How are slums created

Requirements and consequences of slum quarters

2006 was a historic turning point: for the first time in history, more people lived in cities than in rural areas. A third of the population in these cities, a little over a billion people, vegetates there in slums. In 2006, in the same year of this historic turning point, the English original edition of "Planet der Slums" by the American urban sociologist and historian Mike Davis was published. For his understandably written book, he primarily evaluated scientific work. There is not only a lot to learn about the conditions in which it was formed, but also about the economy and the living environment of the slum dwellers. Davis lists numerous drastic examples: an average of 13.4 people share a room in the slums of Calcutta; tens of thousands live in tombs in the so-called "City of the Dead" in Cairo; in Dahka, the slum dwellers are the first victims of flooding; in Manila they have settled on piles of rubbish and live on what the small, affluent class in the Philippines has disposed of. What all slums have in common is that there is no clean water and the sewage is not disposed of in a sewer system. For Mike Davis, smell and visible feces represent a kind of demarcation line between the slums and the better neighborhoods. Further indicators are the high child mortality and the low life expectancy.

Mike Davis also tells how the slums came into being, drawing on the well-known descriptions of the labor misery in British Manchester in the 19th century, i.e. at the beginning of industrialization. The urban sociologist only suggests why people are moving from the country to the city today as they did then. He maintains that the miserable conditions in the countryside drive them into the cities and not - as is so often rumored - the city lures them with a better life. In contrast to two hundred years ago, however, according to Davis, people are fleeing to the cities today, without any prospects there and despite increasing deindustrialization.

Even in the years of economic blowout between 1980 and early 1990, the urbanization of the Third World continued at a breakneck pace, despite falling real wages, rising prices and skyrocketing urban unemployment. This abnormal urban growth surprised most experts and contradicted orthodox economic models that predicted the negative feedbacks of an urban recession would slow or even reverse rural exodus.

Davis dates the "big bang" of the recent impoverishment of urban quarters to the late 1970s and 1980s, when the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, or IMF, imposed their austerity programs on the indebted countries of the southern hemisphere. These programs prevented government investment in the public service sector. They came at the expense of health care, the education system and structural aid for rural regions. An immense rural exodus began. Deregulation and privatization, which the IMF and World Bank then pushed in the 1990s, robbed the poor of their livelihoods. For example, when the Indian government lifted grocery price maintenance in the early 1990s, prices rose 60 percent within four years. Staple foods became unaffordable for many Indians. Today famines are being observed again in some regions of India. All over the world in these years, i.e. from the end of the 70s to the beginning of the 90s, there were so-called IMF uprisings in the ghettos and slums - largely ignored by the media of the so-called 1st world. And the pressure is increasing, says Mike Davis. The slum population is growing by 25 million people every year. More and more young people are joining street gangs or paramilitary units, some of them sell a kidney out of necessity, live on prostitution and have to pay exorbitant rents to the so-called slum lords who have become rich with property speculation in the slums of many megacities. The possibilities of mutual help have been exhausted, writes Mike Davis, and there is a loss of solidarity among the slum dwellers. Such a situation produces ethnic-religious and racist violence.

With all the fanfare that was made around the slogan "helping the poor to help themselves", the public hardly noticed the serious curtailment of pension entitlements that was hidden behind the World Bank's approval of the slum shelters. The praises of the self-employment of the poor became a cover for the abandonment of the historical obligation of the state to eradicate poverty and homelessness.

Urban sociologist Davis contradicts approaches like those of the Peruvian economist and neoliberal thought leader Hernando de Soto, who blames the state for the misery in the slums. De Soto calls for the slum dweller to be turned into a small business owner and has also inspired the concepts of the World Bank with his ideas. He suggests formal tenure, paid toilets, and unregulated competition as a source of wealth. Instead, Mike Davis calls for more social security and the redistribution of social wealth. Because where poverty grows, wealth grows too. Not too far from the slums, so-called "gated communities" are emerging all over the world, in which the beneficiaries of this economic system isolate themselves from homemade poverty and misery with high-security fences charged with electricity, razor-sharp NATO wire, security personnel and mobile alarm devices.

This "architecture of fear" is common in the Third World and some parts of the First, but it is most pronounced globally in large urban societies where socio-economic disparities are greatest, such as South Africa, Brazil, Venezuela and the United States States. [..] Brazil's most famous fortified and Americanized Edge City is Alphaville in the northwest quadrant of the greater Sao Paulo area. Perversely named after the gritty new world in Godard's weird 1965 film, Alphaville is a fully privatized town with a large office complex, an expensive mall, and paved residential areas, all of which are guarded by more than 800 private security guards. [..] In practice, this means vigilante justice against criminal and homeless intruders, while Alphaville's wealthy youth are allowed to run amok.

Structural violence is like a boomerang: it is ultimately directed against its profiteers. Freedom and democracy, which they like to talk about, fall by the wayside. You are being sacrificed to security thinking. Mike Davis does away with the widespread notion that the social integration of slum dwellers is possible under the conditions of the capitalist world market. The attempt failed most clearly where the slum dwellers were to be brought the blessing of the capitalist economy with military force, for example in the slums of Mogadishu and Baghdad. According to US military researchers, these megaslums are the "weakest link in the new world order". The "true clash of civilizations", according to Mike Davis, will in future take place in the places that US war planners refer to as the "battlefields of the 21st century": the outer slum areas of the mega-cities in the Third World.

This delusional dialectic of legal versus demonic urban place leads to a gloomy and never-ending duet: night after night attack helicopters rattle over the narrow streets of the slum districts in the hunt for mysterious enemies like hornets and fire machine gun salvos in poor huts or at fleeing cars. Every morning the slums respond with suicide bombings and explosions. While the Empire has an Orwellian arsenal of repression technologies, the outlaws have the gods of chaos on their side.