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Something new is happening on Planet Earth,
big enough to be seen from space.
Hot spots, buzzing with the energy of millions of people.
For the first time in human history,
more of us live in cities than in the country.
But these are cities on a different scale.
In just 50 years
we've seen the birth, the growth and now the dominance of the megacity.
Sprawling, seething, noisy, polluted,
crammed with 10 million, 15, sometimes even 30 million people.
These cities are complicated, fragile places,
constantly on the edge.
These are places of overcrowding, squalor.
But these are also the most exciting places on the earth,
brim with optimism and fun and energy.
Love them or loathe them, fear them or embrace them,
the megacities are the human future of the planet.
What is the great story of our times? It's migration.
The emptying of countryside, villages and small towns into the great cities.
The tramp of billions of people.
One of the biggest gambles the human race has taken.
In this programme, I'll be talking to some of the winners.
I see what you mean about the view. Good grief!
9 million quid! Wow!
And the losers.
What's this, a government notice saying get out before a certain date?
I'll be living in the middle of sprawling slums.
It's about 1.30 in the morning now
and I'm eaten alive by mosquitoes.
Where filth and friendliness live side by side.
I'll climb the mighty new fingers of the metropolis.
This is London's way of saying to people, "Look at me, come to me."
I'll take bird's-eye view of cities that just can't stop growing.
It just goes on for ever, without form or shape.
But I'll also ask whether an ultra-slick and efficient megacity sucks the life out of its people.
Who would want to live in a city with no sense of its own past?
And I'll find out if the secret of a really successful metropolis
means we all need to bring the village into the city.
I've got too many friends!
There are now 21 cities we can properly call mega.
That is, they have a population of more than 10 million people.
All of them are relentlessly changing, shifting and, above all, growing,
and there are plenty more on the way.
Over the course of this series, I'm going to be journeying to five of the world's key megacities.
Shanghai would like to think of itself as the new capital of the world -
right now the most dynamic megacity on the planet, sprawling sideways and sprouting upwards.
Dhaka, where 500,000 new migrants arrive every year.
A place of poverty, pollution and transport chaos,
so vulnerable to flood and disease it could be the first megacity to have to be evacuated.
Tokyo, which is still the largest city on the earth -
33 million people jammed into the ultimate hi-tech, urban hive.
The grand old man of megacities, with lots to learn from the new generations
and something to teach them too.
And, last of all, Mexico City -
one of the most dangerous cities in the world, but for my money,
one of the most enjoyable as well, brimming with surprises.
This story, though, doesn't begin in the city at all,
but tens, if not hundreds of miles away out in the countryside.
All around the world people are hearing the summons,
but this is nothing to do with religion.
They're answering the call of the city.
Imagine you're a peasant farmer and you're leaving the place that you are known and that you know
and going to somewhere where you're unknown.
And yet, in their tens of millions,
people are turning their backs on all of this and going in one direction only -
to the city.
By 2050 the world's cities will absorb over 3 billion people
and the population in the countryside will stop growing.
By then, 70% of the world will live in cities,
and by the end of the century, three quarters of the entire planet will be urban.
This will mark the end of the biggest shift in human civilisation since the birth of agriculture.
And why are these people going?
For the promise of a better life, wealth, even luxury.
I don't know if the streets of the megacities are exactly paved with gold,
but they are splattered with posh brands
and adverts selling, in essence, a better tomorrow.
And so they act like huge magnets, every day they bring tens of thousands of people,
either driven by desperation or lured by optimism.
And, of course, for a lot of them, it never happens.
They stay stuck on the edges, living a pretty miserable life.
But hundreds of thousands do make the jump
and they start to climb the ladder of opportunity
and get at least a bit of what they hoped for.
They're never the same afterwards.
In Shanghai, at the top of one of those ladders, is Tang Jun.
'The transformative power of the megacity's worked for him.'
He's one of the winners.
His parents were humble workers, now he is Shanghai's richest man.
