Hot Docs 2014: Slums: Cities of Tomorrow
Currently across the world, over a billion people live in tent cities, shanty towns, and slums. This number is only expected to grow over the coming decades. What director Jean-Nicolas Orhan attempts to demonstrate in his film Slums: Cities of Tomorrow is that while there are problems with slums, the slums themselves are not the problem. They may actually be the solution to urban overcrowding and stressed resources.
The film treks a path around the globe, visiting a tent city in New Jersey, massive slum towns in India, Morocco, and Turkey, a rough poor neighbourhood outside of Paris, and a First Nations Reserve in Quebec. Through the eyes of the people that live there we see innovation, ingenuity, and resilience. Each location shows unique trademarks of the culture of the people who migrated there and how a community has developed that suits their needs for shelter, income, and survival.
Several experts in the field discuss the commonly-held idea that all slums are bad, or are breeding grounds for crime and violence, or are constantly full of disease, and present evidence to show that the opposite may be true. While all of these things still exist and are difficult to deal with, they are not nearly as widespread as most people think and allowing these organically-formed communities to exist can provide a solution to overcrowding. The people show that they have figured out how to adapt to the difficult conditions and have learned how to live with less.
Not much effort is made to discuss the downsides of slum cities. There are mentions of the problems they face while meeting people in India but the issues are not discussed in great detail. Issues such as lack of food and disease from dirty, polluted water and how to solve these needed to be expanded upon. The foundations for ideas on solutions were presented but were not fully developed enough to be able to begin forming plans for further development. All of the primary experts interviewed in the film agree that instead of governments and cities trying to tear down these settlements and relocate the people, they should be forming a partnership with these neighbourhoods to ensure that their basic needs are met. This will help begin to eliminate the deplorable and dangerous conditions these people are often faced with.
The idea that governments in “developing” countries want to tear down these shanty towns and relocate the people to government-provided housing in order to continue the march towards becoming a civilized, developed country is also punctured. It becomes evident that given that the resources for survival on the planet are finite; elevating the entire world’s population to the level of development currently possessed by The West will not be possible. The strain on the planet would be just too strong. Therefore, allowing slums and these types of housing developments to exist and flourish will become a very real and legitimate way to house populations in the decades to come.
There is a strong sense of community here, a strong sense that everyone works together to ensure all are taken care of. Often natural disasters or various other environmental factors force people to relocate to urban centers. This return to co-operative spirit restores a sense of hope and dignity when so often it has been ripped violently from them.