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Patrick Esposito

Geography 121
Dr. Conor Harrison
March 4, 2015
Planet of Slums- Paper 2
The fourth chapter of Mike Davis's book revolves around the failed attempts,
genuine or not, by the World Bank to empower the people who reside in the slums of
the world through investments that were branded as self-help measures. These loans,
a policy born out of the relationship between Robert McNamara and John Turner, had
the effect of forcing the poorest amongst the slum community to look elsewhere for
housing as they could no longer afford to live there. This resulted in the middle class, for
whom the housing or loans were not technically intended, to take advantage of the
cheap land and money for upgrades in the same way that they had co-opted attempts to
provide public housing, forcing the poorest to sell their plots and restart on more distal
frontier. The next president of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, enacted a plan that
would bypass state governments to a certain extent, and use the ability of NGOs in
another attempt to provide self-help opportunities for the slums. This program however,
again instead of helping the target population, resulted mainly in the monopolistic
empowerment of NGOs on the local level, an excuse to end state projects for
improvement, and the pacification of just enough slum dwellers to help the local
governments avoid class friction.

A third plan of action was inspired by Hernando de Soto, "the Peruvian business
man who had become the global guru of neo-liberal populism" and "A John Turner for
the 1990s". (Davis 79) His plan, with similarly disastrous results, was to empower the
slum population by allowing them to own the property they were currently squatting on
for free, simply by using pen and paper. This regularization, or "tilting", again had a
negative outcome for those it supposedly intended to help. The recognition of
ownership was mostly of benefit to the state, who did not have to invest or take action
further than paper work and was now able to tax the newly recognized urban sites, and
developers who took advantage of the opportunity to buy this land for cheap from the
short lived previous owners. These new owners, usually wealthy party members or
relations, would then make large sums of money by charging exorbitant rent to new
poor residents who had little choice to comply due to their inability to afford other
options, and needed to remain close to job opportunities. These new opportunities for
investment led to mass speculation, legal or not, on lands that were technically public or
private. The legal privatization of the slum land also again had the effect of diverting the
civil unrest away from the glaring inequalities created by the state by breaking the
solidarity of slum communities through the creation of subclasses between those that
could and could not afford to own their housing situation.
Baron Haussmann, an appointed leader for the urban development of Paris in
the mid nineteenth century, enacted policies that resulted in the mass relocation of the
poor and slum living citizens of the city, results that are still visible in the city layout
today. His policies are not unique to Paris and have precedent and following examples
around the globe. The results of Haussmann policies is the perpetual nomadic state of

the urban poor, doomed to be constantly relocated as urban developers force them to
move further and further away from centers of commerce and job opportunity. Thirdworld inaction of these policies usually involves development agencies who have been
funded by outside investment entities, such as the World Bank who work independently
of local control, to build and maintain what is described as, "islands of cyber-modernity
amidst unmet needs and general underdevelopment." (Davis 99) Regardless of the
illusion attempted by those in power, grounded in and idealistic high rhetoric, the real
outcome of the forms of urban redevelopment modeled by Haussmann is the legitimized
and constant fear of warrantless eviction and relocation held by the urban poor in many
of the cityscapes in the developing world.
The fifth chapter of Davis' book focuses on this tendency for states around the
globe to enact sweeping segregation policies, reminiscent of the colonial era, under the
guise of city beautification. These Haussmann like policies usually have the effect of
providing more comfortable urban living space for the upper classes of society by
cramming a giant population of poor slum residents into a desperately disproportionate
percentage of land. A continuous source of anxiety for the current global urban poor
population is the arrival of large events that bring abnormal amounts of attention to the
cities in which they live. Examples could be anything from the arrival of international
diplomats and dignitaries to the hosting of giant sporting events such as the World Cup
or the Olympics. The desire of those in power to conceal the levels of inequality and
undeveloped aspects of their society drives them to evict and relocate the poor to less
visible peripheral sites. This movement to dispose of the urban poor, at least out of
view, is often reinforced through legal action that makes existence of the slums and their

inhabitance criminal. These legal movements are often justified as anticrime measures
that note the inability to maintain police surveillance and control of slum areas as the
reason for this supposedly necessary action. Another justification that has been
employed is the reference of colonial era law such as in the case of Israel's actions in
the West Bank.
The sixth chapter of Davis' literary crusade focuses on the impoverished
populations reaction to the large scale evictions discussed in chapter five, which is
characterized by the settling of wholly unsafe, and therefore undesirable, abandoned
toxic landscape that exists outside areas of urban development. These unwanted lands
seem to offer a type of protection from the lurking fear of eviction and relocation for the
people desperate enough to settle there. The nature of danger, while not embodied by
redevelopment, takes on new and different forms for the residents of these areas. The
threats can be environmental such as landslides, floods, and earthquakes to manmade dangers exemplified by areas that have been, or continue to be, subject to
ecological disasters due to dangerous industrial activity and negligence The advent of
gas powered cars, and the preference given to them over safer more efficient option in
underdeveloped nations, has also led to problems for the poor inhabitance in the forms
of cleared housing for roads, dangerous traffic, and rampant pollution. The final
problem discussed in the chapter is the problem of the incredible amount of waste
created by the slums, the expansion of which, has begun to infringe on environmental
sanctuaries. The inability of states to control or direct the vast amounts waste produced
by the slums has led to numerous health and safety hazards that include water
contamination, widespread disease, and increased infant mortality rates.

It appears that the growing gap in income inequality that has been observed
around the world is also accompanied by a similarly increasing disparity between the
experiences of the two resulting classes. I believe the lack of understanding and
empathy displayed by the upper ruling classes of society when dealing with their less
fortunate countrymen is a testament to this difference. It might simply be an outright
lack of concern on their part, but the optimist in me wants to believe that the middle and
upper classes of society would be more inclined to be sympathetic to the plight of their
underprivileged brethren if a greater portion of them were informed and aware of the
scale and range of problems that they face. For this reason, I believe that Davis is quite
commendable for his attempts to increase awareness of this growing global issue
through his literature. Hopefully the distribution of his work is not limited to the educated
class of American society, for whom this message is relevant and important, but has
been spread to the potential champions of philanthropy who reside in ivory towers
around the world.
It is apparent that the problem of slum life is of dire concern and takes on
extreme forms in the developing world. If I had one critique of Davis, although it may be
addressed later in the book, I would say that he tends not to discuss American poverty
at any real length, and does not draw examples for his arguments from local sources.
While I understand that the problem of inequality is more severe with somewhat greater
consequences in the developing world abroad, I feel that his audience of first world
readers would benefit from relatable examples drawn from visible problems that exist
within their daily lives.