He's made his money from the millions of people in the city seeking entertainment.
Shanghai is the karaoke bar capital of the world
and Tang is its emperor.
I invented some of the cool kind of ideas stuff.
-For example, you sing karaoke - you know karaoke?
I invented one very unique kind of system.
Once you sing karaoke, the system will tell you how good you are,
basically give you the score.
I call it the Karaoke Score Machine.
-Ah, so it's an electronic Simon Cowell?
So I earned, in the first part of my life, the money.
I earned the money from Samsung and then I founded my own computer company there.
I came back to Shanghai in 1997.
What was Shanghai looking like then? None of these skyscrapers?
No, not at all. Actually, you didn't see any kind of high-rise buildings here.
So just 10 years? It's astonishing story.
Even to me, and I've been living in Shanghai for 13 years.
Shanghai is changing almost on a weekly or monthly basis.
Tang is the top of the megacity pile, but he's not unique.
Shanghai has over 7,000 billionaires.
I'll say that again - 7,000 billionaires.
It's the fastest-growing city on the planet.
'If the skyscraper is the ultimate symbol of a city trying to tell you it's arrived,
'well, Shanghai is screaming.
'It makes Manhattan look a little dull.' Wow.
This is, erm...
This is absolutely astonishing.
This is the first time I've seen Shanghai from this high up,
and it is breathtaking.
It's a sort of like a German forest of skyscrapers.
They're sprouting almost as you look at them,
and the minute you see one that you're told is the tallest...
And some of them look like they've been badly drawn in the wrong perspective
because they are just dizzyingly, unsettlingly big.
And apparently there's a much, much bigger one
just arriving, which is going to dwarf those.
People say, apparently,
that Shanghai is the new capital of the world,
which sounds a bit over the top,
until you've been at the top
and looked down and it starts to make sense.
These things are being built with bamboo scaffolding and armies of people
who were once tending rice paddies
and are now planting steel and glass instead.
Just 30 years ago, there were 121 buildings over eight storeys here.
Now there are more than 10,000.
and it's not just Shanghai that's infected.
I am currently at the highest point of the highest building site in Europe,
just one of the extraordinary new skyscrapers
leaping out of the urban clutter below them, all around the world.
This is The Shard in London and when it's completed,
it will be the highest building in the European Union.
This is London's way of establishing its power
as the major megacity in its bit of the world.
"Look at me!"
These skyscrapers are packages of money,
engineering and imagination.
They are the beacons, the lighthouses of the modern megacities,
saying to people all round the world, "Hey! Hey! Come to me."
The megacities' frantic gorging on materials, innovation and change
is happening in front of our very eyes.
The Shard will rise to 1,016 feet.
And it's growing at a phenomenal, Jack-And-The-Beanstalk pace.
Every two weeks, three floors are added
and, eventually, there'll be 87 of them.
When you're building a building this high,
there's one piece of kit you can't do without, of course.
Taller than the skyscraper itself - the crane.
Look up and you'll spot the unsung heroes of the skyscraper world,
the people who spend their working lives dangling up in the air.
And getting to meet one of them
means I have a rather serious morning's walk to work.
It's unsettlingly open.
Good God. Ha!
I hope I never have to climb up a ladder that's longer than that one!
I'm up here to talk to John Young,
one of the crane drivers who's building this extraordinary place.
Um, apart from anything else, just to find out how he does it.
Hi, John. It is an amazing sight up here.
-Is there a big sense of pride in doing this job?
You never tire of the view. You can be in a job for a year, two years
and, all of a sudden, recognise things you never knew were there.
You can never tire of the view,
-especially at night time when the lights come on.
Working at these extreme heights means the operators often have to work blind,
delicately shifting around tons of steel
with the help of a team hundreds of feet below them.
OK, John, fast as you like.
Just give her a little tap round to your right, please, John.
Fast as you like. Keep going up, keep tapping left.
As The Shard keeps growing, so do the cranes have to grow
because they have to be even taller.
