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Thursday, March 16, 2006
Planet of Slums
I haven't read the new book from Mike Davis (of City of Quartz fame) - but Salon.com has. From their review, it sounds like pretty doom-laden stuff - and of course, in a lot of ways he's right: slums are growing faster than the cities that they surround; by 2020, the world will have around 1.5 billion slum dwellers and 'solutions' to lifting these hordes out of desperate poverty are pretty thin on the ground. But it is very Davis to posit that Baghdad today is the city of the future - a kind of LA on (even more) crack, "with the police helicopters of the first world's gated communities perpetually hovering over the permanent low-grade conflict of the Third World's smoldering slums." Not inevitable, I don't think.

There are other futures out there for the new megacities which aren't necessarily the archi-chic of Koolhaas's 'analysis' of Lagos which Salon posits as its alternative. I'm not sure whether a "giant hive of recombinant, sometimes cannibalistic creative energy" which depends on mass logging of rainforest timber is my kinda future, either, but he's definitely got a point about the immense energy and creativity that exist in 'slum' areas. As the Indian engineer Himanshu Parikh one of the people who has most influenced my thinking on this subject said, 'You think slum dwellers are poor, but they are not. They are incredibly rich, it's just that everyone assumes they have nothing'. In the mean time, if you want to prepare yourself for the worst, read Mike Davis.

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