Pop Cultitecture: The Genius of David Byrne

Combining two obsessions:  music and archi-culture David Byrne sits in the middle as a self appointed commentator on our lives and lifetimes, we have heard of our paranoia ash our obsessive lives since the seventies with Talking Heads, I remember “Life during Wartime”as especially poignant and his  collaborations with Brain Eno, “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” spoke mysteriously of a strange in-between world and predated the mix-uped shift to Remix. In his Bicycle Diaries he explored a first person view of urbanism and in How Music Really Works gave us an insiders view of music and the music industry now  in Archinect Julia Ingalls sets forth..

"It's a multi-purpose shape – a box." Byrne as "The Deadpan Docent" in "True Stories".

“It’s a multi-purpose shape – a box.” Byrne as “The Deadpan Docent” in “True Stories”.

Unlike those architects who long to be thought of as artists, Byrne is an artist who loves to thinks about architecture. Like the deadpan docent of the infrastructural realm, David Byrne’s work has inadvertently helped make architecture into a pop culture staple. While his commentary may not be mind-blowing to an architect, the method of his commentary – the diversity and size of his audience, the innovative visual and aural techniques in which he conveys highly abstract concepts – is a major contribution to architectural discourse.

Very few popular songwriters have as many instantly hummable, building-oriented tunes in their catalogues as David Byrne. It’s way beyond “Burning Down the House”; take a closer look at the entirety of Byrne’s 38-year output, working with Talking Heads, Brian Eno or any of a dozen other musical collaborators. Instead of writing love songs that focus on interpersonal rapture, Byrne tends to frame his romanticism in potentially isolating structures: dry ice factories, wartime brownstones, shotgun shacks. Byrne’s lyricism is usually never content to celebrate love between people; it’s a celebration of love between people and structures. Notably, the way structures and spaces influence relationships isn’t a tract in an out-of-print textbook but a danceable groove.

David with bike and organ at Aria, Minneapolis, MN 2012. Image via davidbyrne.com.

David with bike and organ at Aria, Minneapolis, MN 2012. Image via davidbyrne.com.

In tracks “Don’t Worry About the Government”, “Cities”, and “Strange Overtones”, Byrne explores the buoyant (if misguided) expansionist mindset of late capitalism, the suburban isolation resulting from utopian mid-century urban planning, and the Great Recession-era social retrenching. “Don’t Worry About the Government” places the joy of work and life firmly in the hands of expanding infrastructure; Byrne makes comparisons between civil servants and his loved ones, although his main focus is the inherent power of the building itself: “my building has every convenience / its gonna make life easy for me.”

My building has every convenience

It’s gonna make life easy for me

It’s gonna be easy to get things done

I will relax alone with my loved ones

– Don’t Worry About the Government, Talking Heads, Talking Heads: 77 (1977)

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Rehabilitating Africa

From Design Indaba:  a proposed project – this might be a candidate for the very problem that was discussed earlier here of Gentrification but the need in African Cites is undeniable and many of them are so run down that they are in desperate need of development with the incredible growth of these cites projects like this are bound to happen:

Issa Diabaté has launched a project that seeks to rehabilitate a district of Abidjan, Ivory Coast to create a city that is economically and socially viable.

The Cocody Bay Landscaping Project by Issa Diabaté.

The Cocody Bay Landscaping Project by Issa Diabaté.

“Designing with a broad vision makes things possible”, said Issa Diabaté atDesign Indaba Conference 2014, while presenting his groundbreaking urban planning endeavour The Cocody Bay Landscaping Project.

The Cocody Bay Landscaping Project is an urban planning and architecture project designed for the rehabilitation of the lagoon bay area located in the centre of the city of Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

The issue for the Ivory Coast is the lack of vision for urban planning, says Diabaté.

Diabaté’s firm Koffi & Diabaté Architects was commissioned by the District of Abidjan in an effort to rehabilitate an area, which has suffered from major degradation over the past 20 years due to sewage problems that affected the landscape on a grand scale.

Beyond just rehabilitation the project aims to establish a positive and long-lasting impact on the city by developing a new leisure and economic centre in the heart of the town. As such, in an effort to incorporate both environmental and social needs, along with the rehabilitation of the bay, an integral part of the project is the design of major green and leisurely spaces for city dwellers in the form of boardwalks a d various entertainment areas.

