Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, a New Urban World

By Robert Neuwirth. <i>Routledge. $27.95</i>.

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


As many as one out of six people on earth is an illegal squatter. In Shadow Cities, journalist Robert Neuwirth describes his travels through the megalopolises of Mumbai, Rio de Janeiro, Istanbul, and Nairobi to discover what life is like for that 1 billion. What he finds defies many of the stereotypes of grime- and crime-ridden Third World slums.

The improvised shanties he visits on hillsides and along train tracks, though constructed illicitly, are often well tended. Neuwirth finds the “law-abiding outlaws” who inhabit them to be for the most part upstanding and neighborly. “People may be poorer here,” a woman tells him in one of Rio’s favelas. “But they pay their bills.”

Squatting is not simply trespassing, contends Neuwirth, but an inevitable phase of urbanization. “All cities,” he writes, “start in mud”: New York’s Upper East Side began as a shantytown, and Paris and London once teemed with the semi-homeless.

City governments should learn from this history, he argues. Instead of ignoring (or bulldozing) slums, they should provide squatters a fair stake in their de facto homes. Ultimately, Neuwirth has faith that the most daunting aspect of squatter cities — their size — will be their salvation, as their residents discover the sheer power of numbers.

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate