A few notes on Third World urban slums

The following recently appeared in the “Readings” section of Harper’s:


Adapted from an essay by Mike Davis, in the March/April 2004 issue of New Left Review. Daws is currently writing a book about slums that will be published by Verso this year.

“In 1950 there were 86 cities in the world with populations over one million; today there are 386, and by 2015 there will be at least 550. The present urban population (3 billion) is larger than the total population of the world in 1960. The global countryside, meanwhile, will reach its maximum population (3.3 billion) in 2020 and thereafter will begin to decline. As a result, cities will account for all future world population growth, which is expected to peak at about 9 billion in 2050.

“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. The most celebrated result will be the burgeoning of new megacities with populations in excess of 8 million and, even more spectacularly, hypercities with more than 20 million inhabitants. By 2025, Asia alone could have ten or eleven conurbations that large, including Jakarta, Dhaka, and Karachi. Shanghai could have as many as 27 million residents in its huge estuarial metro-region. Bombay meanwhile is projected to attain a population of 33 million, though no one knows whether such gigantic concentrations of poverty are biologically or ecologically sustainable.

“But if megacities are the brightest stars in the urban firmament, three quarters of the burden of population growth will be borne by faintly visible second-tier cities: places where, as U.N. researchers emphasize, “there is little or no planning to accommodate these people or provide them with services.” In China the number of official cities has soared from 193 to 640 since 1978. In Africa, likewise, the supernova-like growth of a few giant cities such as Lagos (from 300,000 in 1950 to 10 million today) has been matched by the transformation of several dozen small towns and oases such as Ouagadougou, Nouakchott, Douala, and Antananarivo into cities larger than San Francisco or Manchester.

“The dynamics of Third World urbanization both recapitulate and confound the precedents of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Europe and North America. In China the greatest industrial revolution in history is shifting a population the size of Europe’s from rural villages to smog-choked, sky-climbing cities. In sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and parts of Asia, however, urbanization has been radically decoupled from industrialization, and even from development per se. This “perverse” urban boom contradicts orthodox economic models that predict that the negative feedback of urban recession should slow or even reverse migration from the countryside.

“The global forces pushing people from the countryside — mechanization in Java and India; food imports in Mexico, Haiti, and Kenya; civil war and drought throughout Africa; and everywhere the consolidation of small into large holdings — seem to sustain urbanization even when the pull of the city is drastically weakened by debt and depression. At the same time, rapid urban growth in the context of structural adjustment, currency devaluation, and state retrenchment has been a recipe for the inevitable mass production of slums. Much of the urban world, as a result, is rushing backward to the age of Dickens.

Posted by | Comments (2)  | July 7, 2005
Category: General

2 Responses to “A few notes on Third World urban slums”

  1. Adu Samuel Says:

    Mass education should take place on the media as well as door to campaign on the issue on the issue of proper infrastructural development. Finally laws on building should be reinforced to ensure an order society.

  2. Pedro Says:

    Try to make those changes with a state that has no money and in places where the law does not work 100%. Down to south the laws are different. As capitalism is falling, the slums are the future of the citys, even in rich countries.