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 TUNIS 2005

 GENEVA 2003



Haussmann in the Tropics
By Mike Davis

The root cause of urban slumming seems to lie not in urban poverty but in urban wealth.
Gita Verma[1]

Polarized patterns of landuse and population density recapitulate older logics of imperial control and racial dominance. Throughout the Third World, post-colonial elites have inherited and greedily reproduced the physical footprints of segregated colonial cities. Despite rhetorics of national liberation and social justice, they have aggressively adapted the racial zoning of the colonial period to defend their own class privileges and spatial exclusivity.

In India also, independence did little to alter the exclusionary geography of the Raj. Kalpana Sharma, in her book about "Asia's largest slum," Rediscovering Dharavi, emphasizes that "the inequalities that defined Bombay as a colonial port town have continued ... Investment is always available to beautify the already well-endowed parts of the city. But there is no money to provide even basic services to the poorer areas."[2] For urban India as a whole, Nandini Gooptu has shown how the "socialist" Congress Party middle classes, who during the 1930s and 1940s extolled the garib janata (the poor common people) in the abstract, ended up after Independence as enthusiastic custodians of the colonial design of urban exclusion and social separation. "Implicitly or explicitly, the poor were denied a place in civic life and urban culture, and were seen as an impediment to progress and betterment of society.”[3]

Removing "Human Encumberments"

Urban segregation is not a frozen status quo, but a ceaseless social warfare in which the state intervenes regularly in the name of "progress," "beautification," and even "social justice for the poor" to redraw spatial boundaries to the advantage of landowners, foreign investors, elite homeowners, and middle-class commuters. As in 1860s Paris, under the fanatical reign of Baron von Hausmann, urban redevelopment still strives to maximize both private profit and social control. The scale of population removal is immense: every year hundreds of thousands of poor people - legal tenants as well as squatters - are forcibly evicted from Third World neighborhoods. The urban poor, as a result, are nomads, "transients in a perpetual state of relocation."[4]

In big Third World cities, the coercive, panoptican role of "Haussmann" is typically played by special-purpose development agencies. Financed by offshore lenders like the World Bank and immune to local vetoes, their mandate is to clear, build and defend islands of cyber-modernity amidst unmet urban needs and general underdevelopment.

Solomon Benjamin has studied the example of Bangalore where the Agenda Task Force, which directs overall strategic decision-making, is firmly in the hands of the chief minister and major corporate interests, with negligible accountability to local elected representatives. "The zeal of the political elite to turn Bangalore into a Singapore has resulted in extensive evictions and demolitions of settlements, especially small business clusters in productive urban locations. The demolished land is reallocated by master planning to higher income interest groups, including corporations. "[5]

Similarly in Delhi, - where Banashree Chatterjimitra finds that the government has utterly "subverted the objectives of supplying land for low income housing" by allowing it to be poached by the middle classes - the development authority has targeted nearly half million squatters for eviction or "voluntary relocation."[6] The Indian capital offers brutal confirmation of Jeremy Seabrook's contention that "the word 'infrastruction' is the new code word for the unceremonious clearance of the fragile shelters of the poor."[7]

Off Worlds

In contrast to Second Empire Paris, contemporary Haussmannization often reclaims the center for ungrateful upper classes whose bags are already packed for the suburbs. If the poor bitterly resist eviction from the urban core, the well-heeled are voluntarily trading their old neighborhoods for fantasy-themed walled subdivisions on the periphery. Certainly, the old gold coasts remain - like Zamalek in Cairo, Riviera in Abidjan, Victoria Island in Lagos, and so on - but the novel global trend since the early 1990s has been the explosive growth of exclusive, closed suburbs on the peripheries of Third World cities. Even (or especially) in China, the gated community has been called the "most significant development in recent urban planning and design."[8]

These "off worlds" - to use the terminology of Bladerunner - are often imagineered as replica Southern Californias. Thus "Beverly Hills" is not only the 92102 zip code; it is also, like Utopia and Dreamland, a suburb of Cairo - an affluent private city "whose inhabitants can keep their distance from the sight and severity of poverty and the violence and political Islam which is seemingly permeating the localities."[9] Likewise, 'Orange County' is a gated estate of sprawling million-dollar California-style homes, designed by a Newport Beach architect with Martha Stewart décor, on the northern outskirts of Beijing. Laura Ruggeri contrasts the expansive "imported" California lifestyles of residents in their large semi-detached homes with the living conditions of their Filipino maids who sleep in chicken-coop-like sheds on the rooftops. [10]

Bangalore, of course, is famous for recreating Palo Alto and Sunnyvale lifestyles, complete with Starbucks and multiplexes, in its southern suburbs. The wealthy expats (officially "non-resident Indians") live as they might in California in "exclusive 'farmhouse' clusters and apartment blocks with their own swimming pools and health clubs, walled-in private security, 24-hour electrical power backup and exclusive club facilities."[11] Lippo Karawaci in Tangerang district, west of Jakarta doesn't have an American name but is otherwise a "virtual imitation" of a West Coast suburb, boasting a more or less self-sufficient infrastructure "with hospital, shopping mall, cinemas, sport and golf club, restaurants and a university." It also contains internally gated areas known locally as "totally protected zones."[12]

The quests for security and social insulation are obsessive and universal. In both central and suburban districts of Manila, wealthy homeowners' associations barricade public streets and crusade for slum demolition. Berner describes the exclusive Loyola Heights district near the university:

