Photos Of Cities Past And Present
During the 1940s and 1950s, the world experienced a profound shift. It was the time when the modern world as we recognize it today had its groundwork laid. New technological innovations and political realities moved huge swaths of people from rural areas into the planet’s urban centers. This brought its share of glories and miseries both.
These photographs will give you a small flavor of how large those changes really were, showing many of the world’s biggest cities as they looked in that time and how they look now. Much has changed, and much has been preserved. Let’s start with Paris.
After WWII, Paris was a deeply immiserated country. The city’s industries were in shambles, food and housing were scarce, and its population had declined sharply. It didn’t regain blush in its cheeks until 1946. Its population and culture were bolstered by an influx of about 135,000 immigrants from Algeria, Italy, Spain and Morocco.
During the fifties, a trend of middle-class Parisians moving out of the city center to settle in the suburbs intensified. The city also experienced a construction boom. New housing, skyscrapers and highways were built.
One of the first industries to recover after the War was the fashion industry. Fashion was more than just a point of cultural pride – it was a high earning industry. The automotive industry followed closely behind it.
Paris – Now
Paris has definitely rebounded from its postwar slump. It is currently the most populous city in all of France, boasting a population of over two million residents. It is now one of Europe’s centers of business and culture. The city alone accounts for about 30% of France’s entire GDP.
Paris’s economic strength can be attested to by the fact that it has the second-highest cost of living of any city in the world, behind Singapore. The city is renowned for its beautiful architecture and high art. The Louvre is still the most visited art museum on the planet, with over eight million visitors in 2017. Paris is also home to the Musée d’Orsay, the Musée de l’Orangerie and the Pompidou Centre Musée National d’Art Moderne.
Of course, the architectural centerpiece of the city is the Eiffel Tower. The Tower was built for the Paris Universal Exposition of 1889 and has remained a point of national pride and constant tourist attention. Other popular tourist destinations are the Arc de Triomphe and the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur. Last year alone, about 23 million people visited Paris. Last year, it was ranked the third-most-visited tourist destination in the entire world.
Las Vegas – 1950s
This shot of the Las Vegas Strip in the 1950s shows just how dramatically the city has been developed in the ensuing decades. By the time the fifties rolled around, there were just under 45,000 residents of the Las Vegas Valley, a dramatic expansion from the roughly eight thousand of the WWII years. By 1954, about eight million people visited Vegas every year to gamble, infusing an annual sum of about $200 million into the local gambling industry.
Construction on the first major Strip landmarks occurred between 1952 and 1957. The Sahara, the Sands, the New Frontier, the Showboat, the Royal Nevada, The Fremont, Binion’s Horseshoe, The Riviera and The Tropicana were all erected, financed by the Teamsters Union and Mormon bankers. Vegas, formerly just a gambling town, transformed into an entertainment destination. This saw the golden era of the famous lounge acts, with performers from Frank Sinatra to Liberace to Sammy Davis, Jr. headlining.
1957 saw Vegas’s first topless show, “Minsky’s Follies,” take to the stage. While it didn’t have the scale of glitz and glamor of today’s Vegas, Vegas of yesteryear made its reputation in the fifties. It has preserved some, but not all, of that character into the modern day.
Las Vegas – Now
Vegas is now synonymous with money, excess and spectacle. It is also no longer the small city it once was. It now boasts a population big enough to make it the country’s 28th-most populated city. People from around the world travel to Vegas for its expensive resorts, legal gambling, extensive shopping, and abundance of high dollar food, shows and nightclubs.
There’s a reason Vegas calls itself “The Entertainment Capital of the World.” It is famous for attracting some of the world’s biggest acts in music, dance and magic. It is also a major hospitality city. It’s in the top three destinations in America for business conventions. Vegas is home to more AAA Five Diamond hotels than any other city on Earth.
Vegas also earned another nickname: Sin City. It is known for its relative lawlessness, with a flourishing underworld of sex shows and prostitution. Above all, Vegas is now known as a party city. While the casinos still do a huge amount of business, the city attracts more visitors for its nightlife. It boasts some of the country’s most famous nightclubs, including XS, Marquee and Surrender. You may still be able to find an Elvis impersonator or two, if you look in the right places.
Dubai – 1950s
Dubai, the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates, is today known as one of the most opulent cities in the world. This was certainly not always the case. The boom in modern growth was fueled mostly by oil money. Oil, however, was not discovered in the area until 1966. Before then, The city had a difficult history, marked with economic problems and war.
Dubai was an important port city, due to its close proximity to Iran. Its primary industry in the thirties was pearl export, though the industry was gutted by the Great Depression and the advent of cultured pearls. The collapse of the pearl industry led to economic depression, starvation and mass migration to other settlements in the Persian Gulf.
Dubai also had frequent border disputes with Abu Dhabi, that eventually precipitated a war.
Construction on the beginnings of Dubai’s modern infrastructure started in 1958, when Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum channeled trade revenue to building projects. This boom saw new electrical and telephone systems, as well as new ports and airport operations. Its first hotel, the Airlines Hotel, was built in 1959. It was followed by many others. Today, Dubai is one of the richest cities in the world.