We're incredibly high up. Is this as high as you go now?
No, no, no. This is only half the height.
-You'll get twice as high?
-Twice as high.
But we have to, what we call, jump the crane. Climb it ourselves, section by section.
-So you build the crane...?
-Yeah, from inside, yeah.
And there's a certain amount of anxiety when that happens?
There's always a handshake before we let them bolts go.
-A handshake first? Just in case the worst happens.
-Let's do the job properly.
-That's seriously dangerous.
The most dangerous job you can undertake in construction is the jumping of a tower crane.
Building The Shard is a global operation.
It sucks in components from all around the world -
lifts from Finland, doors from Malaysia
and, believe it or not, the toilets are from Scotland!
Renzo Piano, the architect behind The Shard,
is selling this dream as a city in the sky,
home to offices, restaurants and hotels.
On the outside, this will be a towering expression
of the megacities' glittering 'come to me' written in glass.
One of the big differences between the new skyscrapers
is what they are saying and how they are saying it.
If you look over there at an older building -
a great, heavy, aggressive, lump of concrete -
it's about a city which is rather dour and old-fashioned and heavy.
These buildings, as we are seeing, are all glass,
it's all light and it's all airy.
And at some level, it's meant to suggest that anyone can rise to any position.
Everything is transparent.
The crews putting in the windows are on a tight schedule.
They have to put in 20 of these monsters every day.
By the time this building is finished,
this glass shard will be covered from top to bottom
with 11,000 panes of glass.
You think of these big projects as being entirely routine.
It's obviously not. It's actually still about human muscle and skill.
This guy's going to get out here now through the fencing,
just to lock that into position.
Tiny errors here are very dangerous and very, very expensive.
Insulation-wise, this wall is definitely the trickiest,
because you are just totally out of the building.
-You're leaning so far out.
And, obviously, you want the guys to be safe, you know?
These vertical cities don't come cheap.
The total cost of the Shard will be more than £1 billion.
And at its top, a series of incredible luxury apartments.
Aztecs, cathedrals, the Eiffel Tower and Manhattan -
powerful people have always tried to build
as high as they can, because they can.
But who goes into these buildings? No gods or emperors here.
Yet one thing hasn't changed.
Around the world, the most spectacular buildings,
the real jaw-droppers, gob-smackers,
still tend to have the rich right at the top.
Back in Shanghai,
inside the concrete and glass forests
are the swanky penthouses and multinational HQs.
'Andy Lau is estate agent to the super-rich.
'Business is booming.'
This is about 900 square metre
and it's a four-plus-one apartment.
As you can see, it has a very high ceiling.
-This is what we call a double volume.
This is something that, you know...you have to see.
You have the best of Shanghai.
That is a view!
I'm tempted. I might well be a buyer, but...
one small, tiny little issue I need to ask you about.
No worries, nothing is a problem.
OK, the price...
-Nothing is a problem!
For the top, wealthiest people in Shanghai,
getting a grand apartment with a lovely view,
what sort of money are they going to be paying?
I think in the market, talking about really super-luxury properties,
about 90 million.
-90 million, which is about £9 million.
9 million quid! Well!
I might have to go back, have a word with my bank manager first,
just chat, you know, before I can actually sign the cheque!
Any time, just give me a call, you know we can work this out.
But the skyline of the megacity isn't all sleek concrete.
Welcome to Dhaka in Bangladesh, in all its unstructured,
Not only are 12 million people already living here,
there's half a million new arrivals from the countryside pouring in every year.
That's like a city the size of Liverpool moving in next door.
Whatever the dream of a better life, many people start here in the slums.
It's estimated that the Dhaka slums are home to four million people.
It might seem vast and daunting,
but when you're on the ground in this place, you discover it's still highly organised.
So this is a slum, like thousands around the world.
It's a slum, however, not a dump.
It's complicated, well organised.
Television area there, where they're watching the cricket.
There's a school down here.
