Table of Contents
The Constitution of any country assures fundamental rights of its citizens. Among these rights, one can name the right to housing. However, people live in different conditions, depending on their social status and the job they have. The processes of economic liberalization have speeded up the process of urbanization. One of its unpleasant factors is the evolvement of slums. Numerous sociology specialists regard slums as an undesirable formation for any city. However, there are those who consider them objects of recreation of rural life in large cities. They characterize slums as big urban villages that evolve as an important stage of the formation of the society. The following paper discusses the nature of slums and their place in the processes of urbanization. The opinion of Louis Wirth and his general theories and statements about the cities are being discussed in the context of slum issue. The study comes to the conclusion that slums are not a part of a city, but big urban villages that coexist with the city.
The Nature of a Slum
Slums can be defined as overpopulated communities inhabited by socially disadvantaged people. A typical slum has such characteristics as poor structural quality of housing, overcrowded conditions, insecure residential status, and lack of access to public services. Inhabitants of slums have only formal documents indicating their ownership of the housing. However, slums in any country are officially recognized by authorities (“What is a slum?” n.d.). Nowadays, there is a consistent tendency for rural population to shift to big cities in the search of better opportunities. One of the reasons for this is labor migration (Toth, 2002). Statistics shows that approximately 50 percent of the world population world lives in cities, and they expect this figure to reach 70 percent by 2050 (Greater Pacific, 2013). Global slum population continues to grow correspondingly with leading positions of Asia, Africa and Latin America. This growth is supported with a rapid urbanization tempo. For instance, in 2005, 166 Chinese cities were populated with more than one million people (Davis, 2006).
Unfortunately, due to poor financial state of their citizens, slums face many problems such as poor sanitation, lack of clean water, high crime rates, rapid spread of diseases, high level of child mortality, low level of average education, and so on. One more problem of slums is transportation. While core slums are inaccessible by buses, peripheral slums are too remote from the center, which implies high transport costs (Rathi, Faisal, & Das, 2013). Due to the enlisted issues, slums are regarded as a negative factor for any city.
Specialists say that there is a strong tendency of village population to move to large urban centers in search of better life perspectives. As Davis (1955) states it, with modern advances of technology, “the metropolis of three million today is an easier place to live and work in than the city of five hundred thousand yesterday.” However, the amount of proper housing in the selected areas is unable to accommodate all newcomers. While for some people living in slums is a result of absence of options for proper dwelling, there are people who settle in slum intentionally. These citizens are driven by the will to get a higher and more stable income and assure better social status for the next generation (Greater Pacific, 2013). Furthermore, there are citizens that attempted to accustom to the city’s life and failed. They reject the former rural life but tend to recreate within the city space (Toth, 1998). Also, when shantytowns and squatter communities are constantly drowned in informal housing and poverty on the urban periphery, “megaslums” emerge (Davis, 2006). That is why the growth of slum population seems inevitable.
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The Nature of a Village
Some sociologists tend to compare slums to villages. In order to get the whole picture of this comparison, one should characterize a village as a social formation. One of its primary characteristics is a rural way of life. Villages are not overpopulated and may be located far from urban areas. In general, the essence of a village is based on the rural way of life.
One may distinguish several crucial factors of demographic nature that differentiate villages from cities. Although the terms “city” and “urban” may be different in any culture (Gmelch & Zenner, 2002), he or she can quickly differentiate urban area from rural one. Thus, rural area is characterized by predominance of older residents, high proportions of single-person households, and an average level of education.
Apart from traditional rural villages, there are urban villages. Their evolvement is a result of rapid urbanization. A village becomes urban when surrounded by the city within a short period of time. One of the first countries to face urban villages is China. Partially due to refusal of some local village residents to remove their houses, rapid urbanization resulted in villages inside urban areas. There is no strict definition of an urban village. However, scholars highlight that it can be regarded as neither rural-like, nor urban-like land. Instead of using the requisitioned land for urban development, it is returned to the original residents for their commercial or housing purposes (Wei, 2007). Scientists identify three types of urban villages: potential, which are located in planned urban construction area; developing, which are located in urban fringe area and are connected with the built-up area; and mature, which are completely surrounded by urban construction (Zhou, 2007).
