Maybe it’s because I’ve been living in the suburbs for too long, but I find myself curious about the state of the world’s slums and ghettos. To me, there’s just something more imminent and real about areas where your cushy existence isn’t guaranteed. While I realize that living in squalid conditions is nobody’s dream, it is of interest to the many people whose daily problems peak at “I wanted regular, but bought diet by accident.”
So to all the desperate housewives and adventurous travelers ready to cut ties with their manicured lawns and luxury sedans, here are a few places from around the globe where walking is considered an extreme sport.
I really don’t like knocking people when they’re down, but that’s really the only way I’ll ever win a fight, so Detroit, I’m sorry but Detroit is so ugly it makes Buffalo look like Beverly Hills.
At the turn of the 20th century, Detroit was a boom town. Sparked by Henry Ford’s transformative invention, Detroit flourished from it’s skilled labor, advanced infrastructure, well-paying jobs and wanted consumer goods.
At one point, Detroit was the fourth largest city in the US and home to just under 2 million people. However, when business leaders discovered that Chinese 8 year olds can do the same amount of work as $80/hour union workers, while requiring 50% less sunlight, Detroit became ground zero for the globalization wave.
According to the 2010 census, Detroit’s population declined 25 percent in the last decade—the largest percentage decline of any US city-—bringing the total population down to just over 700,000. This steady decline in the city’s population has left much of the city deserted and abandoned.
Detroit is in such bad shape that the City Council decided its best chances at gentrification is an influx of degenarate gamblers. In fact, if you’re in Detroit, and you have a couple extra bucks, I know a guy that can get you a couple city blocks. With an unemployment rate of 13 percent, it should come as no surprise that Detroit has a violent crime rate of nearly 20 reported crimes per 1000 people.
Detroit: A sad, but tragically beautiful story. Thankfully, the internet is on the case.
Pyongyang, North Korea
This pick may be somewhat controversial because North Korea scored rather high on their own Global Happiness Index. Much like Bhutan’s gross national happiness, North Korea’s Global Happiness Index measures the non-economic happiness of its citizens. Can evil West GDP measure do that? And, according to North Korea’s 2011 assessment of itself, its doing a pretty damn good job if they may say so themselves. North Korea came 2nd, losing by a hair to magnificent and glorious socialist land of all that is good and noble, China. Cuba was obviously in 3rd place, then Iran. Capitalist swine America came dead last.
Furthermore, even the US Department of State says that violent crime is rare, and street crime is uncommon in Pyongyang.
So then why, would I have such a charming place on my list? I suppose that there’s a couple of downsides to Pyongyang as well.
For starters, you risk facing jail time if you fail to act less than ecstatic over the prospects of drinking glorious leader Kim Il Sung’s back sweat. Perceived insults to, or jokes about, the North Korean political system and its leadership are sternly frowned upon, and can land you in jail.
As a tourist you will be subjected to numerous unusual conditions. All tourists must be accompanied by a guide well versed in the propaganda arts at all times. You will also not be allowed to bring a cellphone into the country or stray off the carefully chosen itinerary.
The roads of Pyongyang are mostly empty, because having a car requires having a will to live. Although, I don’t know what there’s to complain about because in October of 2011, the government generously presented the citizens of Pyongyang with a special distribution of food to mark the 66th anniversary of the founding of the Chosun Workers’ Party. The North Korean government also spoils the citizens of Pyongyang with several hours of electricity on any given day.
Johannesburg, South Africa
Nearly 50 years of apartheid rule in South Africa continue to leave their mark on the city of Johannesburg.
Soweto, a region of Jo’burg located to the southwest, was a prominent hotspot of Apartheid protest and former home of Nelson Mandela. Soweto was formed when the segregation of whites and blacks forced Africans to leave the city premises. This large, dense region was meant to exist only as a dormitory town for black Africans who worked to service the white population. Consequently, very little investment was put into Soweto and roads and sewage went undeveloped. To compound the problem, the black population of Soweto was not able to work for themselves and the economy of Soweto was purposefully suppressed throughout apartheid, so not to compete with the “white economy”.
While progress has been made in some areas, Soweto remains a shanty town through out many parts where many residents still earn $2 a day and have little access to utilities.
Hillbrow, an inner city neighborhood faces similar social struggles but in a subtly different way. Unlike Soweto, Hillbrow was predominantly white throughout Apartheid, but as the end of Apartheid drew near, white people got the hell out of dodge. This abandonment by the middle class was a blow that the neighborhood is yet to recover from.
Entire high-rise apartments in Hillbrow have been hijacked by criminal gangs for personal gain. Illegal immigrants, criminals and drug dealers are the main tenants of these illegally-owned apartments and it is not uncommon for a one-bedroom flat to have a dozen or more people living in it.
The 2010 FIFA World Cup has helped draw badly needed investment to the area, but years of neglect of the local infrastructure have left numerous crumbling buildings and a high crime rate, that can be seen to this day.
Guatemala City, Guatemala
There’s nothing like half-decade of civil unrest to get your country behind on social equality, which is exactly what happened to Guatemala.
If you thought cigarette companies were bad, the Guatemalans will likely tell you that fruit companies are much worse. In the 1950’s, the United Fruit Company (Now Chiquita Brands International)—worried about losing their plantations in Guatemala at the hands of newly elected leftist government—lobbied the US government and CIA to organize a coup d’etat in the country. Operation PBSUCCESS sparked off decades of military totalitarianism and successive coup d’etats that have engrained a culture of violence and corruption, from which the country is still trying to recover.
Guatemala City is a sprawling, over-populated city facing problems with poverty, pollution, traffic and crime. Guatemala City has vast tracts of decrepit slums; areas that are generally the territory of the maras (local gangs).
According to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office,
“Guatemala has one of the highest violent crime rates in Latin America with around 40 murders a week in Guatemala City alone. Although the majority of serious crime involves local gangs, incidents are usually indiscriminate and can also occur in tourist areas. There are no “safe areas” in Guatemala City.”
La Limonada—while sounding delicious—is the largest urban slum in Guatemala. Home to over 60,000 people, La Limonada is considered a “Red Zone” for its dangerous neighborhoods, and is rarely frequented by law enforcement agencies.
Guatemala City is dangerous to the point that it is not uncommon to see shotgun-toting security guards guarding public areas as innocuous as fast food restaurants. Giant man-eating sink holes—also a threat.
Avoid Dave’s house on Dundas and Jesse St. Dave hasn’t cleaned it in months, he’s a shitty host, and doesn’t use coasters. Other than that, it’s goody-two-shoes Australia, there’s nothing to see there except a well managed economy and spiders the size of Jeeps