Dubai – Now
Dubai is the most expensive city in the Middle East. While its initial flurry of development in the fifties, sixties and seventies was fueled mostly by oil money, oil now comprises only about 5% of Dubai’s total revenue. These days, its economy is driven by tourism, financial services and real estate.
It is known for its enormous construction projects. It is home to the Burj Khalifa, the planet’s tallest building. It is also one of the world’s most expensive resort destinations, with the dubious distinction of having the highest average cost of a hotel room of any city.
Dubai is also famous for severe human rights violations. Allegations of widespread slave labor practices, coupled with an extreme and draconian legal system, have dulled the city’s lustre in recent years. In one case, a businesswoman from Norway claims to have been arrested and given a sixteen month prison sentence for having extramarital sex, after she went to the police to report being raped. Dubai’s economy is also allegedly propped up by a labor force of 250,000 foreign, possibly human-trafficked laborers who work in conditions tantamount to slavery. The Dubai government has denied these claims. Investigating is difficult, as there is only limited freedom of speech.
New York City – 1940s
New York City, by the 1920s, was the most populated urban area in the world, eking out London. By the thirties, there were over ten million people living within the city limits, an unprecedented number. New York is the first city to have been considered a “megacity.”
New York was hit hard by the Great Depression. Its economic and political condition was not helped by eight decades of governance by the corrupt Tammany Hall regime. That stranglehold was broken with the election of Fiorello La Guardia, whose reforms helped ameliorate the Depression and usher in an era of post-war prosperity.
Returning WWII veterans erected major residential areas in the eastern part of Queens, and in Nassau County and New Jersey. The post-war period also saw the boom of Wall Street, which helped catapult the United States into a position of economic dominance in the world. In the fifties, New York also became the seat of the United Nations, making it one of the most important cities in the world. New York is also a seat of cultural influence, predominantly for its germination of the abstract expressionism movement. Without New York and its political, economic and cultural influence, America would not be what it is today.
New York – Today
New York is still one of the central foci of the world’s political and cultural reality. It is still the most populous city in America. As of last year, it had a population of about eight and a half million people, living over an area of 302 square miles. It’s not only the most populous, it’s also the most densely populated. There’s a reason it’s referred to as an “urban jungle.” Even outside of the city, the New York metropolitan area is the largest single metropolitan area in the world. New York’s significance is so great that it’s been labeled as the capital of the world.
New York primarily holds sway over fashion, finance and media. It is also still the home of the United Nations. Its five boroughs – Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island – were unified into a single city in 1898. As in olden days, New York is still the primary route of legally sanctioned immigration into the country. It is, consequently, the most linguistically diverse city in the world, with about 800 languages spoken there.
New York’s economic significance is so huge that, were it its own nation, it would have the twelfth largest GDP of any sovereign state on the planet. Its gross metropolitan product last year was $1.73 trillion.
London – 1950s
London is an ancient city, long the most populous settlement in the United Kingdom. Between 1831 and 1925, it was the largest city in the world. This was more a curse than a blessing. The city suffered from atrocious sanitation and economic stratification, leading to massive slums that incubated cholera epidemics that killed about fourteen thousand people in 1848 and six thousand more in 1866. The city then experienced extensive bombing damage during both World Wars.
During the forties, London saw a large influx of immigrants. Most of them came from British Commonwealth territories, especially India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Jamaica. To this day, London is still one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse cities on the planet. London, among many things, used to be known for its “pea soup fogs,” the result of massive industrial pollution. The Clean Air Act of 1956 helped clean the problem up.
London then became most associated with youth culture. In the sixties, it was a hotbed of musical innovation. The “Swinging London” era saw the advent of the Beatles. London would again become centrally musically important in the late seventies with the rise of punk music. London remains one of the world’s most important cities.
London – Now
London is still the most populous city in United Kingdom. It is one of the foremost global cities, prominent across all major areas of human interest. It is still dominant in the arts, finance, the media, politics and science. It does even more business than New York, with something like the fifth largest GDP of any metropolitan area. It is also the most visited city in the world and the number one investment destination, with more high net worth people than any other city.
Although it’s not quite as diverse as New York, it is the most diverse place in the UK. About three hundred distinct languages are spoken in London. There’s somewhere around nine million people living within the city limits, making it the second most populous city in Europe, behind Paris. A full 13.4% of the UK’s entire population lives in London.
Tourists travel to London to see the Tower of London, Kew Gardens, Greenwich, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Piccadilly Circus, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square, the Shard, and many other attractions. London is home to too many cultural landmarks to name. It is also home to the world’s oldest subway systems, called “The Underground.”
San Francisco – Sometimes Around the 1950s
San Francisco rose to prominence as one of America’s financial capitals following the stock market crash in 1929. San Francisco’s banks all came out of the crisis intact. During the thirties, SF also benefitted from two large construction projects: the Oakland and Golden Gate Bridges. Around the same time, Alcatraz Island was repurposed from a military facility to a prison.
San Francisco became critically important during World War II, when Fort Mason became the primary port of embarkation for the Pacific Theater. The military concentration brought many new residents to the city, especially southern African Americans. SF became home for many returning servicemen and supporting military personnel after the War’s close.
