on slums and farms

the recent urbanism wars have focused on the problems of urban and suburban united states. however, on a broader scope, the globe is facing more pressing problems in slum growth and rural abandonment. how these problems are related is an example on how discussions between new and landscape urbanism should be rerouted into more productive conversations.

slums,* or to be precise, illegal settlements, are often romanticized as sites of individual entrepreneurship and spontaneous growth. they are actually examples of ruthless big (illegal) business where the few take advantage of the many. i’ll be specific and address the situation i’m more familiar in (though hardly an expert). in guayaquil, illegal settlements have been developed by a few savvy individuals, who have organized private land takeover under the premise that unproductive land must be reverted to the needy (details in spanish here). however valid these claims might be, this stolen land is then sold off, usually to rural migrants looking for opportunities they lack in the countryside. slums are privatized ventures, where everything is sold at a profit: public transportation and infrastructure comes later, as city halls start grappling with the needs of these unplanned areas. the profit made in such operations in not only economic: the control over these large populations also gives these land traffickers enormous electoral power, and many of them have gone on to weigh in in presidential elections or even participate as local candidates.

the other side of this problem is the diminishing rural workforce. in a primarily agricultural country, large areas of high premium land remain uncultivated. years of abandonment have perpetuated the idea that the countryside holds no future. recent increased attention to medium and small-sized communities holds some promise, but land ownership is still a complicated problem—too few own too much, leading to unsustainable models in which the land either sits unused or demands a pattern of work force exploitation that seems (at least from the outside) closer to medieval feudalism.

we know that the problems of the city are tied to the problems of the countryside—it’s just basic logic. but migrations don’t stop there—the problems of the ‘third world’ (compromise quotations—can’t think of suitable word much as i dislike this one) are tied to those of the ‘first.’ or did you think we’re migrating north for the weather?

* let’s not call them favelas—they are favelas in brazil, villas miseria in argentina, pueblos jovenes in peru, invasiones in ecuador. the generalized use of the word favela is regrettable.

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