The City Is Ours

The City Is Ours

Image by Museum of London

Daniel Nelson

You pick up some fascinating facts in the new Museum of London exhibition about cities, but overall it feels like a missed opportunity.

Created in France, The City Is Ours is the first exhibition at the museum to be presented in both English and French - which reminded me how poor London is at providing information in anything but English.

It's split into Urban Earth, a 12-minute infographics film about services in 12 cities around the world, which gets lost in its own data zappiness; Cities Under Pressure, a set of "digital and physical interactives" on urban issues such as pressures on transport, which also delivers less than it promises (though the vertiginous virtual reality view from a Hong Kong skyscraper will probably have visitors stumbling off the pedestal); and Urban Futures, that gives snapshots of initiatives being developed around the world, which I found the most interesting, though lacking in depth.

From developing countries, Urban Futures features, for example: 

* self-help water supply in Maputo slums (the exhibition prefers the word to informal settlements or shantytowns), where 450 small private supppliers provide water to 350,000 residents - initially it was illegal but they have gradually gained receognition

* community-supported agriculture in Ghana, where consumers pledge to support a farmer's production for a year

* a Mumbai NGO that commissioned 300 toilets in slums, including a caretaker's residence and upper-floor community space

* intelligent street lighting in South Korea that can cut electricity use by 40 per cent

*  hole-in-the-wall computers for kids in Delhi (where in nine months children achieved the standards required of government employees, regardless of English and previous ability), central Africa and Bhutan. 

Around the exhibition halls there's also information, films and interactive exhibits on the use of mobile phones to assemble large numbers of protesters, film of four individuals talking about their move to Rio de Janeiro and another on how a free cable car system has transformed the once-dangerous city of Medellin to a pleasantly habitable area, and a glance at China's ghost towns.

Copenhagen gets good coverage for its bicycle-fuelled plan to become carbon-neutral by 2025, and there's honesty in the London exhibits, where a film refers to the increasing unaffordability of housing for many of the city's workers.

There's information, too, on issues such as recycling (San Francisco's is target to recycle all waste by 2020), vertical forests, and social housing, and harmlessly pointless fun such as an audio installation that translates mobile communications into melodies and a giant Twitter screen showing London's most talked about topics and trending emojis.

So it's not without interest. It's just that with some 70 per cent of us expected to be living in cities by 2050 (up from 30 per cent in 1950), it ought to be a lot less bitty and a lot more coherent.

* The City Is Ours, free, Museum of London, 150 London Wall, EC2, until 2 January. Info: cityisours

+ Open Call: submit proposals for projects which offer a proposition for urban change.

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