Networks Matter – Urban Migration or The Alternative Liveable Cities Index

After posting the previous report on Global Cities: Quality of Life, Liveability and Cost of Living Surveys 2012 – What are they worth? it occurred to me that there might be a variety of alternative rankings of where the best places to live are and this would obviously depend on who you are,  your financial situation and  the quality of life  you currently experience in the place you wish to leave. So I did a little research and although  I could not directly find what I was looking for here are some musings and links that might be of interest in countering the impression that we all have to move to Helsinki or Melbourne.The majority of the worlds population live where they  are – that is where they were born . I am one of them and have happily lived and worked my whole life here in Cape Town unlike many of my school friends, relatives  and business associates who emigrated to Australia , Europe or the USA in the Apartheid era.  However, for those unable or unwilling to stay in the untenable or desperate situation they find where they were born, they decide or are forced to move – usually to the nearest town or closest city they can get to – where they hope they will be able to find work and a place to stay,  in deciding which city to “trek” to they definitely don’t have access to any of the aforementioned elite media  or a high speed internet connection to check out  what city to live in.My own parents, poor(-ish), but educated, white South Africans  made the transition from a rural  farming background  in the pre- 2nd World War depression era to leave their   rural life which was plagued by drought and uncertain farming commodity markets  to seek a better future in the city and to find jobs then said to be available in government as a teacher and a Posts and Telegraph technician in Cape Town.  Their parents were in turn descendants of European migrants who, several generations earlier, had fled from religious persecution in rural France and from famine and wars  in Ireland and staking everything on flimsy evidence and penniless had immigrated to South Africa, landed n Cape Town and eventually found a place to settle in the somewhat desolate North West of the country in Namaqualand. My parents in their move to the city soon after they married, took advantage of kin-ship networks of family who had already moved or had strong ties with trade and professional work in the Mother City. With much less opportunity but probably from similar conditions, currently waves of rural and small town inhabitants are migrating to the cities nearest to them or to more distant cities which offer the promise of a better life or at least hope of survival where their current conditions seem to be hopeless.

Interestingly though, the amount of information passed through the refugee and  rural urban migration  networks must include a vast and largely  undocumented information resource on the opportunities, dangers and “how to get by” in the foreign and unknown urban environment.  There is a growing body of work on these migrant networks and the implied social capital of their ethnic and kinship networks e.g the work of Abdou Maliq Simone “Moving Towards Uncertainty: Migration and the Turbulence of African Urban Life”  who along with many other researchers on the urbanism of the global South such as the paper Networks matter : the value of kinship ties in the Zimbabwean migration landscape” presented by Khangelani MOYO  at a the African Migrations Workshop in Dakar Sengal  in 2010, are increasingly drawing different conclusions about African migration and what makes a city liveable and that these metrics are very different to those  that are cites by the World Bank, UNEP and simialar organisations who participate in African Aid and in cause what some authors  term “African Dependance”

The cultural and social capital that is exhibited here in Cape Town by migrant Malawians that obviously informs them on how to use photocopied/printed  slips of paper detailing their availability, skills as gardeners, domestic help or similar jobs they are willing to do,  which they deposit in suburban houses letter boxes or hand out  at traffic lights, is a unique attribute of a specific nations social capital.  The conditions that drive these quite well educated job-seekers to leave their homeland, and take on menial work in order to be able to sustain themselves and send income to supplement their  families livelihood in the home country, is in all respects the same as that drove my ancestors and parents to migrate and seeks a better life for themselves and their children..

UN Refugee agency 2012

Similarly refugee Somalians must have an extensive social network  that allows them tobecome street traders or “spaza” shop owners in the local townships, at transport interchanges and on the streets around major shopping areas, often displacing less organised or networked locals and  even to opening small cafes and shops in the periphery of  central Cape Town. This has been postulated a the source of xenophobia and a smouldering resentment can be palpably  felt amongst the traders on the Grand parade for example and at places like Bellville Transit interchange where the dominance of foreign nationals as traders is visible in the religious dress of the women and the presence of mosques in and prayer time  observances on the pavement, more suggestive of a North African city that post-apartheid Cape Town e.g.  Zaheera Jinnah’s paper  Making Home in a Hostile Land: Understanding Somali Identity, Integration, Livelihood and Risks in Johannesburg”

More recently the  Gauteng City-Region Observatory released is Quality of Life Survey which included a range of reports, for example on  ‘Xenophobic attitudes” which reported: “A shocking 69% of respondents in a recent survey agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that “foreigners are taking benefits meant for South Africans”.

