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Planet of Slums Essay

As the sprawling sky rocketed buildings, and electrifying industries began to show the dreams of unlimited potentials, our eyes are yet to catch nasty travails of the urban life in all its vicissitude. 2005 was a witness to the ever increase in population in cities- expecting to reach 10 billion mark in 2050, but majority of them confined in the areas characterized by crumbling houses, dirty water, unhygienic environment, and very minimum sources and nothing in the name of social services, and ever increasing unemployment rate.

These are slum areas of the urban cities where maximum of migrants from villages and small towns find their place. “Planet of Slums” by Mike Davis is an exploration of these dark corners of the most virtualized urban cities and, also reflects his deep commitment for raising our consciousness towards the real causes behind the unprecedented growth of these slum areas. He analyzed the grim view of this global phenomenon over the past half-century and what this billion strong slum population had in store for political future.

From as far as places like Brazil to New Guinea, and from Senegal to Pakistan, rural folks are leaving their traditional occupation and landing in the slums of the urban cites for new growth and income opportunities in new occupational arenas. In countries like Africa and Latin America, people flocked to cities to escape from either the war or famine or got attracted by the income growth in factories producing clothes like t-shirts, sneakers, and toothbrushes never heard of before.

Though the impact of migration process is being felt since the first industrial revolution, yet the conditions and the environment they have been staying in truly reflect their shattered dreams. They dream of getting rich but what they are gaining in cities like Manchester, Chicago, Tokyo and Mumbai are their unending lives in dirty towns and squatter camps.

Guldin’s case study of Southern China exposes the point that it is not only the cities which are being developed but it is also the vice versa, “Villagers become more like market and xiang towns, and county towns and small cities become more like large cities. ” (Davis 2006: 9) Many countries are also witness to the bubbling city lives reaching at the doorstep of the rural folks in their own villages or towns.

It has quite happened in Malaysia where journalist SeaBrook highlighted the fate of several fishermen, “Engulfed by urbanization without migrating, their lives overturned, even while remaining on the spot where they were born. ”(Davis 2006: 9) The lives of fishermen had all been uprooted by the new waves of urbanization, which cut off their homes from sea due to new highway, polluted their fishing ponds due to urban waste, and deforested the neighboring hillsides to construct apartment blocks.

Johannesburg is one of the many cities, which is a witness to the degeneration of soil owing to continuous inebriated mining. More than half of the non-white population is surviving at informal settlements in areas where there is abundant of toxic waste and chronic ground. But the most classic case recorded by Davis is Mumbai in India, where the people earning higher level of income own 90 per cent of land whereas poor people are overcrowded.

CBC News correspondent drafted a picture of the third largest city in the world after Tokyo and Mexico. Mumbai has 10 million people with majority of the population belonging to slum areas and the Dharavi at the vicinity of Mumbai is considered to be the largest slum in Asia. (Benoit 2006: Online) The lands where the slums are developed are the most valuable real estate areas but all are illegal and every day government vehicles come in one part of the slum areas or to the next for the demolition and every time they are established again.

Several times, state had tried to enter into deal with private individuals for the redevelopment of the lands and for providing new houses for slum dwellers but this process has been unsuccessful. These slum dwellers are the backbone of the city Mumbai providing the labour for menial jobs like train operators, construction workers, factory workers etc. Davis said that, “These polarized patterns of land use and population density recapitulate older logics of imperial control and racial dominance. ” (Escobar 2007: 27)

Even though the economies of mega cities like Lagos, Kinshasa, and Dar Es Salaam have been deteriorating or remaining stagnant still since last many years, these cities have been continuously attracting new arrivals. Davis attempted to focus on the reasons behind the growth of slums that had been the matter of concern for economists since many years. The debt crises of 1970s and 1980s, and the restructuring of the developing economies in third world by International Monetary Fund during 1980s have been the main culprits.

