Forever Under Construction

Planet of Slums

Posted in Architecture, Books, Society, Urbanism by homeyra on November 18, 2007

Planet of Slums
Mike Davis

Excerpt from The Guardian, Shantytown Apocalypse:

“[…] The majority of the world’s population live in poverty, oppressed, dispossessed and starving. But you knew that already. The great interest – indeed the morbid fascination – of Davis’s book is that it seeks to identify exactly how and why the majority of the world’s population is currently living in poverty, oppressed, dispossessed and starving; the poor may always be with us, but times change. […]

“For the first time the urban population of the earth will outnumber the rural”; there will soon be more people living in cities than in the country.

And this is bad news, because the cities that Davis examines and describes are not the rich, vibrant cultural centres beloved of Sunday-supplement dandies and middle-class flâneurs, but vast “peri-urban” developments, horizontal spreads of unplanned squats and shantytowns, unsightly dumps of humans and waste, where child labour is the norm, child prostitution is commonplace, gangs and paramilitaries rule and there is no access to clean water or sanitation, let alone to education or democratic institutions. […] He estimates that there are already some 200,000 such slums worldwide and argues that the slum is becoming the blueprint for cities of the future, which, “rather than being made out of glass and steel as envisioned by earlier generations of urbanists, are instead largely constructed out of crude brick, straw, recycled plastic, cement blocks and scrap wood.”

According to Davis, this is largely due to the “neoliberal restructuring of Third World urban economies that has occurred since the late 1970s” – which is to say it’s the fault of the World Bank and IMF, and also “middle-class hegemony”, “petty landlordism”, “soft imperialism”, “elite homeowners” and NGOs which, he claims, are “captive to the agenda of the international donors, and grassroots groups similarly dependent upon the international NGOs”.

[…] Davis is the author of a number of strange and brilliant books about cities and their discontents, most notably a great, surging trilogy of books about Los Angeles – City of Quartz (1990), Ecology of Fear (1998) and Magical Urbanism (2001) […]” Read the article


Eurozine has published a series of very interesting articles named The city as stage for social upheaval. Highly recommended


5 Responses

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  1. Monte said, on November 20, 2007 at 2:24 am

    Fascinating! This looks important.

  2. 99 said, on November 20, 2007 at 9:37 am

    Homie! Maybe you could draw up some plans for livable shanties… or stackable shanties… something NGOs could start utilizing…. 😦

  3. homeyra said, on November 20, 2007 at 10:37 am

    There are many existing studies and successful projects (Pakistan, Tunisia, Morocco…). Also the World Bank has a lot of good info and case studies on its website. From time to time some project wins an award and some publicity goes there.
    Here are some interesting links:
    UN Millennium Project
    Arif Hassan
    Participatory Development and the World Bank
    Culture and Poverty: Projects at the World Bank
    But the existing tendency looks more like what Davis describes.

  4. Bluebear2 said, on November 21, 2007 at 3:00 am

    Well I see I’ve been away far too long. The comment boxes don’t even remember me anymore!

    Homeyra: Don’t be a stranger BB2! 🙂

  5. Curtis said, on November 24, 2007 at 5:13 am

    A very interesting argument, sounds like a fine read from a fresh angle.

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