Last night I read just the first ten or so pages of a book called “Planet of Slums” by Mike Davis. Fascinating and thought-provoking stuff. I’ll have to go back to Borders (my regular haunt) and keep reading it (or even buy it!).
Davis points out that right about now, for the first time in human history, we’ve reached the 50/50 point where 50% of the global population lives in an urban environment. This growth of urbanisation is amazing, with some cities experiencing as much as 4000% growth in the past 50 years, and mega-cities of 10, 15 or even 20 million people becoming more and more common.
But a curious aspect of this is that the growth of urbanisation is radically greater in developing countries (particularly Asia, Africa and South America) than in western countries. And the formation of these urban areas does not follow the previously expected patterns with a single nucleus and high density living at the centre of a city, but rather many, many communities are expanding and merging together to create massive urban corridors even as long as 600km.
The most worrying part of all, however, is that urban growth does not equate to economic growth. Instead, these developing countries are experiencing rapid growth in poverty, and the explosive growth of the slums that inspired the title of the book. Along the west coast of Africa, Lagos (the former capital of Nigeria), which had a population of about 290,000 in 1950, now has a population of about 8 million and is referred to as a ‘conurbation‘ due to it’s sprawling nature which amalgamates many cities/towns/suburbs/communities into one huge mass of humanity spread over 1000 sq.km. Yet in spite of all this growth (or perhaps because of it?) The Economist, in their December 2006 Liveability Survey, identified Lagos as only 64.7% liveable (where 0% is perfect and 100% is intolerable) and ranked it 130 out of 132 of all the cities surveyed.
Anyway, that’s enough for now – just some food for thought. Once I’ve had a chance to read more of Davis’ arguments, I’ll share my analysis with you. Apparently Davis argues that these issues are further exacerbated, and manipulated, to the advantage of the rich, by organisations such as the IMF intentionally setting policy (e.g. ‘Structural Adjustment Programs’) which further entrench the poverty and transfer wealth and resources from the poor to the rich. Whether he’s right or wrong, it undoubtedbly calls our attention to a very real crisis faced by humanity.