Sunday, September 25, 2016
Planet of Slums
Planet of Slums by Mike Davis
London: Verso, 2006
(9) Indeed, in many cases, rural people no longer have to migrate to the city: it migrates to them...
The result of this collision between the rural and the urban in China, much of Southeast Asia, India, Egypt, and perhaps West Africa is a hermaphroditic landscape, a partially urbanized countryside that [Gregory] Guldin argues may be "a significant new path of human settlement and development... a form neither rural nor urban but a blending of the two wherein a dense web of transactions ties large urban cores to their surrounding regions." German architect and urban theorist Thomas Sieverts proposes that this diffuse urbanism, which he calls Zwischestadt ("in-between city"), is rapidly becoming the defining landscape of the twenty-first century in rich as well as poor countries, regardless of earlier urban histories. Unlike Guldin, however, Sieverts conceptualizes these new conurbations as polycentric webs with neither traditional cores nor recognizable peripheries.
(21) The UN authors [of The Challenge of Slums] acknowledge a particular debt to Branko Milanovic, the World Bank economist who pioneered these [global household] surveys as a powerful microscope for studying global inequality.
(27) As the anarchist architect John Turner famously pointed out, "Housing is a verb."
(61) In early 1960, for example, Cuba's new National Institute of Savings and Housing, led by the legendary Pastorita Núñez, began to replace Havana's notorious shantytowns, (Las Yaguas, LLega y Pon, La Cueva del Humo, and so on) with prefabricated homes erected by the residents themselves.
(77) Lea Jellinek, a social historian who has spent more than a quarter-century studying the poor in Jakarta, in turn, recounts how one famed NGO, a neighborhood microbank, "beginning as a small grassroots project driven by needs and capacities of local women," grew Frankenstein-like into a "large, complex, top-down, technically oriented burueacracy" that was "less accountable to and supportive of" its low-income base.
From a Middle Eastern perspective, Asef Bayat deplores the hyperbole about NGOs, pointing out that "their potential for independent and democratic organization has generally been overestimated. [The] professionalization of NGOs tends to diminish the mobilizational feature of grassroots activism, while it establishes a new form of clientelism."
(85) Timothy Mitchell, "Dreamland: The Neoliberalsim of Your Desires," Middle East Report (Spring 1999), np (internet archive)
(118) In City of Walls (2000), her justly celebrated study of the militarization of urban space in Brazil, Teresa Caldeira writes that "security is one of the main elements in its advertising and an obsession of all involved with it." In practice, this has meant vigilante justice for criminal or vagrant intruders, while Alphaville's own gilded youth are allowed to run amok; one resident quoted by Caldeira affirms: "there is a law for the mortal people, but not for Alphaville residents."
NB: Ballard's Super-Cannes
(127) Erhard Berner adds that a favorite method for what Filipino landlords prefer to call "hot demolition" is to chase a "kerosene-drenched burning live rat or cat - dogs die too fast - into an annoying settlement... a fire started this way is hard to fight as the unlucky animal can set plenty of shanties aflame before it dies."
(134) Patrick Geddes (the true father of bioregionalism)
(140-141) "The absence of toilets," writes journalist Asha Krishnakumar, "is devastating for women. It severely affects their dignity, health, safety and sense of privacy, and indirectly their literacy and productivity. To defecate, women and girls have to wait until dark, which exposes them to harassment and even sexual assault.
(158) Indeed, some researchers argue that SAPs [Strategic Adjustment Plans] cynically exploit the belief that women's labor-power is almost infinitely elastic in the face of household survival needs. This is the guilty secret variable in most neoclassical equations of economic adjustment: poor women and their children are expected to lift the weight of Third World debt upon their shoulders.
(184) An NGO worker in Haiti, Yolette Etienne, describes the ultimate logic of neoliberal individualism in a context of absolute immiseration:
"Now everything is for sale. The woman used to receive you with hospitality, give you coffee, share all that she had in her home. I could go get a plate of food at a neighbor's house; a child could get a coconut at her godmother's, two mangoes at another aunt's. But these acts of solidarity are disappearing with the growth of poverty. Now when you arrive somewhere, either the woman offers to sell you a cup of coffee or she has no coffee at all. The tradition of mutual giving that allowed us to help each other and survive - this is all being lost."
(191) Of the world's megacities, only Dhaka is as poor, and Kinshasa surpasses all in its desperate reliance upon informal survival strategies. As an anthropologist observes with some awe, it is the simultaneous "miracle and nightmare" of a vast city where the formal economy and state institutions, apart from the repressive apparatus, have utterly collapsed.
(193) The Kinois, indeed, were caught up in a desperate frenzy of betting: French horse races, lotteries organized by the big breweries, bottle cap games by the soft drink companies, and, most fatefully, a pyramidal money scheme, secretly controlled by the military. (A similar quasi-magical "pyramidmania" would sweep Albania with equally devastating results in 1996-97, sucking up and destroying half the impoverished nation's GDP.)
(194-195) In the face of the death of the formal city and its institutions, ordinary Kinois - but above all, mothers and grandmothers - fought for their survival by "villagizing" Kinshasa: they reestablished subsistence agriculture and traditional forms of rural self-help. Every vacant square meter of land, including highway medians, was planted in cassava, while women without plots, the mamas miteke, went off to forage for roots and grubs in the brush. With the successive collapses of the world of work and then of the fantasy universe of gambling, people returned to a reliance upon village magic and prophetic cults. They sought release from the "disease of the whites," "yimbeefu kya mboongu": the fatal illness of money. In the place of abandoned factories and looted stores, tiny churches and prayer groups set up shop under crude but brightly painted signs. In huge slums like Masina (locally known as "The Republic of China" because of its density), Pentecostalism spread at a tropical velocity: "At the end of 2000, it was reported that there were 2,177 religious sects newly constituted in Kinshasa, many who meet during all-night prayer sessions.
(196) As a result, literal, perverse belief in Harry Potter has gripped Kinshasa, leading to the mass-hysterical denunciation of thousands of child "witches" and their expulsion to the streets, even their murder. The children, some barely more than infants, have been accused of every misdeed and are even believed, in the Ndjili slum at least, to fly about at night in swarms on broomsticks. Aid workers emphasize the novelty of the phenomenon: "Before 1990, there was hardly and talk of child witches in Kinshasa. The children who are now being accused of witchcraft are in the same situation: they become an unproductive burden for parents who are no longer able to feed them. The children said to be 'witches' are more often from very poor families."
NB: Canetti's Crowds and Power
(199) The late-capitalist triage of humanity, then, has already taken place. As Jan Bremen, writing of India, has warned: "A point of no return is reached when a reserve army waiting to be incorporated into the labour process becomes stigmatized as a permanently redundant mass, an excessive burden that cannot be included now or in the future, in economy and society. This metamorphosis is, in my opinion at least, the real crisis of world capitalism."
NB: USA today
(203) All the armed services, coordinated by the Joint Urban Operations Training Working Group, launched crash programs to master street-fighting under realistic slum conditions. "The future of warfare," the journal of the Army War College declared, "lies in the streets, sewers, highrise buildings, and sprawl of houses that form the broken cities of the world..."
NB: Ballard's High Rise