Just like Shanghai, this place has its own social structure.
One thing I've noticed, wherever you are in the world,
if you come to a new city and you're trying to find where the posh bits, the better-off bits are,
there are a couple of infallible signs.
One is better roads, a better class of roadwork.
And the other? Trees, greenery.
The more greenery, by and large, the better off.
It seems to be the case even in the slum.
The houses might be made from plasterboard and discarded wood,
but that doesn't mean that their owners can't make them very comfortable.
Sohil and his family have been here for 15 years.
He's made a life for himself in the slum and he's decided to stay here.
So this is a lovely house.
-You've got lots of lovely things here.
It's not what people would expect from being inside a slum house.
IN TRANSLATION: We're very proud to be living like this.
We built this ourselves, supported ourselves and supported our family.
We have everything we need to live.
Can you tell me a bit about this community, this area? About how many people,
how many families are living here now?
IN TRANSLATION: 10,000 people live in this slum.
10,000 people? That's a lot, yeah.
It's a proper-sized town, isn't it?
But for many of the 10,000 people in this particular slum, conditions are a lot less comfortable.
This way? We'll go this way? OK.
'Just round the corner 14-year-old Musharraf and his family are putting me up for the night.'
-You've only been speaking English for two years?
-That's amazing! You're very good.
You're really good at it. That's fantastic.
'Musharraf was a slumdog, a street hawker,
'until two years ago when a charity helped to pay for his education.
'He's very bright, but the conditions he lives in are still pretty daunting.'
-If you want to take a bath, there it is.
-That's the bath?
-I'm not sure about the bath.
-That is toilet.
-Down that way? OK.
I'd better just dump this. Oh, God.
-Straight into the lake!
-Straight into the lake.
This is the room where we're going to live.
It's a big house.
Because lots of people are living here, almost nine.
-Nine people in here?
-That's why it's a big room.
-Yeah. Nine people living here.
Let's get out and get ready for our cook.
Get ready for our cooking. Yes.
'With my sleeping quarters sorted,
'we're off to buy dinner in the market, the hub of the community.'
No, no. I think not. Chilli maybe.
-Cross the road.
'To cook the dinner, we're going to need some water, obviously, but the nearest pump's a mile away.'
Maybe it's a little bit hard for you to carry?
It's all right. I've got to kind of experience the full thing.
-Can I help you?
-No, it's fine, Musharraf!
-Just give it to me.
-We both can take it.
No, no, no. Honestly.
-There we go, look.
-Not like this.
What's wrong with that?
What's wrong with that?!
Like this. Carry like this.
Like this? Between the two of us?
All right, OK. Shared labour.
'Musharraf's a remarkable boy,
'the more so, I thought, after I'd asked him how he landed here.'
So, Musharraf, a bit about your family.
Where did they come from?
First when I was four years old we were in the village.
Then there were some problems.
-We lost our land and we moved to Dhaka.
1998, the biggest flood of Bangladesh.
The worst flood? Yes.
-Did the family lose everything?
And then we move to another place when the farms were burning.
The homes were burned down?
-Was that because of an accident?
-It was accident.
This is the fourth slum for you?
-This is the last one.
-The last slum.
A lot's happened to you and you're just 13.
Yes. I'm 14.
14, sorry. I beg your pardon. How old do you think I am?
-45, that'll do.
-50? Almost near.
'Here they cook with clever stoves they've dug out of the earth.
'They have only one knife and they cook better than most television chefs.'
'And embarrassingly, it seems I'm a dead ringer for somebody else off the box.'
You look like Mr Bean.
-She says I'm Mr Bean.
After darkness falls, they watch television with electricity expertly nicked from the official grid.
'But it's still a long way from the posh end of the slums.'
They're better at it than me.
-He's struggling now.
-It's too hot.
-It's very hot.
I think it's time for me to go to bed. I'm exhausted.
It's been a long, long day.
One last... Oh, I get my hands washed as well.
