Nomad Slums


Follow up based on Spime Housing

to thread "towards p2p nomadic slums ? ( utopian "and" dystopian ? )"

Reply by Eric Hunting :

I think that the technology, shelter design, and infrastructures that we consider cultivating in the neo-nomadic context are directly applicable to the slum and other situations of the poor and displaced and potentially powerful in reducing the hardship of life and empowering individuals. Deliberately introducing this for that purpose may be one form of intervention. In the scenario I've been describing that's what neo-nomads are doing in a recently depressed suburb; upcycling an abandoned corporate campus into a kind of ashram providing education in Post-Industrial technology and culture to provide new means of self-sufficiency to the communities around it so they can function with a new economic independence and avoid becoming slums.

But you use the term 'slum' in an, alternately, very ancient and modern context that we have to remember is unknown to most of western society. Slums are very different things in the US, Europe, and the developing world. With the exception of the relatively few tent city 'Bushvilles' of the recent economic collapse that the media here has adamantly refused to acknowledge the existence of, in the US they are very deliberately manufactured in planned areas of urban (now increasingly suburban) decay created by manipulation of real estate markets and class/race bias in urban planning. They serve chiefly as ghettos--only we don't like to use that term because it has developed anti-Semitic connotations. But that's really what they are; racial and class internment zones intended to contain, isolate, and manage undesirables. Human land-fills. It is said now that the US War On Drugs is really a system for dealing with 'surplus Americans'. It compels the poor toward drug trade as the only industry with its doors still open then cycles them into prisons where their mass care-taking is now privatized to generate profit. In western culture poverty is seen as a product of poor character, not a consequence of birth or political, economic, and societal failure. So we try to deny its existence, hide, and criminalize it. We systematically punish the poor for being poor on the perverse premise of 'tough love' even as we systematically strip away all possible economic opportunity from them and funnel them into prisons.

Slums of the developing world are the relatively recent product of Globalization and economic neo-liberalism destabilizing the economics of rural communities and driving people into cities unprepared for them. The are self-creating and tolerated by governments because they have no other solution and poverty is far too prevalent to simply deny the existence of. In these cultures the poor aren't systematically punished by institutional violence for being poor, even if they are not shown any particular compassion either. These slums have functional market economies, engage in diverse small independent commerce and industry, even if they are 'shadow economies' in respect to legitimate state-endorsed economy. Thus they potentially serve a practical function in actually transitioning the rural poor to urban life and economic self-sufficiency.

Ultimately neo-nomadism probably represents an aspect of a middle-class reinventing itself by virtue of the fact that, demographically, they are more likely to originate in middle-class society and have the benefit of a much greater education bringing with it greater entrepreneurial potential. (and I use the term 'entrepreneurial' in the context of potential for any sort of novel production and invention as well as its Capitalist context) These are people (young people) with options--skills that better equip them to weather the present economic upheaval of the middle-class and come out on top--exploring a new strategy for living well, not just surviving. There is a distinct difference between 'nomad' and 'refugee'.

In many ways the neo-nomadic eco-village might be seen as a kind of high-tech slum. Like something out of Bladerunner. But it's probably much more akin to the urban artists' enclave and with the same gentrification-inducing impact. Thus part of what is compelling the nomad's mobility IS the gentrification they catalyze. Unless they can go so far in cultivating a local Post-Industrial culture as to obsolesce the established Capitalist market economy outright--which isn't likely in the near-term--they are going to have an impact much as artist communities have tended to, ultimately pricing themselves out of the neighborhoods they've helped restore. It is an upcycling process that does compel the nomad to change his lifestyle or move on--but then I've imagined this in terms of that Outquisition agenda. The nomad is engaging in intervention and that's one way he gauges his success.

I coined a term a while ago for some kinds of, particularly urban, eco-development; Eco-Salon. Deriving from the idea of the salon in 17th century France--which was one of the important cultivators of the Enlightenment--it means an exhibition-oriented eco-project formed by a community of advocates and developers of that technology to seed and cultivate the knowledge, application and industry of that technology in a particular region. The Water Pod project was a kind of urban Eco-Salon. And it produced an 'eco barge' craze where other cities are suddenly trying to compete in turning barges into eco-science exhibits. Hackerspaces and Fab Labs are kinds of techno-salons. The term 'ashram' also applies here and I often use that, but that implies a bit more formal teacher-student hierarchy. The salon is much more a culture of peers. And if we can say that the transition to a Post-Industrial culture is in many way akin to cultivating a New Enlightment, then it would make sense that it, in part, happens in a salon-like environment.