The Coming Megaslums

Jeremy Harding in the London Review of Books:

Rg_064_slumsDavis’s books are great evidential engines. Planet of Slums howls with figures. Copious examples drawn from around the globe are stacked up to illustrate a single point; comparative tables drive it home. This constant production of numbers – and a seamless access between continents – offers us the world as a single, intelligible place defined by the universal laws of accumulation and deprivation. Any sense that slum cultures and slum cities might have a specific character, beyond the common lot of misery, is tenuous. No book will give readers the impression of covering greater distances, even if they will feel by the end as though they’d been cooped up in a narrow, featureless room. Homogeneity, Davis would argue, is what late capitalism does: already a billion people live in roughly the same extraordinary way in roughly similar environments. Vast, contiguous slums are the habitat of the future for even larger numbers, yet the future looks more and more like it did the day before yesterday.

And so to the figures. By 2015 there will be at least 550 cities with a population of more than one million. Already this aggregate population is growing ‘by a million babies and migrants each week’. The peak will come in 2050, when ten billion people, by then the great majority of humankind, will be living in cities: ‘95 per cent of this final build-out of humanity will occur in the urban areas of developing countries, whose populations will double to nearly four billion over the next generation.’ Even more striking than these huge projected increases and the assertion that they are ‘final’ is the accelerating rate at which they’re taking place – nowhere faster than in China.

More here.