The city saw a major turn away from shipping and towards tourism in the fifties, when containerization moved the majority of shipping activity to the Port of Oakland. It is still a major tourist attraction. During this time, the city also underwent a dramatic cultural shift, with the flourishing art scene most known for producing the Beat poets. The Hippies followed closely behind them, much to Jack Kerouac’s displeasure. The sixties counterculture remains San Francisco’s enduring cultural legacy. The city is still associated with tie-dye and headbands. As well as with offensively high rents.
San Francisco – Now
These days, San Francisco is known as the center of America’s technology industry, along with the Bay Area as a whole. It is also known for having one of the highest average rents and costs of living of any city in the country. San Francisco has experienced dramatic demographic shifts, as an influx of tech workers dislocate San Francisco natives and lower-income people. Nevertheless, pockets of extreme poverty remain entrenched in the city.
Despite its small size, San Francisco is the thirteenth most populous city in America, with nearly one million residents in 2017. It sits in the seventh-highest-income county in the United States. The per capita income of an individual in the county in 2016 was $110,418.
In addition to its booming tech industry, San Francisco is still one of the country’s seats of finance. It has been ranked fourteenth in the world on the Global Financial Centres Index.
It is known for cold temperatures, frequent foggy conditions, steep hills and victorian architecture. It is one of the most popular tourist cities in the country. Some of the favorite destinations are the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf and Chinatown, as well as the famous cable cars that run through downtown.
Mumbai – 1940s
Mumbai, known as Bombay until 1995, is the capital city of the Indian state of Maharashtra. India attained its independence from British rule in 1947. The Bombay State, an administrative area designated by the Brits, became Bombay State. A number of other states were integrated into Bombay State, significantly increasing its size.
In 1955, the Congress party pushed for Bombay to be designated as an autonomous city-state. The Bombay Citizens’ Committee also pushed for Bombay’s independence. Violent protests, which killed 105 people, led to Bombay State being reorganized along linguistic lines in 1960. The new state of Maharashtra was established, and Bombay designated as its capital.
The city expanded dramatically in the following years. Bombay was known for some time as a capital of the textile industry, but in 1982, the Great Bombay Textile Strike basically eradicated the city’s textile industry. 250,000 workers went on strike, across fifty textile mills.
When the Shiv Sena political party rose to power in 1995, they renamed the city “Mumbai,” as a rejection of British colonialism. “Mumbai” is derived from Mumadevi, the mother goddess. While Mumbai is a very ancient city, it has charged headlong into the 21st century. It is now an important global city.
Mumbai – Now
Mumbai is the most populous city in all of India. As of 2011, the population was 12.4 million people, though that number has probably significantly grown since. There are 21.3 million people, as of 2016, living in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region at large. Mumbai was named an alpha world city in 2008. It is the richest city in the country, with the highest concentration of millionaire and billionaire residents of any Indian city.
Mumbai is a major hub of global finance. The city alone accounts for just over 6% of India’s entire GDP. An astonishing number, considering the country’s size. Mumbai is also the entertainment capital of India, where the Hindi film industry, nicknamed “Bollywood,” is headquartered. Additionally, Mumbai boasts many of India’s leading scientific institutions.
Due to its relatively high quality of life and financial opportunities, Mumbai attracts relocation from across the country. The city is consequently highly ethnically and culturally diverse. Like other major urban areas, Mumbai is also home to significant poverty, unemployment, bad public health infrastructure and uneven civic and educational services. Residents are often crammed into very small living spaces and are forced to commute unreasonably long distances to and from their jobs.
Tokyo – 1955
Tokyo, Japan is caught in this dramatic photograph, taken on March 26, 1955. The night shot was accomplished by exploding upwards of ten thousand flash bulbs simultaneously on the Radio Tokyo television antenna.
Tokyo has been the capital of Japan since 1869. The city was badly damaged during World War II, suffering extensive bombing in Allied air raids. Raids between 1944 and 1945 are believed to have killed between 75,000 and 200,000 civilians. The incendiary bombs destroyed a full half of the city. One particular bombing, dubbed “Operation Meetinghouse,” dropped 700,000 bombs on eastern Tokyo, mostly in residential areas, killing 100,000 civilians, injuring an additional 110,000 and destroying over 276,000 buildings. Tokyo experienced a massive drop in population, with those who remained living in sub-poverty levels.
After the War’s close, Tokyo was rebuilt. Tokyo, along with the country as a whole, rebounded to become one of the technological and cultural capitals of the world. A period of great industrial and population growth was interrupted by a real estate bubble that burst in the nineties. It was an economic disaster from which Tokyo is still recovering. Today, Tokyo is one of the most important cities in the world.
Tokyo – Now
Tokyo is the world’s most populous metropolitan area. About 39 million people live there, beating any other city by a huge margin. There are about 50% more people living in Tokyo than in any other urban area anywhere in the world. It also has the largest economy, at $2.5 trillion annually. Were it a sovereign nation, Tokyo would have the 8th largest GDP. Tokyo is so large that it is often referred to not as a city but as a “metropolitan prefecture.” Tokyo is comprised of 23 Special Wards, each governed as its own city.
Tokyo hosts more Fortune Global 500 companies than any other city. It is also one of the most technologically sophisticated cities in the world. TripAdvisor’s Word City Survey ranked it number one for “Best overall experience,” as well as number one for “helpfulness of locals,” “nightlife,” “shopping,” “local public transportation” and “cleanliness of streets.”
