If you were alive at the turn of the century, you quietly paid witness to an inconspicuous but momentous moment in human history: sometime in the early aughties the majority of all human beings living on earth resided in urban areas. This shift, from rural to urban, argues Mike Davis, denotes significant impacts on the world’s economy, ecology, and social relations.
At the heart of Davis’ survey of the “prevalence of slums” across the planet, from Karachi to Kampala, Los Angeles to Luanda, or Buenos Aires to Beijing, is an argument against what he characterizes as dated narratives of global urbanization. Instead of seeing newly bustling megacities (think Seoul, Shanghai, Mexico City, or Kinshasa) as logical “next steps” of developing nations marching to the same drum as that which the United States and Western Europe danced to in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the growth of cities today is driven more by neoliberal land-grabs via World Bank and IMF imposed structural adjustment programs than by rural people freely seeking “modern life” and jobs in the metropole. In each chapter, Davis takes a survey approach to a different topic concerning the recent explosion of urbanization: Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs), population growth, etc. What this approach does well is sketch major patterns over time and space. But the lack of helpful context around each example takes away from the potency of each example.
Overall, I would recommend this as an interesting look at urban spaces the world over.
Rating: Don’t be a SAP, go read this book.
Review Submitted by: Shane D. Hall