Steward Brand, Slumlord

Whole Earth Catalog founder and onetime Merry Prankster Stewart Brand is one of twelve thinkers asked this month by Wired magazine to contribute to a list of “twelve shocking ideas that could change the world.” In this brief piece, Brand praises slums as good for the environment:

Cities draw people away from subsistence farming, which is ecologically devastating, and they defuse the population bomb. In the villages, women spend their time doing agricultural stuff, for no pay, or having lots and lots of kids. When women move to town, it’s better to have fewer kids, bear down, and get them some education, some economic opportunity. Women become important, powerful creatures in the slums. They’re often the ones running the community-based organizations, and they’re considered the most reliable recipients of microfinance loans.

Here is Stewart Brand’s TED talk from earlier this year where he discusses the idea in greater depth.

Mike Davis wrote in 2007 that slums are, contra Brand, environmental tragedies. For different but related reasons, Tyler Cowen argued in 2006 that in recovering from Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans should allow shantytowns to emerge unmolested.