Unsurprisingly, Tokyo is also one of the world’s most expensive cities. Tokyo is known as a high-tech metropolis, and one of Japan’s major cultural centers, attracting significant tourism. It has the largest urban rail system on the planet. The majority of people rely on public transportation instead of private vehicles.
Sao Paulo – 1950s
São Paulo rose to its position as Brazil’s richest city thanks to a boom in the coffee and mining industries. It was connected to other Brazilian cities through extensive railways, bringing in additional migrants and commerce. The city was a destination not only for Brazilians, but also European and Asians.
Its economy was further boosted by industrialization reforms instituted by the administration of Juscelino Kubitschek between 1956 and 1961. Brazil’s auto industry took off, spearheaded by São Paulo.
Soon, São Paulo was the country’s most important commercial center. A position it still enjoys. These days, the city is Brazil’s most populous city. It’s also the most populous city in the entire Western Hemisphere. Goes without saying that it’s the largest Portugese-speaking city on the planet. It’s the eleventh largest city in the world by population. São Paulo is named after Saint Paul.
The city alone has the biggest GDP in all of Latin America, and indeed all of the Southern Hemisphere. In fact, it has the 11th largest GDP in the world. The city accounts for 10.7% of the entire Brazilian GDP. It is one of the most important cities on the planet, and definitely one of the most important cities in Latin America.
Sao Paulo – Now
In addition to all the prestige described previously, São Paulo is also home to many of Brazil’s largest skyscrapers. In São Paulo, you can find the Mirante do Vale, the Edificio Italia, Banespa, North Tower, and other major skyscrapers.
If you visit São Paulo, you can check out many museums and beautiful parks. Visit the Latin American Memorial, the Ibirapuera Park, the Museum of Ipiranga, the São Paulo Museum of Art and the Museum of the Portugese Language.
São Paulo is also an arts and culture hotspot. It hosts events like the São Paulo Jazz Festival, the São Paulo Art Biennial, the Brazilian Grand Prix, the São Paulo Fashin Week and the ATP Brasil Open. It also has one of the largest gay pride parades in the world, on par with that of New York City.
The city is very culturally diverse, with large Italian, Arab and Japanese populations. It’s also home to the largest Jewish population in the country.
It has the local nickname “Terra da Garoa,” or “Land of Drizzle,” due to its temperamental weather. It has an enormous fleet of helicopters, and is also known for its food, extreme traffic congestion issues and impressive architecture. It’s a major tourist destination.
Cairo – 1954
In 1914, England declared Egypt a British protectorate. Five years later, Egyptian nationalists staged huge demonstrations in Cairo that would eventually lead to Egyptian independence in 1922. Even after independence was achieved, British troops stayed in the country until the mid 1950s.
Cairo, during this period, experienced large scale construction projects, including new bridges and transportation systems, which President Gamal Abdel Nasser hoped would help the city cope with a population boom. The city’s population tripled between 1882 and 1937, and its area increased from four to sixty-three square miles.
In 1952, disaster struck in the form of the Cairo Fire. Seven hundred places of business were destroyed in downtown Cairo. 1952 also saw the Egyptian Revolution, which drove the British from the country.
As the city expanded, it grew closer to the Nile Delta. The Egyptian government, in response, built “satellite towns” close to the river and spurred Cairo residents to move to them.
Since the sixties, the population of Cairo has more than doubled. There are about ten million people living in the general urban area, and seven million in the city proper. Cairo is also now one of the most important cities in North Africa and the Arab world. Significantly, it is the seat of the Arab League.
Cairo – Now
Cairo is one of the largest cities in Africa. It is also the largest city in the Middle East and the fifteenth largest in the world. Most people probably associate it with the Giza pyramids and other ancient sites of interest. It has also earned the nickname “the city of a thousand minarets,” due to its beautiful Islamic architecture.
Cairo is home to the Arab world’s largest entertainment industries. It’s also home of Al-Azhar University, the second oldest higher education institution in the Middle East. It has a population of more than nine million people, making it the country’s most populous city by a large margin.
Like most large cities, Cairo produces significant pollution and suffers from severe traffic congestion. Its public metro system is heavily used, giving over a billion passenger rides every year.
In 2005, Cairo’s economy was ranked number one in the Middle East by Foreign Policy. The city has a thriving cultural tourism industry, which has deep roots. Visits to the city increased with the Egyptology craze of the 19th century. Ancient Egyptian culture is still the primary tourism draw, with many, many people traveling from around the world to see the pyramids and other significant sites.
Los Angeles – 1940s
In the War years, LA was a major production center for military vehicles and supplies. The city experienced a major population boost from labor migration to work in factories.
The War also saw mass discrimination against Asian Americans. President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 gave the military clearance to bar “any or all persons” from public areas for the purposes of defense. The Western Defense Command then began forceful “evacuations” of Japanese Americans from newly minted military defense zones. Many Japanese people in LA were effected by this. The Japanese internment camps remain an article of historical shame.
The post-war period gave the city its modern shape. Land developers swarmed the area, buying up inexpensive land, subdividing it and developing it. Consequently, real estate became the biggest industry in Southern California, surpassing agriculture and oil.