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Can Slums Be Regarded as Urban Villages?
On the basis of described characteristics, slums can be regarded as urban villages. Among the traits that unite these two kinds of settlements one can name similar essence because they both are formed by the city migrants and the poor. One more feature is the lack of any planning and architecture plan of the housing. Dense living space, poor living conditions and welfare system existing independently of the city are other factors that serve as similar characteristics. However, there are factors that differentiate these two urban formations from each other. For instance, most land in urban villages is owned on the legal basis, whereas slums are built on the common land, which is illegal. Moreover, people living in slums are extremely poor and live in drastic conditions. Their housing may be made of any material, resulting in poor protection from the bad weather. Slums also suffer from the deficit of fresh water. On the contrary, urban villages are not always poor. Urban villagers may own some land close to their housing, they have access to fresh water, power supply and the transportation system because most of their communications are blend with the surrounding urban area. All in all, slums are more problematic for any city to handle. High level of mortality, diseases, poverty and crime in slum area negatively impact city’s development. Thus, slums may be regarded as a new type of urban villages that need corresponding programs to fight their problems.
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Louis Wirth’s Opinion about Urban Life and Villages
One of the prominent sociologists, Louis Wirth (1938) regards cities and urban life as the future of humanity. He regards urban way of life a key feature of the future people’s living, resulting in the development of an urban personality. Moreover, he contrasts rural and city’s personalities, describing the latter as less friendly and more competitively intended. This is explained by the need for the fight for resources of the big city. Thus, the scientist proclaims urbanism as a form of ordinary life of an average future human. Moreover, he claims that with rapid industrialization and urbanization, one cannot clearly define the borderline between urban areas and rural areas inside urban. Modern social changes are regarded by Wirth to influence rural areas towards their shift to urban way of life. Thus, villages and cities tend to differ just in terms of the mode of arrangement of human settlements (Wirth, 1938).
Louis Wirth’s Theories and Slums Phenomenon
One should note that the existence of slums both supports and contradicts Wirth’s statements. First, the struggle for resources defines slum inhabitants as similar to city’s residents. Slums evolve within urbanized area as an attempt of rural inhabitants to adopt the city’s mode of life. Second, inhabitants of slums tend to adopt collective behavior and an urban personality because of their numerous contacts with each other and city residents. In this sense, Wirth’s theories about urbanization go along with the phenomena of slums. Rural areas become overpopulated and enclosed within the city’s borders. Thus, it is difficult to differentiate urban population from rural mixed with urban. That is why new types of communities evolve. However, poor living conditions, sanitation and life prospective makes an imprint on the lives of slum inhabitants. They are willing to move and live in the city area, but for most of them this seems unreal due to poverty. Thus, life in slums may be characterized as an attempt to live within the urbanized area without proper life conditions for it. People in slums cannot afford the city’s economic and cultural way of life because of constant poverty. Thus, poor rural life remains enclosed in the area of big cities.
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Modern life is characterized by a rapid urbanization tempo. This process stimulates the appearance of new forms of housing such as slums and urban villages. While slums are more typical for Indian community, rural villages are a trait of Chinese urban centers. These two types of housing tend to coincide in form. However, they have a number of factors that allow differentiating one from another. One of the most crucial of them is extreme poverty in slums compared to urban villages. The way of life in slums coincides with Wirth’s description of an urbanized person and community. The evolvement of slums is supported by Wirth’s theories about rapid urbanization and blend of rural and urban areas. Unlike city residents, the life of slums inhabitants is negatively affected by poverty. Thus, governments of many countries having slums attempt to modify them, adapt to the city life and improve life conditions of their inhabitants.