The Cocody Bay Landscaping Project also involves the development of a “smart city” incorporating notions of urban planning for social mobility. With this in mind, Diabaté will create a new residential and commercial area in the hope of fostering a rise in employment and future economic viability for the city.

The project is due for launch this year and is estimated to take between five and ten years to complete. 

 

The Cocody Bay Landscaping Project was showcased as part of Design Indaba Expo’s Africa is Now exhibition under the theme of “Africa is Urban”. The exhibition and theme in particular shrugged off the perception that Africa is largely rural and instead reveal how it is a engine for growth and opportunity in both challenges and possibilities present on the continent. 

The thorny matter of gentrification

From Kaid Benfield’s Blog another stab at  this eternally problematic area of development – its underbelly as it were – my guess is that it was a problem for pre CE Roman administrators too, and in some distant future age t on the old colonised Planet Z there will still be this discussion – that does not mean we don’t need to address it, but the question is how…? Kaid revues some of the issues here..

a sign in Chicago (by: Eric Allix Rogers, creative commons)

A few days ago, I made a presentation to a group of thoughtful and accomplished philanthropists on sustainable land development.  I made a strong pitch for urban revitalization and was countered with a question about gentrification, the messy phenomenon that occurs if longtime residents of older neighborhoods find themselves priced out of their own communities as those neighborhoods become more sought-after and valuable.  To be honest, I don’t think I handled the question particularly well.

I never do, really, even though it comes up a lot.  The issue is just too thorny on all sides and, in most cases, racially charged, because minority populations are the ones who feel squeezed when more affluent, generally white, residents rediscover cities and move in.  I have a lot of sympathy for long-timers who fear losing control of their neighborhoods and, in too many cases, their very homes as rents and property taxes go up with increased value brought on by increased demand.  But, on the other hand, the environmental, fiscal and, yes, social benefits of revitalization and repopulation of our older, frequently distressed neighborhoods are so substantial that I believe strongly that they must continue.

Surely we haven’t reached the point where making inner-city neighborhoods more attractive to more residents is a bad thing.  And does anyone really have a right in the US to keep newcomers out?  Didn’t we have a civil rights movement largely over that very issue?

I get it that we want the rebirth of America’s long-forgotten neighborhoods to lift all boats, not just provide a haven for affluent new residents.  But I find myself stymied when trying to find a balanced solution, since the argument of anti-gentrification forces can all too easily amount to, “I don’t want the neighborhood to improve so much that properties in it become worth much more.”  No one would say it in those words, of course.  Is there a way to provide some protection to longstanding residents without providing so much that it inhibits the very improvement that so many of our neighborhoods badly need?

The paralysis of imperfect choices

The good news is that a number of thoughtful people have been thinking and writing about these things.  Writing last year in Rooflines, the excellent blog of the National Housing Institute, Rick Jacobus eloquently described how gentrification can too easily feel like a problem with no solution at all:

“The way most people talk and think about [gentrification] seems to create a black hole of self-doubt from which no realistic strategy for neighborhood improvement can escape. 

“The paralyzing thinking goes like this: We want to improve lower-income neighborhoods to make them better places for the people who live there now but anything we do to make them better a poster in LA (by: Keith Hamm, creative commons)places will inevitably make people with more money want to live there and this will inevitably drive up rents and prices and displace the current residents, harming the people we set out to help (or, in many cases, harming the very people responsible for making the neighborhood better through years of hard work) and rewarding people who drop in at the last minute to displace them.

“Once you recognize this dynamic, it is very hard to talk yourself into wholeheartedly backing any kind of action. It seems wrong to leave distressed communities to rot but it also seems wrong to turn them around. Sadly, the most common response is to try to find strategies that improve things, but not too much.”

One of my favorite recent articles on the subject was written last month by Scott Doyon for his planning firm’s blog, PlaceShakers.  Scott, who has become a friend through an online community of urbanists who check in with each other almost daily, might be described by some as an early-generation gentrifier:  he and his wife bought into a working-class, African American neighborhood some twenty years ago because it was affordable.  At the time, they had good education but almost no money.  Since then, he’s seen the neighborhood attract more and more white, increasingly affluent residents.

