11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 8 October 2005
This book is quite unique as it's based on the author's first hand experiences after spending extended periods of time living in the slum areas of four of the world's most sprawling 'Sqautter Cities'. Robert Neuwirth is a journalist by trade and his writing does have a 'newspapery' sort of feel to it - but that doesn't make the book any less enjoyable. There are plenty of facts and stats that appealled to the egg-head side of me, but even more so lots of real human stories, many which were very moving. I felt myself both infuruiated at the injustice in the world yet also hugely proud of the urban poor and their creative survival ability.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 21 December 2011
A fantastic concept of a book, Neuwirth's account of his time actually living in squatter settlements around the world completely changed my and (to judge from the references I have seen to it elsewhere) a great many other people's view of slums, squatter settlements and unplanned urbanism.
There is much to dig into here, not merely the headline finding - still often treated as surprising - that people who live in one room shacks on the fringes of megacities are fully three dimensional human beings with hopes, ambitions and, as often as not, jobs doing important and worthwhile things. But from that flows his main thesis - that reform is not the simple matter one might hope. Crudely imposed from outside, blanket title reforms will destroy the intricate network of informal relationships, often well documented in a parallel legal system, that have grown up over decades. Yes, there are exploitative landlords and racketeering but there are also many landlords who rent out rooms or even whole houses that they have spent twenty years building in order to finance the construction of a new home.
It is completely compelling and I have thrust my copy onto many other people
on 19 April 2012
Living in a relatively prosperous country, the concept of life in one of the gigantic squatter settlements seems almost as close to hell as one can get. The picture I had in my head before reading this book was of short brutish lives living in squalor, with raw sewerage flowing down the street. All of which really goes against what we see as the basic requirements of life.
It's funny how much this book changed my opinions as well as leaving me completely perplexed about what should be the role of ownership of property in these communities. But a good book shouldn't necessarily make life any easier, it should force us to think and it should make us understand that there are no definitive solutions.
The real heroes of the book are the inhabitants of the squatter communities who remind us that we are all basically the same. The shear ingenuity, hard work, stoicism and optimism of many of the inhabitants is breathtaking.
Some of the national circumstances are truly grotesque but the steadily improving lot of inhabitants in other countries is downright amazing.
It's funny the only part of the book that I didn't like was the discussion of the historical/western experience of squatting. I think it was rather dull and broke the flow of the book. It was far, far more interesting hearing the actual day to day stories and experiences of people in the various squatter communities. The historical stuff is disjointed and there were too many disjointed anecdotes and not enough relevance to the discussion of the four different national experiences.It would have been better if this was put into a separate book.
It would have been better if the descriptions of life in each of the different communities he lived in was fleshed out more.
All said though I enjoyed the book and will be passing it on.