I'm going to spend the rest of the night here
in one of the shacks in the slum and say goodbye now, goodnight, to the camera crew.
There they are. Good night, camera crew.
-See you in the morning!
-Night-night. Off you go.
It's about 1.30 in the morning now and I'm eaten alive by mosquitoes.
I've put on all sorts of stuff and got a mosquito net
and it's absolutely no difference at all.
I'm just covered in bites and they're keeping on going.
There's also some very large rats just underneath me.
I've spotted them. More like the size of cats, I would say.
And cockroaches as well.
The rats are a doddle compared with nipping out for a pee.
This is the slightly...
Not only forbidding, I think... pretty difficult underfoot,
if I can put it that way.
The main thing, the first thing is not to drop either of my sandals.
You don't really want to see the next bit!
I might be in a city of more than 13 million people, but it feels a lot smaller.
It's the deep dead of night now.
Just the occasional muttering and coughing, dog barking.
I'm wondering how many of these people
are really city-dwellers at all.
They seem bound together by close ties of mutual obligation,
family ties, looking out for each other and each other's children.
I think the village is the natural unit and perhaps every megacity
is like a huge body crammed with millions of ghostly villages,
of which this is just one.
Dawn, and the cycle of the slum continues.
One thing I suppose we think we know about slum-dwellers,
is that they are the passive, put-upon victims of the modern city.
Well, if one thing is clear from being here for a short time,
it's that these people may be victims, but they are not passive.
They work fantastically hard.
They are resourceful and full of ingenuity.
Simply getting together the fuel and the food to keep themselves going,
keeping the structures upright, looking after the children,
running little schools, and THEN going to work
for long and back-breaking days
is an extraordinary human achievement.
You are welcome as a guest again.
I'll be back.
-Mr Bean comes back.
Mr Bean comes back! All right.
Thank you very much.
-We will miss you so much. Thank you.
'Good, tough people.
'But this is still a rotten city.
'It's a lesson in how not to run our urban futures.'
The trouble is, when you build a shiny new metropolis,
knocking down the slums,
you can end up destroying places where real communities still hang on.
Back in Shanghai, I carried round a little book to try to learn
some basic Chinese characters but I soon began to wonder
if they had words for heritage and conservation.
So here we are in old Shanghai
but many of the buildings here have a kind of plague symbol stamped on them.
This means simply one word -
And so on.
Don't need a symbol that side any more.
a rather nice new building, or at least a new building. Newish.
I think it's a school.
So that's all right, then.
The massive rebuilding programme ordered by the Chinese authorities
requires the residents of Shanghai's old town to be relocated
Can he explain what this is?
-A government notice? Saying?
Saying that you should move before a certain date.
Right, so this is a government notice saying get out before a certain date
or presumably your house will be knocked down anyway?
Um, yeah, you should move out.
And you got that one?
THEY CONVERSE IN MANDARIN CHINESE
They are not happy with the policy.
Like, the house they are supposed to get it's very far away.
Oh, that's interesting. So they're being moved a long way away and this is their home here?
'In theory, such is the fear about speaking out against the government,
'we were firmly told nobody would say a word with a camera nearby.
'Cheeringly, plenty of people were eager to talk.
'They seem a direct and stroppy lot, the Shanghai locals.'
We talked to a lot of people who suddenly congregated.
They were very angry and upset that they were being forcibly moved.
One of them is now leading us to see his house.
'Just like in Dhaka, these houses might look grim but they are homes.'
There are six people registered in this address.
Six people? Goodness.
Was that him?
His marriage photograph?
-20 years ago.
-20 years ago, yeah, yeah.
A Shanghai man.
-They grew up here.
-Yeah, I understand.
For the older residents, this big land grab means being kicked out of your home and your neighbourhood.
But many people are being provided with new homes and hot running water
and toilets for the first time in their lives.
They're being relocated here, on vast, new estates mushrooming on the edge of the city.
100,000 new homes being built here every month.