While this might seem like a unique South African problem in the context of  the history of Apartheid, forced migration and urban segregation, it is not  and in Simone Abram’s   discussion of the concept(s) of culture  and national identity in his recent book, “Culture and Planning”,  he quotes a study by Marianne Gullestad which compares attitudes of two authors to race and xenophobia in Norway from both the perspective of Norwegians and that of ethnic and religious minorities and situates these problematic differences of points of view in a what, to non- Norwegians, appears to be a fairly racially homogenous country which is yet culturally diverse.  She states ” It is not the white Norwegian’s encounter with persons of colour which is significant, but the meaning of this encounter in a much broader and enduring history that extends the geographical reach into colonialism, and the anti-Semitic and eugenics movements between the two World Wars” This is of course particularly relevant in the light of Anders Behring Breivik’s recent trial guilty verdict, 21 year jail sentence of and his defiant attitude and belief that his killing of  77 people  last summer was an act of “National Defence”

What this might mean in terms a “liveability” is debatable – is a liberal and sustainable but cold and rarely xenophobic Norwegian city more liveable that a hot  North African or Middle Eastern city where there are no jobs and incessant warfare but you are in  a close-knit web of family and religious  networks – which is more liveable?

The Alternative Liveable Cities Index – or “how to get by wherever you are “. Enough for now more to come soon………

Global Cities: Quality of Life, Liveability and Cost of Living Surveys 2012 – What are they worth?

Once again the media are producing their rankings of the worlds cities based on their own internal criteria – Monocle’s July August edition, which I only bought last week, due to the ludicrous airfreight price for recieviing it sooner here at the Southern tip of Africa,  published its “Quality of Life Survey”  with European cities Zurich, Helsinki and Copenhagen as the top three. Nowhere in the magazine or on the website could I find the actual criteria, metrics and methods used for arriving at this obviously very marketable information – the opening statement in the editorial on the rankings give few hints tell u show difficult the chore, ” ..after weeks of deliberation on the meaning of the ever-changing metrics and chewing the fat over the impact of infrastructure projects, our quality of life results are set.” and that ” ..there is always the odd tiff between editors when a much loved city plummets down the league table.”


Other types of rankings hat appear round now are the Mercer Cost of Living Survey 2012, here reviewed by Rashiq Fataar at FUTURE CAPE TOWN . The value of these rankings has been an oft debated topic with  divided  views of wether they are  objective enough to warrant a second look or if anyone actually uses these ranking for deciding  to move to the city either in person or their business

Nathalie Constantin-Métral, Principal at Mercer, is responsible for compiling the ranking each year. She commented: “Deploying expatriate employees is becoming an increasingly important aspect of multinational companies’ business strategy, including expansion. But with volatile markets and stunted economic growth in many parts of the world, a keen eye on cost efficiency is essential, including on expatriate remuneration packages. Making sure salaries adequately reflect the difference in cost of living to the employee’s home country is important in order to attract and retain the right talent where companies need them.”

The Economist has released its Liveability Rankings with Australia  coming out tops with 4 of its cities in the top 10:

Most liveable cities: 1. Melbourne 97.5 2. Vienna 97.4 3. Vancouver 97.3 4. Toronto 97.2 5=. Calgary 96.6 5=. Adelaide 96.6 7. Sydney 96.1 8. Helsinki 96.0 9. Perth 95.910. Auckland 95.7 … 138. Lagos 39.0 139. Port Moresby 38.9 140. Dhaka 38.7

” AFTER a disappointing performance in the London Olympics, Australia should be cheered by a set of triumphs in a more testing environment: the Economist Intelligence Unit’s latest liveability ranking. For the second year in a row, Melbourne has been adjudged the world’s most liveable city, ahead of Vienna and Vancouver, whose slip from the top of the list last year, after almost a decade, riled many western Canadians. Three other Australian cities make it into the top ten, with Adelaide rising from ninth to equal fifth in 12 months.

