banyan buddha 1

Wish us luck!

We’ve just applied for a development grant from the US National Endowment for the Humanities. The program is Bridging Cultures Through Film – International Topics, and according to the NEH advisor, Arrival City has a very good shot. In addition to our seed-money commitments and sponsor interest to date, this would tip the balance and get us filming!

No matter what the outcome, the process forced us to shortlist key cities and firm up our creative treatment – which will now include training and equipping community filmmakers. They’ll capture migrant stories in 3 or 4 arrival cities, and will be guided by colleague and fellow Amazing Race veteran Kavita das Gupta, a trustee and producer at India’s acclaimed Earthcare Films. We’ll have more on this effort in the coming weeks, but for a sense of how community or participatory photography and filming can work at its best, check out Earthcare’s work and the Academy Award-winning Born into Brothels.

We’ve also enlisted the help of an international panel of engaged and really interesting advisors whose work looks at the history, geography and politics of migration; at social justice and poverty rights; at how health and crime can be predetermined by place; and at good and bad urban planning, local and global economic patterns and more. We’ll post on who they are and how that will all work shortly. I foresee lots of Skyping.

Finally, had a great meeting with Director/DOP John Holdsworth this week; he’s heading to Japan to shoot and will try out a C300 camera rig that looks like an Arco Lamp (thankfully minus the marble base). We’re very keen to see what that produces when he returns, and to have the BBC be our guinea pigs!

In the meantime, the MacArthur Foundation beckons, and I need to hit the pavement again here in London. Been a bit consumed by the great day-job at Future of London, but we’re about to get reinforcements there, so the double-up resumes!

Thanks for your support and cross those fingers, press those thumbs, send up a prayer flag – whatever works! LT

The Foreigner? Saskia Sassen unravels what it now means to be ‘Other’

Money to Africa

One of the things Arrival City – the book and the film project – set out to do is to step away from the think-tanks and statistics to tell the story of this last great surge to the city through personal stories and reportage. Doug Saunders used excellent research in his book, but balanced it with voices from the street – real people scraping by or teetering on the edge; real neighbourhoods where entrepreneurs abound but so do floods and garbage heaps. For the film, we believe showing that personal experience is critical, particularly to help viewers relate to new arrivals – from their own hinterlands or from across the seas.

Once in a while, though, it’s good to step back and take a wider view. One of the big questions about migration is the very definition of citizenship. Millions – billions if you include internal migrants – of people are working, moving around and building communities “without papers” and without guaranteed rights. At the other end of the spectrum, jet-setters and contractors operate freely around the globe no matter where their passports are issued. Is citizenship as meaningful as it used to be? If not, should we look to replace it with something more useful?

Renowned sociologist Saskia Sassen will be lecturing on the topic in late May, and you bet I’ll be there. I’d actually included a quote from Sassen’s intriguing write-up when I drafted this, but in re-reading it, I see that the three paragraphs are firmly copyrighted. Perhaps intellectual property is the new country…

The foreigner? Exiles & migrants is May 29th at the Tate Modern in London. You will need ID to collect your ticket…

“Inclusiveness + innovation” overcoming Medellín’s dark past

Medellin SCC pic
Public spaces that residents are proud of / Photo from FutureCapeTown

Interesting update on the impact of Medellín’s improved transport and public spaces on the city’s character (and seemingly its residents’ optimism), posted by FutureCapeTown in Sustainable Cities Collective. This piece looks at innovation, and includes a link to an earlier article on inclusion. Much – if not all – of what Medellín has achieved, especially in increasing safety and building economic strength, can work in other world cities; one of the most basic steps is acknowledging and including the poorest – and often newest – citizens in planning.


China’s move to the city hits tipping point

WSJ Article 23.4.13 WO-AI468_CURBAN_G_20120117183209

As reported by Jeremy Page and Bob Davis in the Wall Street Journal, China has just announced that 51.27% of its 1.35 billion population now live in cities – a total of 690.8 million people. Reaching this point is no surprise, but with 300 million more expected to move into town by 2030 – and with positive and negative consequences for food security, health, economic growth, political stability, quality of life and the environment – it’s not a milestone to be ignored.