Xiong and his wife, Nee, have just picked up the keys to their new flat.
Oh, I love the lights, yes.
Everything is absolutely new.
How does this compare with their old house?
They used to live with their son in a 20-square-metre room. Now they have two apartments.
This apartment belongs to the couple and their son is married
and his wife is pregnant.
They are expecting a baby.
They moved for the construction of a metro line, line 13.
So they had to move and were given this instead, or they were able to buy this instead?
There will be 100,000 families moving here.
It's really nice. It's a bit like a salty, sesame,
pita bread kind of thing. Nice.
I've just been walking around and looking at the street food and the stalls and the markets
and the neighbours chatting and kids running around,
and I feel that it's very sad.
Then I ask myself, is this simply kind of soppy sentimental?
Is it in some way merely, I suppose, decadent, to say,
"But wasn't it lovely, wasn't it pretty, wasn't it different, wasn't it special?"
It's really, really hard to make a judgement about this
because for a lot of people, this is the best thing that has ever happened to them.
There are lessons to be learned in trying to house the citizens of a metropolis.
This kind of mass living does bring huge new challenges.
In Tokyo, which is the most advanced megacity city in world,
they're struggling with where to put 33 million people and that's transforming how they live.
If we're looking for answers,
one place we might try is the great granddaddy of megacities.
Tokyo is so big,
it makes the world's other megacities look almost modest,
but this gargantuan structure is built up of very small cells.
Take a bird's-eye view and down below you'll see football pitches,
playgrounds, even driving schools constructed on top of buildings.
Living here comes at a cost.
Property prices are so exorbitant and space is so short
that it's changing what people expect a home to be.
These flats are built on the same area it would take
to park just two cars,
but they provide homes for six people
each living in 25-square-metre boxes.
My goodness me.
It's not very big.
and not much... Oh, a washing machine.
I have a horrible feeling this is the kitchen.
It's more like a little cupboard. And look at this.
This is good.
About as small a basin as you can imagine.
And a small, and it has to be said, very public bath.
I would feel like
a kind of nude frog in a box.
I suppose there are blinds of some kind.
Yeah, blinds of some kind, but still.
It's basically a small walkway with glass all around it
and not much else.
I mean, how you're supposed...
You can boil a kettle here but not much else, I'd have thought.
There's one thing that's strangely missing.
I don't want to be too personal about this but there isn't,
for instance, I can tell, a toilet at all. Unless it's hidden.
Oh, yes, there is. And here it is.
This is really deeply weird.
I've been in some small places in my time, I've seen a few small flats, but this is
like the shaving or corner of a flat.
I suppose I could live here.
Anyone could live here. It would be very depressing, I think.
I would go bonkers very quickly.
I think, actually,
I would prefer to be in that shack in the slum in Dhaka in Bangladesh,
because your feet are at least on the ground.
There's bits of green and there's people and noise
and a bit of human merriment about.
This is just bleak, isn't it, really?
Tokyo is the embodiment of the highly-efficient, slick, uber-modern city.
For some people it's the incarnation of the metropolis of the coming century.
The megacity that runs like digital clockwork.
Take the super-efficient automated subway that's able to shift
nearly eight million people every day.
This is a system so well-organised that on rare occasions when it does mess up, nobody believes you.
Do you want to know how good the Tokyo train system is?
If you fail to turn up for work on time, you say, "Really sorry. The train was late."
You have to provide special written proof from the train company
because it is, frankly, so unthinkable.
Unlike communist Shanghai, capitalist Tokyo is one of the most equal cities in the world.
It's got very little poverty or homelessness.
Crime levels are very low.
There's almost no gun crime at all.
It can be a mesmerising and enthralling city,
a bit like an old sci-fi comic come to life.
But there's a price to pay. So much of it looks exactly the same.
There's a mechanical coldness and an unsettling, robotic uniformity.
Maybe I was just a bad mood, but I find myself searching for
corners of friendliness and normality.
