Note: I am particularly envious of the discipline and the prolificacy of bloggers like caffeine_sparks, ExpectoRants, village idiot savant and Senor Enrique who seem to have something new and significant to say everyday (Resty seems to have 4 everyday!). I, on the other hand, struggle to keep up with just with the comments -especially when they (That's you Peter. That's also you, Fred.) deserve well written responses.
True, they often deal with very current issues, while I opt to be an opinionated bystander. (I definitely don't fence sit -but most of these issues fall outside the scope of topics for this soapbox.) Still, their ability to sit and churn out interesting blog posts leaves me (self) wanting.
It's not for lack of effort, I must have two-dozen unpublished and unfinished draft post.
Here's one that's almost a year old (updated, of course):
If you've got an hour an twenty minutes to spare, and you're really interested in understanding why our megacity (like other megacities) grows squatter colonies, check out Robert Neurwith's June 2005 lecture at the Long Now Foundation's Seminars About Long-term Thinking.
Neurwith is the author of (the highly recommended) "Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World" that chronicles the two years he spent living in squatter colonies in four continents. (He also runs the squattercity blog.)
"The 21st-century Medieval City," Neurwith's SALT lecture encapsulates his experience over the two years. Here's the link to the audio via MP3, or if you prefer, Ogg-Vorbis. (You can also subscribe to the whole seminar series via iTunes.) There's also a video via Google. And the slides are available here.
If you don't have 80 minutes to spare, you can always read Stewart Brand's summary notes from the lecture.
Neurtwith's thesis: squatter colonies are the future of humanity -with three billion people, a third of humanity, living in such cities by the year 2050.
If that sounds depressing to you, consider that most cities began as "warrens of illegal settlements." -They matured, in time, into permanent, organized settlements -which is the reference to medieval cities -most of these also began as settlements around the shadow of feudal fortifications.
(You also have consider that the concept of urban land as "private property" is fairly recent (perhaps since the 1500s) in the history of cities. Land, in most cities, were property of the crown or the potentate. -And this is a can of worms, as it will lead us to a debate about the concept of property.)
Neurwith's point is that we need to embrace and understand the dynamics of these settlements if we are to solve the challenge that will face a third of humanity in the coming decades. In Neurwith's view, squatter settlements are, "a legitimate form of urban development."
Some excerpts (from Brand's notes):
"What brings them from the countryside is the hope of economic activity, and it abounds. Restaurants, beauty shops, bars, health clinics, food markets. No land is owned, but a whole low-cost real estate economy takes shape, managed without lawyers or government approval. (Hernando de Soto is wrong about land ownership being necessary for growth.) People build their house, a wall at a time when they have a bit of money, and then sell their roof space for another family to build a home there, and so on up, story after story. Devoid of legal land title there are prospering department stores and car dealerships in the older squatter towns of Istanbul. Forty percent of Istanbul, a city of 12 million, is squatter built."Forty percent! What's the number in Metro Manila? 30% of the population, but maybe just 10% to 15% of the land area?
As to criminality, Neurwith had interesting notes on the role of criminal syndicates in the favelas of Rio:
"Rio is a famously dangerous city, for tourists and natives alike, except in the squatter neighborhoods where no police go. There security is provided by drug gangs, who have become surprisingly communitarian, building day care facilities and soccer fields along with providing safety on the “streets”— narrow stairways kinking up the steep mountainside amid overhanging upper stories looking indeed medieval. There are wires and pipes everywhere carrying stolen electricity and water. (Enlightened power companies realized the thieves are potential customers and are making it easy for them to buy into legitimate service.)"Finally, Neurwith has this insight and proposal:
"Neuwirth pointed out that squatters “do more with less than anybody.” All that the rest of us have to do is meet them halfway for their new cities to thrive."