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Looking at the “Planet of Slums,” by Mike Davis

Looking at the “Planet of Slums,” by Mike Davis

We often think of migration in terms of the push and pull forces that cause people to move from one place to another, and the demographic statistics that accompany these shifts. But many people skip a whole part of the story: what is the status of this migration now? As researchers, we don’t want to

We often think of migration in terms of the push and pull forces that cause people to move from one place to another, and the demographic statistics that accompany these shifts. But many people skip a whole part of the story: what is the status of this migration now? As researchers, we don’t want to know only who is going where – we are just as concerned with why, and what the implications are for the future.

Or so Mike Davis writes in “Planet of Slums,” a detailed response to most of these questions in the developing world context. A documented postmodernist and author of “City of Quartz” (1990), his earlier work focuses on many of the societal and structural changes in Los Angeles. “Planet of Slums” shifts gears into the third-world, where “Ninety-five percent of this final buildout of humanity will occur in the urban areas of developing countries, whose populations will double to nearly 4 billion over the next generation” (Davis, 2).  This is the contemporary situation.

Dharavi Slum in Mumbai, India

Dharavi Slum, India

The work and its findings are simultaneously chilling and captivating. The work may not be news to researchers in this field, yet it provides a methodical and concise view of the slum issue. Davis takes us on an around-the-world trip, from Rio de Janiero to Nairobi, Lagos, Kolkata, and so many other places that will literally continue to grow for years to come. Chapter 4, “Illusions of Self-Help,” illustrates the inability of such institutions as the United Nations, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund to effectively address the issues of urban poverty, health, and mass urbanization in the developing world.

Overall, the purpose of the book is to show us that we are a “Planet of Slums.” It is not so much a warning as it is a statement: this is where we are, and where we will be. The statistics and figures can be slightly overwhelming at times throughout the book, although these are usually provided only to reinforce the effect. As geographers, sociologists, anthropologists, urban planners, and architects, Davis encourages us to address introspectively these real and pertinent issues.

Maxwell Vidaver Reading Planet of Slumbs

What do you think is necessary in order to prevent further slum growth, or to mitigate the slum problem?

Want a FREE copy of “Planet of Slums” by Mike Davis? The Grid is giving away four FREE copies to lucky contest winners. Follow the link to the contest for a chance to win a free copy!

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Maxwell Vidaver is a graduate student in Urban Planning, Policy, and Design at Politecnico di Milano in Milan, Italy, and also holds a B.A. in Geography from Binghamton University, where he focused on urban economic analysis. He is originally from Ba...

  • http://pattys-thesis.blogspot.com/ Patricia

    Coincidentally, I just added this book to my reading list. This issue is serious and pervasive. I think that one very plausible solution to the slum issue is the sustainable development of affordable housing. Planners and activists should work together to provide healthy and safe housing options for all sectors of society. For example, if a local economy is dependent on the tourist industry then housing that waitstaff, tour bus drivers, and ski instructors can afford is essential. In addition, these housing options might need to provide social services such as affordable daycare, health care, substance abuse programs, etc. Comprehensive housing strategies that address these problems at the lowest income levels would be an excellent start.

    Thank you for the excellent post!

    • http://www.theglobalgrid.org Maxwell Vidaver


      I agree that housing is the place to start. It’s also an issue of political viability, as governments are not compelled to spend tax dollars on services from which they do not receive immediate benefit. While providing proper housing and social services can be beneficial in the long run, I think it will take much stronger socio-political representation and action by these groups to begin this effort. It will be interesting to see what the approach towards slums will be over the next decade or two.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • https://twitter.com/ceewind Christine

    A: International Organizations incentivizing/enabling movement from slums to rural areas through stipends and infrastructure development partnerships with programs like PeaceCorps, etc.

    • http://www.theglobalgrid.org Maxwell Vidaver


      I think its great to think ahead about other possible alternatives. However, one major issue is that slums already take up a considerable amount of land; in theory, we want to avoid using more than we have to (a lot of this rural land is either used for agriculture or forested areas; in the case of deserts, it is a different story altogether). I think in the long run, it would be more efficient for cities to renovate their decrepit areas, or to build new projects to slowly yet effectively legitimize the slum areas (as Patricia suggests, there must be a local economy as well; these two things work hand in hand). I like the idea of incentivizing renovation – I would just be apprehensive about using more land, but these are just my opinions. Great thinking!

  • https://twitter.com/ceewind Christine

    *Stipends*–meaning more accurately: one-time sum of money to incentivize the move from slums to areas outside major cities.

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