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Andrew Boraine

Andrew is an international expert on urban and economic development and partnering for systems change. He has been involved in urban governance, economic development and transition processes in South Africa in a wide range of capacities for over four decades. 

Greg Clark 

Well, we were really honoured when we discovered that our good friend Andrew Boraine in Cape Town is one of the listeners to The DNA of Cities podcast. Andrew is here with us today. Andrew, let me ask you, what have you enjoyed or found meaningful about the podcast series so far?


Andrew Boraine 

Thanks Greg, it's wonderful to talk about this great subject and overall, I've enjoyed the concept of the DNA of cities as a metaphor to understand and explain similarities and differences between cities. It's a useful metaphor there. I've enjoyed the distinction that you make between the endowed traits of cities and the sort of inherited and acquired traits of cities. I love your one mention of the connection to civic action. As a practitioner I really enjoyed you talked about civic action being built around trust, belonging and identity. In my work, which is a work of really trying to help people in cities and towns change and adapt to the future, and not be left behind, I work with a very similar concept around identity, belonging and meaning, the so-called IBM of human behaviour change. So I really enjoyed that theme that you've drawn out of the podcasts. I've also enjoyed your focus that every city has an origin story, but who tells it and who is included in that story over time, and who is excluded and how that story changes over time, depending on who's telling it. Then the final point I've really enjoyed in the series is a quote from one of your earlier podcasts where you say that human beings acquire places and then seek to belong through adaptation. In other words, human beings shape the city, but are in turn shaped by the city. I love that juxtaposition. So for me, that's been the sort of three or four themes that I've drawn through the series, your podcasts.

 

At the beginning of the series on the DNA of Istanbul, I really enjoyed. I visited the city for the third time earlier this year with my wife, and I'm visiting again in a week's time. The Istanbul podcast was a wonderful introduction, you know, themes of decline of empire or tension between the city and the nation states or dealing with rapid urbanisation. I want to commend three books to augment what you've put in that podcast to your listeners. One is the well-known Istanbul: Memories in the City by Orhan Pamuk where he talks about hüzün. It's a Turkish word, a kind of a state of collective melancholy life amongst the ruins the long slow decline of an empire that is still inherent in the city fabric. It's similar to that duality of attitude mentioned in the podcast, ‘alas where has it all gone?’ But at the same time, the city has a Mediterranean style of living. So you talk about the geraniums, even in the poorer areas, and I really love that one concept of the DNA of Istanbul being one of collective melancholy. Then I read recently, a book by Bettany Hughes, who talks about the Tale of Three Cities. She ends with this concept of Istanbul as a cosmo-polis, or cosmopolitan city, a word coined by the Greek Diogenes the Cynic, I believe, and it means belonging to all the world. You know, sometimes if you have a parochial notion of the DNA of cities, it can be 'our cities are better than other cities, and we of this place are better than those others have that place'. And obviously, that is a very narrow interpretation of the DNA of a city. It's a kind of competitive race to the bottom better than thou attitude, which I don't think is really what you're trying to get across with The DNA of Cities, but it can be interpreted like that. I thought of Bettany Hughes' concept of a cosmopolitan city not just limited to one part of the world, and free from local, provincial and national ideas, prejudices or attachments. So you can be torn between different loyalties you can be from Cape Town but love Istanbul and wherever else, you know, at the same time, and then I recently read a really good chapter on Istanbul, by a writer called Doug Saunders called Arrival City. He talks in this chapter about the death and life of a great arrival city, being Istanbul. In your podcast, you talk about to succeed in Istanbul, you have to have an appetite to thrive. In other words, there's a contract between the old residents new residents, and the city continuously being renegotiated. I came across this concept of gecekondu, 'gece' meaning night, 'kondu' meaning placed overnight or settling overnight and if you built your house overnight, they couldn't knock it down as the authorities the next day. I've been quite interested in Istanbul how the outsiders of the 1970s and 1980s are now the political insiders under Erdoğan you know, in the 2020s.


Greg Clark 

Wow, Andrew, thank you so much. Firstly, to say, we'll make sure of course, that all of those books, and I certainly think that Pamuk and Hughes are already in our reading list for the DNA of Istanbul, but I'm not sure about Doug Saunders. So we'll get him in there. Then the other thing to say is that I love, particularly because you're such a leader in this space, how you see the connection to civic action and collaborative leadership. Because more than anybody else, I know that that's where you have amazing expertise. I think there is something about understanding the DNA or the origin story or the soul of the city that does create this sense of belonging that's so critical to the social capital that you must mobilise if you're going to have collaborative leadership. I hope to say a bit more about that in a minute but thank you so much, I'm so glad it's enriched your experience of Istanbul, which is very important. We deliberately started the series with Istanbul for all the reasons that you've just said. Let me go on to the second question, Andrew. So, you know, you've been thinking about cities for fifty years and you've been kindly listening to the podcast. What does The DNA of Cities concept now mean to you, then? Where are you with this idea?


