Tuesday, January 12, 2010

No thanks, I don't want to live in a slum

I don't think I could manage a regular "idiot of the week" type post (or what Stroppy would no doubt call call a Friday Fuckwit). There are too many idiots/fuckwits in the world. Far too much choice.

This week, however, a certain Kevin McCloud would undoubtedly be a finalist in any stupidity contest. The smug advert for his upcoming show Kevin McCloud: Slumming It has been showing on TV all week, with Kevin's beaming facing espousing the virtues of slumming it (literally).

In a companion piece in The Telegraph, the Grand Designs host argues that the government should "look to the Mumbai slums" for housing inspiration. You might be forgiven for thinking that disease-ridden imoverished slums are exactly what Britain does not need, but McCloud has a different take: "If I have one message for developers and the Government, it's to focus less on eco-housing and green buildings - because, frankly, we know how to do that. Let's start focusing on the social stuff, on how we can make people happier."

You know what won't make people happier, Mr McCloud? 1 toilet for every 1400 people. No hospitals or public sanitation programmes. Typhoid, maleria and cholera.

McCloud also brings women's oppression into his praise of the slums: "Because women don’t have huge kitchens, they rinse their pots in the street. That has to be the most civilised, sociable way of doing the washing-up – outside in the sun, chatting to your neighbours." Women engaging in arduous domestic labour in the streets; what a pretty picture indeed!

McCloud's big thing is sharing possessions. He believes that those living in slums have an "elastic attitude to what is theirs", but apparently forgets that this might arise from having next to nothing. All this does seem a bit rich - excuse the pun! - coming from a guy with a posh 16th-century house in Somerset, complete with £75,000 biomass boiler.

McCloud isn't the first person to get excited about the slums. A couple of years ago, a spokesperson for Greenpeace argued that "in the UK we could do worse than looking to the recycling endeavour of slum-dwellers in places like Dharavi for inspiration... There is a lot to learn from the developing world, where a scavenger mentality, grass roots recycling and sheer necessity can lead to imaginative leaps in redeploying waste.” No mention of the fact that many of the recyclers are child labourers, or indeed of the small problem that none of these workers have rights enshrined in law, of course.

Poverty is not something that people choose and it's certainly not a state of being that should ever be elevated to an aspiration.