This month we review a provocative new atlas that indicates political processes as well as geography; and a study of solutions to the poor world's housing crisis.
Editor: Anuradha Vittachi
How the land lies
The State of the World Atlas
by by Michael Kidron and Ronald Segal
UK: Pan (pbk) £5.95/Heinemann Educ (hbk) £9.50
US: Simon & Schuster (pbk) $9.95 (hbk) $17.50
Political atlases were born out of imperialism. They demonstrate the extent of the empire, the relationship of the colonies to the mother state and her standing in the world. As the pool of knowledge of our world has expanded so has the tradition of the political atlas to include socio-economic and cultural factors.
Michael Kidron and Ronald Segal's exciting new State of the World Atlas adds yet another dimension. The book demonstrates that the more our world fragments into smaller states-each seeking to emulate the self-aggrandisement of the imperial 'Super Powers', past and present - the deeper our crises become.
The maps show the proliferation of new states over the last few decades. They show how these states are reaching out to claim the seas and the sky; how they are militarily preoccupied with their borders, traditional, newly-established and coveted. They show the threats of war - real and imagined - and the preparations to counter the threats; how resources are employed or squandered and the consequent impact on labour, society and the environment; the symptoms of crisis and the mounting challenges to governing systems. The final illustration, simply entitled 'Worldrise' shows the earth as a beautiful planet floating in the blackness of space. It says the world is one - the borders are all man-made.
As a designer, I was impressed by the inventiveness of the graphics. For example the map of world pollution (aptly entitled 'Fouling the Nest') illustrates the befouling of our seas with a smear reminiscent of cell walls in a Belfast H-block 'dirty protest'. In the map of world trouble spots the areas of conflict are seeping blood-stains.
Presenting statistics in this novel way, graphically and in brilliant colour, helps the reader - serious student or browser - to see patterns and inter-relationships vividly and immediately.
Time and again I found myself saying 'I knew that, but never realised it before. Facts spring off the page; notably - and this is a very personal selection - the fact that, in fire-power terms, Israel is one of the larger countries in the world; that the USSR supplies Cuba with all her oil; that not one African State has a GNP more than the income of Exxon - the top US industrial company; that life expectancy is longer in the US than the UK- another myth busted - and this book is a great myth-buster.
The only thing that mars the book is the lack of statistics for the USSR and China (24% and 34% of the maps respectively - in itself a fascinating fact). All credit to the authors that they never fudged incomplete or dubious data but rather left blanks.
The State of the World Atlas is an essential book for personal and reference libraries. It has been such a success already that, say copyright owners Pluto Press, by the end of this year editions will be available in German, Dutch, French, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Japanese, Italian and Spanish.
Over the heads of the poor
Urbanisation, Housing and the Development Process
by David Drakakis-Smith
Croom Helm UK: £15.95 (hbk)
As I write, a state in India is preparing to spend over £120 million on a bridge across the mouth of Bombay harbour, a project that will create new problems for Bombay's already tangled traffic. £120 million could build over 120,000 houses for Bombay's poor. In contrast the State's principal public housing authority has built less than 80,000 houses in Bombay during all the years since Independence!
Professor Drakakis-Smith agrees that Third World governments pay lip-service to the provision of low-cost housing as 'a purely social consideration' while actually making their investment allocations 'on political and economic grounds'. I believe that really understates the case. Some spectacular schemes like the Bombay harbour bridge make neither social nor economic sense.
But the book also points up another and, to my mind, the real reason for the Third World's housing crisis: a slavish obeisance to Western solutions. So you have those who fervently preach the panacea of pre-fabrication, forgetting that in developing countries prefabrication invariably comes out costlier than conventional construction, since materials are scarce and expensive while labour is cheap. And you have the votaries of high-rise housing, blind to its failure to meet the social needs of the target population, and to its diseconomies.
There is, again, that mindless adherence to Western norms and standards for land lay-outs, for civic services, for house sizes, and room sizes within houses, for building materials. Cheap local building materials are barred; local authorities insist on the use of scarce cement and steel. Their use of land, perhaps the scarcest resource of all, has to be prodigal.
Recent writers have tended to regard 'Sites-and-Services' projects as a solution: cities must lay out well-arranged plots provided modestly with water, sanitation and street lighting. On these plots the poor will improvise homes, which they will improve piecemeal into decent houses. Professor Drakakis-Smith assails this solution. To be useful the sites chosen must be near employment centres. By reason of their very location such sites rise disproportionately in land value, and the poor are quite easily bought out by land speculators or middle-income house builders. The poor then revert to their illegal shanty towns.
This is a real difficulty. Efforts to sub-sidise poor people's housing often have a way of defeating themselves. The author rather inconsistently suggests that governments should harness private enterprise to build for the poor by making serviced land available to private builders at subsidised rates. Won't the settlers in such projects be similarly bought out?
This criticism apart, Professor Drakakis-Smith has written a useful textbook, managing to condense into a few pages a comprehensive and analytical survey of LDC housing policies, illustrated by a large number of penetrating case-studies. I am sorry he has chosen to be so brief.
J. B. D'Souza
SHELTER: Need and Response
SHELTER: Need and Response by Jorge E Hardoy and David Satterthwaite (Wiley UK: (hbk) £16.95) summarises housing, land and settlement policies in 17 Third World nations. Draws data from a project assessing how far governments have implemented the recommendations officially endorsed at the UN Habitat Conference in 1976. Succinct and fact filled - a very useful resource book for researchers.