In the next fifty years the world’s population is expected to increase by roughly 50%. Almost of of this population growth is expected to be in cities in the developing world. Mike Davis’ Planet of Slums presents one vision of the developing world’s megacities. Below are three others.
Robert Neuwrith’s informative and novel book Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World (see review on WorldChanging) is about the one billion people who live in informal settlements in the world’s megacities. Neuwrith lived in informal settlements in Bombay (Mumbai), Rio de Janeiro, Istanbul, and Nairobi. Based on his experience he argues that rather than being zones of chaos and crime, shantytowns are innovative and adaptive responses to poverty that allow poor people to improve their lives – as long as their governments don’t evict and destroy their settlements. Neuwirth also maintains a weblog that comments on new related to his book.
Suketu Mehta‘s great book Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found presents a rich evocative picture of Bombay (Adam Hochschild review in Harpers). Mehta tells the stories of gansters, policemen, politicians, dancers, Bollywood stars, the middle class, the poor, and the rich. He tells of the failure of state justice, police assassinations of gangsters, and the intertwined stories of gangsters and movie stars – as well as Bombay’s connection with Dubai, India and the West.
Finally, a Guardian article tells the story of a day in Chongqing – the fastest-growing urban centre on the planet – just upstream from the reservoir of the Three Gorges Dam (see Edward Burtynsky photos).
China’s development is one of humanity’s worst environmental disasters. Cheap coal and a doubling of car ownership every five years has made the country the second-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. According to the World Bank, 16 of the planet’s 20 dirtiest cities are in China, and Chongqing is one of the worst. Every year, the choking atmosphere is responsible for thousands of premature deaths and tens of thousands of cases of chronic bronchitis. Last year, the air quality failed to reach level 2, the government health standard, one day in every four. Today’s haze is so thick that I still haven’t seen the sun.
Outside at midnight, the bright lights cannot mask a seedier side of city life – the poor trawling through rubbish bins, the homeless on street corners, the touts offering drugs and sex for sale. Many of the women working as prostitutes are rural migrants. Their children are left with relatives or sent to the streets to beg, sell flowers or sing songs for money until the early hours.