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A tragedy of the commons: China’s Yangtze River

An observation essay from The Economist’s Intelligence Unit focus’s attention on how rapid industrialization, together with equally rapid  urbanization, conflict with the goals of “green hydro-based power” and  ambitious bureaucrats, all result in a mighty “muddle” – is this another case of planning’s inability to deal with the complexity of large scale natural and cultural systems ? I  wonder how African countries politicians will cope with planned Chinese funded and built hydropower projects if the Chinese are unable to manage their own large scale systems? See World’s largest hydroelectric plant could finally rise in Africa | SmartPlanet

China’s longest river, the Yangtze, is becoming extremely busy as it plays a core role in government efforts to develop the country’s interior. As industry moves west, raw materials to feed it are being shipped via the waterway, which runs between major ports in the east and provinces further inland. At the same time, the river is being drawn upon for hydropower projects, industrial use, drinking water and tourism. However, along with increased usage has come a plethora of problems. Better management is urgently needed.

Shipping capacity on the Yangtze has risen dramatically over the past decade, as billions of renminbi have been poured into dredging and deepening it. The river, which runs from the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau to the East China Sea in Shanghai, accounts for around 80% of China’s river cargo transport. A high priority has been placed on its development, as it is being tapped to drive growth in the regions further inland through which it winds. Heavy loads, such as iron ore, are cheaper to transport by river than by rail or road, owing to lower fuel costs and the absence of tolls.

As inland demand has boomed in the past decade, so has shipping traffic. This includes inputs for industry, such as iron ore and automotive components, as well as for consumption, such as soybeans. The Yangtze also serves as a means for inland cities such as Chongqing, where production of cars and steel is booming, to ship such goods downstream for sale or export. Shipping volumes on the river’s main course quadrupled over 2003‑12. In the first five months of 2013, container throughput on the Yangtze rose by 22.2% year on year, picking up from the 8.7% growth it recorded in the same period of 2012.

Great expectations

Efforts are under way to raise throughput further. More dredging will take place to deepen the river, enabling it to handle heavier vessels. The State Council (China’s cabinet) has announced a goal of raising inland river freight capacity to 3bn tonnes a year by 2020—double the amount transported in 2010.

Alongside this, cities along the river’s path have rolled out their own visions for the development of their river ports and logistics capacities. Plans for major ports along the Yangtze, particularly at Cuntan Bonded Zone in Chongqing, emphasise raised shipping capacities and the ability to handle larger ships. In 2012, for example, local media reported that Wuhan’s government had approved a Rmb300bn (US$48bn) five‑year blueprint to develop the capital of Hubei province into a major shipping hub.

Cadres in smaller port hubs also have great aspirations to exploit their position along the Yangtze. Officials in Anqing (Anhui province) are attempting to turn its river port into a regional shipping hub, allocating Rmb10bn for development.

Hydropower competes

But at the same time, the Yangtze is being tapped for a growing number of hydropower projects. Provincial governments are under pressure to raise the proportion of renewable sources in total energy use to 15% by 2020, and regions through which the river runs are keen to exploit it. According to local media, at least 11 hydropower projects have either been completed or are under construction on the river’s upper reaches. The Xiluodu hydropower station is being built at the Yangtze’s headwaters, also called the Jinsha. When completed later this year, it will become the country’s second-largest hydropower project after the Three Gorges Dam, which sits on the Yangtze in Hubei.

Less than 200 km downstream of Xiluodu will be the Xiangjiaba project, which will start to store water on June 21st. Xiangjiaba is slated to be the country’s third-largest hydropower project when completed in 2015, and will transmit electricity through to Shanghai. The Xiangjiaba Dam will also be used to irrigate farmland and to provide drinking water to southern Sichuan

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Mayor of Seoul: Forging Ahead with Cross-Sector Innovations

 This essay by the  mayor of Seoul, Korea, recounts his path to government office and explains why social innovation is central to the way that he governs. From the Stanford Social Innovation Review by Won-Soon Park |

 

 

SUPPLEMENT TO SSIR FUNDED BY THE ROCKEFELLER FOUNDATION

We are living in a remarkable era of connectivity. People living in Seoul, Korea, for example, are becoming much more closely intertwined with people living in New York City, and finding solutions to the myriad issues we all face has become of vital importance.