The ranking scores 140 cities from 0-100 on 30 factors spread across five areas: stability, health care, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure. These numbers are then weighted and combined to produce an overall figure. The cities at the top of the table are separated by tiny differences, with just 0.3 percentage points between first and fourth.

Cities that have suffered unrest in the last year have seen their scores drop. Damascus moves from 117th place to 130th; and London and Manchester, the sites of riots last summer, fall nine and two places respectively to 51st and 55th. Dhaka remains in last place because of particularly poor scores for health care and infrastructure, though it would probably come above the likes of Baghdad and Kabul, which were not considered business centres.”

Cape Town does not feature in any of these rankings of course having its own infamy to live with: of at various times having been ranked as one of the words most unequal cites and some parts of it very violent – you would not want to be a women alone at night in these places!  But we love it here and think we are working on making it a better place to live for all its inhabitants – not just the global elites, many of our children choose to return here to settle after a seemingly obligatory stint in London or some other global centre, despite its problems, uncertainties and high cost of living.


IOU Project Revindicates the Real Madras Weavers

I believe that giving exposure to efforts to include traditional and sustainable jobs and authentic hand made materials in our synthetic and transient world. Cotton is one of the most durable and eco-friendly materials when processed in traditional ways and the women that weave this cloth are in  need of our support. When I was recently in a small market in Kigali, Rwanda amongst all the locally produced foods and spices, I was taken aback that all the “traditional’ fabrics that the women make their clothes from on old treadle sowing machines has all been produced in China by “traditional” processes.

This report by Kate Black on URBANTIMES

In the struggle for independence, Ghandi encouraged people to take to their looms to stop the practice of Indian cotton being sent to Britain for milling and re-sold back to India. This sparked a cottage industry, that today includes over 20 million families who depend on hand loom weaving. They can weave as much as 50 million meters of cloth a day, 250 million meters a week, 1 billion meters of cloth a month. All while using minimal energy and locally grown, natural cotton; making them the world’s most environmentally friendly textile manufacturers.

The IOU Project, the brainchild of designer Kavita Parma, combines this fabric with European tailors to create a modern, hip, easy-to-wear sportswear line that’s traceable, transparent, authentic and unique.

Parma, a designer, entrepreneur and global citizen, born in India but has also lived in the U.K., Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, the U.S. and Spain, wanted to be involved in product development using traditional artisan skills.

“I started IOU out of sheer frustration,” Parma tells us, “with the current fashion system which was a race to the bottom about producing cheaper and faster, where quality and authenticity were the first victims of keeping up with the latest short lived trend in this voracious cycle of consumption we were feeding into.”

Parma wanted to “decommoditize fashion and return the conversation back to value instead of price.”

The IOU project is more than mere fashion, but a social movement meant to promoteresponsible consumption by disrupting and transforming existing supply chains into prosperity chains.

Madras is the perfect fabric to start that chain reaction. “There is over 1 billion or more dollars worth of Madras checks (named as such) sold in the market by major brands and none of it comes from the real madras weavers and most of it is not even made in India,” explains Parma.

To revindicate the Real Madras Weavers, Parma chose a co-operative where over 250,000 families have been weaving the traditional Madras checks, by hand, for  centuries and then layers transparency and traceability, to create an emotional link between consumer and creator.

“The IOU Project was born from the need to empower both the artisan and the consumer,” states Parma.

She then went on to remind us that fashion has always reflected the social issues of the times from the corset-free silhouette of the 20’s flapper dresses to the mini skirt.

And as consumers become more aware of the scarcity of resources and the environmental threats our planet faces, not to mention the social inequalities that exist, we are drawn to “products of not only high quality and long lasting aesthetic but products of lasting value with an authentic story, one that makes them feel good and resonates emotionally with their beliefs.”

The collection of sporty separates for men and women includes unisex scarves, bags and espadrilles.


Unlivable Cities

With all the emphasis on urban liveability and the popularity of such indexes and the critique of their usefulness, the rush by governments and city administrators to make cities more globally competitive and attractive to investors and the “creative class” – from spending on urban legacies it is unlikely London needs (2012 London Olympics Legacy | South Park | James Corner Field Operationsto the disastrous results of most state and government planning (The Best-Laid Plans) here is further critique of what it means to live in a fully urbanised world – much less exiting than Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and far more sinister even than The Matrix here is the 21st century – hopefully not coming to a city near you anytime soon – at least not here in the South.