Andrew Boraine 

Well, Greg, I pulled a fast one here. I asked my friend, Chat GPT what does The DNA of Cities mean? as one does nowadays, which is quite interesting. It told me that there are a few ways DNA can be metaphorically interpreted for cities, which all makes sense: a blueprint of identity, foundations are core inheritance and legacy and uniqueness. I get that. But there was a fifth point which I really liked. For me, this is what the DNA of Cities-- and I'm going to read out what AI told me about it, because it identified this. It talks about the DNA as interconnectedness. DNA is composed of sequences of nucleotides that are interconnected in a specific way. As a metaphor, DNA can represent the interconnectedness of different elements in a complex system. This could be applied to relationships, organisations or any situation where various components work together in a structured manner. And Greg, you've talked about you understand the city as an interconnected system of systems, rather than just looking at the buildings, or the public spaces, or the history, you know, and a lot of professions tend to look at cities in a disconnected way. You know, you're looking at urban services, you're looking at local government, you're looking at city finance, you will look at past civilizations, but it's actually when you know, you bring it all together, the social, the geographical, the climatic and how that's changed over time, the political and history and with the urban systems with the municipality, as you really get to understand what that city is composed of. So for me, The DNA of Cities means amongst other things, how is the city connected with itself. We know there are many disconnected cities which are terrible places to live, you know, elite enclaves with high walls and vast, sprawling urban settlements of poverty. Those are not nice cities for anyone, you know, so for me, striving towards a connected city, not just connected to the global economy and participating there but also connected to itself, because so many of our cities are divided.


Greg Clark 

Andrew, I happen to know that one of your interests is music. And the music that individual cities produce is obviously part of the unique creative production. Have you had a chance to think much about the relationship between the songs or the music that individual cities produce them what it says about those cities and who they are?


Andrew Boraine 

Well, if you just think of a lot of the songs of our youth and of our own history, I mean, I think one of the earliest songs I remember listening to was Downtown by Petula Clark from the 60s. I was a youngster and my uncle used to hum it. I thought, what is downtown? What does that actually mean? I, you know, years later, when I was writing my podcast, I went and looked it up. In a sense, downtown is quintessential New York, you have the uptown, and the downtown, and they mean different concepts at that particular time. I think there's so many, in my era of the late 1970s, and 1980s, you know, listening to punk rock, and the New Romantics, and then a lot of the music coming out of London, I'm sure that's your era as well, Greg, around the Thatcher years, and the conflict on the streets, and the anger of the youth and the rebellion and things like that. Music can tell so many stories about a city. For me, I'm not an architect. So I don't really look at buildings I you know, I'm not Jan Gehl who looks at the public spaces and the spaces between buildings, these are all very valid concepts. But for me, it's all about history, memory, identity, belonging and meaning. For me, that's culture and culture is expressed through stories and one of the best ways to tell a story is to sing it. Because human beings remember the words of a song much more than the words of a story. So every city has its bards and it's songsters and you know, for me, that has become the way to understand cities, you listen to the songs about that city, or written from that city, or by people who visited that city.


Greg Clark 

It's such a rich area, Andrew, and we've promised each other that we'll have a proper conversation about this. And we certainly will, and I look forward to compiling with you some songs from each of the cities. Let's go on to the next question, Andrew, which is I want you if you will, to pick one city, and to tell us about what that city means to you and to talk about the DNA of that city as you see it.


Andrew Boraine 

Well, Greg it has to be Cape Town. I started off thinking, well, what are the names for Cape Town? Because I mean, Cape Town is a very strange name if you unpick it. And if you go back 1000 years, this place was called Cammisa, the place of sweet waters. One of your themes, Greg is how human habitation is always connected to water; water for your life, water for your crops, water for your animals, your herding culture, for your transport and for your military prowess and things like that. So it's interesting that Cape Town starts off its life as a place of sweet waters by the indigenous inhabitants. But it's also called huri-oaxa the 'mountain in the sea' because it's so distinctive. It's one of its sort of main physical traits is that you see this flat top mountain sticking up out of the sea. But it's also called the Cape of Storms by the Portuguese, who I think in 1512, suffered a massive defeat where the Admiral Almeida and sixty or so of his crew were killed by the local inhabitants. The Portuguese always then avoided Cape Town and branded it as the Cape of Storms: 'don't go there. It's an unfriendly inhospitable place'. And then along comes Sir Francis Drake, and he says, 'My goodness, this is the fairest cape of all. This is the Cape of Good Hope!' So he started with a very different kind of city branding, probably representing the English on the ascendancy of their empire, at the stages the Portuguese were going down. The Dutch knew it as 'De Kaapsche Vlek' or the Cape Hamlet or literally the cape spot. It was a speck on the map. When Cape Town had 7000 inhabitants, the Portuguese city of Batavia, where Jakarta is now had 100,000. So, you know, it was the speck at the bottom of Africa.

