Tuesday, May 30, 2006


In Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, the number of squatters has incresed from 275,000 to 3.4 million over the past 30 years. Their communities occupy only 5.1 percent of the city's total land but are home to 37.4 percent of the city's population. And, while the total population density in the city is 121 people per acre, you have to multiply that by 7 in the shantytowns, which boast 891 persons per acre.

Amazingly (and contrary to the myth that there's an absolutely bleak future for squatters) more than half of these people have been able to knock down their mud and cardboard dwellings and rebuild them from brick.

You can read more on a recent census of the Dhaka's shanties (funded in part by the United States Agency for International Development!!!) in The Daily Star.


Anonymous said...

My name is Patrice and I'm an architecture student at Cornell University (unfortunately I missed your lecture last semester, I was abroad). Sorry to be off topic, but I read Shadow Cities a while back and have always wanted to ask these questions. First, I was wondering if you ever considered including an analysis of Kowloon Walled City in the book; I thought it might be interesting to consider the history of this legendary informal settlement in relation to other squatter communities in different parts of the world. Also I was wondering, did you consider including info on contemporary squatting in the developed world (the States, Europe,..)? I was thinking that this to might be interesting in comparison, though it's of a wholely different scale and typology.
ps- Thanks for the terrific book and blog. They've been a tremendous help and inspiration :-D

rn said...

Hi Patrice. Thanks for your post and your good questions.

1. I didn't include the Kowloon Walled City in Shadow Cities for two basic reasons
--it wasn't really a squatter community. It may have been unplanned and therefore quasi-illegal or informal, but it was not built by squatters.
--it no longer exists and therefore I had no way of getting first-hand info on everyday life there. One of the sad things I have learned from my time in the developing world is that much of the writing about squatter areas and informal settlements is inaccurate and strangely misleading.
--As for contemporary squatters in the developed world, as you note, it really is a different phenomenon, involving different types of people (very few families) and different struggles (squatters in the west often had better ties to the political system.) I have covered squatters in New York and several other cities in my writings for newspapers and magazines. And, during the 1980s, I helped move people into the vacant apartments in a partially occupied city-owned building in New York. We were ultimately unsuccessful--but learned some extremely valuable lessons.