From The Cities Issue by  BY ISAAC STONE FISH

In Invisible Cities, the novel by the great Italian writer Italo Calvino, Marco Polo dazzles the emperor of China, Kublai Khan, with 55 stories of cities he has visited, places where “the buildings have spiral staircases encrusted with spiral seashells,” a city of “zigzag” where the inhabitants “are spared the boredom of following the same streets every day,” and another with the option to “sleep, make tools, cook, accumulate gold, disrobe, reign, sell, question oracles.” The trick, it turns out, is that Polo’s Venice is so richly textured and dense that all his stories are about just one city

A modern European ruler listening to a visitor from China describe the country’s fabled rise would be better served with the opposite approach: As the traveler exits a train station, a woman hawks instant noodles and packaged chicken feet from a dingy metal cart, in front of concrete steps emptying out into a square flanked by ramshackle hotels and massed with peasants sitting on artificial cobblestones and chewing watermelon seeds. The air smells of coal. Then the buildings appear: Boxlike structures, so gray as to appear colorless, line the road. If the city is poor, the Bank of China tower will be made with hideous blue glass; if it’s wealthy, our traveler will marvel at monstrous prestige projects of glass and copper. The station bisects Shanghai Road or Peace Avenue, which then leads to Yat-sen Street, named for the Republic of China’s first president, eventually intersecting with Ancient Building Avenue. Our traveler does not know whether he is in Changsha, Xiamen, or Hefei — he is in the city Calvino describes as so unremarkable that “only the name of the airport changes.” Or, as China’s vice minister of construction, Qiu Baoxing, lamented in 2007, “It’s like a thousand cities having the same appearance.”

Why are Chinese cities so monolithic? The answer lies in the country’s fractured history. In the 1930s, China was a failed state: Warlords controlled large swaths of territory, and the Japanese had colonized the northeast. Shanghai was a foreign pleasure den, but life expectancy hovered around 30. Tibetans, Uighurs, and other minorities largely governed themselves. When Mao Zedong unified China in 1949, much of the country was in ruins, and his Communist Party rebuilt it under a unifying theme. Besides promulgating a single language and national laws, they subscribed to the Soviet idea of what a city should be like: wide boulevards, oppressively squat, functional buildings, dormitory-style housing. Cities weren’t conceived of as places to live, but as building blocks needed to build a strong and prosperous nation; in other words, they were constructed for the benefit of the party and the country, not the people.

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2012 London Olympics Legacy | South Park | James Corner Field Operations

Speaking of Utopian Dreams and the problems with much of neo-liberal mass planning and urban design’s excesses (see The Best-Laid Plans and London 2012: is the host city a winner? )  more beautiful, but questionable, graphics of urban public spaces in the shadow of the Olympics tower? from World Landscape Architecture by Damian Holmes

2012 London Olympics Legacy | South Park | James Corner Field Operations

A design competition was held in late 2011 to create designs for the South Plaza to provide the stage for an exciting range of cultural, sporting and community events and activities, all taking place beneath the imposing form of the extraordinary ArcelorMittal Orbit after the 2012 Games. New York-based James Corner Field Operations were chosen as the south plaza winners for their design concept, which features a tree-lined promenade connecting flexible spaces for events, cultural programmes, food stalls and other attractions. The area will have a London’s South Bank feel and will welcome the majority of visitors to the Park. The practice is renowned for its contemporary design across a variety of projects including the award winning and widely acclaimed High Line in New York City, which is recognised as one of the best new public spaces in recent years.
2012 London Olympics Legacy | South Park | James Corner Field Operations

” A Landscape framework for a socially dynamic & eventful pleasure ground…..
Taken together, the Arc Promenade, the Planting Ribbon, the Event Rooms and the Lawns and Gardens create a powerful landscape framework for both everyday use and enjoyment as well as supporting a wide range of event programming, from food festivals and markets to rides and small circuses, to concerts and performances, to arts, culture and education. The design is clearly legible, iconic, playful and varied, while at the same time capable of supporting a diverse range of uses. This theatrical event site, set within a larger network of ecological green systems, waterways and world-class attractions, creates a destination legacy park for London – scenic and social on a daily basis, and eventful and active when programmed.” – James Corner Field Operations | Competition Entry Boards