 

Sometimes people, perhaps in Europe still see it as this little inconsequential speck at the bottom of Africa. Writer Lawrence Green later on in the 19th to 20th Century talks about Cape Town as the 'Tavern of the Seas'. And I really like that it's a place where East meets West a little bit like Istanbul. People have come from different parts of the world and journeyed to and from different parts of the world via the tavern of the seas. But Cape Town is also called the 'Mother City', it's the oldest city in South Africa. It's the legislative capital, and I think of all those apartheid laws that were adopted in our parliament in Cape Town, and then post-1994 were all undone in the democratic South Africa. So you've got layers of history. And as a sort of amateur historian, I'm always interested in the layers of history piled up upon each other, that conspire to produce a unique DNA.

 

So how do we tell this fractured story? Because Edgar [Pieterse], for example, talks about that intergenerational trauma inflicted from you know, the destruction of the hunter gatherer economy and the herder economy, by the arrival of the settler slave economy, and later on the British imperial economy, and then the segregation and apartheid economy before we get to the transition to democracy. But even after that, in our last 30 years, we've had equal amounts of failures and successes with state capture and corruption being some of the failures. So who tells that story? How do we tell it? For me, that's one of the hardest things and there's nothing better, as you know, Greg is to take a group of people and hit the streets and walk the built environment and tell the stories through the names and the places and the buildings that are there are no longer there. And what they represent. So that's, that's my city, and I can't wait to put it in your next set of podcasts.


Greg Clark 

Oh, well, firstly, Andrew, thank you. You've brilliantly illustrated how the different names that a city has, can speak to different strands of DNA or different character traits, however you want to put it, and Cape Town's obviously a city, it's so rich in this regard. I also love what you're saying about who tells the story? And when do they tell it? And how do they get to tell it and who helps them tell it and whose story is not told? This becomes I think, very fascinating. This moves us immediately on to the next question, which is, what are your recommendations to myself and Caitlin, and Ivor, about which cities we should feature in future episodes, you can have as many as you like.


Andrew Boraine 

The general point I would make is that, I think in your next series, there has to be a greater focus on the cities in the global south because they have some very different-- I mean, virtually all of them are kind of colonial and postcolonial spaces, which have a very particular characteristic, a very particular insertion into the global economy, some quite extractive to this day. You have overwhelming conditions of informality and the paradox of urbanism without industrialisation, the insertion of small elites into the global economy, and continued marginalisation and poverty of vast swathes of citizens. So that story needs to be told. So whether it's Jakarta, or Sao Paolo, and they're cities that you know very well, Greg, through all your work over the years. So that would be one kind of broad recommendation. Almost against that, you have to talk about Berlin. I mean, my goodness, I was there last month, walking the streets, and I hope to be spending a month there in the coming year, at the time, by the way, in June of the European football. But I've just read a fascinating book called Berlin: The Story of a City by Barney White-Spunner. As an ex-British military officer, I thought, 'hmm, what is what story is he going to tell?' but actually, it's a damn good story. In terms of the DNA of Berlin, he keeps coming back to the theme of unwillingness, the stubbornness of Berlin. Berlin is just simply not going to accept whatever the ruling classes, the ruling party are throwing at them. What I didn't know, is that you know, Berlin was the least of the Nazi-supporting cities in Germany in the 1930s. Yet, it gets hammered to this day as being the capital of the Third Reich, because that's what Hitler made it. But Hitler and Goebbels didn't even like the city and wanted to kind of reshape it in a very different fashion. So that city was smashed up by the allied raids in by the Soviet invasion and yet they are able to tell unblanched, unfiltered stories about the history, whether it's the Hohenzollerns, whether it is the First World War, whether it's the Weimar Republic era, whether it's the Nazi regime, whether it's the Stasi and GDR [German Democratic Republic] and East Berlin and the wall, I mean, it's all there. A lot of cities tend to cover up the unpleasant parts. I know there's many cities in the United States that struggle to talk about slavery and yes, that is where their wealth came from. Cities in the UK, also, it's a raging battle. Do you take down those statues? Do you keep them up? Somehow Berlin, and the Berliners with their stubbornness, their unwillig, are better able to tell all sides or many sides of their story in a way that for me, as an outsider, I really relish walking those streets and bumping into all those stories and hearing them.


Greg Clark 

Andrew, you've made a compelling case for three things for the next series and I can't argue with you. Firstly, we will have more cities from the global south. Thank you for that reminder. Secondly, I think we have to include Cape Town, and it will be very important to get the Cape Town story and to have you as one of the storytellers, please. Thirdly, I take the argument, this podcast needs Berlin, and we'll find a way to do that whether we can squeeze in Berlin in the next series or the one after I'm not sure, but I really take the point. Andrew, it's been great to speak to you, thank you so much for joining us.

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