More on our deeper and wider urbanization

Though this book isn't specifically cited in Mike Davis' Planet of the Slums (see blog entry below), it covers the same ground and uses many of the same case studies. Some of the findings are alarming but the authors eschew Davis' apocalyptic tone.

National Research Council. Cities Transformed: Demographic Change and Its Implications in the Developing World. Washington DC: The National Academies Press, 2003.

Every big city has problems -- urban population growth is chaotic and frenzied, especially in the global south, and often creates desperate conditions -- but some have found solutions that work better than others. Also, as Davis also notes, urbanization is reaching much wider than ever, that is, urban densities and the reach of urban music, crime, markets, disease, but also of urban opportunities, are extending much farther into what used to be the rural hinterland. The opportunities are real -- urban densities permit economies of scale for providing education, transport, housing and everything else more cheaply -- but are sabotaged by urban problems including the systems of exploitation that Davis focuses on.

For the book we have underway right now my concern is the built environment, the bricks and mortar and steel and tarmac, or clapboard and canvas or adobe and twigs, that make up the physical spaces of the city. This aspect is barely touched on explicitly in this National Research Council publication, but its chapters on the importance of location, "diversity and inequality", the urban economy and "the challenge of urban governance" are all relevant, because these things shape, and are shaped by, the physical structures. Our book is on Latin America, and there are many examples here and literature citations to follow up from São Paulo, Mexico City, and even smaller places like Porto Alegre (and many other cities in Africa and Asia). But there is a startling gap: barely a mention of Cuba, one of the countries that has done the most in innovative projects to confront "diversity and inequality" and other problems. Cuban approaches would be hard to emulate in other, non-socialist countries (although Venezuela is trying), and maybe haven't always been successful even in their own country, but they deserve serious, critical examination. (I'll try to work up something on the topic.)

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