Friday, March 26, 2010

learning from Phnom Penh

This article from The National, an English-language paper from Abu Dhabi, offers a fascinating squatter history of the Cambodian capital. In the decade after the Khmer Rouge were overthrown, the city developed on a self-built model--but over the last 20 years, more than ten percent of Phnom Penh's residents have been displaced.

Among the great points made by writer John Gravois:

1. After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, "the Vietnamese made a bold, perhaps brilliant move: they rendered all prior property claims in the city null and void....Phnom Penh was opened up for settlement on a “first-come, first-serve” basis. All property still technically belonged to the state; real estate transactions were illegal. This period of “spontaneous resettlement” produced an otherworldly urban landscape. What qualified as a dwelling was left up to the imagination; the city essentially presented a set of containers and surfaces. And so, for example, more than 15,000 people across Phnom Penh still live on rooftops; the largest such settlement, called Bloc Tanpa, was home to more than 1,000 people, who lived in a dense shantytown atop a single apartment building until it was destroyed by a fire in 2002. The rooftop – located just a few blocks from the city’s Central Market – boasted its own local government, schools and a village square, all connected to the street below by a single dingy stairwell." Amazing: a squatter city, by design.

2. "For the urban poor, property takes a back seat to proximity." A vital point. People need to live close to where they can make money. Otherwise, the commute may cost more than the money they make.

3. "The current population of the Jakarta metropolitan area is larger than that of the world at the time of the French Revolution. A wave of humanity this large cannot be excluded forever, and the future of the developing world may depend on whether its cities make peace with the slums in their midst." A crucial truth: social and economic inclusion is key to the future of the world's cities.

Monday, March 22, 2010

railway eviction planned

Once again, the Kenya Railways Corporation is pushing to evict squatters in a 200 foot wide swathe around its train tracks, The Nation reports.

Among the crazy allegations: that a derailment in Kibera last December that killed two people, was caused by 'flying toilets' -- the waste disposal method of last resort in squatter communities that don't have toilets or sewers: people defecate in a plastic bag, tie it closed, and fling it as far from their homes as possible.

The people operating the rail line have never worked to keep the tracks clean and clear. They have never offered for form a partnership with communities like Kibera, to find solutions or build replacement homes for those around the tracks, or, even, as one commenter on The Nation article pointed out, to build toilets so people would not have to shit in plastic bags.

The only solution they push for is summary eviction.

It's an awful, short-sighted, and anti-human policy.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Squatters and the World Cup

South African squatters are suggesting that they will protest during the soccer World Cup to dramatize the lack of affordable housing and horribly deprived and neglected condition of their communities.

Understandable. After all, the South African government and various municipalities are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the Football World Cup, including, the Telegraph notes, $170 million just for security.

But what a difference a different newspaper makes. Here's the lede from the coverage in The Star: "Poor and homeless South Africans are threatening to turn the World Cup into a bloodbath by unleashing a wave of riots during the tournament."

A bloodbath? Riots?

The Star seems to believe that people have no right to point out the horrible inequity of spending millions for the sporting event while spending almost nothing for people's homes and communities.