Is This The Future of America?

Bernadette - May 15 2012, 6:20 PM

The blockbuster love story, Slumdog Millionaire, has brought images of a ramshackle slum in Mumbai, India, to millions of American viewers.

Although the slum may have been a bit prettified, it did the trick: Moviegoers were shocked, offended and also deeply moved by how the poor of other nations live.

The movie's popularity has inspired a spate of real-life Slumdog articles and broadcasts about slums around the world, from Mumbai to Brazil, to Mexico City. But rarely do U.S. neighborhoods appear in these accounts.

Maybe they should.

Most of us like to believe that the closest we ever get to large-scale squalor is just the other side of the Mexican border -- in the dusty barrios of Nogales, the colonias of Juarez and a community in Tijuana that rose up on and based its economy on the city's dump. Surely our nation has enough governmental and charitable safety nets, not to mention land-use laws, to make slums a virtual impossibility here. Or so we like to believe, if we think of this at all.

Yet in recent months, the media revealed a different reality.

Outlets from the New York Times to Oprah have carried stories on informal settlements of the poor that have risen up on the fringes of urban areas, including Fresno and Sacramento in California, and Seattle, Wash. These settlements are known as tent cities, a name that for some readers probably conjures up images of mountain meadows or parks covered with North Face nylon, perhaps pitched by revelers at a music festival.

But, as journalist Scott Bransford points out in the March 16 issue of High Country News, these settlements are more akin to the slums of the developing world than they are to group camping.

While they can't compare in scale to the slums of India or Peru, they share some of the same qualities.

Tent cities are improvised and include dwellings made from all kinds of recycled materials, ranging from plywood and salvaged construction material to placards advertising a big-box, going-out-of-business sale. Though most people may think of tent cities as informal homeless shelters, a lot of residents have come to think of them as home, and they're not moving.

They put care into the construction of their dwelling, keep it tidy and place

REPLY to this message

Return to Message List