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Robert Neuwirth - Shadow Cities

Neuwirth describes life in the slums looking at few locations, a great insight into how the informal city works.

Photo of James McBennett
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One of the most profound trends of our time is the mass migration of the world's population into urban areas. As of 2005, close to 70 million people were migrating to cities each year, resulting in a billion squatters (one in six people on Earth live as squatters). A troubling trend? Perhaps not, argues author Robert Neuwirth.

Deprived areas around big cities -- call them barrios, favelas, slums or shantytowns -- are super-concentrations of urban poverty, to be sure. Life there is hard: no water, no transport, no sewage. But looking at them from the inside brings a surprising perspective. Living in the squatter cities of Rio, Nairobi, Istanbul and Mumbai, Neuwirth discovered thriving restaurants, markets, health clinics, an unconventional real-estate market, and truly effective forms of self-organization.

His vivid descriptions and frank admiration for the ingenuity and innovation he encountered force us to rethink assumptions about community, poverty and the shape of 21st-century cities. Our challenge, Neuwirth says, isn't to end poverty or control populations, but to engage and empower the residents in these "cities of tomorrow."

See Neuwirth's recent video from Lagos, Nigeria, presented at Postopolis! 2007.

<blockquote>"[Neuwirth shines] an investigative lens into areas of urban life that have seldom been described before."</blockquote><cite> Reason magazine</cite>


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Photo of Meena Kadri

Indeed James. Based on my work at Dharavi a few years back,, I also noted so much resilience in communities there. I'm not convinced that externally derived 'redevelopment" plans are required – but rather initiatives which nurture local strengths to self-actualise. And hey – that exactly what were seeking to explore on this challenge! Looking forward to OpenIDEATOR collaboration on *empowering* concepts in a couple of weeks when the next phase starts. Cheers for yet another perspective building inspiration...

Photo of DeletedUser


Great images Meena! I agree with you that we should think of ways to let the local skills and knowledge flourish rather than trying to develop straight-forward problem solutions ourselves.

Photo of James McBennett

Thanks Meena, I agree entirely, my main project is about empowering self-builders...reading my various posts, you might be able to make a construct of my various interests! Nice photos!

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