Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Tent Cities and Slums: Their Organic Evolution as times get Worse

With USA hitting a 50 year poverty record, scenes that used to be common only in Latin countries may eventually become part of the American skyline. As of today there’s 46 million Americans that classify as “poor”, that’s 15% of the population. Of them tens of thousands have no home and live either in their car or tent towns. Tent cities are growing across America from California to Florida. Places like “Dignity Village” in Oregon are becoming more common each day.
Watching some of the pictures was a bit of a déjà vu because it reminded me so much of a shanty town I saw grow from its origins, Villa Ingeniero Bunge. The place used to be a two square kilometer empty lot of land in an industrial district of the southern city suburbs. Once the political decision was made and the word got out that it was ok to squat the land, within hours people started showing up setting up tents. By the next day the 2 square kilometers where full of tents. When you drove by after the sun went down you could see the different fires people made to cook and stay warm. A month later most had already starting building shacks with corrugated metal, plywood, plastic sheet and cardboard, the late comers being some of the few still living in tents. They would illegally connect to the electric grid, so you could see thousands of light bulbs all over the area. A year later most people had managed to build brick and mortar structures, just a room or two, and they soon demanded to have sewers and water connections. The fact that they built on floodable ground that was never meant for housing just made conditions more miserable.
Villa Ingeniero Bunge

When the creature that is a shanty town runs out of space to grow, it starts growing vertically, one structure over another up to five floors in some cases. Given that this is all unregulated construction, collapse of buildings are a constant risk and do occur often.
Villa 31 in Buenos Aires Capital District

Shanty towns and slums such as these grow organically like a disease spreading in the urban grid as far as its allowed to grow. There’s no organization, no planning, just one shack next to another in an endless network of corridors.

Why are shanty towns a bad influence?

The lefty speech says they are picturesque housing and have the same rights just like anyone else, and that like squatting, shanty towns are part of a country’s culture and folk. Its really not the case.
The slums and shanty towns into which this sort of settlement often involves into are wrong since the begging. On principle alone they start as squatted land, land that has been stolen either directly to an individual or the entire population by the squatting of public land.  It is true that some good people live there. Especially when its because of an economic crisis some people simply don’t have anywhere else to go. That doesn’t change the fact that who takes over what doesn’t belong to them is standing clearly on one side of the law. Some do it because they have no other choice, many others do it because it’s the easy thing to do and actually prefer to steal rather than working hard to afford an honest living. Its no wonder that in no time criminals control these places even if honest people also live among them.

They are dirty, crime infested parts of the city where criminals find shelter and the police don’t dare enter without considerable amount of backup. The labyrinth-like corridors are ideal for criminals to run into and disappear, while for cops the narrow spaces turn it into a potential risk to their lives at every turn. In urbanization terms they are practically impossible to find a solution to, requiring to first remove the buildings so as to set up a water and sewer distribution grid and find some logic organization to it.

The impact of a shanty town goes beyond this. It’s a badge of disgrace to any city, turning away tourism and investors. The problems related to the lack of proper sewers and hygiene affect people beyond the borders of the shanty town. The social decadence it implies takes years to undo. As these settlements grow, they grow in population to. The people living them soon start having kids which in no time will need housing of their own. Before you know it you have hundreds of thousands living in these conditions that require proper housing. If a country doesn’t find a solution to its substandard housing it may soon find out that the problem has grown beyond solution, along with its crime problem and negative social and economic impact.
Tent City in USA

Today, thousands are living in these conditions across the United States. If the economic crisis isn’t overcome in the next couple of years and the hosing problem tackled early, you will be seeing this sort of shanty towns and slums spreading and growing like a parasite in no time.
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economic collapse said...

Nice touch with the chemtrails in that last picture.

Unknown said...

You are one great educator, Ferfal. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I was in a very large favela in Sao Paulo, Brazil back in 2005 and it was being run by a narco gang there. The shantytown followed FerFAL's described evolution exactly...

People moved from farms to the city but had no resources or marketable job skills. Wherever they had arranged to stay while they sought a job eventually put them out and they found a little space of clear ground on the edge of something else to squat. Once the government made it clear that they were not going to kick squatters out, more and more people started showing up and building onto existing structures, using torn down road signs, billboards, segments of corrugated tin, etc. They bootlegged power off of all the transformers in the area, with hundreds of connections to each one spreading out across the slum.

Eventually the trash and lumber construction was replaced a bit at a time by brick or breeze block and mortar, and expanded upward into second and third stories. Gutters were used as sewers. Trash piled everywhere. These slums overran greenspace and were a complete eyesore. Once they get to a certain tipping point as far as size and population though, they take on a riot/roadblock threat that wasn't present back when the government could have done something about it, but lacked the will to do so.

I also spent a very little bit of time in Cite de Soleil, Haiti after the earthquake there. It was like the seventh circle of Dante's Inferno.

I just read your book, FerFAL. Great work.

Best regards,

FerFAL said...

Thanks Unknown.
Thanks Jeff, interesting comments. The Brazilian favelas are a mess.