Such intertwining extends to government, the market, and civil society as well, requiring collaboration among the three sectors in order to create effective solutions. Indeed, our era requires deep understanding, swift decision-making, revolutionary innovations, and empathetic approaches.

In the past, society often operated according to market rationality, and winners and losers were clearly defined. But gradually, the search for solutions inspired the growth of civil society and the birth of numerous civil society organizations from diverse realms. Despite this growth, the civil sector lacked the power by itself to solve these problems. Likewise, the private sector and the government found that they, too, could not solve social problems on their own.

Such constraints led the three sectors to pursue strategic cooperation with the goal of finding solutions to complex issues. This new reality—that cooperation and collaboration, rather than conflict and competition, hold the key—is now apparent. Cross-sector innovation is a tremendous advance over the way that society had been addressing social problems.

I have made a point of soliciting greater citizen input and getting citizens more directly involved in decision-making, and expanding collaboration between government, the market, and civil society.

As author Peter Drucker wrote, “Innovation is change that creates a new dimension of performance. Change cannot be controlled. The only thing we can do is be in the front, and the only way to stand in front is through organic cooperation and collaboration between sectors.”

As the mayor of Seoul, I have striven to create innovative ways of governing that are based on cooperation and collaboration. I have made a point of soliciting greater citizen input and getting citizens more directly involved in decision-making, fostering social enterprises that use innovative approaches to tackle social problems, and expanding collaboration between government, the market, and civil society.

My approach to governing has been shaped over my three decades of work before taking office—as a political activist, as a human rights lawyer, and as founder of a watchdog organization, community foundation, social enterprise, and think tank. I was privileged to be part of an effort to help civil society take root in South Korea (officially known as the Republic of Korea), and I believe that my career traces the evolution of important developments in modern South Korea that have brought us to this moment of innovation and greater collaboration. And so before I detail some of the social innovation efforts Seoul City has pursued, allow me to share a bit of my own personal journey, which I hope will provide greater context.

No matter how good a job government does to involve the ideas of its citizens, we cannot expect to solve all of the complex problems we face using the perspective of just one expert or the skills of just one sector.

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Richard Sennet: The stupefying smart city

From the Urban Age Electric City Conference Richard Sennet’s talk on the different ways a “Smart City” might be performed gives forth alternative ways technology might in fact make opportunities for citizens and participants to create the city rather have it developed “top-down” by architects and bureaucrats, this despite the on-going concern that  through the pervasive surveillance and exclusion that the technologies of the Smart City entail in reducing diversity  and creating boring placeless public space. As Sennet has repeatedly  voiced his views that it  is diversity and openness that create opportunity – see for example WHY COMPLEXITY IMPROVES THE QUALITY OF CITY  LIFE

Throughout the history of technology, new tools have come into being before people know how to use them well. This is the problem we face with today’s new ‘smart city’ tools – the CCTV cameras, motion sensors, and computers capable of processing immense amounts of data. The problem is in a way understandable. It takes a long time and much experiment, entailing failure as well as success, to plumb a tool’s possibilities. This was the case, for instance, of the hardened-edge scalpel, which appeared in the sixteenth century: surgeons required nearly a century to figure out best practices and innovative operations with a super sharp knife. But tools for the smart city come with a sting in the tail. Their application can inhibit experiment by ordinary urbanites in their everyday lives. A large city can be thought of as a complex organism whose innards do not work perfectly in sync, whose parts do not add up to a unified whole. Yet there is something valuable just about these dissonances. They can create opportunities economically, when someone seizes on a market irregularity, while lack of coherent control enables personal liberty, and disorder might make subjective experience rich and multi-layered – at least novelists from Defoe to Proust hoped so. To take advantage of these possibilities, the big city needs to be learnt. The risk is that new technologies might repress the inductive and deductive processes people use to make sense, for themselves, of the complex conditions in which they live. The smart city would then become a stupefying smart city. When a new tool proves deadening rather than liberating in use, our first instinct may be to blame the machine itself. That is what Lyon’s silk weavers in the eighteenth century did; they attacked mechanised looms as ‘perfidious works of the devil’. Instead of blaming the machine, we want to ask how the new urban technologies can be used more intelligently – which is more a question about urban planning and vision than about machinery. What kinds of urban design empower people in the street to experiment with their behaviour, and to draw their own conclusions from those experiments? In the 1930s, urbanists like the American Lewis Mumford and architects like the Swiss Sigfried Giedion worried about machines and materials in relation to urban design. Mumford challenged the urban planners’ uncritical embrace of the automobile; Giedion attacked the architects’ conservative use of new building materials. Digital technology has shifted the technological focus to information processing. This can occur in handhelds linked to ‘clouds’ or in command and control centres. The issue is: who controls such information and how is this information organised? Which in turn raises new issues of urban design. The questions the technology poses are much more profound than which software to buy. In this light, I want to make first a comparison between designs that create a stupefying smart city and designs that envision a stimulating smart city. By drawing this contrast, a formal issue then appears: that of the difference between a closed and an open system. And a social possibility emerges as well: the use of stimulating, open system technology to render the city more informal. My own comments here draw on a decade of research done by Urban Age on the visual and social conditions that can enable urbanites to take ownership over their lives.

