We feature a lecture by Mike Davis about his book Planet of Slums, which investigates the increasing inequality of the urban world. According to the U.N., more than one billion people now live in extreme poverty in mega-cities facing environmental and social collapse from perpetual and worsening climate disruptions.
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Historian Mike Davis Lends Perspective to the Historical Continuum of Cities
On this show we feature the late writer and activist Mike Davis, who dabbled as an “urban historian,” taking on geography, politics, economics, sociology and literature. His focus was the dislocation and separation brought on by capitalist society: people from land, work from ownership, individuals from each other, all in the service of profit. And he showed how this dislocation resulted in climate, environmental, and social disasters. His solution was communities connecting together and to the land. Mike Davis was a true intellectual visionary, who was down to get into the streets and walk his talk.
“The car bomb is the poor man’s air force.”
— Mike Davis
I met Mike Davis as a graduate student when he taught at UCLA in the Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning. At the time, he was writing his incendiary and prophetic shadowing of the social and environmental calamities that the city of Los Angeles, and our world at large, continues to face.
“Despite the wishful thinking of evangelicals impatient for the Rapture or deep ecologists who believe that Gaia would be happiest with a thin sprinkling of hunter-gatherers, megacities like Los Angeles will never simply collapse and disappear. Rather, they will stagger on, with higher body counts and greater distress, through a chain of more frequent and destructive encounters with disasters of all sorts; while vital parts of the region’s high-tech and tourist economies eventually emigrate to safer ground, together with hundreds of thousands of its more affluent residents.”
— Mike Davis, Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster
We begin with an introduction of Mike Davis and will come back to a question and answer by Vijay Prashad, an Indian Marxist historian and commentator. This is from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst History Department Feinberg Lecture Series from 2020.
“Thus, the cities of the future, rather than being made out of glass and steel as envisioned by earlier generations of urbanists, are instead largely constructed out of crude brick, straw, recycled plastic, cement blocks, and scrap wood. Instead of cities of light soaring toward heaven, much of the twenty-first-century urban world squats in squalor, surrounded by pollution, excrement, and decay.”
— Mike Davis
We also feature a lecture by Mike Davis about his book Planet of Slums, which investigates the increasing inequality of the urban world. According to the U.N., more than one billion people now live in extreme poverty in mega-cities facing environmental and social collapse from perpetual and worsening climate disruptions. Mike Davis explores the meaning and the future of this radically unequal and unstable urban world.
The lecture comes from a talk given at Rhodes College in Memphis, TN, in 2015.
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“They did not overthrow the elected government of Mossadegh in Iran; support the genocide of eight hundred thousand leftists in Indonesia; intervene on behalf of the fascist Phalange against the Palestinians in Lebanon; fight a dirty war against Dhofarian insurgents; underwrite absolute monarchies like Saudi Arabia, the shah of Iran, Morocco, and the Gulf Emirates; build with billions of U.S. tax dollars the golden throne upon which Mubarak sits like a modern-day pharaoh; arm Saddam Hussein in the 1980s and turn a blind eye to his genocide against the communists and Kurds; then kill seventeen thousand Iraqi civilians in bombing raids during the Gulf War, including more than four hundred women and children incinerated in the Amariyah bomb shelter. Nor did they stir the Shias of southern Iraq into revolt, then abandon them to Saddam Hussein’s executioners because George Bush senior calculated that the total destruction of the regime would create an impermissible power vacuum that Iran might rush to fill.”
— Mike Davis, In Praise of Barbarians: Essays Against Empire
Mike Davis, who passed away in 2022, was a writer, political activist, urban theorist, and historian based in Southern California. Once a meat cutter and a truck driver, he was Professor Emeritus at University of California, Riverside, a Macarthur Fellow, and the author of more than 20 books. He is best known for his investigations of power and social class in works such asCity of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles (1990) andLate Victorian Holocausts (2001).
Jack Eidt is an urban planner, environmental journalist, and climate organizer, as well as award-winning fiction writer. In addition to his work with SoCal 350 and EcoJustice Radio, he is Founder and Publisher of WilderUtopia [https://wilderutopia.com/], a website dedicated to the question of Earth sustainability, finding society-level solutions to environmental, community, economic, transportation and energy needs.
Podcast Website: http://ecojusticeradio.org/
Podcast Blog: https://www.wilderutopia.com/category/ecojustice-radio/
Support the Podcast: Patreon https://www.patreon.com/ecojusticeradio
Executive Producer and Intro: Jack Eidt
Engineer and Original Music: Blake Quake Beats
Photo credit: Annie Wells, LA Times
Originally Published 10 April 2023, Updated 5 August 2023