Thursday, January 21, 2010

Black Thursday

That's the day the big classified newspaper in Paris comes out with all the housing ads, and it's a horrible day for apartment seekers. The squatter group Jeudi Noir has now occupied #1 Place des Vosges. The Guardian calls it "a luxurious Parisian address which once housed Madame de Sévigné and Isadora Duncan." Jeudi Noir reports that the building has been empty for 44 years.

The Guardian's Jessica Reed writes: "It might be hard to immediately sympathise with squatters – the right to own property runs so deep in modern western society that anything challenging the status quo is bound to make waves. I would, however, question the intentions and principles of those willing to let their own buildings decay uninhabited for 40 years while homeless people die every winter from exposure. How to rationalise that? I struggle to find any excuse for leaving the most impoverished section of the population out in the cold, when buildings go unused and unlet for very long periods of time."

Four decades? Zut alors, it's about time someone took it over.

Cité Soleil

The Independent offers a clear-eyed view of the situation in the notorious Port-au-Prince shantytown.
"We don't have doctors, we don't have food, we don't have water," said Louis Jean Jaris, a 29-year-old resident. "The aid comes to Haiti, but it goes elsewhere. In Cité Soleil we are all victims, just like everyone else, but compared to the rest of the country, we are a low priority. To the people in power, we are not considered to be victims."

Black Hawk helicopters were thundering overhead yesterday, taking aid from the airport to desperate survivors. But the shanty town does not have an official food aid distribution post, and only one small water truck was to be found on the streets, surrounded by a fractious crowd.

Small amounts of supplies are of course available, to those who have money. But Cité Soleil's biggest employer, a garment factory, has yet to reopen, and most locals are instead forced to walk miles into central Port-au-Prince in search of handouts. So far, the dysfunctional international aid effort means they are very lucky to find any.
One significant thing the article doesn't say: whether Cité Soleil experienced much destruction due to the quake. There's no doubt that the people there are victims, just like everyone else, but I wonder if the smaller-scale structures of the squatter community were extensively damaged.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

can solar help squatters?

The Times of London thinks so.

It's an appealing idea: The NGO SolarAid has organized a program to bring solar panels and bulbs to Kibera, a community where most people have no electricity, and those that do have illegal hookups that short out regularly and barely power a feeble bulb.

A few caveats and thoughts:

1. cost: "the panels and attachments were sourced in Switzerland, where a well-wisher subsidised them to bring the price down."

2. Though it's not clear whether this is with the subsidy or without, "they cost about 2,500 shillings," which, according to the article, is the cost of about five months worth of kerosene. That works out to be $33, which is a huge amount for most people in Kibera. After all, Josephine Anangwe, the mother who is mentioned at the beginning of the article, survives on her husband's 750 shillings-a-week salary. So it would take 1/4 to 1/3 one month of her family's yearly earnings to buy the solar set-up. This is similar to what I discovered about stoves when I was living in Kibera. I bought a set-up offered at the local Total/Fina gas station--$50 for a small stove and a bottle of gas. That single gas bottle lasted me almost three months. Over the course of a year, the gas bottles would be cheaper than charcoal and kerosene, which most people used to light fires for cooking. But few in Kibera had $50 to pay for the stove. So they continued to cook with charcoal and kerosene. And this arrangement made me wonder: the tiny burner and gas bottle that I used when I lived in a gecekondu community in Turkey cost $8. Why was Kenya six times more expensive?

3. Though I have no idea if this is true, one commenter pointed out that kerosene fumes, though toxic, serve as a mosquito repellent and thus help reduce the prevalence of malaria & dengue and other insect-borne ailments.

4. A communal charger--perhaps available at a church or through a merry-go-round (a group of women who pool money)--might be a way to bring down the cost for a family.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

evicted in Madrid

Police in the Spanish capital have moved against El Patio Maravillas, a building which has been occupied by squatters since 2007, Typically Spanish reports.

A similar action last year failed because of public resistance. What accounts for the difference this year, I don't know.

The squat apparently was a popular and busy cultural center, but people who lived nearby on Calle del Acuerdo in the university neighborhood called Malasaña routinely complained about noise.

Organizers of the squat have vowed on their website (in Spanish) to continue their organizing activities.