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Stronger Citizens, Stronger Cities: Changing Governance Through a Focus on Place

A welcome emphasis on actor-network associations and the politics of place rather that the usual focus on the built environment’s morphology , the paving, benches and “littering” the site with street furniture by 

caption / Photo: PPS

“If vibrancy is people, then the only way to make a city vibrant again is to make room for more of them.” / Photo: PPS

A great place is something that everybody can create. If vibrancy is people, as we argued two weeks ago, the only way to make a city vibrant again is to make room for more of them. Today, in the first of a two-part follow up, we will explore how Placemaking, by positioning public spaces at the heart of action-oriented community dialog, makes room both physically and philosophically by re-framing citizenship as an on-going, creative collaboration between neighbors. The result is not merely vibrancy, but equity.

In equitable places, individual citizens feel (first) that they are welcome, and (second) that it is within their power to change those places through their own actions. “The huge problem with citizenship today is that people don’t take it very seriously,” says Harry Boyte, director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College. “The two dominant frameworks for citizenship in political theory,” he explains, “are the liberal framework, where citizens are voters and consumers of goods, and the communitarian framework, where citizens are volunteers and members of communities. In other words, for most people, citizenship is doing good deeds, or it’s voting and getting things. We need to develop the idea of civic agency, where citizens are co-creators of democracy and the democratic way of life.”

It is bewildering, when you take a step back, to realize how far we’ve gotten away from that last statement. We have completely divorced governance from citizenship, and built thick silo walls around government by creating an opaque, discipline-driven approach to problem-solving. Busting those silo walls is imperative to creating more equitable communities. Rather than trying, haplessly, to solve transportation, housing, or health problems separately, as if they exist within a vacuum, government should be focused on building stronger place.

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Eat Your View | Veenkoloniën Netherlands | Felixx

Integrated research on sustainable agriculture that incorporates realistic acknowledgement of the impediments to the success of this process are seldom voiced in more that banal terms such as “market economy” “farmers markets” etc – going beyond green activists  and  urban hippies day dreams proves more than challenging; Her is one response reported by Damian Holmes of World Landscape Architecture 

How can rural dynamics be employed to adequately cope with the global challenges that we are currently facing and how can these challenges once again turn rural areas into a system that works? The Veenkoloniën (Groningen peat district) is a rural area in the North of the Netherlands that is facing a number of major economic, social and ecological challenges. As an agricultural area, the region is part of a global system. Consequently, its challenges are not caused by internal factors, but by the global food system and this system’s impact on the area, i.e. the social, economic and ecological environment that it creates.


The new agricultural model requires a new production system: an intelligent seven-year crop and livestock rotation that integrates temporary nature areas. Processing is divided into a cooperative network of local, regional and national processing hubs: a choice is always made between transport costs and the benefits of scale. This results in development opportunities at all levels of scale and renewed social significance for the food industry. The infrastructure network is adapted to facilitate these new development opportunities and to ensure that the production area can once again be accessed and experienced by both consumers and producers alike.

