In live in terrible conditions in the ever-growing

In the last few centuries, the number of humans on earth has
been growing at an exponential rate. The world
population in 1800 numbered only 0.9 billion and has risen to roughly 7.6 billion today, furthermore projections estimate
that it might go over 10 billion by the end of this century1. Along
with this, more and more people have started living in urban areas resulting in cities growing at a rapid rate.
Unfortunately, such quick expansion does not occur without any issues and even
now many people live in terrible conditions in the ever-growing cities of
developing countries. In this essay, I
will be looking at these urban areas at two different points in time and the
reason why they exist and the effects they have on the people that live within such


The 19th Century saw
overcrowding and the urbanization of many British cities and the social and economic effect of this increase of people
living in cities would last well into the 20th Century and has even
left its mark on present-day cities. One
of the main factors of this social change was the start of the Industrial
Revolution which introduced machinery and mass production. People moved away
from rural areas, towards the cities, tempted by the promise of a better life
and a more secure job in the newly built factories. At the same time, many people were pushed out of the rural
areas as rich industrialist bought their land in an attempt to industrialise
agriculture. Britain was one of the first countries to industrialise at such a
scale, mainly because of its status as an island nation and ownership of a
powerful navy allowing it to trade it’s produced goods all over the world2.

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This rapid urbanisation caused many cities to explode
in size with London, growing from a population of 750,000 in 1750 to a
staggering 8 Million in 1930 and the smaller Scottish city Glasgow saw itself
grow from a measly 23,000 to          1
Million in the same time frame3. Naturally, such rapid growth brought with it a housing
problem. English cities like London found their solution in back-to-back
housing while cities like Glasgow introduced Tenements, a house divided up into flats, many of which can still be found
today. The problem with many of these housing solutions was that they were
designed for space and cost efficiency and thus they were often densely packed
and lacked proper windows to allow light in, ventilation and sanitation. This
resulted in these houses becoming damp and dark places where one family would
share one small room. This along with a lack of clean drinking water, this caused
illnesses such a Typhoid, Typhus and Cholera to spread among the population4. To
make matters worse these houses were often owned by Middle-Class landlords who would extort these poor families who were living on minimum wage, which was not controlled by
any law at the time, in dwellings that
would only make them more sick and miserable. In her book, Sarah Wise describes that in a London Slum these
extortionists landlords were dubbed ‘the vampyres of the poor’5.
This situation was due to the fact that Britain had never gone through a
complete revolution such an occurred France in which the power of the Bourgeois
was nullified, as such landlords and industrialist started to behave according
to old aristocratic tradition6


With the increase in population, the problems with housing persist even now, especially for those less
well of living in developing countries. These people similarly to 19th Britain
move to the city in the hopes of finding new opportunities and job security
especially with the increasing difficulty of working in agriculture, a sector
which is still quite prevalent in many developing countries7.

Mike Davis, an American Writer, in his book Planet of
the Slums8
suggests that root of the problem lies in Colonialism and its remaining effects
on developing countries. When these European colonies were set up those who
oversaw them often forbid any members of the indigenous people to enter the
urban centres apart from a few exceptions.
When these countries would eventually gain independence, it was thought they would
allow those that were previously banned from the cities in, but instead, the new indigenous Middle Class would
enforce regulation akin to those enforced by the former Western Overlords.
These new leaders would push out the lower class away from them in a way eerily
like how the Middle Class tried to move away from the Lower Class in 19th
Century Britain. However, Davis does note that many countries began to relax these regulations in the 1980s with China
beginning to accept flows of illegal peasant settlers to use as a cheap
workforce in their factories and workshops, again bearing a curious resemblance to worker exploitation in the 19th Century. This influx
of people into cities resulted in a demand for housing often which came in the
form of enormous slums consisting of a low-quality
housing with little to no sanitation or access to clean water and not
unlike in the 19th Century this caused diseases to run rampant through these slums.


Another of Davis’s hypotheses came
to fruition after the oil crisis of the 70s in which many Western countries ran
into trouble with their economies and as they started to look for ways to
revitalise their economies their eyes fell on the developing parts of the
world, a field ready to sow with the seeds of Western Business. In exchange for
these businesses deals, these Western countries
would provide monetary support to developing countries allowing them to build
their economies to the point at which they could sustain themselves. However, the
two main institutions heavily involved in this process, the World Bank (WB) and
the International Monetary Fund (IMF), put many conditions on these deals which
often meant that developing countries had to take away spending on Urban
Renewal and concentrate on other sectors. This resulted in the slums becoming
even worse and less controlled due to decreased attention from the government.


Personally, I find this quite
similar how in the 19th Century the middle class would build housing
for the lower class under the pretence of
supporting them. Rather they build cheap housing to cater the demand and earn
money from it caring very little for those inhabiting these houses. While the
intentions of WB and IMF might be sound, in the long run, the conditions they
enforce on developing countries don’t benefit the poor. Rather it focuses on increases the country’s GDP, a statistic
that does not properly reflect the overall health of the country and its people.
Furthermore, these Western countries stood much more to gain from expanding
their markets into these developing countries




Davis’ view has been criticised for
taking too much of an old-fashioned detached Marxist perspective on the issue. He
describes the issue in detail but provides little in the way of solutions. Furthermore,
as a Marxist, Davis states that the situation is inevitable in a capitalist
society and suggests that capitalism is the root of the problem.

