Why people in slums develop
Slums offer people a lot of chances to improve their lives. In shanty towns, more progress has been made in achieving the 'Millennium Development Goals' (2000- 2015) than in the villages. Presumably, the new ‘Sustainable Development Goals' (2015-2030) will do better in the slums than in the villages.
Slums perform better in reducing child and maternal mortality, in sending children to schools and in offering opportunities to women. They perform better simply because there are more and better health clinics, more and better schools and more and better employers. An important explanation for the greater development opportunities can be found in the mere fact that urbanites live in the immediate vicinity of each other. The continuous confrontation with ideas, concepts, and new practises, enables individuals to enrich themselves and to explore niche markets in which money can be earned. Only in places where many people live close to each other, you can specialized in something new. Subsequently, you can decide to work together with people who are able to specialize in something else.
While in the sparsely populated village everyone does the same - grow their own food - slums give people the chance to develop something new. Electrical engineering, for example, or connecting computers, designing websites or writing web texts. First specialisation, then teaming up and providing a health clinic with modern internet technology.
An African medical doctor, working in the rural area and responsible for people scattered over hundreds of square kilometres, knows a bit of everything, ranging from the treatment of malaria to the performance of caesareans. But there is nothing that he can do really well. Health Professionals in a slum, however, can specialize in gynaecology, surgery or psychiatry. Co-operating with others, they are able to treat more difficult cases and cure rare diseases. This exchange of qualities and ideas, can only take place where people meet each other. This is a big advantage of life in the cities. In urban regions, human progress is possible and development thrives.
Matt Ridley, author of the acclaimed book 'The Rational Optimist’ speaks in this regard about ‘sex between ideas'. Like evolution in nature takes place by exchanging body fluids, the evolution of culture takes place by exchanging ideas. Imagine, Ridley writes, that the man who invented the rails and the man who invented the locomotive had never met? Humanity today, says Ridley, is undergoing an extraordinary outburst of evolutionary cultural exchange, which is driven by good old-fashioned Darwinist natural selection. But this time, it is the selection of ideas. The environment in which the various ideas live, is the human brain. And brains meet each other in busy, dynamic cities.
© Ralf Bodelier, Health Clinic, Mtakatake, Malawi, 2015
© Ralf Bodelier, Literacy Classes. Mtakataka, Malawi 2015