Some Tokyo dwellers feel just the same,
falling between the cracks of this highly rigid, pressurised society
is a weird and growing phenomenon.
Hikikomori, reclusive individuals
who have totally withdrawn from social life
and turned their backs on Tokyo.
Rarely, sometimes never venturing outside the confines of their homes,
they are unable to face up to life in this city.
HE SPEAKS JAPANESE
TRANSLATION: I started to become reclusive in the fourth year of primary school.
I was the kind of kid who got teased.
At home I'd mostly watch TV or just mope around.
My links with the outside world were completely cut off
and with the loss of those links, I became reclusive.
28-year-old Yugo barely left his bedroom for 13 years.
Since I couldn't go out of the house myself any more,
I just kept ordering things through my parents, things I wanted to eat, get, watch.
My parents would fetch them all for me.
The alienating megacity that forces people like Yugo into his bedroom is spawning a strange new business.
You can now rent people.
Not for sex, simply for friendship.
Today, I'm meeting Uhay.
Aha, my friend.
-It's a great pleasure to see you.
Nice to see you as well!
'He rents himself out to the lonely.
'Uhay's promised me a surprise, something to remind me of Scotland, but also something very Tokyo.'
'Golf in the sky.'
Japanese, eh! They'll play golf anywhere.
What sort of people hire you?
Usually, I go to the wedding as a wedding guest.
-And that's somebody who doesn't have enough friends of their own, maybe?
It's not just weddings they get hired for.
One of the popular jobs for these rent-a-friends
is to accompany people to bars after work to show colleagues that they're popular and interesting.
It's a very funny business, isn't it?
not many Japanese people want to tell true things to others.
-They're quite private?
-They're quite private, yeah.
Oh, that's good!
Renting a friend
because you haven't got a friend is a really bizarre, unsettling idea,
weird beyond belief, and it does say something about a city like this,
where people can be so lonely
that purely to get some human companionship,
to have someone alongside them, not to lose face, they have to pay.
it's just very sad, actually.
All round the world, different megacities struggle to get this tricky balance right,
between community and warmth on the one hand and efficiency on the other.
If you want a contrast with Tokyo, welcome to Mexico City.
A colourful and dangerous sprawl of around 20 million people,
where life on almost every level is lived on the street.
The thing about seeing Mexico City like this,
floating just a few hundred yards, or 20 or 30 yards, above it,
is that it just goes on forever without form or shape.
It's like an incrustation or an invasion
on the land below.
The only places that are untouched are where the slopes are so steep
that the builders simply can't get there.
If Mexico City's two-and-a-half-hour commute in choking car fumes
doesn't kill you, then the spiralling crime rate might.
Let's make no bones about this, this is a dangerous place.
There are three murders in the city every week and an estimated 500 kidnaps a month in the country.
When you take to the air, you can see a yawning social divide.
It's much more unequal than Tokyo.
Here are penthouse suites closed off behind razor wire on one hillside
and vast barrios of slum housing clinging to another.
At night, there's an edgy feel to the streets. You're never quite sure what's going to happen.
A lot of the city is controlled by gangs,
but this is also an exuberant place.
A city that's not being told what to do and whose citizens
live life to the full on the streets amongst one another.
Countless mariachi bands stroll the boulevards and squares playing for money.
They're not here for the tourists. They're proud of their music,
for reasons which seem, to my ears, a little bit obscure.
So many to choose from, so many different bands.
An impossible choice.
We certainly didn't find this kind of mood on the streets of Tokyo
HE SINGS IN SPANISH
In Mexico City's communal street culture,
food and friendship go hand-in-hand. There's around 25,000 taco stands
and cafes, where people meet and socialise over breakfast tacos,
lunch tacos and supper tacos.
-Have you ever eaten grasshoppers?
No, I've not eaten grasshoppers. Are you going to offer me a grasshopper?
-How would you like me to cook some grasshoppers for you?
Here we go. Is this them? That's not them. Oh, they're tiny!
