24 November 2010

In praise of slums

"As the fastest urbanising continent in the world, Africa is not only confronted with the challenge of improving the lives of slum dwellers but also the challenge of preventing the formation of new slums," said Joan Clos, executive director of UN-Habitat.
Really Joan? What's your counterfactual? An imaginary nice clean yuppie living in a nice clean neighbourhood? An imaginary happy-clappy rural farmer?

Slums are created when people leave their rural village to go in search of a better life/more money in the city. Slums aren't some kind of alien cancerous growth, they are the result of natural economic forces (*cough* WDR 2009 *cough*), of people becoming more productive when they are closer together, and can more easily exchange their ideas, their labour and their services. Africa may be the fastest urbanising continent in the world but that's probably because it was the least urbanised to begin with. Urbanisation is a good thing.
The breakneck transformation of a rural population into a predominantly urban one is neither good nor bad on its own, says UN-Habitat. 
They are already inundated with slums and a tripling of urban populations could spell disaster, unless urgent action is initiated today. This situation threatens stability and also entire nations," it said.
Enough with the alarmist nonsense please. For a look at some of the life and vitality and optimism of urban Africa, check out the BBC documentary Welcome to Lagos.

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