'Edge of the Abyss': Review of Mike Davis' 'Planet of Slums'

This week's bloody shootout in Sao Paulo between gangs and the police is a sign of the coming global "urban hell" as described in Mike Davis' new book, "Planet of Slums".
May 20, 2006, 5am PDT | Michael Dudley
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"Abandon all hope those who dream about the glamorously high-tech cities of the future. They will be largely constructed of 'crude brick, straw, recycled plastic, cement blocks and scrap wood. Instead of cities of light soaring toward heaven, much of the urban 21st century squats in squalor, surrounded by pollution, excrement, and decay'. To see it live, right now, one just has to drive by Kolkata, Mumbai, Manila, Jakarta, Cairo, Changing or Sao Paulo.

According to UN-HABITAT figures, most places with the world's largest percentages of slum-dwellers are in Asia: Afghanistan (98.5%) and Nepal (92%). Mumbai holds the dubious record of being the slum capital of the world - as many as 12 million squatters -- followed by Mexico City and Dhaka and then Lagos, Cairo, Karachi, Kinshasa-Brazzaville, Sao Paulo, Shanghai and Delhi.

...Squattable land is eroding. So welcome to 'the radical new face of inequality', as Davis put it, 'a grim human world largely cut off from the subsistence solidarities of the countryside as well as disconnected from the cultural and political life of the traditional city'. This is the edge of the abyss, the new Babylon; and its inhabitants more than ever will include the young, dispossessed neo-terrorists who attacked Casablanca in May 2003 as well as the motorized 'bin Ladens' attacking Sao Paulo police only a few days ago."

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Published on Saturday, May 20, 2006 in Asia Times
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