Podcast: Globalised cities and their discontents

London and New York, united in being disdained. Image: Getty.

Some dates are destined to live in infamy. 1066; August 4th, 1914.

This is not one of those dates.

It is, however, a pretty big day for us as it sees the release of the first ever episode of Skylines, the CityMetric podcast. On it, you can hear Barbara and I talk about a topic that's pretty close to many a metropolitan liberal's heart: why does everyone seem to hate us? Or, to be more specific, what is it about world cities like London that seems to inspire as much loathing as admiration?

To help us answer this question, we talk to Tom Forth, the writer, consultant and professional Yorkshireman, to get a northern view on London's dominance. We also talk to Elizabeth Minkel to get a US perspective on both London and New York.

From here on in, with the help of our excellent producer Roifield Brown, we're planning to do one of these every two weeks. You can find us on Acast here. You can also subscribe to our RSS feed, or on iTunes

Or you can just listen to the latest episode right here:

Some relevant links...

  • Tom Forth is the man who revealed that the UK's airport isn't in London at all. It's actually in Amsterdam. He's on Twitter, probably shouting about regional injustice, as @thomasforth.
  • Back in January 2015, Elizabeth Minkel wrote this great piece for us on NYC's reaction to Winter Storm Juno (" there’s a sudden realisation that residents of four out of the five New York City boroughs live on islands"). She's also on Twitter as @elizabethminkel, and has her own podcast, Fansplaining, co-hosted with Flourish Klink.
  • Lastly, here's our map of the week, showing that all roads really do lead to Rome:

You can read more about it here.


Here's a helpful reminder that you can subscribe to the podcast via our RSS feed, or on iTunesYou can also find us on Acast here

 
 
 
 

The Delhi Metro: How do you build a transport system for 26m people?

Indraprastha station in 2006. Image: Getty.

“Thou hath not played rugby until thou hath tried to get onto a Delhi Metro in rush hour,” a wise Yogi once said.

If you’ve never been on New Delhi’s Metro, your mind might conjure up the the conventional image of Indian trains: tawdry carriages, buckets of sweat, people hanging out of windows and the odd holy cow wandering around for good measure.

Well, no. The Delhi Metro is actually one of the most marvellously sophisticated, affordable, timely, and practical public transportation systems out there. On a 45C day in the Indian summer, many a traveller has shed tears of joy on entering the spacious, air-conditioned carriages.

Above ground, Delhi is a sprawling metropolis of the scariest kind: 26m people, three times the population of London, churn and grind through Delhi itself.

The National Capital Region, an area which includes Delhi and its surrounding satellite cities – now victim of its never-ending urban sprawl – has an estimated population of almost 50m. So how do you tie such a huge population together?

The map; click to expand. Image: Delhi Metro Rail.

Motorised vehicles won’t do it alone. For one, air pollution is a horrific problem in Delhi, as it is across India. Last November, the government declared a state of emergency when the Indian capital was engulfed by a toxic, choking fog so thick that you could barely see several metres in front of you, drawing allusions to the great Victorian fogs in London.

Then there’s Delhi’s famous traffic. Twenty-five years ago, the travel writer William Dalrymple observed that you could reduce the Delhi’s road laws to one simple idea: the largest vehicle always had the right of way. The traffic has tamed somewhat in the 21st century, but the number of vehicles has multiplied again and again, and it’s not uncommon for people to be stuck in four-hour traffic jams when they try to traverse the mighty city.

Enter the Delhi Metro – a huge network of 164 over- and underground stations – and by any account, a titan of civil engineering and administration.

The numbers are simply colossal. Every day the metro serves on average almost 3m people. Annually, it carries around 1bn.

In a country where intercity trains still turn up a day late, the Delhi Metro is extraordinarily timely. On the major lines, trains will come every several minutes. The trains are extraordinary speedy, and you’ll reach your destination in a fraction of the time it would take for you to drive the distance.

The minimum fare is 10 rupees (12p); the maximum fare, to and from the airport, is 50 (60p).

The evolution of the metro. Image: Terramorphus/Wikimedia Commons.

Construction of the metro system began in 1998, with the first section completed in late 2002. Keen to avoid the catastrophic corruption and bureaucratic mismanagement which plagued eastern city of the Kolkata Metro, developers took advice from Hong Kong’s high-tech system There have been several stages of development to add extra lines; more is planned. By 2020, it is hoped that the 135 miles of line will have increased to over 300.  

One thing quite striking about the metro is its women’s only carriages at the rear and the front of the train, marked by pink signs. Sexual assault and harassment has been a horrific problem on Delhi’s transport systems. Women can of course go anywhere on the train – but men who violate the carriage system will have to deal with the scathing anger of the entire pink carriage.


One of the under-discussed impacts of widespread and well-used public transportation systems is their propensity to break down social and class barriers over time. As the London Tube began to be used more and more in early 20th century London, people from completely different walks of life and classes began to brush shoulders and share the same air.

The story is similar in Delhi. The necessity of the metro helps to break down old caste and class divisions. Of course, many elite Delhiites would not be seen dead on the metro, and choose their private chauffeur over brushing shoulders with the common man. But slowly and surely, the times are a changing.

What’s more, the Delhi Metro system is one of the greenest around. Six years ago, the Metro was the first railway system in the world to be awarded carbon credits from the United Nations for helping to reduce pollution in the capital by an estimated 640,000 tonnes every year.  

All praises sung and said, however, at peak times it’s less mind the gap and more mind your ribs – as a fifth of humanity seems to try to get on and off the train at once.

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