Taking a Closer Look at the Slum

Slums have garnered some positive attention lately, from academics (Teddy Cruz) to royalty (Prince Charles). This article looks at just what it is we can learn from them, as well as the challenges that face legitimizing the world's shantytowns.

"To be sure, there is something unseemly in privileged people rhapsodizing about such places. Prince Charles, for all his praise, does not appear poised to move to a shack in Dharavi. Identifying the positive aspects of poverty risks glorifying it or rationalizing it. Moreover, some of the qualities extolled by analysts are direct results of deprivation. Low resource consumption may be good for the earth, but it is not the residents' choice. Most proponents of this thinking agree that it's crucial to address the conflict between improving standards of living and preserving the benefits of shantytowns.

But given the reality that poverty exists and seems unlikely to disappear soon, squatter cities can also be seen as a remarkably successful response to adversity - more successful, in fact, than the alternatives governments have tried to devise over the years. They also represent the future. An estimated 1 billion people now live in them, a number that is projected to double by 2030. The global urban population recently exceeded the rural for the first time, and the majority of that growth has occurred in slums. According to Stewart Brand, founder of the Long Now Foundation and author of the forthcoming book 'Whole Earth Discipline,' which covers these issues, 'It's a clear-eyed, direct view we're calling for - neither romanticizing squatter cities or regarding them as a pestilence. These things are more solution than problem.'"

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