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January 02, 2007

Welcome to a Planet of Slums

by Scott

planet of slums.jpg In Planet of Slums, Mike Davis traces the global trajectory of informal settlement in urban areas devoid of improved industrialization and economic growth.

It's a staggering portrait that Davis paints. In 1950 there were 86 cities in the world with a population of more than one million. Today, there are 400. By 2015, there will be at least 550. In just China, India, and Brazil, the combined urban population roughly equals that of Europe and North America. In 1950, Seoul-Injon had 1 million residents. In 2004, it had 21.9 million residents.

A considerable amount of this urban population explosion end up living in squallor. In the Amazon areas, 80 percent of city growth infests shantytowns largely unserved by utilities and municipal transportation. In Mexico City, some estimates claim that as much as 60 percent of urban growth is the result of people crafting their own dwellings on unserviced land. Nearly 500,000 people migrate to Delhi each year and it is estimated that 400,000 end up in slums.

"Thus, the cities of the future, rather than being made of glass and steel as envisioned by earlier generations of urbanists, are instead largely constructed out of crube brick, straw, recylced plastic, cement blocks, and scrap wood," Davis writes. "Instead of cities of light soaring toward heaven, much of the twenty-first-century urban world squats in squallor, surrounded by pollution, excrement, and decay."

It's not necessarily a pleasant read to start off the new year. And I'm admittedly not finished with the book so I can't vouch for all the arguments. But Planet of slums certainly provides an eye-opening look at a global problem.

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