In pictures: Urban spaces in the developing world

The photographer's favorite image from the collection, taken in Shugruf, Yemen. Image: Matjaz Krivic.

When we think of cities, we tend to think of places which are crowded, modern, and secular. It's easy to forget that cities can exist things like skyscrapers, elevated roads and shopping centres - those things we've come to see as their hallmarks. 

"Urbanistan", a new collection of images from photographer Matjaz Krivic, offers a different perspective. His photographs show cities and towns in developing countries, many dominated by religious buildings, and many lacking those things we've come to see as inherently "modern". He says he wanted to show the variety of urban experience: "When I go to different cities and urban environment, I feel different". 

The images capture everything from views of ancient cities from a distance, to individuals working, playing or celebrating. Krivic says his favourite image is the one above, taken on a misty morning high up in Yemen's Haraz mountains:

I climbed up the stairs to a Shugruf Palace terrace in the evening to get a breath of fresh air when the beauty of a evening mist coming up the mountain stroke me. It was so surreal, so mysterious that I ran down to get my camera and took one single shot. A second later it was gone.

A selection of Krivic's images are below. You can view the full set here

Kathmandu, Nepal

This shows the distinctive roof architecture in Patan, an area of Kathmandu. These buildings are now under the protection of UNESCO.

Amritsar, India

Here, a man bathes in Lake Lake Sarova in Amritsar, a city in north-western India. At the centre of the lake is the Harmandir Sahib, or Golden Temple, which is key to the Sikh religion and attracts more visitors than the Taj Mahal. 

 Djenné, Mali 

A market in Djenné, a city in central Mali. Just behind, you can see the walls of the Great Mosque, the largest mud brick building in the world.  

Uramantakht, Iran

Uramantakht is a city in Iran's western Kurdish region. Here, pilgrims stand among homes built into the hillside to celebrate the pre-Islamic religious holiday of Aroosi Pir Shahriar.

Shugruf, Yemen

This, and the image at the beginning of this piece, show a fortified settlement perched atop Yemen's Haraz mountains.

Lhasa, Tibet, China

We love this one. These kids are perched on an old MIG aircraft which was parked in the square near Lhasa's Potola Palace by the Chinese authorities. Krivic calls it a "symbol of occupation", juxtaposed with the palace, "a symbol of Tibetan Buddhism". 

Beni Isguen, Algeria

Beni Isguen is one of five intricately planned, fortified religious villages built in the early 11th century to the south of Algiers, Algeria. The fabric of the settlement has changed very little in the intervening 900 years.

Nouakchott, Mauritania

This image shows a warehouse crammed with spare parts in Nouakchott, the largest city in Mauretania and one of the largest in the Sahara. 

Sana'a, Yemen

A historical Yemeni town also protected by UNESCO's World Heritage status.

All images: Matjaz Krivic.



Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.

So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image:

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?

And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.