Slum Appreciation Misguided

The slums of the world's megacities have been the subject of much admiration among urban thinkers recently. Joel Kotkin argues that adulation is misguided.

In this piece for New Geography, Kotkin writes that for all the positive aspects of these urban conglomerations there are many more terrible conditions that make these types of places undesirable.

"[E]ssentially megacities in developing countries should be seen for what they are: a tragic replaying of the worst aspects of the mass urbanization that occurred previously in the West. They play to the nostalgic tendency among urbanists to look back with fondness on the crowded cities of early 20th Century North America and Europe. Urban boosters like the Philadelphia Inquirer's John Timpane speak fondly about going back to the "the way we were" - when our parents or grandparents lived stacked in small apartments, rode the subway to work and maintained a relatively small carbon footprint.

Unfortunately such places were often not so nice for the people who actually lived in them. After all, they have been moving from higher to lower density locations for over fifty years, a trend still noticeable in the new Census."

Full Story: The Problem With Megacities



Very poor piece

I understand and appreciate the desire to provide thoughtful excursions from planning orthodoxy. But there must be somebody who does a better job of it than Kotkin. As articulated by Steven Smith (, Kotkin displays no understanding of what Garden Cities actually consist of nor of any of the salient characteristics of the contemporary cities he discusses.

Sadly, it's difficult to believe that this article is the mere result of Kotkin having a bad day. As near as I can tell, his work is characterized by conceptual and methodological mistakes at least as face-palmingly obvious as the ones made here (focusing solely on population shifts, at the expense of housing prices, when assessing geographical demand; propping up arguments with extraordinarily questionable definitions of what counts as a city and what as a suburb; taking a very simplistic view of what counts as a subsidy and what doesn't; etc.).

I'm all for seeing an aggregation of writings from diverse perspectives. When those perspectives are completely ideologically driven and devoid of any sort of argumentative merit, though, they tend to reflect poorly on their aggregator.

The Problem With Kotkin

It's great to know that all of these problems are the result of big cities. I'd hate to think that economic conditions were driving force behind these issues.

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