Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The Mass Media and Politics

Finally, the long-awaited election year is here and politicians –veterans and rookies alike–are gearing up for the forthcoming make-or-break general elections. At the heart of all campaign strategies by any serious politician eying especially the presidency, is management of the mass media. The mass media is the centre stage of any democracy’s political drama and even though they are indispensable to politicians and to a democratic political process, politicians adore and dread it in equal measures. To improve their prospects for election, politicians need the mass media to portray them favourably even when they are unpopular something which makes their campaign strategy somewhat of a ritual dance before the media.

Anticlimatic Cities Built From Scratch

Masdar City, Abu Dhabi – As you are aware, the United Arab Emirates is awash with petrodollars so much that the ultra-wealthy nation is turning its flights of fancy into realities.  Initiated in 2006 and projected to cost $22 billion, Masdar City was to be "the world's first zero-carbon city," a custom-designed settlement. It would rely entirely on renewable energy — mostly solar — and would produce zero waste. Up to 80% of the city’s water supply would be recycled and waste would be reduced to as close to zero as possible. Automobiles would be banned within the city walls –all transportation was to be via Personal Rapid Transit vehicles (PRTs).

Fast forward to 2012 and the grand plans have changed. A zero-carbon city proved too ambitious — or maybe too difficult, given the current limitations of renewable energy — so now the aim is for low carbon. Transport within the city is no longer solely through the PRTs — instead, electric buses and other mass transit are in the mix leading to a city planning nightmare. The sustainable City is a life size experiment which remains to be seen if it will ever be able to fully sustain itself and develop the authenticity of a real city.

Canberra City, Australia – Canberra is unusual among Australian cities, being an entirely planned city. It was chosen as the home for the national government as a compromise between Sydney and Melbourne, Australia's two largest cities whose rivalry is legendary. In 1911 an international competition for a city plan was launched and an American landscape architect Walter Burley Griffin won. Dominating Griffin's plan was a central artificial lake and a 'parliamentary triangle' in which the most important national buildings were to be placed. The surrounding residential areas had a geometric street pattern, circular and radial in shape, all fitting well into the general topography.

In 1920, Griffin left Canberra disappointed at the lack of progress and frustrated by repeated efforts to change his city plan although the framework of the plan was already established on the ground. Being a planned city, Canberra is a well laid out city and there is very little traffic, but that is all there is to it. It is a very boring little place given that it has the weirdest zoning laws and its inhabitants are mostly public servants. It’s a city that Aussies love to hate simply because it's not Melbourne or Sydney.

Brasília City, Brazil – Apparently, Brasília is the result of a long standing and visionary dream. From 1763 to 1960, Rio de Janeiro was the capital of Brazil. During that time, resources tended to be centred in Rio de Janeiro Brazil's southeast region. The plan to move the capital city to Brasília was conceived in 1827 but it was not until 1891 that the idea of relocating the capital was sanctioned. President Juscelino Kubitschek ordered the construction of Brasília in 1956 and Lúcio Costa was its main planner. Brasília was built in forty one months, and in 1960 April 21, it was officially inaugurated. 

Overall, Brasília was a failure in many ways. Many of Costa's ideas were failures from the very beginning. They may have been good ideas in theory, but in reality, they could never work. Brasília was built for automobiles in a society where an automobile is still a status symbol. Perhaps the greatest criticism of Brasília is that it is a culturally inappropriate city based upon European ideas, not Brazilian ones. The city just did not turn out the way its planners intended it to be and it is not thought of highly even by its own inhabitants.

Dodoma, Tanzania – The debate on the town best suited for Tanzania’s capital city started soon after independence. There were those who argued that Dar es Salaam, all the way at the Coast, was not easy to access and it would be difficult to connect it to all zones of the country. Parliamentary proceedings and media reports were dedicated to arguments for and against. The matter was finally resolved in 1972, when a TANU opinion poll showed 18 regions in favour of Dodoma and three against it. In 1973, plans were made to move the capital to Dodoma. The Ministry of Capital Development was established early in 1976 to administer the process of planning and administering the project to transform the town in central Tanzania and give it the look of a capital. An American architect James Rossant developed a master plan for the new capital in 1986, sponsored by the United Nations. Tanzania's National Assembly moved there in February 1996. 38 years later, all government departments except the Local Government Ministry remain in Dar el Salaam, which remains Tanzania's commercial capital something which begs the question: what went wrong, assuming of course that the opinion poll results were not doctored?

Abuja, Nigeria – Nigeria’s long-standing ethnic and religious divisions required its capital moved to a location deemed neutral shortly after independence but a protracted civil war and years of military rule prevented such a move until peace was restored. True to form, Nigeria’s capital city Abuja was planned be the largest free-standing new city ever built. The master plan, designed by an American consortium, was a grand scheme. The government’s set target population was 1.6 million by the year 2000 and 3 million ultimately. Government functions would be the principal foundation for the city’s economy.

As it turned out in the early stages of development, some large buildings were constructed in advance of supporting infrastructure, so that government ministry workers in the early years laboured under deplorable conditions. The Nigerian press reports that electricity, sewer, and telecommunications systems continue to be problematic. Housing and land use have remained a rich source of violent conflict over the years. Rapid development and the attendant proliferation of squatter settlement by the indigenous population pose serious security concerns and other social risks. Apparently, the relocation of the federal government to Abuja witnessed the forcible displacement of the Asokoro ethnic community. About 845 villages were displaced!