Arrival city: Within the city is another city, located on the periphery of our vision and beyond the tourist maps. It has become the setting of the world's next chapter, driven by exertion and promise, battered by violence and death, strangled by neglect and misunderstanding. History is being written, and largely ignored, in places like Liu Gong Li on the fringes of Chongqing, in Clichy-sous-Bois on the outskirts of Paris, in the almost million-strong arrival city of Dharavi in Mumbai, and in Compton on the edge of Los Angeles -- all places settled by people who have arrived from the village, all places that function to propel people into the core life of the city and to send support back to the next wave of arrivals. These places are known around the world by many names: as the slums, favelas, bustees, bidonvilles, ashwaiyyat, shantytowns, kampongs, urban villages, gecekondular, and barrios of the developing world, but also as the immigrant neighborhoods, ethnic districts, banlieues difficiles, Plattenbau developments, Chinatowns, Little Indias, Hispanic quarters, urban slums, and migrant suburbs of wealthy countries, which are themselves each year absorbing 2 million people, mainly villagers, from the developing world.
When we look at arrival cities, we tend to see them as fixed entities: an accumulation of inexpensive dwellings containing poor people, usually in less than salubrious conditions. In the language of urban planners and governments, these enclaves are too often defined as malign appendages, cancerous growths on an otherwise healthy city. Their residents are seen, in the words of former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, "as an ecologically defined group rather than as part of the social system."
This leads to tragic urban-housing policies in the West, of the sort that made Paris erupt into riots in 2005, led to clashes in London in the 1980s, and propelled Amsterdam into murderous violence in the first decade of this century. It leads to even worse policies in the cities of Asia, Africa, and South America, to slum-clearance projects in which the futures of tens or hundreds of thousands of people are recklessly erased. Or, in an alternative version offered in popular books and movies, arrival cities are written off as contiguous extensions of a dystopian "planet of slums," a homogenous netherworld, in which the static poor are consigned to prison-like neighborhoods guarded by hostile police, abused by exploitative corporations, and preyed upon by parasitic evangelical religions. This is certainly the fate of many arrival cities after they have been deprived of their fluid structure or abandoned by the state. Yet, to see this as their normal condition is to ignore the arrival city's great success: It is, in the most successful parts of both the developing and the Western worlds, the key instrument in creating a new middle class, abolishing the horrors of rural poverty and ending inequality.
Credit: Subhash Sharma