The Best-Laid Plans

While reading “Cities For People Not Profit: Critical Urban Theory and the Right to the City” by edited by Brenner, Marcuse & Mayer, Routledge 2012, I found a reference to this book review by John Gray of James Scott’s “Seeing Like a State” that succinctly articulates the problems with planners and politicians utopian dreams and why cities need to be shaped by people for the people, it is especially prescient, in having been written in April 2008 before the full impact of the  global economic crisis had become well known, in its critique of neoliberal economics and free market theories:

The contemporary cult of the free market is just as radical an exercise in social engineering as many experiments in economic planning tried in this century. Like other kinds of high modernism, it rests on a confident ignorance of the immensely complex workings of real societies. Governments throughout the world are being advised by transnational organizations to reconstruct their economies on the basis of free markets. But no government or transnational organization can know what will be the results of promoting free markets in societies in which they have never before been central. What will be the effects on family life, on crime and on the economy itself?”

How Certain Schemes to Improve
the Human Condition Have Failed.
By James C. Scott.
Illustrated. 445 pp. New Haven:
Yale University Press. $35.

The 20th century has seen many grand schemes for improving the human condition. The collectivization of farming in the Soviet Union, compulsory ”villagization” in Ethiopia and postcolonial Tanzania, the construction of Brasilia according to Le Corbusier’s theories of urban planning, Maoist China’s Great Leap Forward and the self-sufficient rural economy that was the goal of Pol Pot’s Cambodia were ambitious efforts to better the lot of humankind. The ideas inspiring the schemes and the regimes that attempted them were highly diverse. The human costs of the experiments varied from an immeasurable toll in broken lives in Russia and China to a farcical waste of effort in Brazil. Despite their differences, these bold experiments had one thing in common: all failed. Why is it that such grandiose schemes of human betterment came to nothing? And can we be sure we have learned the lessons of their failure?

In what must be one of the most profound and illuminating studies of this century to have been published in recent decades — ”Seeing Like a State” — James C. Scott contends that these apparently disparate experiments exemplify a single body of ideas. He calls this system of beliefs ”high modernism,” and he tells us that it inspired such different figures as Robert McNamara, Walther Rathenau, Jean Monnet, the Shah of Iran, David Lilienthal, Lenin, Trotsky and Julius Nyerere. Scott identifies the birth of high modernism with the economic mobilization of Germany during World War I, and describes Nazism as ”a reactionary form of modernism.” As he goes on to show, high modernism is found not only in totalitarian regimes. He sees evidence of high modernist ideas in what he terms the ”Soviet-American fetish” of ”industrial farming” — the enthusiasm for mass production in agriculture that led some American agronomists to support Soviet collectivization. What is this set of beliefs that so easily crosses boundaries between regimes, economic systems and political ideologies?

For Scott, high modernism is the attempt to design society in accord with what are believed to be scientific laws. Typically, high modernists think that the best way to meet human needs is by expanding production in agriculture and industry. They want society to be governed not by the practical intelligence of its members but by scientific knowledge. Some believe that production itself should be planned. All are convinced that society must be reshaped according to a rational design. Seeing the apparent disorder of societies that are not governed by some overall scheme as a sign that they are not yet modern, they believe that in a truly modern society everything that is traditional or accidental will have been rendered obsolete.

Read the full review

Abalimi Bezekhaya – Cape Town’s Green Revolution

From Topos recognition for the work of our local urban farmers

To mark the 20th anniversary of Topos, the editors have assigned two Special Recognitions to two very different kinds of initiatives. Together they both mark the broad field in which we operate. One is recognition of the Norwegian Tourist Routes (to be explained in more detail via our blog soon). The other recognition goes to Abalimi Bezekhaya – a successful self-help project initiated by the residents of the Cape Flat Townships in Cape Town.

We are Abalimi. We are the Farmers. from Abalimi Bezekhaya on Vimeo.