During the mid seventies, World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) began to grant loans to the developing nations on the conditions of structural adjustment policies. The term denotes the changes in the policies of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank for granting the new loans at lower rate of interest to the developing countries with certain conditions. The conditions are levied to ensure the proper use of the money lended and to reduce fiscal imbalance of borrowing countries.

The developing nations had to privatize their public services department and infrastructure, devalue their currencies, initiate in the growth of crops for exports, and remove the subsidies and this had a direct impact on the local farmers and manufacturers who were forced to enter into competition with the First World agribusiness and corporations. Davis evoked, “Rapid urban growth in the context of structural adjustment, currency devaluation, and state retrenchment has been an inevitable recipe for the mass production of slums” (Davis 2006: 17).

The World Bank and IMF became a part of the capitalist system in the international scenario subsequently supported by Reagan, Thatcher, and Kohl (Davis 2006: 153). According to Davis, “Debt has been the forcing-house of an epochal transfer of power from Third World nations to the Bretton Woods institutions [World Bank and IMF] controlled by the US and other core capitalist countries […] The [World Bank’s] professional staff are the postmodern equivalent of a colonial civil service” (Davis 2006: 153-4).

The global forces with their weapons of the deregulation and mechanization of agriculture, and promotion of the consolidation of smallholdings into large ones created the surplus of rural labour forcing them to make the urban slums their final destination, as the job market in the cities became on the verge of extinction. In Davis own words, “Over-urbanization’ is driven by the reproduction of poverty, not by the supply of jobs. This is one of the unexpected tracks down which a neo-liberal world order is shunting the future” (Davis 2006: 16).

It is not only rural folks but also import substitution industries, public sectors, and middle classes felt an impact. (Davis 2006: 16) Millions of city-dwellers were directly pushed into poverty due to Neo-liberalism. But along with this, the same policies that had shattered the small public sector enterprises gave boost to the private enterprises, importers, military personnel and many leading players controlling political circles.

Besides undertaking economic consideration, Davis espouses upon the various social, religious, ethnic and political movements making their presence felt at the every corner of the dwelling of urban poor. For e. g. the resistance movement of Islam at the Casablanca and Cairo, street gangs dominating the streets of Cape-town and San Salvador, the movement Pentecostalism at Kinshasa and Rio de Janeiro, and revolutionary movement at Caracas and La Paz became hallmark of the new movement initiated by American regime as their war over terrorism.

But this war was nothing but a setting of a stage of a long prolonged war between the American regime and the slum dwellers. Going with the UN-Habitat Report, “Challenge of Slums”, which went public in 2003, Davis emphasized the final aspect to the whole holocaust that lay behind the growth of an ugly phase of the urbanization. He cited the “Retreat of the State, as the main unfounded reason for the increase in poverty and unequal division of income and wealth during 1980s and 1990s. Davis 2006: 154) These state of affairs led to the development of the “virtual democracy, whereby all the control of the macro-economic policies of Third World nations are controlled from Washington. ” (Davis 2006: 154) Adding to the cause also is the corruption among leaderships, institutional failures and structural adjustment programs that eventually led to the transfer of wealth from poor to rich nations.

Besides, haphazard way of the developing of roads and increasing traffic beckoned the environmentalists’ towards the extensive amount of population and ever-growth of the rows of slums near the roadsides and railways tracks. Initially Davis was going to give title of his book, The World Is a Ghetto, but the motive of the writer was to bring to the notice of the world the changes that had emerged in the global scenario though appearing to be on the development side yet it is a false notion as amidst the high rise buildings, industries, hotels and restaurants, zooming vehicles on the road, there are darker corners we often ignore.

These slums are posing the problems of imperial order and social control that began to come to the notice of geopolitics. In a deep ironic note, Davis says if America aims to leash out the terrorists into the social and cultural periphery, it would be making the poor developing cities as permanent battlefields. Planet of Slums is an eye opener for the world imperialistic orders to make them analyze the fact that no city can virtually grow on wealth alone.


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