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."