The first installement of Andrew Marr’s new series Megacities got interesting about two thirds of the way through. First though, we get to watch an awful lot of a rather skeletal Andrew Marr wandering around London, Tokyo, Shanghai, Dhaka and Mexico City with an oversized manbag. He was called Mr Bean in the slums of Dhaka (Bangladesh), but I suspect he’d rather have been taken for Indiana Jones. We saw a Andrew climb solo up a scarily high crane (attached to London’s soon-to-be-tallest building The Shard) to speak to the operator about the ‘most dangerous job in construction.’ We see Andrew being fed in the slums, carrying heavy water jugs in the slums (‘No Musharraf, I can manage’), going to the toilet in the slums. Actually we see a lot of Andrew in the slums (quel hero), possibly as the swarms of mosquitos and herds of rats as big as cats kept him awake (what a guy).
Still, it was in this sleepless state that he started to have one of his more interesting thoughts. People in Dhaka aren’t real city dwellers, he says, meaning they know and care for those who live next to them (that this surprised him makes me think he’s been in London too long). And he latched onto the cliche about putting the village back into the city, but he just about got away with it. Following that thought, he’s soon in the distinctly un-villagey Tokyo, the global grandaddy of mega-cities (a moniker I think he also applied to London for being old: here he meant because at over 30 million inhabitants, Japan’s capital is the biggest). He visits a very small appartment, which he says is 25 m2 and says he’d be very unhappy living there and feel like a ‘nude frog in a box.’ Well, I know some real frogs – French people in Paris – who live quite happily in less than 25m2, although admittedly their flats are much better laid out than the glass corridor he visited. Anyway, next he’s playing golf on a rooftop with a man who rents himself out for companionship to the friendless. How sad, says Marr. Managing megacities is about getting the balance right between community and efficiency – the implication being Japan has got it wrong. Then woosh, and he’s in Mexico City where his inner Indiana comes out. Forget the crime (40 kidnappings and three murders a week) and enjoy the dancing, he says, making friends with persistent females who won’t let him finish his piece to camera. He can’t keep the smile off his face (maybe this was filmed before the Mega-injunction). This is an incredibly liveable city, inspite of the planners worst efforts, he says. Viva la Mexica (actually he didn’t say this, but we get it: he loves Mexico). Grrr, I said to the television, and not because of the dancing. Yes, my dear Andrew, fun of the unplanned kind is often the best. But spontaneous though it may be, you can also help foster fun by creating (dare I say planning) the kinds of environment in which it is likely to thrive. If you want fun, you head to the park or the beach, and not to an underground car park. And while the dances were (or at least appeared to be) relatively unplanned, they were dancing in the zocolas – the town squares – in Mexico City. Someone planned for those, Mr Marr.