The automotive industry in Los Angeles was also huge. More cars were assembled in LA than in any American city except Detroit. The textile industry was also dominant, putting out more clothing than any American city but New York. It goes without saying, of course, that Los Angeles was (and is) the home of the film industry. Today, LA is mostly associated with money, traffic, celebrity culture and the beach.
Los Angeles – Now
The streets of Los Angeles look a little different now than they did in the forties. This photo shows the space shuttle Endeavour on its twelve-mile crawl through LA on its way to the California Science Center. It experienced quite a few close calls on the way, almost colliding with multiple street signs, trees and buildings.
Los Angeles is, today, the second most populous city in the country, right behind New York. About four million people live there. It is a truly enormous city, spanning about 469 square miles, bordered by the Pacific Ocean and the San Bernardino mountains. Los Angeles County is the most populous county in America. As of 2015, there were 18.7 million residents of the County.
LA is economically critical to the United States. The city has an annual gross metropolitan product of about $831 billion. That places it behind only Tokyo and New York City.
Los Angeles is mostly now associated with Hollywood and with dismal traffic congestion. LA is still home to the country’s major film studios. It is the quintessential car culture city. Despite an earlier history of having a sophisticated public transportation rail system, LA was remapped to make its residents dependent upon car travel. The plan succeeded.
Istanbul – Early 1950s
Istanbul, previously known as Byzantium and Constantinople, is the most populous city in Turkey. It technically spans both Europe and Asia, sprawling across the Bosporus Strait. It is one of the oldest and most important cities in history, having served as a seat of power for centuries.
Istanbul, during the 1940s and 1950s, experienced a significant structural shift. Large-scale construction brought new roads and public areas. Many important historical buildings were sacrificed for the modernization effort.
During the seventies, Istanbul’s population boomed. Istanbul drew a great deal of migration from Anatolia, with migrants seeking work in the many factories newly built at the city’s edges. The migration created demand for housing. The many small villages surrounding Istanbul were incorporated into the city. Many forests were also cleared to make room for new developments. Istanbul is, today, a fully modern city.
The city was originally founded with the name Byzantion, Anglicanized as “Byzantium,” in approximately 660 BCE. It was then re-established as Constantinople in 330 CE. Constantinople remained an imperial capital for about sixteen centuries. It was a seat of power during the Roman/Bynzanting, Latin and Ottoman empires. It was also crucial in spreading Christianity during the Roman and Byzantine era.
Istanbul – Now
Istanbul, like many ancient cities, is a mixture of old and new. It is currently Turkey’s most populous city. It is the center of the Turkish cultural, economic and historical world. Roughly two-thirds of its residents live on the European side, and one-third across the Asian border. About fifteen million people live in Istanbul.
Istanbul is actually the largest European city and fifth largest city in the world. It serves as both a literal and figurative bridge between Eastern and Western cultures. It is home to a very diverse, cosmopolital populace. It was formerly the country’s capital, but Ankara was designated the new capital after the Turkish War of Independence.
Since the fifties, Istanbul’s population has increased by a factor of ten. Istanbul is home to multiple cultural festivals. It also boasts a sophisticated public transit system.
It is the fifth most popular tourist destination in the world. Its most popular sight is the city’s historic center, much of which is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Istanbul’s economy continues to grow at a rapid pace. It accounts for a full quarter of Turkey’s entire GDP. The city has campaigned quite adamantly to be the site of a Summer Olympics.
Shanghai – 1945
China and Japan were locked into a protracted period of military struggle for many years, beginning in 1931, without Japan ever officially declaring war on China. The conflict escalated into the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, with the Marco Polo Bridge Incident. Many historians point to the Second Sino-Japanese War as the true beginning of World War II.
China, backed by both the Soviet Union and the United States, continued the war into WWII. It was the largest war in Asia in the 20th century, claiming the majority of casualties in the entire Pacific War. 10 to 25 million Chinese civilians and around 4 million Chinese and Japanese military personnel were killed.
Shanghai played centrally in the conflict. In 1949, it came under control of the People’s Liberation Army. In the ensuing decade, its subdivisions would be extensively remapped. Following the rise of the PLA, most foreign firms relocated their offices to Hong Kong.
In the fifties and sixties, Shanghai was the most industrially powerful city in China and consequently the most politically radical. Unlike other areas of China, Shanghai remained relatively stable during the Cultural Revolution, without a dramatic dip in productivity. Shanghai accounted for a significant portion of PRC tax revenue. As a cash cow, Shanghai was not included in economic reforms until 1991.
Shanghai – Now
Shanghai looks astonishingly different today. This is the skyline of Lujiazui, the city’s financial district. Today, Shanghai is the most populous city in China. It’s the second most populous city in the world, with a population that tops 24 million people.
Shanghai is home to the world’s most trafficked container port. It is one of the planet’s most financially important cities. The city’s character was profoundly altered with the introduction of Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms in the nineties. Shanghai was transformed from a seat of industrialism and political radicalism to a center of international finance.
The city is held up as a “showpiece” of China’s economy. It ranks thirteenth on the 2017 Global Financial Centres Index. It has the highest cost of living of any city in Mainland China. The Shanghai Stock Exchange, in 2009, was ranked the third largest in the world, by trading volume.
