Port-Au Prince, Earthquakes, and the Planet of Slums


I have been slowly going through my books trying to make sense of the earthquake in Haiti. What else does a history major who spent a lot of time in politics and peace and global studies classes have to do, anyway? 

I thought Mike Davis might be a good place to start.    His early books on Los Angeles, City of Quartz and Ecology of Fear are landmark riffs on the lethal cocktail of class, race, poverty, urban geography, and natural disaster

I started flipping through Planet of Slums. The following is how the publisher describes the book:

From the sprawling barricadas of Lima to the garbage hills of Manila, urbanization has been disconnected from industrialization, even economic growth. Davis portrays a vast humanity warehoused in shantytowns and exiled from the formal world economy. He argues that the rise of this informal urban proletariat is a wholly original development unforeseen by either classical Marxism or neo-liberal theory.

Anyway here are some things Mike Davis has to say about Port-Au Prince

…the consequence in the short run has been soaring population density in third World slums- land inflation on the context of stagnant or declining formal employment has been the piston driving this compressesion of people.  Modern mega slums like Kibera (Nairobi) and Cite-Soleil (Port-au-Prince) have achieved densities comparable to cattle feedlots; crowding more residents per acre into low rise housing than there were in famous congested tenements districts suck as the lower east side the 1900s or in contemporary highrise cores such as central Tokyo and Manhattan.  

Indeed ,  Asia’s largest contemporary slum, Dharavi in Mumbay, has a maximum density more than twice that of the nineteenth century New York and Bombay streets that Roy Lubove believed were the ‘most crowded spots on earth’ in late-Victoroian times.”

This is what Mike Davis had to write about earthquakes:

Earthquakes destroyed more than 100 million homes during the twentieth century, mostly in slums, tenement districts, or poor rural villages.  Seismic risk is so unevenly distribuated in most cities, Hewitt explans that the the term “classquake” was coined to characterized the biased pattern of destruction.


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