Mike Davis (2006). Planet of Slums. UK. Verso.
In his book Planet of Slums (2006) Mike Davis promotes a critical postition towards urbanization. His theses is that urbanization is not connected at all with development and the creation of work, but is a result and cause of perpetuated social injustice and poverty.
The author begins his argumentation by giving concrete examples of miserable living conditions to be found in the center and outskirts of mayor cities. On our planet, a big of the human population is not granted the human right to suficient shelter. These are found above all in less developed countries, among them almost all mayor African cities. He makes use of different classifications (type of housing, rent/no rent etc., city center/outskirts) to give a schematic overview of the different types of miserable housing found on earth.
He then goes on with an historical overview, to conclude with the fact that inhuman living conditions in the urban context are a recent problem. Especially in Africa, the growth of the urban population in the past decades is of an extremely high percentage. Before, there was a barrier to migrate to cities. Nowadays, life in the rural context is no longer possible, so the people are forced to migrate to the cities despite inhuman living conditions. In this context, the author also makes use of theory of behaviour and motivations to explain how people decide on their housing.
Davis goes even further and after stating the problem of miserable living conditions and explaining how people decide to live in them, he asks what lies behind of all that. The explaination for the fact, that in Africa before independence cities were rather small, are colonial politics, which didn't grant Africans the right to property nor permanent residence in the cities. After independence these conditions changed. Since independence, civil war, drought, lack of good politics and the structural adjustment politics (SAP) the FMI and World Bank impose on Africa do not make life in villages possible. Furthermore, investors make big benefits renting out even the cheapest and smallest plots, because in the end, the number of paying families per square meter is much higher than in luxury living. In summary, the author gives different opression mechanism of the poor through urbanization. Therefore, his theses is that urbanization perpetuates poverty and social injustice.
In this reading note I would like to adress the main theses of the author „increased urbanization equals social injustice“ trying to give it a peace perspective.
The mechanism of violence the author states in his book are with no doubt true: civil war, a form of fisical violence, imposed by Western powers (e.g. Angola, Kenia, Ruanda) force people to abandon their rural life and leaves them with few other options but to dwell to cities. The same is true for SAP of the World Bank and the FMI which make life in villages more struggling: the price competition with subsidized large scale agriculture and the more difficult accesibility of aid in the rural context force people to abandon their traditional lifes. This is a form of structural violence. Another form of structural violence is the politics of the African governments (e.g. Nigeria) which do not work for the well-being of their people but only focus on the benefit of the rich class. The same applies for the mechanism of property and rent, where miserable housing is rented out with a large benefit for liberal property holders (e.g. Accra, Bamako).
I found the lecture of this book helpful to understand how the rich try to perpetuate social injustice because it benefits them, but I don't believe that this is the entire truth. Davis only focuses on the violence we find in this context, he only gives examples of opression and poverty. If you look for violence in this world, you will always be able to find it. Instead of you look for peace you create peace as explains Galtung (1996), one of the most renowned peace researchers1. The author himself reproduces violence. The apocalyptic tone of the book makes the reader believe that nothing can be done about the political, social and economic injustice. And even though it is important to mention and see this aspect, it is at least as important to highlight the mechanism that work towards social justice. Muñoz (2012) calls this balance between justice and injustice the imperfect peace2. Anything, also urbanization has the potential to create peace and justice.
The human forms of living in our environment are in constant change, adapting to individual and collective necessities3. Advantages of urbanization for example could be potential for exchange and diversity, increased accesibility of health and education or potential for high energy efficiency and resilience towards natural catastrophes. It is not urbanization itself which opresses the people but the use we make of it. Actually, the author indirectly states that when he argues that colonisation, just another form of structural and physical violence, acted as a barrier of urbanization during decades. I would have liked the author to highlight both sides of the issue, instead of only focusing on mechanism that perpetuate and create violence. Nevertheless, I recommend Planet of Slums, especially in the African context. It definitely works as an eye opener with its tedious work on demonstrating injustice. Due to its date of publication (2006) it should not be used a reference for analisis of the present situation of African cities, but is very useful when refering to change over time.