2013 saw the establishment of the China Pilot Free-Trade Zone in Shanghai, the first ever area in Mainland China where free trade was fully legally sanctioned. It was meant to court international investment. It worked. Shanghai has received a massive amount of foreign investment. It is one of the most important cities in Asia and, indeed, the world at large.
Moscow – 1950s
Moscow has more high-rise buildings than any other city. This is thanks to a housing crisis precipitated by the end of World War II. Facing the crisis, the Soviet Union built more than eleven thousand apartment blocks. The majority of the city’s population lived in the blocks, which were built in factories, partially furnished, and then stacked in columns.
Moscow was one target of Khruschev’s anti-religion campaign in 1959, in which he shut down an enormous number of churches. Of twenty thousand churches in the USSR, more than half were shuttered by 1964. Most of them were in rural areas. Some were merely closed, others destroyed. In 1964, only fourteen of Moscow’s fifty previously operational churches were still open.
Moscow was awarded the title “Hero City” on May 8, 1965, in commemoration of the Allied victory in WWII. In 1980, it hosted the Summer Olympic Games. The Olympics were boycotted by the United States and other Western powers, over the USSR’s military activities in Afghanistan.
In 1961, the MKAD, or “ring road,” finished construction. It was a four-lane highway that ran for sixty-eight miles along Moscow’s borders. Until the eighties, the MKAD formed the city’s administrative borders.
In 1991, a failed coup occurred in Moscow, led by Communist hardliners opposed to Gorbachev’s liberal reforms.
Moscow – Now
Moscow is today the capital of the Russian Federation. It is the country’s most populous city. Over thirteen million people live in the city proper, with around seventeen million in Moscow’s urban area. It is one of only two federal cities in Russia, including St Petersburg.
By the metrics of both total area and population, Moscow is the largest city on the European continent It has one of the largest urban economies in the world, and also one of the highest costs of living. In a far cry from its Soviet days, Moscow is now a tourist destination that is rapidly growing in popularity.
It’s not only one of the largest cities in the world, it’s also one of the coldest. It’s one of the northernmost megacities on the planet. This is not, however, its only claim to fame. Moscow is home to many significant architectural landmarks, including Ostankino Tower, Europe’s tallest free standing structure, and Saint Basil’s Cathedral.
Moscow’s total area doubled in 2012, when it expanded into the Moscow Oblast. The expansion not only qualified it to be the largest city on the European continent by total area, it also added 233,000 more residents. About forty percent of the city’s total area is covered with greenery.
Kinshasa – 1959
Kinshasa, formerly named Leopoldville, is the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, founded on the shores of the Congo River by Henry Morton Stanley in 1881. It was originally named in honor of King Leopold II of Belgium, who privately owned the enormous tract of land that now constitutes the Congo.
Leopoldville’s growth exploded in 1898, with the completion of the Matadi-Kinshasa portage railway. In 1923, it supplanted Boma as the capital of the Belgian Congo.
After large-scale riots in 1959, the Congo attained its independence on June 30th of 1960. The newly formed Republic of the Congo elected Patrice Lumumba as its first prime minister. Lumumba, a principled African nationalist, was perceived as an obstacle by the West. When the Katanga and South Kasai attempted to secede, Lumumba appealed to the West for assistance. He was denied, and then turned to the Soviet Union for aid. The US and Belgium used this as pretext to orchestrate his ousting by president Kasa-Vubu. This chain of events would culminate in Lumumba’s execution by Belgian-backed Katangese troops in 1961.
Army Chief of Staff Joseph-Désiré Mobutu came to power in 1965 during a coup. He renamed the country Zaire in 1971 and governed it as a one-party dictatorship that received significant support from the United States. The country has been marred by constant instability and violence.
Kinshasa – Now
Kinshasa, as renamed by Mobutu, is today the largest city in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Over eleven million people live in the megacity. It is extremely close to Brazzaville, the capital of Republic of the Congo. They are the second-closest capital cities behind Rome and Vatican City.
The city’s borders are enormous. More than 90% of its land is rural, with a small urban area on the western side. It is the third-largest urban area in Africa, behind Cairo and Lagos. More interestingly, it’s the largest French-speaking urban area on the planet. Larger, even, than Paris. French is the official language of the government, school, public services and newspapers.
The city has very affluent areas, bordered by extensive slums. Kinshasa’s urban planning has an extremely checkered past, entrenching racial divisions and economic disparities. After independence was achieved, the city expanded without a central plan, still the case today. Kinshasa expands by an estimated eight square kilometers a year, most of it in the form of slums with inadequate safety and sanitation standards.
General opinion among the Kinois, or residents of Kinshasa, is that city life is not preferable to living in rural areas. Many have a much stronger sense of identity as Congolese people than as Kinois.
Chicago – 1940
After the Great Depression, Chicago was strongly politically Democratic, and had a very powerful labor union presence. More than a third of the city’s manufacturing employees belonged to a union. During the War, Chicago produced more steel than the entire United Kingdom combined, every year from 1939 to 1945. It also produced more steel than Nazi Germany every year from 1943 to 1945.
Chicago produced more war goods – $24 billion worth – than any American city other than Detroit. A total of about 1,400 companies manufactured goods for the war effort. The manufacturing sector brought many hundreds of thousands of black Americans to the city.
