Saturday, September 22, 2007

as if Dharavi hasn't changed in seven years

The Indian government has woken up to realize that many people have moved to Dharavi since 1995. Now, everyone living there prior to January 1, 2000, will be entitled to be rehoused by the developers seeking to remake the community as a high-price enclave. The Economic Times has the details.

But what about the people who moved in during the past seven-plus years?

I'm not a fan of the Dharavi redevelopment, which will uproot families (most will be banished to tiny and crude apartments in areas far further from the center of town and the places where they work), disrupt thousands of businesses, and generally privatize something that the people who live there should have control of. But still, if they're going to offer to rehouse people, shouldn't the developers rehouse everyone who lives there, no matter when they moved in.

Otherwise, the Dharavi plan simply amounts to a high-tech eviction.

Friday, September 21, 2007

'This is not democracy. This is not justice'

"I can't look after them while they are busy making children," developer Ricky Govender says of the South African squatters who are desperately trying to find a solution that will not render them homeless after decades of living on a ragged scrap of land called Motala Heights in Pinetown, just outside Durban.

"Ever since we became more aware of our rights and started fighting for them we have been living with this sense of threat from the landlord," responds resident Shamita Naidoo, who lives on a property adjacent to Govender. "He has sent me a letter saying I am prohibited from entering his land -- where my mother lives, in the house my parents built and where I was born. I will be arrested otherwise."

The city is cooperating with Govender and is attempting to force the squatters off their land with a vague promise of a new home 15 kilometers out of town.

The Mail & Guardian has the awful details.

The squatters have scheduled a march for civil & housing rights for Friday, 28 September 2007. "We are treated as if we do not belong in this country," the squatter organizing group Abahlali baseMjondolo said in press release. "We are treated as if the law is not for us, as if the land is not for us, as if the city is not for us, as if the electricity is not for us, as if the schools are not for us. This is not democracy. This is not justice. The City gives us no choice but to march."

Monday, September 17, 2007

who's failing to cooperate with whom?

Some South African squatters now face being penalized for refusing to "cooperate with government" if they protest their impending eviction, Martin Legassick writes in this article from The Cape Argus that has been posted to the Abahlali baseMjondolo website.

The squatters blocked the N2 freeway to protest the fact that they were being evicted to make way for N2 Gateway, a pet project of SA Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu. They also offered their own plan that would provide new housing without any forced evictions.

"Sisulu does not like the term 'forced removal,'" Legassick writes. "But what substantive difference is there in her present search for means of 'compulsion', from the apartheid government of the 1970s wanting to forcibly evict Crossroads residents out of Cape Town altogether?"

Good question.

Seems to me it's Sisulu and the government that is failing to cooperate with the squatters.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

the new new orleans

I missed these pieces when they first came out.

an AP writer's editorial on New Orleans


and AP dispatch on squatting in New Orleans

What these emotionally wrenching articles show is the incredibly injustice of allowing New Orleans to rot.

I had the idea, right after Hurricane Katrina smashed through the city, that people should return to squat the land. I wanted activists to organize tent cities in the lower 9th and throughout the most devastated areas. The idea was tactical, not practical--the concept being to show the politicos and the rest of America that the people of New Orleans were refusing to relinquish their city. I thought that the idea of a shantytown right in the good old US of A would shame the country into action.

"No one knows exactly how many people have taken refuge in abandoned buildings, but unprecedented increases in trespassing arrests and vacant-building fires suggest there could be thousands" says the AP article.

The whole city is a shantytown. And does anyone out there care?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

ragpicking or recycling

How's this for an interesting fact: "More than 95 percent of New Delhi has no formal system of house-to-house garbage collection, so it falls to the city's ragpickers, one of India's poorest and most marginalized groups, to provide this basic service for fellow citizens."

That the situation in India's capital city, according to dispatch from the International Herald Tribune.

The city is planning to celebrate Gandhi's birthday on October 2nd by giving 6,000 ragpickers gloves, aprons and boots. The ragpickers, understandably, say they'd prefer wages, social security, pensions, health care, uniforms they hope will discourage police harassment, education for their children, and decent housing.

