Slums: A Catalyst Bed for Poverty Eradication
By Eric Meade
In 2100, more than 70% of the Earth’s 10 billion people will live in cities. In dynamic regional hubs like Lagos, Nigeria (population 41 million), an infrastructure of renewable energy, sustainable local manufacturing, socially augmented reality, and anticipatory community governance will have produced economically vibrant neighborhoods that are microcosms of collaborative resident engagement.
But city life is more complex than village life. Whenever people have moved from rural to urban environments, they have had to develop more complex attitudes and behaviors—for example, internalizing rules, cooperating beyond their own families, and learning to navigate complex institutions. The “complexity gap” between urban and rural living will widen as cities grow from millions to tens of millions of residents. Throughout the twenty-first century, people migrating to the city will close this gap, undergoing a psychosocial transition that could provide the foundation for twenty-second-century urban success.
Much of this transition will have occurred in the catalyst bed of the “slum.” Sure, the slums of the twenty-first century have had their share of problems, with criminality and corruption occasionally spiraling out of control. But global leaders will have come to understand that allowing the undesirable elements of slum life to fester at reasonable levels is important for fostering slum dwellers’ adoption of the more complex attitudes and behaviors required for successful citizenship at the municipal and global levels.
With this understanding, the century’s most-effective NGOs will be those who do not try to “solve the problems” of the slums, but rather try to set the conditions in which the psychosocial transition from rural to urban could occur quickly and without reaching unproductive levels of human suffering. This will include providing slum residents with wireless service, ubiquitous educational programming, and “off-grid” solutions for power, water, health care, and sanitation. Interestingly, these “off-grid” solutions also will yield benefits for those who remain in rural areas.
Throughout the twenty-first century, urbanization will have provided new migrants from rural areas with more complex environments that challenge them to become more complex themselves. And they will. This psychosocial transition, effected largely in the slums, will have lifted virtually all human communities out of poverty and create a global citizenry with its eye on the future.
About the Author
Eric Meade is senior futurist and vice president of the Institute for Alternative Futures in Alexandria, Virginia. Web site www.altfutures.org.
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This is my last posting for the next few days. I will be taking my office apart so that we can move to our new apartment downtown next Tuesday. I will be unplugged and disconnected except by tablet. Expect me to be back in the saddle before the end of next week probably in time to provide you with some more headlines. In the interim these are the stories I share with you this week:
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