Saturday, October 28, 2006

flinging the shit

Outsiders always seem fascinated by the concept of 'flying toilets' -- the practice in some Kenyan communities that lack water and sewers, of people defecating in plastic bags and flinging them as far from their homes as possible. Inter Press Service News Agency revisits the story to see whether flying toilets are still in use in 2006.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

How Sensitive

The city of Lagos, Nigeria intends to get rid of nine squatter communities. The Vanguard newspaper reports that it'll be relocation with representation. "We are collaborating with the people," Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Bolaji Abosede, told the paper during a ceremony honoring World Habitat Day in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

Does anyone -- perhaps someone in Lagos -- have more information?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Stand, my boy, everything is for our home!

Ercüment Çelik, a Turkish scholar doing a PHD in Sociology at Freiburg University in Germany, and working on informal workers and new social movements, recently returned to Turkey and visited two communities in Ankara that are under threat of eviction and demolition.

Squatters there are being offered a truly Faustian bargain: pay more than they can afford for a small flat in their redeveloped communities or accept forced removal to a new community on the outskirts of town, where they will also have to pay too much for the right to live.

Ercüment was kind enough to send this brief dispatch from the front lines:

Since June 27th, people who live in slums (gecekondu) in the Çöplük and İlker quarters of Ankara have been running an anti-eviction campaign against the urban transition project of the central municipality. They are saying: "We want neither palaces nor villas; we only want houses in which we can live as human beings." The municipality is demolishing all slums and constructing luxurious flats and villas instead. The city's urban planning scheme puts forward the image of a city without slums. Does this mean a city without poor people? Of course not!

Most of the people who live in the gecekondu communities survive on minimum wage or pensions. Their families are quite large and unemployment is high. Their priority is to survive, and only secondarily to live in well-planned communities. Otherwise, who doesn’t want to have well-conditioned housing? These people are actually not against the idea of the transition of urban areas, but they are against being unjustly treated.

Most of the residents don’t have deeds to their parcels. When they built their houses, they were a voting block for the politicians. That’s why they were tolerated for many years. Many politicians promised to provide legal title deeds, particularly when they were running to become a member of parliament or a mayor in these districts. Now the poor people are being kicked out of their homes. The municipality offers them the opportunity to buy these new flats, but how can they afford it?

The municipality gives them two options: people who have deeds and more than 400 m² of land are going to get a 100 m² flat. The ones who have less than 400 m² have to pay approximately $300 per m² in four years to the municipality to own a flat. The people who do not have a deed will be removed to Doğu Kent, a new settlement very far from the city centre. They are being offered the opportunity to buy plots in this area, which are 200-250 m², and the debt can be paid in ten years. The reality is that most of the people don’t have deeds and have very small pieces of land. Moreover, if a person has an income (whether minimum wage or pension) of approximately $250, how can he or she pay $500 monthly to own a flat on the same land on which they have been living. It is obvious that they will be unjustly indebted.

The poor people are responding by organising themselves under community organisations called Halkevleri (People’s Houses), and campaigning for their housing rights. They demand that the government modify the requirements by reducing the 400 m² land requirement to 200 m² and the $300 fee to $35. In addition, they want demolitions to cease and new homes to be built on the same land where they have been living.

Of 3,000 houses in these communities, 500 have already been destroyed. The people who accepted the municipality's conditions and left their homes already regret that decision, since they have difficulties paying their debts. The ones who are resisting the push to get them out meet more problems day by day. Instead of listening to their demands, Melih Gökçek, the mayor of the central municipality, cut people’s water, sent gangsters to these areas, and attempted to force the residents to sign the agreements. People see strangers in their neighbourhood at night, hear gun shuts, and receive telephone threats from unknown people.

In Turkey, anti-eviction protests have taken place very often. But this may be the first time that the poor people in the gecekondu communities are building an organised movement and expressing their demands in a long-run campaign. These movements also give new functions to community organisations like Halkevleri, which have been voiceless for years. New social movements are born at the heart of the gecekondu communities. The marginalised people are coming together and calling for justice, a better life. It seems that this time they are not ready to give up easily.

During the protests in front of the Municipal Building, a woman joined the protest with her little son. It was very hot, they had walked quite a long way, and the little boy became tired and started crying. The mother, however, encouraged him to resist the urge to cry. "Stand, my boy," she said. "Everything is for our home!"

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Deal or No Deal

Several hundreds of African immigrants who've been living in a local gymnasium after being evicted from their squat by the French government have agreed to leave the facility with only vague promises and no guarantee they will not be deported, the World Socialist Website reports. The group reportedly made a deal with the government because six of their members had engaged in a 42-day hunger strike and were in danger of grave illness if no solution was found.

Fear of Flying

It looks like Mumbai International Airport Ltd. expects 85,000 squatter families that have lived on the margins of the airport property for years to relocate, perhaps to the very edge of the city, Mumbai Newsline reports. Asked about the squatters' demand that they receive new housing on the airport grounds where they have been living, an airport company spokesman termed it "a little difficult."

Sunday, October 01, 2006

World Habitat Day -- October 2nd

You probably won't find it on most calendars, but October 2nd is World Habitat Day. Let's keep track of how many evictions are reported.

I've been thinking about what people can do to ensure that people do have the right to shelter. The International Alliance of Inhabitants has called for this week to constitute World Zero Eviction Days in counterpoint to World Habitat Day. It's a great idea, but when I read the fine print, I thing something's missing: a tough-nosed political strategy for making the demand a reality.

Here's my modest proposal: tell the World Bank, let's create a concrete plan to force the IMF, the G-7, the U.S. State Department's Agency for International Development, and the U.N. Development Program (feel free to add ot the list) to agree to the following demand: No money for any country or municipality that engages in forced evictions.

Let's starve those horrible regimes that push people from their homes and force them to acknowledge housing as a human right.

Asia's largest slum -- or real estate gold?

Another article on the massive redevelopment planned for Dharavi, this one from the Indian Express. It may well be, as Bryan Finoki suggests on archinect 'the world's most ambitious urban renewal plan.' [thanks to Bryan for the link.]

Still, when I hear "plush housing, malls, multiplexes, pottery institutes, leather designing centres, a proposed cricket museum and stadium, gardens, parks and world class public transport" in an area ten times the size of the Nariman Point office zone in downtown Mumbai, I can't help but hear the ugly footfalls of gentrification.

A sidebar on life in Dharavi makes the point: "Builders get 535 acres of prime land, in return for providing free housing to 52,000 families—-plus hospitals, schools, international craft villages, peace parks, art galleries, an experimental theatre and a cricket museum! But since the 'apartments' need be no more than 225 sq ft each, and the minimum distance between two buildings no more than five metres, there will be quite a bit of surplus land. A cool two crore sq ft, to be exact [that's 20 million square feet, for those not initiated in Indian numerology], which builders may sell in the commercial market. In addition, the Government has granted an unprecedented Floor Space Index (the ratio of total floor area to the plot size) of four—-considerably higher than Mumbai’s standard 1.3—-as a 'bait' to potential developers. No wonder the sharks can’t wait to bite. And with Rs 2,700 crore [$574 million] expected to land in the official kitty, neither can the state government."

Sounds like the only people getting maximum value here are the big real estate moguls of the Maximum City.