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Monday, July 02, 2007

Shadow Cities

Neuwirth, Robert. Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World. Have written about this book here, so this post is just the final evaluation. In 1996, the United Nations Commission on Human Settlements--or Habitat--held a conference to discuss the housing issues they had been studying, and Robert Neuwirth began questioning both the policies in effect and his own responsibilities. With 70 million people entering entering urban areas, and neither government nor private builders prepared to handle these overwhelming numbers, Neuwirth decided to write about these squatters and the communities they built themselves.

He chose four cities-Rio, Mumbai (Bombay), Nairobi, and Istanbul- for his investigation and, securing a grant from the MacArthur Foundation, he lived in each of the slums, favelas, or "shadow cities," examining the infrastructures first hand, meeting his neighbors, and experiencing the life of the squatters for himself.

As I mentioned in the earlier post, Neuwirth has a pretty positive view of these squatter communities, seeing human innovation and persistence paying off in three of the four. Kibera, the slum in Nairobi, was so immersed in a system of corruption and poverty that it didn't produce the forward movement that occurred in the other three areas.

Corruption was evident in all of the areas, the Kibera slum was just much worse. In Rio, Mumbai, and Istanbul, the communities in which Neuwirth lived achieved much, although at great difficulty and over a long period of time.

Since I've already written so much about the book, I'm going to cut this short and say that Neuwirth had no guaranteed solutions to this growing problem, but felt that governments trying to solve the problems without extensive input from the communities themselves had little chance of improvement. Self-determination seemed to be his by-word.

This article gives an excellent overview of the book. Neuwirth also keeps a blog, Squattercity that records developments around the world.

Another book that covers many of the problems with slums is Suketu Mehta's Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found which I reviewed here; Mehta's book covered much more than the slums, but many of the problems Neuwirth mentions are discussed in Mehta's excellent book (one of the best I've read this year).

Nonfiction. Journalism, travel, memoir, social criticism. 2005. 315 pages.

***Lotus sent me this book complete with Bookcrossing label. If you are interested in reading Shadow Cities, leave me a comment. I'll put the names in a bowl, have a drawing on July 4th, and send the book to the winner.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Great post! I am interested in reading Shadow Cities

  3. Hi Jenclaire,
    I am interested in reading Shadow Cities. I am going to Kibera / Mathare on July 22nd on a short term mission. My ultimate goal is to produce a TV episodic set against the backdrop of Kibera.

  4. I enjoyed your review (but don't add me to the drawing - I've got plenty to read, here). I can't remember if I commented, the other day, after following a couple of your links and reading about the slums. What really stunned me was that they're so huge. I can't imagine tolerating the smell and filth, but the fact that so many people are all crammed in together is just mind-boggling.

  5. Hi, Jenclair!

    A Happy Fourth to you for tomorrow...what a great idea to pass this book on to someone else and glad you were able to gain so much from reading it.

  6. MyUtopia - Only two requests, so a very simple drawing. You were the winner, so if you'll send me your address, I'll get the book in the mail. Hope you enjoy it!

    Susan - I wish I had two copies!! I'd love to know more about your mission to Kibera!

    Cheya - Amazing, isn't it, that so many people live this way...

    Lotus - Shadow Cities provides a fascinating look into a world I can barely imagine. Hope MyUtopia finds it as interesting as I did!