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Security Estates: “This is a village with no facilities beyond raw security”

From Dezeen – South Africa brought into focus with Oscar Pistorius’s newsworthiness bringing media  eyes to focus for a moment  on this negative aspect of South African urban life – but it is not here alone that this in their   “Splintering Urbanism” Stephen Graham and Simon Marvin list this as one of the many symptoms of depressing global malaise. I have added on of the comments here – in response to what the writer saw as the one sided view expressed in this piece.

Marcus Fairs opinion: gated communities

Opinion: in his latest column, Dezeen editor-in-chief Marcus Fairs discusses why gated communities are “becoming the default setting in towns and cities around the world” and asks whether it matters who owns the land beneath our feet.


From the air, it’s easier to spot wealth than poverty. Climbing out of Cape Town International Airport the informal settlements soon become a blur but the private developments remain in crisp focus, their pristine loops of asphalt standing out like Nazca lines, the bulk of their road-straddling gatehouses unmissable and their clustered tricolours of lawn, pool and villa conspicuous against the dun landscape.

Later, descending into Johannesburg in darkness, the city lights reveal the same pattern: random, dull and fuzzy in the shack districts but bright and purposeful in the secure enclaves.  The British euphemistically call these developments “gated communities” but South African developers use the more straightforward “security estate”.

In one such as these, near Pretoria to the north, Oscar Pistorius felt safe enough behind high walls, razor wire, attack dogs and armed guards to sleep with the patio doors open (albeit with a gun under his bed and a cricket bat behind the bathroom door).

Pistorius lived on the Silver Woods Country Estate (shown in the aerial image above) – a “pres­ti­gious secu­rity estate” of 290 homes and still-vacant building plots set amid similar districts with names like Willow Acres and Faerie Glen. This still-growing Securicor suburb will eventually house 25,000 people.

The sleeping and bathing quarters at Casa Pistorius are now among the most familiar interior layouts of all time thanks to numerous media reconstructions of the night he shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Yet the urban design of Silver Woods has hardly been discussed, even though its paranoia-driven features might provide the only mitigating circumstances in Pistorius’ favour: people who live in these places clearly fear for their lives.

Like most security estates, Silver Woods has a single point of entry and departure: a covered, manned and barriered gateway, bristling with CCTV and biometric scanners and resembling a sub-tropical Checkpoint Charlie. It is connected to the public domain but not of it.

The estate is “enclosed with a solid, elec­tri­fied secu­rity wall” and is planned “in such a way that it has the feel of a vil­lage.” All build­ing work is sub­ject to “a strict archi­tec­tural and aes­thet­ics spec­i­fi­ca­tion”.

Yet this is a village with no facilities on offer beyond raw security: no stores, playgrounds, bars or cafes. Residents have to journey by car for all their daily needs, or get them delivered. Hinting perhaps at the fearful priorities of its residents, the estate’s website boasts of its proximity to hospitals and medical clinics first of all, before listing the distance to local schools and shops. The location of the nearest police station is not regarded as a benefit worth mentioning.

While security estates respond to violent crime they do not solve it. Despite its precautions Silver Woods has suffered “incidents” in the past. Beneath a brief statement on its website from the Silver Woods management commiserating on the Valentine’s Day tragedy a woman called Colleen has commented: “We moved to the UK to avoid the crime. While liv­ing in a ‘secure’ sub­urb in Johan­nes­burg we expe­ri­enced many an inci­dent with regards safety, bur­glary etc. Our chil­dren were vic­tims of hijack­ing attempts as well.”

Developments like Silver Woods attract universal disdain from architectural writers and urbanists. They are seen as a betrayal of civilised values and an abandonment of design’s potential to benignly regulate behaviour in the urban environment. Former Guardian architecture critic Jonathan Glancey called gated communities a “social ill” and wrote: “It’s time we opened our gates, and to shoo the fear away as we do.”

But they are becoming the default setting in towns and cities around the world – and not only for the wealthy. In the USA, the number of homes in developments secured by walls or fences grew 53 percent between 2001 and 2009 and now account for ten percent of all occupied homes.

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Comment:

h..a.

Easy to talk from london. One in three South African women has been raped. It is not paranoia; it is a fact. I don´t particularly like those neighbourhoods, but I live in a place where, unlike South Africa, one can walk in the streets safely. Don´t make an academic discussion out of a more serious matter. By the way, it is in bad taste talking like that of the Pistorius case.