William Gibson's Bridge trilogy is incredible because of the portrait of post-decline life it paints: Thousands of people living in an outcast society extra-legally built within and upon the Bay Bridge in San Francisco.
But you needn't look to fiction to find such a strikingly modern version of a slum. In the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, a city which has seen a couple decades of economic turmoil, as many as 2,500 people have taken residence in the Centro Financiero Confinanzas, an unfinished skyscraper that's also known as the Tower of David.
The 45-story building was original funded in the early 90s by financier David Brillembourg, for whom the tower is named. He died in 1993, and when Venezuela's banking crisis hit in 1994, the building—which was half-finished, lacking elevators, installed utilities, and guard rails—the government took it over. Thus it sat until 2007, when a former gang member turned pastor led its first occupants into the building.
As Vocativ's killer doc shows, the building has turned into its own community since then, with jury-rigged electricity, plumbing, and even satellite dishes installed by its many squatters. People live as high as the 28th story, with bodegas and even an unlicensed dentist servicing the community.
It's not an easy life, as the Vocativ folks show. The first ten stories can be ridden up with motorcycles, but from there, it's all stairs, all the time. Safety, or the lack thereof, is a constant threat to families with young ones. And all the while, there's a constant drumbeat from locals who want the squatters booted.
Partially, that's because the tower stands as an example of Venezuela's economic struggles. Max Fisher writes that while former President Hugo Chavez wasn't in power during the banking collapse, the tower is a reminder of Chavez's inability to bring the country back to the highs that got the skyscraper halfway built in the first place. And until things get better, squatters will remain stacked up in the Tower of David.