Notable in Chicago’s history with the War was the fact that the University of Chicago was the site of the first ever controlled nuclear reaction, arranged by Enrico Fermi, in 1942. This was an important step in the development of the nuclear bomb.
The sixties saw extensive white flight, as white Chicago residents relocated to the suburbs, leaving the black population to contend with aggressively discriminatory home loan redlining and widespread job loss. The seventies and eighties were especially lean years, with employment in the city plummeting. While these problems have been ameliorated, issues of poverty still persist in Chicago.
Chicago – Now
Chicago, founded on the shores of Lake Michigan, is the third most populous city in the United States today. Its population is somewhere around 2,700,000 people. The Chicago metropolitan area, colloquially known as “Chicagoland,” is home to about ten million people. Chicagoland is the third largest metropolitan area on the planet, by land area.
It is a cultural, technological and financial hub of the nation and the world. It is home to the O’Hare International Airport, one of the world’s busiest airports. Chicagoland also has more highways and railroad freight lines than any other American city.
Although it’s not quite as much of a manufacturing powerhouse as it was during the War, Chicago still boasts the fourth-largest metropolitan product in the world. Each year, it generates an estimated $670.5 billion. It is surpassed in this figure only by Tokyo, New York City and Los Angeles.
Chicago is economically diverse, one of the reasons for its economic might. It is home to many industries, with no single industry commanding more than 14% of the total workforce.
The city receives a ton of tourism. It’s the second most visited city in America, eked out by New York City. It is known for having a high quality of life, as well as many important cultural landmarks and pieces of architecture. It is also a seat of academia, hosting the University of Chicago, Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Seoul – 1945
Seoul, the capital of South Korea, was renamed Geyongseong by Japan, who annexed the country in 1910. The Japanese instituted significant changes to the Korean way of life, tearing down many walls and gates in the city and importing a Westernized vision of architecture implemented in many construction projects. Seoul was liberated from Japanese occupation at the end of the Second World War.
The city was renamed Seoul in 1945. In the Korean War, the city was captured and re-captured by Soviet/Chinese-backed North Korean forces and American-supported South Korean forces multiple times. The consequences were severe, leaving Seoul devastated. During the War, a thousand factories were destroyed, along with 191,000 buildings and 55,000 houses. The city simultaneously experienced a population surge, as refugees fled to Seoul. In 1955, the city had an estimated population of one and a half million residents.
The War was followed by a period of reconstruction that saw many modernizing reforms. The Korean economy boomed from the sixties onwards, and saw more migration into Seoul and other major Korean urban areas. As it grew, Seoul annexed many surrounding towns.
Seoul hosted the 1986 Asian Games and the 1988 Summer Olympics.
Seoul – Now
Seoul, official name Seoul Special City, is the largest city in South Korea, and its capital. About half the population of South Korea lives within the Seoul Capital Area. It is the fourth largest metropolitan economy on the planet – larger than both Paris and London.
It is one of the most architecturally important cities in the world. It was named the 2010 World Design Capital, home to the N Seoul Tower, the 63 Building, the Lotte World Tower, the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, Lotte World, Trade Tower, COEX and the Parc1 Tower.
South Korea is also the birthplace of the K-pop musical genre. For these and many other reasons, Seoul receives millions of visits every year. In 2014 alone, ten million international tourists visited the city. It’s the fourth largest earning city in global tourism.
Largely thanks to the “Miracle on the Han River,” a period of extreme growth between 1950 and 1953, Seoul is now considered one of the most important cities in the world. It is one of the most technologically advanced and affluent cities in Asia. Consequently, it has the sixth highest cost of living of any city. Fifteen Fortune Global 500 companies are headquartered in Seoul.
Tehran – 1950s
This ancient city is one of the most politically important cities in the world today. Its modernization began in the 1920s and 1930s, when ruler Reza Shah demolished many older structures and replaced them with modern buildings that incorporated traditional Iranian architecture. Among the sites destroyed were the Golestan Palace, Tekye Dowlat and Tupkhane Square.
The street-widening act of 1933 set a precedent for urban reforms across Iran. The street widening claimed many more architectural casualties, also splitting the Grand Bazaar in half. The city’s street plan, formerly arranged without a central organizing principle, was permanently changed to criss-cross the city at right angles, featuring many roundabouts. Yet more construction demolished the old city walls, along with the old citadel, in 1937.
Tehran grew, with pains, throughout the sixties and seventies, under the guidance of Mohammad Reza Shah. The city suffered from too-dense suburbs, pollution, bad infrastructure, migration influx and unemployment. Ambitious civic development plans were put on hold by the 1979 Revolution and following Iran-Iraq War.
Tehran’s most well-known landmark is the Azadi Tower. The Tower was built at the request of the Shah in 1971 to commemorate the 2,500th aniversary of the foundation of the Imperial State of Iran.
Tehran – Now
Today, Tehran has a population of about eight and a half million people. In the Greater Tehran area, about fifteen million people are residents. It’s the second most populous city in Western Asia.
