Imagine a city built from nothing. A city that didn’t begin its life as a series of villages. A city, once a wasteland that now houses hundreds of thousands of people who work in the purpose-built factories, to make goods for the capitalist world in order to service a communist dream.
Lanzhou Xinqu is said to be China’s newest city, hewn out of the country’s northwest mountains, which by 2020 will have half a million inhabitants. These cities literally start completely empty. Such utilitarianism has given rise to the most aggressive form of industrial development in human history. One that is driven by a technological revolution backed by authoritarian rule. What will happen when a particular city’s utility ends, especially if only one product is being made? Will they simply close the city like a shop?
The lessons from western democracies, similarly driven by capitalist development, is not a good one. Local economies, founded on a single product or industry, are at the mercy of fickle and itinerant globalisation. The poster child of such a change is Detroit, the motor city. Once a thriving metropolis, now whole swathes of it are empty, with the population dropping by 25% in the first ten years of this century.
We saw something similar in the UK at a smaller scale with the mining industry, and now more recently in steel. As the base price of steel falls, the owners such as Tata in the North-east of England decide that’s it – up sticks and leave. Julie Hogg’s poem, Detroit Driftwood is a Philip Levine inspired lament for Middlesbrough, where in nearby Redcar over 2,000 workers will lose their jobs. “A city is being sedated/Jesus Christ where are you now!/Listen, for God’s sake, to the almost incidental/silver-tongued debates.” She raises the fascinating question of who defines a town; the criteria for those in power is clear, “calling it a town, for God’s sake,/not quite meeting byzantine, undisclosed criteria for/numerous reasons, making metallurgy a cyclical, self-depreciating/struggle.” And as with all laments, there is a strong voice shouting at those who refuse to listen, “I’m an/inshore seagull flying over the tracks from a driftwood/Detroit and you call me a Fishwife! But this is my voice and this,/this is how I cry.”
The final irony of the Detroit story is that now, with real estate at bargain bucket prices there are new buyers, buying whole blocks; and who are these buyers? Yes, you’ve guessed it, the Chinese. But cities like Detroit and Middlesbrough, weren’t built from scratch, they are places, where families have lived for centuries. Unlike the capitalists, they can’t up and leave, for they have nowhere else to go.
Julie Hogg is a Redcar Poet and Teacher with an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Teesside. She has work published in many Literary Journals and Magazines including Black Light Engine Room, Butcher’s Dog, Clear Poetry and StepAway. Anthologized by Appletree Writers, Ek Zuban and Kind of a Hurricane, she is featured in a chapbook, ‘Dark Matter 2,’ from the Black Light Engine Room Press. Her pamphlet collection, ‘Majuba Road,’ is forthcoming in April 2016 from Vane Women Press.
A city is being sedated
Jesus Christ where are you now!
Listen, for God’s sake, to the almost incidental
silver-tongued debates, polished up by cheap liquored
words, marinated for zero hours in all the habitual permanence of a
hotel room, calling it a
town, calling it a town, for God’s sake,
not quite meeting byzantine, undisclosed criteria for
numerous reasons, making metallurgy a cyclical, self-depreciating
struggle in authentic better nature and Sunday best pride, keeping an
infant Hercules, juvenile. God I’ve tried, I’ve really tried to contort to hard
and brittle, tarred in
over-sized molten alloy footprints,
watching the core of our Constantine College’s
foundations quiver and crack, Jesus Christ, I’m an
inshore seagull flying over the tracks from a driftwood
Detroit and you call me a Fishwife! But this is my voice and this,
this is how I cry.
(Driftwood Detroit originally appeared on The Stare’s Nest)