Known as the “Eastern Cape on Cape Town’s doorstep”, the Cape Flats townships (around Cape Town) are populated largely by economic refugees from the previous apartheid homelands of the Ciskei and Transkei. New arrivals into Cape Town are officially estimated to be 1200 per month and unemployment figures are in the region of 30-40%. Abalimi Bezekhaya (Farmers of Home) alleviates poverty and creates self-employment through gardening and micro-farming in the sandy soil of the Cape Flats.

Voluntary association Abalimi was founded in 1983. It is an urban agriculture and environmental action association, working to improve sustainable food production and environmental greening amongst the poor in Cape Town. In particular the project targets women who often represent whole families. “Abalimi” means ‘the farmers’ in isi-Xhosa, the predominant language of their target community. Abalimi supports individual households and groups to implement their own gardening and micro-farming projects. This includes between approx. 2500 home based vegetable gardens and 70-100 community group projects (school gardens, community allotment gardens, communal gardens) per annum. It runs two non-profit nursery projects in Nyanga and Khayelitsha. Called People’s Garden Centres, they supply free advice, information and subsidised gardening inputs such as trees, groundcovers, soil improvers (e.g. manure), seed, seedlings, basic tools, windbreaks and safe pest control remedies.

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India on Wheels

For many non Indian visitors being driven around in India is like Russian Roulette, but as we all find out it is our preconceptions that are  chalenged and it seems very little damage is done to our bodies – the rate of car sales and the difficulty of providing public infrastructure in some parts of india must make one wonder about the  divide between the public good and business interests – in this article we see the Modernist tendency of focusing on the object a car and its appeal to the individual broadened to include its social significance but little or no consideration of its impact on the urban fabric it inhabits – at this stage design still sees its role in a narrow funnel of proving value to individuals and companies profits from where it derives its own functions and income – we have yet to understand the implications of this consumerist approach applied to the rest of the planets population. A good design article by Harsha Kutare at DESIgn MASALA

The Indian automobile industry is set to become the sixth largest passenger vehicle producer in the world, growing 16-18 percent to sell around three million units in the course of 2011-12. The passenger vehicles sales trend has shown an exponential growth in past few years and it is expected to grow further in coming years.

The Indian market presents several challenges to car manufacturers and dealers. After researching a bit online about the current car scene in India and talking to car owners, I came up with the factors that make the Indian car market stand out from others in the world.’

Harsha goes on to describe the factors he sees as influencing the Indian automobile market naming  Traffic and Road conditions; Way Finding; Huge numbers of first time buyers; Financial factors; Social Influencers; Cultural Significance/Unique features as areas which make the Indian market different from others

Social Influencers: There is lot of social influence from friends, family or relatives when it comes to buying a car. Buyers reach out to their social circle for recommendations regarding car models and dealerships. Some of the online platforms that are influencing people’s buying decision

Cars make a statement about the owner’s personality hence buyers are very cautious about the cars that they pick. Brands also play a vital part in projecting a brand image for e.g. Honda equals Pride, Mahindra is seen as a rugged brand and Maruti Suzuki equals good value for money whereas Mercedes signifies luxury. Brands carefully pick actors, sportspersons or celebrities as their brand ambassadors as Indian consumers, mainly youth is influenced by testimonials of celebrities.

First cars for most of the buyers are mid range hatchbacks. In most cases the buyer is the first person in the family to own a car. He takes his driving lessons from a driving school and prefers something easy to maneuver within the city with low maintenance costs and a great mileage.

A rather unconventional take on complexity in cities and global military power’s views on its rights to interfere in anybody else’s affairs

Global Trends 2030

By David J. Kilcullen

The City as a System

This era’s unprecedented urbanization is concentrated in the least developed areas of Asia, Latin America and Africa.  The data shows that coastal cities are about to be swamped by a human tide that will force them to absorb—in less than 40 years—almost the entire increase in population absorbed by the whole planet, in all of recorded human history up to 1960. And virtually all this urbanization will happen in the world’s least developed areas, by definition the poorest equipped to handle it—a recipe for conflict, crises in health, education and governance, and food, energy and water scarcity.

Rapid urbanization creates economic, social and governance challenges while simultaneously straining city infrastructure, making the most vulnerable cities less able to meet these challenges. The implications for future conflict are profound, with more people fighting over scarcer resources in crowded, under-serviced and under-governed urban areas.

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