Posted by: ginalazenby | August 3, 2009

the economic power of the slum

Slide from the presentation: slums conveniently next to the luxury condos. A very short walk to work for slum dwellers.

Slide from the presentation: slums conveniently next to the luxury condos. A very short walk to work for slum dwellers.

Brilliant talk by a long-standing pioneer in ecology and environmentalism, Stewart Brand, who  also founded the Whole earth catalog.
Cities will continue as the main living environment, the world will be 80% urban by mid-century. The developing world now has all the biggest cities (except Tokyo) with their populations developing three times faster than developed countries, and are nine times bigger. The distribution of urban power is similar to what it was 1,000 years ago! The rise of the west that happened since then is now over.

Every week 1.3 million people come into town from the countryside.  This has been happening decade after decade. The villages of the world are emptying out. Subsistence farming is drying up – literally.
Towns are bustling with life, intensely creative, vibrant cash economies full of opportunity with plenty going on.
One billion squatters are building some kind of shelter in the urban world. The new world is being created here, one family at a time.

This distresses many people yet Stewart Brand says that working slums actually help create prosperity. Half of Mumbai is made of slums and one sixth of the GDP of India comes from slums.  Slum dwellers are extremely valuable as a group.  Instead of being crushed by poverty these people are busy working to get out of poverty as fast as they can and helping each other along the way.  Although this informal economy is not supposed to be there, it is – and it is huge.

He talked about an interesting shift in demographics: how in the north the cities are older, they are filled with older people (low birth rates) and run on older ways and ideas. While in the south, brand new cities are emerging with more younger people inventing newer ways of living and thriving.

Do watch the video: about 6 minutes in there is a short video of how a slum community adapts to its location on a railway line. It’s quite the most gob-smacking scene you’ll ever see. Talk about human ingenuity and adaptability!  Inspiring and amazing.



  1. Truly believe that the only sustainable way for such a huge number of people to survive on earth is by living in cities. Japan for example has 30 times the population of New Zealand but lives on much less of its land.Without discomfort and with a far smaller per capita carbon footprint

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