An elaborate system of iron gates, roadblocks and checkpoints demarcates the boundaries of the area and cuts it off from the rest of the city, at least at nighttime... The threats to life, limb, and property are the overwhelming common concern of the wealthy residents. Houses are turned into virtual fortresses by surrounding them with high walls topped by glass shards, barbed wire, and heavy iron bars on all windows.[13]

This "architecture of fear," as Tunde Agbola describes fortified lifestyles in Lagos, is commonplace in the Third World and some parts of the First, but reaches a global extreme in large urban societies with the greatest socio-economic inequalities: South Africa, Brazil, Venezuela and the Untied States.[14]

Brazil's most famous walled and Americanized edge-city is Alphaville, in the northwest quadrant of greater Sao Paulo. Named (perversely) after the dark new world in Godard's distopian film, Alphaville is a complete private city with a large office complex, an up-scale mall, and walled residential areas - all defended by more than 800 private guards.

The Johannesburg and Sao Paul edge cities (as well as those in Bangalore and Jakarta) are self-sufficient 'off worlds' because they incorporate large employment bases as well as most of the retail and cultural apparatus of traditional urban cores. In the cases of more purely residential enclaves, the construction of highspeed highways - as in North America - has been the sine qua non for the suburbanization of affluence.

Privately-build motorways in Buenos Aires now allow the rich to live fulltime in their countries (country club homes) in distant Pilar and commute to their offices in the core. (Gran Buenos Aires also has an ambitious edge city or megaempredimiento called Nordelta whose financial viability is uncertain.)[15] In Lagos, likewise, a vast corridor was cleared through densely populated slums to create an expressway for the managers and state officials who live in the wealthy suburb of Ajah.

It is important to grasp that we are dealing here with a reorganization of metropolitan space, involving a drastic dimunition of the intersections between the lives of the rich and the poor, that transcends traditional social segregation and urban fragmentation. Some Brazilian writers have recently talked about a "the return to the medieval city," but the implications of middle-class secession from public space are more radical[16] Rodgers, following Giddens, conceptualizes the core process as a "disembedding" of elite activities from local territorial contexts, a quasi-utopian attempt to disengage from a suffocating matrix of poverty and social violence.[17]

Fortified, fantasy-themed enclaves and edge cities, disembedded from their own social landscapes but integrated into globalization's cyber-California floating in the digital ether - this brings us full circle to Philip K. Dick. In this "gilded captivity," Jeremy Seabrook adds, the third-world urban bourgeoisie "cease to be citizens of their own country and become nomads belonging to, and owing allegiance to, a superterrestrial topography of money; they become patriots of wealth, nationalists of an elusive and golden nowhere."[18]

[1] Gita Verma, Slumming India: A Chronicle of Slums and Their Saviours, London 2003, p. xix.
[2] Kalpana Sharma, Rediscovering Dharavi, Delhi 2000, p. 8
[3] Nandini Gooptu, The Politics of the Urban Poor in Early Twentieth-Century India, Cambridge 2001, p. 421
[4] Tunde Agbola, Architecture of Fear, IFRA, Ibadan 1997, p. 51.
[5] Solomon Benjamin, "Globalization's Impact on Local Government," UN Habitat Debate 7:4 (December 2001), p. 25.
[6] Banashree Chatterjimitra, "Land supply for low-income housing in Delhi, in Baken and van der Linden, pp. 218-29; and Neelima Risbud, "Policies for Tenure Security in Delhi," in Durand-Lasserve and Royston (eds.), Holding Their Ground: Secure Land Tenure for the Urban Poor in Developing Countries, London 2002, p. 61.
[7] Jeremy Seabrock, In the Cities of the South: Scenes from a Developing World, Londeon 1996, p.. 267
[8] Pu Miao, "Deserted Streets in a Jammed Town: The Gated Community in Chinese Cities and Its Solution," Journal of Urban Design 8:1 (2003), p. 45.
[9] Asef Bayat and Eric Denis, "Who is afraid of ashiwaiyat?", Environment and Urbanization 17:2 (October 2000), p. 199.
[10] Laura Ruggeri, "Palm Springs. Imagineering California in Hong Kong," 1991/94, author website ( Another "Palm Springs" is a elegant condominium complex in Beijing.
[11] Solomon Benjamin, "Governance, economic settings and poverty in Bangalore," Environment and Urbanization 12:1 (April 2000), p. 39.
[12] Harald Leisch, "Gated Communities in Indonesia," Cities 19:5 (2002), pp. 341 & 344-45.
[13] Berner, Defending a Place, p. 163.
[14] For a description of Lagos' fortress homes, see Agbola, pp. 68-69.
[15] Guy Thuillier, "Gated Communities in the Metropolitan Area of Buenos Aires," Housing Studies 20:2 (March 2005), pp. 258-59.
[16] Amalia Geraiges De Lemos, Francisco Scarlato and Reinaldo Machado, "O retorno a cidade medieval: os condominios fechados da metropole paulistana," in Luis Cabrales (ed.), Latinoamerica: paises abiertos, ciudades cerradas, Guadalajara 2000, pp. 217-36.
[17] Dennis Rodgers, “’Disembedding’ the city: crime, insecurity and spatial organization in Managua,” Environment and Urbanization 16:2 (October 2004), p. 123
[18] Seabrock, p. 211

Mike Davis is an urban sociologist based in San Diego. He is the author influential books such as "City of Quartz" (1992) and "Ecology of Fear" (1999). His latest book, "Planet of Slums", will appear in 2006.

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