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Tales from Two Cities: Ten Years in the Megaslums of Karachi and Mexico City

Principal Investigator Dr David Hickman, University of York

Tales from Two Cities is a decade-long documentary project, to be recorded entirely in localities within two of the world’s largest so-called ‘megaslums’: Orangi Town in Karachi and Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl (Neza) in Mexico City. 

Inhabitants of these now well-established cities within cities are certainly challenged by vertiginous inequalities of power, health and wealth.  But people here are also agents in networks of localised power, kinship and cultural expression, within fast-growing cities that have been shaped by vast movements of migrants or refugees.  Many inhabitants challenge the label of ‘slum’ itself, often in practical ways that are proving transformative.  And the ‘slum’ label increasingly ill-fits predominantly working-class cities that have developed political institutions and movements, distinctive cultural energies, and appetites for university education and economic development.

Yet much of this change is hidden from view, partly because both Orangi and Neza are, by reputation, sites of overlapping global and regional conflicts: the ‘wars’ on terror and drugs.

Over the next decade, this ambitious project will build a ground-level portrait of lives inside these expansive and new urban landscapes – impacted by migration, conflict, corruption, organised crime and climate change.  But this is also the story of invisible peoples shaping unseen changes.  How sustainable are these changes?  To what extent are Neza and Orangi now post-slum cities?  And what does this mean for the people who have built their lives there?  The inhabitants will tell us themselves, as their stories unfold over the next ten years.

Tales from Two Cities is intended to be much more than an observational account of people’s lives within Neza and Orangi.  Through collaborations with city-based NGOs and others, the project will offer support in developing and disseminating the work of Orangi’s and Neza’s emerging journalists, writers, archivist-historians and filmmakers.

‘Tales from Two Cities’ is a documentary project that will film over the course of a decade in two of the world’s largest megaslums: Orangi Town in Karachi and Neza -Chalco-Itza in Mexico City. We will produce one documentary per year fromeach of the two cities, and a feature-length film at the end of the decade, all focused on the life-stories of people who inhabit these contrasting urban worlds. Slum dwellers in both megaslums are challenged by vast inequalities of power, health, wealth and access to water and sanitation. But they are also creators in - and to varying extents of - these shifting ‘informal’ cityscapes. Communities and structures in megaslums are built, expanded, eroded and sometimes destroyed over time. By filming over a decade, these changes and patterns will become strikingly visible. The originality of this project is also that it is concerned with slum -dwellers’ creativity anad activity, not their passive acceptance of state policies and the status quo – it offers a unique and valuable portrait of the largest-scale urban transformations of modern times.


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