With the anticipated publication of Justin McGuirk’s Radical Cities: Across Latin America in Search of a New Architecture, this blog post carries an earlier focus of mine on Mike Davis’ Planet of Slums, which was previously published in the journal Capital & Class. While awaiting the arrival of my copy of Radical Cities, I thought it worth revisiting some of the issues raised here on the dynamics of urbanism, spatial organisation, and uneven development in the ‘Global South’, which are also linked to an associated earlier blog post of mine on David Harvey’s Rebel Cities. The purpose of the review, then, is to begin tracing a dialectical chain that might connect planet of slums—to rebel cities—to radical cities.
‘The vast shanty towns of Latin America (favelas, barrios, ranchos)’, argues Henri Lefebvre in The Production of Space, ‘manifest a social life far more intense than the bourgeois districts of the cities. This social life is transposed onto the level of urban morphology, but it only survives inasmuch as it fights in self-defence and goes on the attack in the course of class struggle in its modern forms. Their poverty notwithstanding, these districts sometimes so effectively order their space—houses, walls, public spaces—as to elicit a nervous admiration.’ It is, perhaps, with a similar sense of such nervous admiration that in Planet of Slums, Mike Davis has turned his attention to the spatial explosions evident in the growth of slums that mark late twentieth-century capitalism in the so-called ‘Third World’. At the same time, he also advances an excoriating critique of the neoliberal inequalities at the heart of urbanism in the ‘Third World’ to reveal the burdens of underdevelopment and industrialisation carried by the urban poor. The result is a compelling and disturbing read.