Ten years, and a pandemic year has led to some changes…
We didn't publish an issue of Cityscapes in 2020. Releasing an issue into a world consumed by news about the pandemic did not feel necessary. Sometimes you just have to shut up.
So, through the anxiety and panic, we did what everyone else did. We tried to figure out our place in all this, especially our relevance.
Edgar Pieterse and I started this project in 2010, and our brethren, Sean O'Toole, joined us for the ride. Camaren Peter and many others, too numerous to mention here, helped us get our quixotic experiment off the ground. We all just wanted to produce something - a living time capsule of sorts - that featured good writing and photography from and about the people and places we were discovering and meeting. These were people with ideas and places with rich urban stories that we felt weren't being told from their own perspective or with the nuance they deserve.
Edgar and I are not journalists; Sean is, and a damn good one too (read his piece about nightlife in Johannesburg here). So, between us, an academic, a designer, and a writer, we negotiated every issue - and to our surprise, created something coherent. Our focus became documenting what was happening in cities across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. That focus on "the Global South" —a term we embraced — represented our ambition. We wanted to provide a record of the tumultuous yet exciting changes that were unfolding globally, super-charged by the urban transition and the complexity they present.
As we do still, we felt that the voices of urbanists thinking about the world's future from these contexts wasn't well represented. Our quirky little project would, in its own way, do something to contribute towards changing that. So, we published stories that told us what was really going on. We also published opinions that we thought were interesting, especially from people that live in the cities we'd ask them to write about. Among these were Karachi, Nairobi, Rio de Janeiro, Johannesburg, Cairo, Tegucigalpa, and many others. The three of us haggled and obsessed over every page. As each issue rolled off the press, we would find many things we could have done better, sustaining a desire to improve. We are proud of each issue and other work we produced since 2010. It chronicles a decade of massive urban transitions in the Global South, in a manner you might not easily find elsewhere.
What would be our 10th anniversary turned out to be the pandemic year. In honesty, we weren't going to do much to celebrate this small milestone for us. We were going to continue, disappointed, but not jaded, by the fact that our work has so far changed little. Change comes slowly. We are merely one of many dedicated to making small contributions towards this goal.
Then, in the lull of activity, as the world stopped, we realised something. What we have done has relevance and there is value in carrying on with our idiosyncratic project. But, we also realised that 10 years is a long time. Many things had changed since we ventured into these waters. We realised we needed to change too. So in some way, 2020 became an opportunity for a rethink.
Retitled Cityscapes Annual, Issue 10 (coming May 2021) is the fruit of that rethink. Working with our now substantive correspondents network, we are still reporting on what's going on in different cities across the South. We are doing it a little differently, though. We are expanding our coverage into a few places we weren't necessarily concerned about in 2010.
Instead of a focus on reporting on a CITY, we will shift to exploring neighbourhoods. We will give more space to writers who want to share their personal experiences as individuals, not as representative of places that still get short-shrift in how they are covered globally.
We want to tell stories about Bandra, not Mumbai; Victoria Island, not Lagos; or Observatory, not Cape Town. We feel it's time we embraced that neighbourhoods and streets are what make cities. Focusing on the larger entity has sometimes obscured the experience and nuance of living in its distinct parts.
We also want to be more propositional. So, we will focus on not mere opinion from "experts" but on ideas. Either tested or speculative, they will offer ways of directly addressing the challenges whose dynamics we have been documenting over the last decade. Each will come from individuals or collectives actively working on critical urban issues across a myriad of practices. We will seek out activists and campaigners, policymakers, entrepreneurs and many others who significantly influence our built environments, based primarily in the South. Opinion matters, but it's everywhere these days. For better or worse, Twitter and many other soapboxes will always do a better, louder job of that than we ever could.
Complementing the magazine, we are going to be producing a 6-episode podcast series each year. Titled The City Show (TCS), the series will give us room to explore the issues we care about in a more expressive and accessible medium. The first episode of six launched on May 4, part of a larger project - Complexities - that we will launch in 2022. It's a collaboration with Max Planck Institute. A new episode will be released every other week until the cycle of six is completed. We are excited about this venture and the possibilities it opens up. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or Stitcher
We have a new website, now accessible on www.cityscapesmagazine.com. If you go to our previous domain, you won't find us there. It's a gambling website now. The entrepreneurial raiders that grabbed it decided to use our old masthead as their own. So, while we are changing some things, we haven't expanded our activities to include taking bets. At least, not yet.
We are still in the process of archiving all the things we have done so far. You will be able to keep track of whatever else we are up to there too. Everything in the limited-run, annual print issue and more will be accessible there. It's a work-in-progress. You might as well bookmark the site.
Lastly, we are going to produce more self-initiated projects. We have been doing these all along, but never fully embraced them as part of our evolving toolkit. These include exhibitions, films, and gatherings around the topics Cityscapes has always focused on. These might not be huge or very visible, but they will be carefully curated collaborations with our collaborators and community. We also have a new look - masthead, print size...the lot. It's self-evident.
Cities everywhere, more so those in the South, will be where a lot of the future will play out. What is happening there now, in all its forms, matters. It always has. So, we must treat it as such. That was always our message, and it remains so.