It’s also worth remembering, as other countries rush into the urban age, that China’s urban population made up only 10% of its people in 1949 and 19% in 1979. As Page and Davis point out, “[t]hat means that in the economic boom of the past three decades, China has roughly matched what economic historians say took about 200 years in Britain, 100 years in the U.S. and 50 years in Japan.”

What next? Read more in their excellent article, and watch this space for stories from China as Arrival City develops….

A note from the trenches

Arrival City book jacket

Like the phenomenon it explores, this documentary has been a long time coming. Author Doug Saunders did the heavy lifting by distilling 10+ years of reportage and adding new stories to create his award-winning book on the final rural-to-urban migration. Arrival City is a highly readable mix of personal stories and solid research, and moments after I opened it, I could see it. Doug had put a human face on this massive shift, and I wanted in.

It took me a bit longer – and some ribbing about reconciling my ‘grown-up’ urbanist career with my addiction to travel and production (producing for The Amazing Race doesn’t cut it with policy wonks, oddly) – to contact Doug and get the ball rolling.

I think we’re in good shape. After just a month of development, SCETV signed on as lead broadcast partner (we love you guys!); its PBS distribution network reaches 99% of US households. We have seed money committed by some generous and forward-thinking companies, and a lot of healthy interest from foundations and corporations.

We’ll be uploading a trailer to Vimeo and YouTube soon, and will have a slightly longer demo on this site for people and organisations who want to find out more. If you’d like to be a part of this eye-opening global project, personally or through your company or foundation, please drop us a line.


Lisa Taylor, Producer/Writer

In London: Lisa Taylor –
In Montreal: Karen Coshof –



March 31, 2013: OK, getting a little itchy. Just 1 or 2 minor tweaks left and we’ll release the first demo – a 1:15 teaser that will be our ‘calling card’ – THIS TUESDAY! Have watched it, oh, a few times now … Right. On to the proper demo!

March 25, 2013: Nearly there… Rough cut of the first teaser is in the works, as is a ‘proper’ website – oh wait; that’s this site!  Huge thanks to all of those who contributed time and skills to filming our shoestring demo this month!

Feb 26, 2013: Booked it! Off to shoot our demo in Montreal (a historic immigration success story, and a location that won’t break our infant bank…) and an interview with author Doug Saunders. Clips to follow in March, demo by April.

Feb 19, 2013: First seed money (yay!) and our first Canadian broadcast license! Hello tax credits…

Feb 8, 2013: A little over a month into the project, SCETV / PBS, the American public network, commits to airing Arrival City – we have our first broadcaster! 

Watch this space for video clips, news on broadcasters and funding, production updates and release dates, and for public- and policymaker events in your region. It’s still early days, so in the meantime, please visit Doug’s website and keep in touch here.

ARRIVAL CITY: Starting out at the end of the line

Dhaka Co...A Vivid new documentary on the people and places shaping our future

In the next decades, more than two billion rural people will gather their scant possessions and gamble their lives on a move to the city. Official response to the ragged communities – the “Arrival Cities” – where they cluster can mean the difference between riches and riots.

The consequences aren’t just local. The last surge anywhere near this scale spawned revolutions of all kinds around the world. This final migration could have as much impact… at an accelerated rate.

The people in Arrival Cities want to succeed, and governments want their cities to function. So why do some Arrival Cities fail and others thrive? Can their fortunes be changed? These are the questions Arrival City will ask, and try to answer.


We call them slums, favelas, barrios – dirty, chaotic, dangerous, they look like the end of the line. But are they? People pouring in from the countryside don’t see it that way. These chaotic communities are where they come to start a life, or at least to build a better one for their children.

This is their story. And it’s a story that will affect us all.

“Arrival City”, a 60-minute film based on the internationally acclaimed book by Doug Saunders, turns the idea of the dead-end slum on its head. At ground level, we meet Arrival City newcomers struggling to break into the core city – and the middle class. At the citywide level, we see officials struggling to manage the unmanageable, keeping arrival cities from collapsing, or from bleeding into the rest of the metropolis. At the global level, we hear how our connectedness delivers innovations, pandemics, and political movements from the arrival city right to your front door.