Given that most of the city has no sanitation services, the people in the rag trade are, in a sense, public servants. Shouldn't they be treated that way? "If we stop, who is going to do this work instead of us?" Mohamad Nazir, one of the ragpickers, told the Herald Tribune. "They know they won't find other people who are willing. Within two days the whole city would be stinking and filthy."

what it takes to be a megacity

Once again, the World Bank has allocated around $200 million for 'slum upgrading' in Lagos, Nigeria, the Daily Sun reports. Nine communities--Agege, Ajegunle, Amukoko, Badia, Bariga, Ijeshatedo/Itire, Ilaje, Iwaya and Makoko--are supposed to receive new infrastructure and unspecified other improvements under the deal.

But what does this mean? What does the upgrading entail? And, given that the city supplies neither water nor electricity (most people with enough money sink boreholes to tap underground water and run diesel generators to get their electricity), what kinds of infrastructure improvements are contemplated. Further, what will happen to the current residents during and after the work? And, finally, why is this all taking place, as the newspaper notes, in order to "impact positively on Lagos as a whole in its quest to attain a mega city status?" What does that mean?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

'urban villages'

That's what the Chinese call haphazard and convoluted old urban neighborhoods that have historically functioned as places where migrants can get a foothold in the city.

I don't yet know the nature of land holdings in these communities, but I have visited several in Guangzhou. They are built quite like squatter communities--with lanes only wide enough for a bicycle cart and buildings with balconies that cantilever so far out over the alleys that two neighbors could have an affair without ever leaving their respective homes. Like squatter communities all over the world (and like Italian renaissance hill towns), the alleys sometimes make abrupt twists, jutting around this or that projecting building. It's possible to enter these communities and never figure out how to get out. They are full of surprising stores and restaurants and computer centers and tea shops and temples and groceries and beauty salons. Which is to say, they are full of life.

Guangzhou's 138 urban villages are almost all threatened by nearby luxury developments. Liede, a community hard by the Pearl River (and pictured in the photos above during the festival held when the River rises and washes over the neighborhood's embankments and into its streets and houses), has almost been emptied, and is slated to be destroyed by October 15th. Xiancun, not far away, is sandwiched between three luxury developments and is next for the wrecking ball. Shipai, which abuts the fancy Tianhe Commuter Shopping District, is still vibrant and fully functional, but the existence of this land so near to the new central business district must have some developers panting.

I don't think the Guangzhou authorities quite understand what will be lost if these communities go.

I'll write more on these fascinating communities as I learn more.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Irish land activism

Some squatters in Dublin have taken lucrative payouts to leave their homes. Others have filed adverse possession claims. The Irish Independent has details.

people vs. pine scent

Why are these disputes always binary. Trees vs. Squatters. That sort of thing.

I understand why Philippine authorities want to restore watersheds and green areas in cities. But the best way of doing this is not by demonizing squatters (see this article from the Inquirer) but by working with them. Yes, plant a million trees. But how about getting the squatters into the act and letting them plant the trees. Join with the squatters and watch environmental activism truly take root.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Metro Manila stomping on squatters

Two articles from the local press show that authorities in the Philippine capital are ripping down squatter settlements without working with these communities to find alternative solutions or to provide replacement housing.

The Inquirer

the Manila Times.

the news from 4200 BC

There were squatters in urban Syria 6,200 years ago, according to new archaeological evidence reviewed in this article from Scientific American. Contrary to the traditional myth of kings founding cities, "the northern Mesopotamian metropolis at Tell Brak shows a more haphazard, perhaps squatter-promoted, growth pattern," the article notes. The dig at Tell Brak suggests that squatters occupied the urban periphery, much as squatters do around major cities in the developing world today. Then, the squatter communities grew towards the city as the city grew out to meet them. "Kings were quick to take credit for founding cities," archaeologist Jason Ur of Harvard University tells SciAm. "We're taking royal inscriptions at their word, which could be a bad thing to do."

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


To all of you who wonder what has become of me and why the blog has been dormant for a month: I am in Guangzhou, China and am a victim of the 'great firewall of China' which seems to block all of blogger's services. If this post works, you can find me via email at: squattercity at yahoo dot com