Friday, July 7, 2017

"Welcome to Hell": Anger is international

Pictures from Hamburg, Germany this morning prove that American cities are not the only ones where anger erupts in burning cars and trash on fire, broken windows, bullying police and swarms of helicopters overhead. Nor are they the only ones with problems of police violence (Hamburg), racial discrimination (Cologne), drug problems (Frankfurt) or concentrations of poverty (Berlin) even though all these pathologies are much more accentuated here in Baltimore.
Hamburg protest against the G-20 summit

Where Trump, Erdogan and Putin assemble in one place, the anger of people who see the growing divide between rich and poor, the heated globe and the arrogance from those who could do something about it, has an international dimension. But many of the root causes are local and rooted in a system a system that seems to double down on all the bad policies that caused the global crisis in the first place, an attitude for which the American President has become the symbol.

This crisis is not one of east against west as Trump proclaimed yesterday in Poland in front of a jubilant crowd of ultra conservative Poles, but one of a global war of those who have everything against those who don't. The global allotment of wealth has become extreme and so have the disparities in the standard of living and those rifts are mirrored inside countries and inside their major cities.
Cars and dumpsters in flames in Hamburg

The two port cities of Hamburg and Baltimore both have neighborhoods which are incredibly wealthy and open to the world, and, newer for Hamburg, also sections of town with entrenched poverty where people barely get out, don't have a job and little access to opportunity.

Of course, similarities between the Hamburg and Baltimore go only so far, especially in the context of the G20 summit. Hamburg had 48 murders last year and even that low number brought about hand-wringing in the city because this rate exceeded that of the entire country of Denmark (45). A April 2017 study shows that 20% of all Hamburg children grow up in poverty, in Berlin the rate is 30%, the German national average is 15.7% whereby poverty is defined as less than 60% of mean income. Hamburg is a much larger and growing city, Baltimore is still shrinking.
Poverty in Hamburg

Yet, looking at the pictures of Hamburg reminds of the images of April 2015 here at home.

In all of the frustration of how the 21st century seems to be shaping up, a few positive facts shouldn't be forgotten: Worldwide the rate of those living in absolute poverty has fallen, so has the rate of those starving. Birthrates have fallen as well even while the discrepancy between rich nations and poor nations continues to grow.
The share of the global population defined as “poor” — those making less than $2/day — has fallen since 2001 by nearly half, to 15 percent. Overall, the world has become “wealthier” compared to the turn of the millennium. Notably, those in the middle-income bracket making between $10 and $20/day have nearly doubled their global presence, from 7 to 13 percent. (
"Welcome to Hell" demonstration in Hamburg
The issue is not necessarily that the world goes to hell in a handbasket (Slogan of the Hamburg anti G-20 summit demonstration: "Welcome to hell"), a sentiment that has been around for millennia but that cities have become the centers of the extreme disparities between rich and poor and that those disparities are still growing.

US cities like Chicago and Baltimore which have by far larger disparity gaps than any European city need to show a way forward how to spread the wealth, especially in a time when national policy is pushing in the opposite direction.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

A moment of pause

Images we have seen in Baltimore

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