While the housing market here gets ever more media attention, over one billion people — a sixth of the world’s population — live in “squatter cities,” where deeds and titles to land are non-existent.

A closer look at the media, however, reveals this column today on that very subject. Carol Lloyd reviews “Shadow Cities,” by Robert Neuwirth, a fascinating first-hand account of four of these squatter cities (I would be remiss if I did not note the coverage it got over at WorldChanging as well).

Among other things, Neuwirth:

  • notes that in some places, “squatter infrastructure” rivals the official infrastructure;
  • highlights the fact that these cities have simply developed on their own, free of government control until attempts are made to shut them down; and
  • contrasts the notion of property in squatter cities with American notions (Carol Lloyd expounds on this in her article).

(And there’s no way to do his work justice with three bullet points, so I apologize for that.)

The lessons here for cities in the developed world are many; I’m still trying to get a handle on them myself. Neuwirth is “perhaps the first journalist to travel the globe living in the most deprived and violent shantytowns.” I’d love to be the second.

In addition to the book, Neuwirth also has a blog on squatter cities. Lloyd’s article, Neuwirth’s blog and lecture, and the coverage at WorldChanging all provide excellent further reading.