Wade and a Will

Vancouver     It is hard to reconcile all of the bits and pieces of information that seem to prove little more than the fact that the world is hurtling in different directions.  Take these clues as indications:

  • Item in Globe and Mail later confirmed elsewhere that the surge of millionaires continues with the number now hitting 8.7 million — millionaires.  They point out that this is more people than live in New York City.  Huge percentage increases were recorded in South Korea, South Africa, and India! 
  • UN-Habitat report indicates that between now and 2020 — less than 15 years — another 1.4 billion people will be urbanized into slums without decent housing, healthcare, sanitation, water, or anything else — make a list.  Stephen Hume, a columnist in the Vancouver Sun in a classic Canadian sensibility finished a commentary on this fact by saying it’s, “Time to stop sucking our thumbs and get down to the hard work.”
  • Jockin Arputham, head of Slum Dwellers International based in Mumbai, spoke at the round table where I was on the list about the mandate to involve the urban poor in crafting their destiny, and forcefully addressed the plenary session on the 2nd day of the World Urban Forum to begin to support community based solutions.  Echoing my own frustrations, he gave voice to them by saying that “What are all these words?  Two hundred conferences, 600 documents, 700 seminars.  While you are doing this, our people are poorer and multiplying a hundredfold.”  He called for governments and the big NGO’s to join the poor and recognize that private land and home ownership are not going to solve the problems of the slums, but that people need collective solutions to survive.  Right on!
  • Meanwhile, learning nothing, the New York Times, which has been completely silent on the World Urban Forum (!?!), editorially called for Mayor Ray Nagin to dictate a plan to the citizens of New Orleans about where they can build and rebuild and force removal to higher ground.  For the editorialist of the Times, the only conceivable solution for any problem is the top-down rule of the authoritarian, but well meaning, elite. 
  • By 2020 a UN report on population indicated there will be a growing class of “meta-cities” or “hypercities” straining the very language for descriptives.  In addition to Tokyo which has held this space since the 60’s, there will be Mumbai, Delhi, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, New York, Dhaka, Jakarta, and Lagos.  Lagos the report noted is the fastest growing city in the world increasing 5% annually.  To matter how can we avoid being in all of these places so that we can struggle with people to make a difference?
  • Meanwhile so that irony is never lost in our daily life, we find in the same copy of the Times, which calls on the New Orleans mayor to step up, a wonderful paradox in a quote at the back end of a story about Mayor Fabrizi of Bridgeport, Connecticut and his tearful admission to liquoring and coking up at parties while in office (though he has stopped he says), from Gary Rose, chair of the department of government at Bridgeport’s Sacred Rose University.  Rose notes that Bridgeport’s residents forgive “practically all forms of misbehavior on the part of their mayors.” 

And, so does the Times, when it’s one of their own or when they are paying attention to the goings and comings of the close to 9 million millionaires in their fan base.

And, finally, from the sports pages a line that ran in all of the papers commenting on the Miami Heat’s victory over the Dallas Mavericks, “Where there’s a wade, there’s a will.”

Love that one and believe it with all my heart!

June 21, 2006

Jockin Arputham, head of Slum Dwellers International based in Mumbai
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