Tehran first became Iran’s capital in 1796. It is the nation’s 32nd capital in history. Tehran is a seat of Iranian political power, as well as an extremely important hub for archaeology and history. It is the home of multiple significant historical collections, including the royal complexes of Golestan, Sa’dabad and Niayaran. In addition to the Azadi Tower, Tehran is also home to the Milad Tower, the sixth-tallest self-supporting structure in the world. The Milad Tower was finished in 2007. More recently, construction finished on the Tabiat Bridge in 2014.
Plans have been floated multiple times to move the capital to its 33rd location, due to severe pollution and Tehran’s vulnerability to earthquakes. Due to the pollution, as well as other factors, the consultancy group Mercer ranked Tehran low (203rd) for quality of life. However, the ancient city draws major tourism. It is in the top ten fastest growing destination cities worldwide.
October 6 is celebrated as “Tehran Day,” commemorating the day the city was once again named the Iranian capital, in 1907.
Bangkok – 1950s
Bangkok was founded sometime during the early 15th century, on the bank of the Chao Phraya River. Thanks to its advantageous location by the river’s mouth, Bangkok grew in strategic importance over the centuries. It was, first, a customs outpost, lining the river with defensive forts. Bangkok became the conquering Burmese King Taksin’s capital. Bangkok remained the capital of the Tonburi Kingdom until Taksin’s successor, King Phutthayotfa Chulalok moved the capital to Rattanakosin Island, founding the Rattanakosin Kingdom in the process.
The modern city’s foundation is generally agreed to have occurred with the erection of the City Pillar in 1782. Bangkok became an important stop on international trade routes. It spearheaded the area’s modernization, with King Mongkut and King Chulalongkorn bringing modern technologies like the steam engine, the railroad and the printing press to Bangkok.
Absolute monarchy was abolished in 1932. Bangkok was targeted for bombing by both Japanese and Allied powers during World War II. After the war, the United States funded massive development efforts. Afterwards, Bangkok became a site for American military and civilian tourism. This era sees the roots of the city’s massive sex tourism industry.
Poor urban planning led to severe economic disparities in the city, exacerbated by large-scale migration into the city from rural areas during the sixties. After the Vietnam War, Japanese investment in Bangkok ushered in a shift towards finance. Expansion continued until it hit the brick wall of the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
Bangkok – Now
Bangkok, or “Krung Thep Maha Nakhon” in Thai, is Thailand’s capital, and largest city. About thirteen percent of Thailand’s population lives in the city – about eight million people. Thailand’s other cities do not even come close to Bangkok in scope of size and political, economic and cultural significance.
Most of the country’s political struggles were played out in Bangkok throughout the 20th century. It has seen multiple coups and revolutions. Today, it is governed as a special administrative area by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, with an elected governor who serves a four-year term.
Bangkok became an economically influential city in the eighties and nineties, following a surge of investment from Asian countries and multinational corporations. It is especially important in transportation and healthcare, as well as entertainment, fashion and the arts. It is best known in the West, perhaps, for its nightlife and shadow sex tourism industry.
Bangkok is an architecturally beautiful city. Tourists admire the Grand Palace, Wat Arun and Wat Pho. Due to its extremely fast development and virtual absence of urban planning, Bangkok’s infrastructure tends to be ramshackle. It is known for poor roads, extreme traffic congestion and high pollution. There are currently five rapid transit lines, which the government hopes will help alleviate the congestion.
Miami – 1950s
The early part of the 20th century was a racially ugly era for Miami, as it was for most of the country. About 40% of the city’s population was composed of African-American and Bahamian laborers, who were critical for the city’s early development. They suffered extreme prejudice, forcibly restricted to small ethnic enclaves by vigilante gangs of white supremacists.
The twenties saw Jim Crow law administered with a heavy hand. H. Leslie Quigg, the Miami chief of police at the time, was an open member of the Ku Klux Klan. Quigg and his police force tended to enforce the spirit of the Crow laws with extreme prejudice. By one account, Quigg himself violently beat a black bellboy, in public, for daring to speak to a white woman.
The War years saw another major population boom in Miami. A wave of Cuban immigration also came to Miami after the Cuban Revolution. The city’s history of high racial tension extended through the eighties and nineties. Miami also became a major hub of international drug trafficking. Throughout its history, Miami has been marked by an extremely high growth rate, giving it its nickname “The Magic City.” It is today a place of economic extremes, home to both exorbitant wealth and extreme poverty.
Miami – Now
Miami is the most important city in South Florida. It’s the sixth most densely populated American city. The Miami metropolitan area is home to about six million people.
Miami is a very important city for business, culture and politics. It is also a major tourist destination, ranked by Forbes in 2008 as “America’s Cleanest City.” Miami boasts very high air and water quality, clean streets, an extensive recycling program and much higher than average access to undeveloped green areas.
Miami is a money magnet. A 2009 UBS study ranked Miami as the single richest city in the United States by purchasing power. By the same study, it’s the seventh richest city in the world. Today, it is probably most vividly represented in people’s imaginations by images in rap videos.
Downtown Miami has one of America’s highest concentrations of international banks. It is also rife with skyscrapers. It boasts over 300 high-rises.
After a 2007 housing market crash, Miami was plunged into dire economic straits. Forbes labeled Miami as the most “miserable” city in the country in 2012, due to the extreme housing and jobs crises and extremely high violence rate. The website 24/7 Wall Street, in a 2016 study, rated Miami as the worst American city to live in, based on these factors.
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