behind for starting life in a new city. He also perfectly illustrates the emotional and financial two-way connection between the arrival city and the village. It is safe to assume that an arrival city will always have a relationship with the vast city’s core but in reality, the arrival city is also tied to the rural homes of the migrants. This relationship between a village and arrival city is similar to that between an immigrant's new nation and their homeland. An immigrant or a migrant is more closer to their homeland and village respectively and often send financial help back home to their family while trying their best to save enough money for moving up the hierarchy in their new metropolis setting. However, the migrants everyday lives can either be nurtured or ruined by state/national government policies and attitudes. This is where Saunders’ book really stands out as he does not merely list individual stories but offers examples of where proper government policies ensure that citizens living in an arrival city can be successfully integrated within a city’s/nation’s fabric.

Arrival City covers many individual cities and villages across five continents and constructs a complete picture right from the creation of the early arrival cities to the current global locations. Ofcourse, one would not expect any less from a fine journalist like Doug Saunders. His columns always offer an intelligent balanced perspective on global issues and are a huge reason why I continue to read The Globe and Mail. Three years ago, I wrote him an email which ended with the following words:

I do hope you have a book planned for the future with a collection of your articles or other writing that you have done during your travels.

Thankfully, that book has now arrived and is one of the most relevant books published in the last few years. I can now put Doug Saunders in the same bracket as Ryszard Kapuściński, Robert D. Kaplan and Eduardo Galeano as journalists whose words are a window into the larger world out there.

Interestingly, 3.5 years ago I was inspired by an article on Iranian cinema by Doug Saunders to do my own mini spotlight on Iranian film. So it seems appropriate that his book should form an inspiration for another cinematic spotlight. However, given the breadth and depth of material covered in Arrival City, it will not be a simple 5-6 film spotlight. Even if I picked a single film from each country covered in the book, it would mean a minimum of 15 titles to cover China, India, Bangladesh, Brazil, England, Germany, Turkey, USA, Canada, Kenya, Columbia, Holland, Iran, Poland and Spain. However, a proper arrival city film spotlight would require at least 2-3 titles per country. An easy solution would be to reference films I have already seen pertaining to some of the book material and only watch new films to fill in the gaps.

No comments: