PLANET OF SLUMS
Urban Involution and the Informal Proletariat
ometime in the next year, a woman will give birth in the Lagos slum of Ajegunle, a young man will flee his village in west Java for the bright lights of Jakarta, or a farmer will move his impoverished family into one of Lima’s innumerable pueblos jovenes. The exact event is unimportant and it will pass entirely unnoticed. Nonetheless it will constitute a watershed in human history. For the first time the urban population of the earth will outnumber the rural. Indeed, given the imprecisions of Third World censuses, this epochal transition may already have occurred. The earth has urbanized even faster than originally predicted by the Club of Rome in its notoriously Malthusian 1972 report, Limits of Growth. In 1950 there were 86 cities in the world with a population over one million; today there are 400, and by 2015, there will be at least 550.1 Cities, indeed, have absorbed nearly two-thirds of the global population explosion since 1950 and are currently growing by a million babies and migrants each week.2 The present urban population (3.2 billion) is larger than the total population of the world in 1960. The global countryside, meanwhile, has reached its maximum population (3.2 billion) and will begin to shrink after 2020. As a result, cities will account for all future world population growth, which is expected to peak at about 10 billion in 2050.3
new left review 26 mar apr 2004
1. the urban climacteric
Where are the heroes, the colonisers, the victims of the Metropolis? Brecht, Diary entry, 1921
Ninety-five per cent of this final buildout of humanity will occur in the urban areas of developing countries, whose population will double to nearly 4 billion over the next generation.4 (Indeed, the combined urban population of China, India and Brazil already roughly equals that of Europe plus North America.) The most celebrated result will be the...