From an airplane, the slums of Nairobi. Taken on safari in Kenya / John Storr / commons.wikimedia.org

Slums as Cities of Future

An interview with Robert Neuwirth on what we could learn from the slums by Vera Lukyanovich

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An interview with Robert Neuwirth

An interview by Vera Lukyanovich

Between 2000 and 2050 the world population is expected to increase by 3 billion. Little of this growth will happen either in developed countries, or in the rural developing world. Almost all of it will appear in cities in developing countries, with much of the urban growth taking place in slums. Slums are a kind of buffer from rural to urban life caused by rapid rural-to-urban migration. People come to a city from the countryside, and what brings them there is the hope for a new life as a result of the intense economic activity happening in the cities, and they obviously have reasons for such hope. The newcomers need a place to live, but they are not able to rent it. So they simply create it. People build themselves habitations, forming huge settlements.

In most developing countries "sustainable" building is a long-range goal. The reality is that, despite no land being owned, a whole low-cost real estate economy takes shape, being managed without any laws or governmental approval. Life in such informal settlements is characterised by grossly inadequate housing and lack or total absence of access to basic urban services and infrastructure. Nevertheless, whole generations live and work there. People earn money, cultivating the development of the informal economy, which grows to an incredible scale; along with the slums.

I discussed these issues with Robert Neuwirth, American investigative reporter and author of “Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World” and “Stealth of Nations”. The first book was written as a result of Robert’s experience of living in squatter communities in Nairobi, Rio de Janeiro, Istanbul and Mumbai. Research for his second book,“Stealth of Nations”, took four years, which Robert spent investigating the way people earn a living in squatter settlements. Robert was observing from inside the operation of street vendors, smugglers and various informal import/export companies.
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