Do you get the same people every day, coming in?
There are lots of regular customers. But there are always new faces.
They come to tacos to eat, but you can make also friends.
-Like we do now.
-Do people talk politics or do they talk religion?
They talk about politics and how they are angry with the government.
-You're angry with the government?
It's the same the world over!
We read all this stuff about how Mexico is really violent
and they're all these problems and so on, is that not really true?
Unfortunately, we only get to see a part of the whole thing, you know.
We have to defend Mexicans. We're all friendly, and we are all nice people.
-Grasshopper tortilla, coming up!
-There you go.
All right, here we go.
-It's all right. Very nice, actually.
-Is it hot?
-Is it hot?
Mmm. It's hot, it's garlicky, a bit crunchy.
And it doesn't taste like anything else, does it?
-But one of the strangest things about Mexico City's
street culture happens on a Sunday, which is dancing day,
Danzon, and in the squares, the killer grannies are on the prowl.
It's fantastically sociable, in a rather unselfconscious way.
-Do you know, Mexico City...
-Usted puede bailar conmigo?
Excuse me, I'm talking to the camera. Si. Camera.
I was talking to camera. Escusi! Una momente, OK?
-LADIES TALK OVER EACH OTHER
I've got too many friends!
OK. And then you. Escusi!
BAND BEGINS TO PLAY
This is SUCH a friendly city.
Every time I try to say something, I get pounced on.
This is the kind of rich, street culture
that no commissar, no planner, no town hall could give you.
It comes from the streets up.
And as a result, despite the crime,
despite the mesmerisingly bad traffic,
despite the pollution, Mexico City is a friendly, liveable place.
And now, even old London is getting a twist of this sociability.
It's a small trend, really,
but it's a very interesting one, which shows how technology
can bring some warmth and zip, because the streets here are lighting up
with spontaneous outbursts -
viral events called flash mobs, there are raves in railway stations,
there are instant protests.
This lot call themselves "free runners".
And every weekend, in the heart of London,
the traffic starts to come to a standstill as the tourists
-and shoppers have to look where they're going for once, because...
The streets are transformed into a mega skate park.
This mass gathering of hundreds of skaters is as much about freedom
and thrills as it is about community or empowerment.
One of the best bits, in a way, is that for one day,
for a couple of hours, the road's ours.
-We don't stop for no-one.
-We ARE the traffic.
The excitement, the friendship, the fun.
OK, first of all, I'm Australian, I'm in London, I'm skating with double-decker buses and taxis! Yeah!
We get to go outside and play on our skates,
and that, in itself, is exhilarating, being able to do that. I think we're very lucky.
-And lucky that we have a city that lets us do it.
Megacities are places that could threaten
a decent way of human living.
Cold and grim and spiritless.
Or, if they have enough social mobility
and enough warmth and not too much order
and grow more like coral reefs composed of little villages,
they'll be fine.
The world's great cities are where the world's human future will be decided.
The choices that are made in these places
will dictate whether the future is vile or enjoyable,
short or sustainable, free or frightened.
The planet has become a series of urban experiments.
Tokyo, with its Japanese conformity.
Shanghai, still under the thumb of Communist bosses.
Dakar, mired in corruption, for all of its exuberance.
Mexico City, with its extraordinary extremes of colour and violence.
So, here's the good news.
London, the nearest we have to a megacity, has, Lord knows,
plenty of problems. It has some terrible housing, huge inequalities,
transport nightmares, but compared to many of its rivals,
it does feel more open, more mixed,
more of a genuinely "world" city.
Sometimes, you have to go pretty far away to realise
how lucky you are back home.
Next time, protecting and controlling the megacity.
How do you avoid disappearing in Mexico City,
the kidnap capital of the world.
I'll be signing up as a new recruit in London's riot academy.
There's nothing quite like being hailed with bricks and petrol bombs
to make you see things differently.
And discover how Tokyo defends itself against disaster.
This is now not funny!
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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