Tuesday, August 31, 2010

squatter TV in Buenos Aires

Residents of the Buenos Aires squatter community called Villa 31 have started a TV station, the Latin American Herald Tribune reports.

The new station is called Mundo Villa, and the article says it will offer original programming plus shows from three countries that many of the residents of Villa 31 hail from: Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru. "There are 25 guys in the neighborhood working to gather news, while journalism workshops are being given by students from different universities," said Mundo Villa TV director Victor Ramos.

The paper reports the station will be available to 1500 households--a number that seems suspiciously small given that a local cooperative claims the neighborhood's population is more than 120,000.

Ramos said his group would be meeting with the head of TV-Roc, the cable franchise that brings signal to Rocinha, most famous favela in Rio de Janeiro, to establish "a network of channels from Latin American slums."

When I was in Rocinha in 2001, TV-Roc did no original news programming. Perhaps that's changed. Does anyone know? Doew anyone know of other efforts by residents of squatter communities anywhere else in the world to produce news programs?

Monday, August 30, 2010

more Murambatsvina?

Another violent raid on a squatter community in Harare leaves 100 families homeless, the Zimbabwe Standard reports. Police burned scores of shacks, and arrested 55 people, though a department spokesman later denied any knowledge of the raid.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

thousands of squatters In New Orleans

Three to six thousand New Orleans residents are living as squatters, a house-by-house survey of the crescent city has revealed. The Times-Picayune reports.

UNITY, a local non-profit, surveyed 55,000 derelict buildings on 500 blocks chosen at random throughout the city. Among its interesting findings, the proportion of squatters in New Orleans who are elderly is four times the national average for homeless people--11.3 percent in NOLA vs. 2.8 percent throughout the US. The article suggests that these older squatters stay out of the city's shelter system because they want to "avoid the hubbub of traditional homeless shelters, preferring to hole up in vacant homes in familiar areas."

This is totally understandable. How sad, then, that the solution UNITY proposes amounts to more of what the squatters fear: "increased funding for case workers, homeless shelters and mental health services, as well as more assistance for moderate and low-income homeowners still trying to repair their houses."

Why not a program that works with the squatters to empower them to join together to bring the houses where they are currently encamped up to code? The fact that one in ten of these squatters is over 62 doesn't mean these people don't have skills to help the city rebuild.

Friday, August 20, 2010

the slippery slope

The Liberian Daily Observer editorializes against squatters who live around Monrovia's Ducor Intercontinental Hotel and are resisting government efforts to evict them. The squatters recently demonstrated at the hotel, brandishing sticks and broken bottles as well as chanting slogans and holding placards, the newspaper reports.

The key to the paper's argument:
Those who are resisting government's efforts should know that it is government's responsibility to give and assure protection to its people. It is also government's obligation to seek enabling conditions for economic growth and development. Mamba Point and the Ducor area have long been set aside as prime areas for hotels, embassies and restaurants. Should it now abandon its plan for economic development to satisfy squatters and liars? ... No government worth its salt should surrender to cabal of stick-wielding humbugs. They must be made to see the wisdom of government's plans and what social and national benefits will accrue there from.

This is trickle-down economics at its worst. It's simply disingenuous to say that social benefits will result from luxury redevelopment of the area. There may be some small economic advantage for the nation (though the redevelopment effort is likely induced through government subsidies that negate any real contribution to the national or local treasury), but luxury development simply engenders more luxury development and eats up an inordinate amount of government services.

The history of the site demands more. The Ducor closed in 1989 due to instability and violence in the country. It was occupied by squatters for better than a decade, as were the areas around it. Fairness for those who were most battered by Liberia's 14-year-long civil war demands that the government seek out a middle ground. Perhaps the squatters can be given the tools to rebuild on an area near the hotel. Or the government can provide relocation housing near enough to the center of the city for the squatters to retain their jobs.

Summarily evicting people who have lived there for better than a decade is not a development policy. Expecting that people quietly accept their annihilation is inhumane.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

let the dead bury the dead

How's this for life in South Africa's capital? A squatter community is using a slimy, algae-filled pond to wash their clothes, the Sowetan newspaper reports.
Jacob van Gardeneren, of Lawyers for Human Rights, said: "The surrounding neighbourhoods used typical excuses to justify their involvement in these evictions - such as that the informal settlement hosts criminals. The reality is that this informal settlement hosts their gardeners, domestic workers and construction workers, who are often paid so poorly they cannot afford to travel home every day."
The squatters are threatened with eviction because the land had been allocated for the expansion of a nearby cemetery. Thus the dead have more rights in life than the living.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

pushing the poor to the fringes

That's the story in Cairo, as documented in this article from the Los Angeles Times. The city is creating a comprehensive development plan, one which residents fear means removal, not renewal.

As one former municipal official told the paper, "The best solution would be first to prevent the spreading of any further slums, then to develop the existing slums from the inside rather than tearing them down." Still, his words ring hollow too: preventing the spread of squatter encampments requires creating a vast supply of affordable housing--something that governments and developers have never shown the ability to do on the scale required.

But officials can, of course, seize land in the same squatter areas for their own purposes. The article ends with the vision of a luxurious new sports facility. But locals "couldn't use it. It was for the children of government and military employees. Membership required."

Thus inequities perpetuate themselves.

slum tourism

A take on the phenomenon, courtesy of a Kibera resident and Wesleyan student, in The New York Times.

I've always thought that the impulse to connect is laudable, but that most tours through squatter communities amount to little more than gawking and taking photos.

Of course, it's also true that very few charities and NGOs are transparent, either.