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Shadow Cities

In: English and Literature

Submitted By rafoster90
Words 1052
Pages 5
Predominantly within the post-modern, American context the "good life" is understood as the freedom and ability to do or posses whatever we want; a complete lack of nothing but the ability to posses anything one might desire. However, in Robert Neuwirth's book "Shadow Cities" readers are introduced to multiple people groups, more commonly known as "squatters", who's lifestyles and beliefs challenge what many might consider the good life as generally accepted by members of Western civilization. As Neuwirth takes us from Rocinha, Rio De Janeiro to Istanbul the reader is continuously faced with the same three issues plaguing our world: the fact that the worlds population is steadily increasing at an alarming rate, that everyone must have a place to live and that housing costs and must be lowered in order to provide the amount of houses necessary to sustain our world's growing population (Neuwirth xiii). In this paper I will seek to summarize Neuwirth's book, "Shadow Cities", beginning with a brief history of the squatter community. When comparing past and present examples of squatter communities Neuwirth begins by noting that, "very little has changed since the Middle Ages. The barracks of Rocinha, the mud huts of Kibera, the wooden shanties of Behrampada, or the original Gecekondu houses in Sarigazi are not far removed the dwellings that were common centuries ago in Europe and North America." With very little difference between communities of the past and present it becomes apparent that squatters have existed since the beginning of civilization. Neuwirth argues this point by pointing out that, "the history of cities teaches that squatters have always been around, that squatting was always the way the poor built homes and that it is a form of

urban development." As the earliest form of urban development and the avenue through which all cities are created Neuwirth confesses his previous ignorance concerning the legitimacy of squatters, "Before these journeys through the worlds squatter communities i thought that shantytowns were solely a Third World phenomenon. But as I began to learn more about the subject I food that i was wrong…thee's nothing third world about squatter settlements. They existed in the First World, too, and not so long ago" (Neuwirth 179). Neuwirth goes on to cover a number of squatter communities and their development throughout human history, beginning in Rome and ending in New York, " the cities were putrid places. People migrated to cities-as they do today-because the cities were hubs of manufacturing and trade." Having no place to live many new arrivals in Ancient Rome would simply build wherever they could find land. Whether that was under archways or rooftops, squatting was the most acceptable response to "land pressures that wracked city-states" . Following the eruption of people in 30 BCE many Romans were forced into difficult places, being unable to afford the costs that came with private house building, "overnight someone might close off what had been a public passage and build a house on it" (Neuwirth 181). In 19th century America squatters were, supported by two federal actions: the Preemption Act and the Homestead Act. Passed in 1841 the Preemption Act gave squatters rights to build buy land while the Homestead Act, "guaranteed a free 160 acre tract to every settler on government land, whether they applied for the right before occupying or squatted first and became legal second." This provided the foundation for gold miners of Sacremento and San Francisco to built small shanties and huts, eventually evolving into small communities, "Gold was the madness but squatting was the method" (Neuwirth 192). Neuwirth would conclude by giving a in depth description of New York and the eventual institutionalization of housing for squatters. While Neuwirth does spend a great deal of time explaining the history of squatting, even

more attention is given to his real life experiences in various parts of the world. Out of the four countries Neuwirth visited he chose to stay in only a handful of cities and experience what it meant to be a squatter. In every city the reader is introduced to the history of a certain squatter community as well as a brief glimpse into the lives of various people living within the community. Neuwirth starts in Rio Dejionaro where he records the lifestyle of Maria Das Gracias Fretas, a local worker of Pizza Lit, a restaurant in the squatter community of Rocinha, "as Maria moved between customers and the kitchen, I (Neuwirth) recognized that she had a point, not about herself, but about Rocinha, and indeed, all of Rio's favelas. Nothing is easy for squatters as it seems to be from the outside" (Neuwirth 27). Rocinha, according to Neuwirth, was created through a series of invasions; which explains the number one rule Neuwirth notes as he lived in the small community, "build nothing permanent. The early settlers assumed that building a stone or brick home would be so brazen that it might encourage the government to come out and demolish the homes." In Nairobi Neuwirth settled into Kibera, "a city of mud block houses" (Neuwirth 72). In his stay he describes the issue that plagued the community, a dangerously low supply of fresh water, "at 3 shillings per Jerry can. Kibera residents pay 10 times more for water that the average person in a wealthy neighborhood with municipality supplied, meter watered service." Observing the shortage of water, Neuwirth observes the power struggle that occurs over water control. In Mumbai Neuwirth notes the behaviors of the wealthy towards squatters, "Mumbai's middle class and wealthy-the true policymakers in the city-have always had a schizophrenic relationship with the squatters. Publicly, they deplore the unhygienic conditions and sprawl" (Neuwirth 129). However, in spite of the middle class reaction Neuwirth's companion Mukesh describes the interrelatedness of small business and slums, "when the slums get redeveloped small-scale business will decrease…businesses her don't have liscences and don't have to pay taxes" (Neuwirth 128). Neuwirth ends his journey in Istanbul and notes the

innovation found in the Geekemondo squatter community, "by 1984 the government essentially gave up the fight against squatters. It passed a new law that again gave amnesty to all existing Geekemondo communities…In 1990, the government issued a new Geekemondo amnesty, accepting all the illegal neighborhoods that had already been built" (Neuwirth 185).

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