Before Colonialism many of the
countries that are now considered underdeveloped were very well developed both
socially and economically in the earlier stages of their history. For example,
India prior to contact with European Traders was an exporter of products to
East Africa and indirectly Europe. Their cities became either production and
processing centres, as many trade routes
were land-based and cities were built in
strategic points for the exchange of goods. This meant that Indian cities had a
coherent order which meant that the surplus produced was reinvested in the area
rather than exported allowing for growth
and maintenance9.
When colonialism brought capitalism to these indigenous systems it would
integrate itself into the local economic structure and often result in inefficient hybrid systems. European
traders would often send raw materials gathered in colonies back to their home
country to be processed there and then import these products back into their
colonies, these products were often cheaper than their locally made equivalents
and causing local producers to struggle.
Furthermore, the forced export of raw materials resulted in very little to no
surplus which meant nothing was reintegrated back into the areas that produced
the raw materials resulting in these areas struggling to grow and maintain
As a result, evidence suggests that the
greater the wealth available for Western exploitation, the poorer and more
underdeveloped the region today while at the same time the poorer the colony
was the richer and more developed it is today11.


Finally, unlike Davis who believes
capitalism is inherently irredeemable, Noble Prize-winning
economist and former vice-president of the World Bank Joseph Stiglitz think that for all its faults the capitalist
system and markets are still the best way to provide economic, social and
political welfare as long as they are correctly adjusted to do so effectively12.
Some of the problems outlined by Stiglitz
are; the excessive conditions imposed on developing countries in exchange for
support given by the IMF and the WB, too much emphasis on purely final measures
(GDP) to measure the success of a country and the focus of the IMF on saving
western creditors rather than helping
countries in crisis and their people.

Stiglitz does try to provide some
suggestions for possible solutions. He suggests that infrastructure should be
given time, support and protection to develop so it can eventually become
self-sufficient as well as make sure the
leaders of the IMF and WB are chosen democratically thus providing an example
of democracy for the rest of the world. Furthermore, Western countries should
take a more honest look at how they protect and lobby their own multinational
corporations while refusing to protect those in less developed countries.


It is quite interesting to compare
Stiglitz’s views to those of the Philanthropists such as Robert Owens and Titus
Salt that lived in 19th Century England. Both these men were part of
a few people at the time that believed that improving working and living
conditions would increase the productivity of the workers. Sadly, enough not
unlikely Stiglitz they were quite alone in their view as many Industrialists
would continue to mistreat those that worked under them.


While Stiglitz ideas are feasible
one of the main weaknesses of them is the fact that it would require America
and the West to realise that they are being unfair and give up their position
on influence and power, and quite frankly they have no incentive to do so. It
could be said that believing that the global capitalist economy could be
reformed is very naïve especially if one considers that maybe the desire for
influence and power doesn’t lie in capitalism but rather in human nature.








Looking at these two time periods
of urban growth and development the similarities are staggering. Many of the
problems with the slums we face in developing countries today are eerily like
those faced by the lower class living in cities such as London and Glasgow in
the 19th Century. And while we might not want to admit it seems that
the problem does not necessarily lie in the industrial revolution or the
capitalist system but rather human nature. In the 19th Century it
was the old autocratic system and now it’s the global capitalist system. In
both cases, attempts change has been halted
by those with power and influence not wanting to give up these privileges quite
simply because they have no reason to. If you look at it from that perspective
it could be suggested that the creation of slums is inevitable and that they
are but a symptom of human nature and our attachment to material wealth and

1 Max
Roser and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina, Our world in data – World Population Growth,
University of Oxford, created in 2013, accessed December 18th 2017,

Christopher Smout, A Century of Scottish
People 1830-1950 (Fontana Press, 1997), All pages

2B Lecture notes and Handouts, Johnny Roger

4 Edwin
Chadwick, Report on the sanitary condition of the laboring population and on
the means of its improvement, London, May 1842,

5 Sarah
Wise, The Blackest Streets (Random House, 2013), page 9

2B Lecture notes and Handouts, Johnny Roger

7 Max
Roser, Our world in data – Employment in Agriculture, University of Oxford,
created in 2011, accessed December 18th 2017,

8 Mike
Davis, Planet of the Slums (Verso,
2006), All pages

9 Geoffrey
K Payne, Urban Housing in the Third World (Leonard Hill, 1997), Pages 11, 12

10 Geoffrey
K Payne, Urban Housing in the Third World (Leonard Hill, 1997), Pages 13-15

11 Geoffrey
K Payne, Urban Housing in the Third World (Leonard Hill, 1997), Pages 13

2B Lecture notes and Handouts, Johnny Roger