Mumbai is one of the world’s immense population magnets, and its growing at a rate never seen within our quaint little corner of Western cities. It is an apotheosis of the global economy that our leaders have been busily crafting for decades now, consequences be damned. Amidst Mumbai’s hodgepodge of skyscrapers and slums are the social, cultural, and economic linkages that we call globalization. Inexorably growing mega cities like Mumbai are the real symbols for our age, because they’re where globalization happens. For millions, coming to Mumbai means leaving the desperately poor parts of rural India where globalization isn’t happening and probably never will.
The militia that attacked Mumbai can’t slow down the city’s growth anymore than they can halt a storm front.
Globalization is urbanization, and the foreign policy establishment is starting to catch on, sort of. Foreign Policy, a bastion of elite consensus, now has an annual index that rates the global impact of sixty cities. The rankings weren’t shocking. New York rated as the world’s leading global city, followed by London, Paris and Tokyo. The accompanying analysis is also boilerplate. A typical path to success is “a free press, open markets, easy access to information and technology, low barriers to foreign trade and investment, and loads of cultural opportunities.” Other cities, like Dubai, found their ways to prominence by offering access to regional markets without the “political headaches” of plugging into urban centers in larger countries.
They’re essentially giving cities the same advice that development institutions gave national governments for years: fling your doors open through deregulation and good things will come. When governments in the global South went along with those policies, bad things happened instead. First and foremost was the decimation of agricultural economies in rural areas, which is pushing millions willy-nilly into cities with ill equipped housing and service infrastructures.
Leading thinkers in the defense establishment see this as a recipe for chaos. Global Trends 2025 — the geopolitical forecast by the National Intelligence Council that made a splash for contradicting some of the administration’s most bogus predictions — sees rapid urbanization as a source of global discord. The report predicts that an unprecedented 57 percent of the world’s population will be urbanized by 2025. “The net migration of rural to urban areas, and from poorer to richer countries likely will continue apace in 2025,” the study predicted, “fueled by a widening gap in economic and physical security between adjacent regions.” The report predicts a combustible combination of growth without opportunity. Cities will take on the new waves of residents “without formal sector job growth and without adequate services.”
So far the response has been to build taller walls. This is changing urban landscapes all over the world for the worse. New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff calls it the “new medievalism.” Walls and barricades are becoming permanent fixtures in cities from Baghdad to Los Angeles, separating groups that supposedly mean to do each other harm.
The other facet of this is the militarization of cities. The presence of soldiers near landmarks and transportation sites is a fact of life in the US after 9/11, and in cities elsewhere (ever see anyone with a machine gun during a romantic stroll by the Eiffel tower?). For the US military there appears no turning back. An example writ large is its recently acquired and expanding Muscatatuck training center in Indiana. The training center’s faux city blocks comprise a simulated city (complete with seventy buildings) that is used by everyone from Special Forces to local authorities to prepare for urban combat. You can bet the attacks in Mumbai will push things even further in this direction. Indian leaders are under tremendous pressure already to take drastic measures. Other cities will surely follow suit.
Of course city governments should take reasonable measures to respond to atrocities like the attacks in Mumbai. The danger is that garrisoning cities could become permanent, transforming the global economy’s growing hubs into closed off and unattractive places where cornerstone matters like civil liberties and freedom of movement are mere trifles.