Thursday, September 15, 2016

Creation Time Day 15

Creation Time Day 15
The iconic central business district of Shanghai in China may not be an obvious image of choice to celebrate the glory of the creation. Yet humanity and the environments we shape for ourselves are part of the created world. It is an important belief in the Christian faith and other spiritual traditions that humanity shares in the divine creativity, and has responsibility for inhabiting the earth in ways which reflect divine values of love, peace and justice. Spectacular urban landscapes like this are marvels of human ingenuity and skill, and there is inspiration to be found in the breath-taking forms and designs of the structures. Recently the proportion of the world population living in urban areas passed the half-way mark. I captured this photograph in 2013 when I was part of a delegation of British church leaders visiting Christian churches in mainland China.

Shanghai, on some definitions, is the largest city proper in the world. With a population of 25 million it almost equals that of the five Nordic countries combined; if it were a sovereign state on its own it would have a larger population than 22 of the states in the European Union. Shanghai's young people have access to a top -performing education system. A recent World Bank report ranked the city's 15-year olds first in global indicators of attainment in reading, maths and science; as a result of a strong education system with efficient public financing and a "great teacher workforce". But the success or otherwise of the Shanghai education system is contested. There are dissident voices that report the negative impact this highly standardized testing-focused education is having on family life and on student mental and physical health. A large proportion of college graduates are not able to find employment in the city commensurate with their level of education; and many of the wealthy families send their children to the universities of Europe and North America for higher education. Inequality of income in Shanghai is comparable with London, which itself is relatively high for a developed economy, comparing unfavourably with cities like Tokyo and Stockholm where the distribution of income is more even.

Recent independent researchers have uncovered the human cost of the transformation of Shanghai into a world city. Forced re-location and demolition of neighbourhoods for modern development, against the will of the residents, have devastated family and community support networks . Serious questions have been raised about, at best, the disregard for natural justice, and at worst, serious human rights abuses that have come with the re-building of Shanghai. It is through study of the experience of the residents of Shanghai that global social scientists are developing the concept of "domicide" - the destruction of home against the will of its inhabitants. Other world megacities are not immune from this deficit of democratic accountability and human dignity in the face of the powerful forces of finance-driven capitalism.

As more and more of the world's population gravitate to large urban areas there is a challenge to ensure that these cities grow not only in size, power and technical prowess but also in peace, dignity and justice for all their inhabitants.

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” 
― Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

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