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The stories behind

>> Since 2014, we’ve been travelling to up-and-coming

emerging cities for our multimedia project Future Cities. For our research, the economic and demographic growth of a city is always the starting point but the stories of pioneers such as Aung are what really fascinate us. It’s good to know that, since the start of the democratisation process, Yangon’s economic potential is being recognised around the world. But what does it say about a city if you don’t know who lives there? What motivates its citizens and what are their dreams? With Future Cities, we tell the stories behind the urbanisation and growth statistics. We are looking for what makes a city authentic and what can be found in the DNA of its people. Aung’s story is about ambition, progress, and hope - a refreshing counterpoint to the familiar stories about the negative consequences of urbanisation and growth. But what appeals to us most of all is that Aung’s work goes further than just the production of art. He sees art as the basis for a new society; a catalyst for social inclusion and a way of rebuilding the city’s identity.

Although the work of pioneers such as Aung is certainly bearing fruit, in Yangon it’s yet too early to draw such firm conclusions. Lima, on the other hand, is a paradigmatic example. Peru’s forgotten cuisine has become the basis of the nation’s identity. As a consequence, tourists are flocking to eat in Lima; the locals have something to be proud about and their self-confidence is building by the day, and chefs, business leaders, and politicians are joining forces to make their city even more attractive. ‘Fifteen years ago, the university was a bastion of dissatisfied youth and extreme ideology’, says Gaston Acurio, the chef responsible for the incredible revival of Peruvian cooking. ‘Now, you will find young people there who want to be doctors, architects, musicians or chefs.’ ••

WHAT MOTIVATES CITIZENS AND WHAT ARE THEIR DREAMS? Like in Yangon, we also met changemakers who are turning the tide in their cities in Kinshasa (Congo) and Lima (Peru). Although these cities are completely different, they are undergoing a common development. In all three cities, the real soul of the city could not thrive under repression, a bad economy or bad governance. Economic growth, political stability or the green shoots of freedom are allowing the qualities people there always have had to flourish. In Africa, the Kinois’ sense of style has been legendary for decades. Peruvian culinary traditions go back to the Incas, and in Yangon, political prisoners just keep on painting - even in prison. A population that is discovering and embracing its cultural identity, in turn, leads to a broader development of their city. ‘Culture isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity’, Unesco researchers recently wrote in a global report on culture for sustainable development. ‘Urban heritage and culture can play a fundamental role in enhancing cities’ identities and providing a platform for social and economic development.’


Stephanie Bakker journalist

Yvonne Brandwijk photographer Future Cities is supported by: the Volkskrant Stimuleringsfonds, the Fonds Bijzondere Journalistieke Projecten, Freepress/ Dutch Postcode Lottery Fund for Journalists, Creative Industries Fund NL and the ‘Innovation in Development Reporting Grant’ programme of the European Journalism Centre (EJC), financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Profile for Pakhuis de Zwijger

New Amsterdam #10  

New Democracy | 10 years Pakhuis de Zwijger | Maakplaats 021 | FabCity Movement | Global Parliament of Mayors | Equal Access | Humans of Ams...

New Amsterdam #10  

New Democracy | 10 years Pakhuis de Zwijger | Maakplaats 021 | FabCity Movement | Global Parliament of Mayors | Equal Access | Humans of Ams...