Monday, January 14, 2008

A big year for the wrecking ball

This excellent article from Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper notes that governments in Mumbai, India and Istanbul, Turkey are set to demolish millions of squatter homes to make way for highrises, in a misguided attempt to modernize their cities.

In both cities, it seems like the government is using the rhetoric of improvement and redevelopment to shift land from being held by largely poor squatters to being owned by large real estate establishments. The impact on the squatters, it seems, is just collateral damage (see photo of Nehru Nagar in Mumbai).

Yet the article offers a modest way forward:

"The best plans generally let the slum dwellers themselves make the main decisions in planning their future. You should provide clean water, toilets, electricity, garbage collection and disposal, and maybe let people build their own houses if they can using materials that you can provide," says Aprodicio Laquian, the Filipino-Canadian planner who practically invented the idea of slum-dweller-designed urban rehabilitation in the 1960s and is now at the University of British Columbia.

"Eventually," Mr. Laquian says, "you want to make available a better sort of housing, a five-storey walk-up apartment, but planned according to the needs of the community, not by some central plan."

An amazing and simple statement of what ought to be the norm in urban development. Instead, it's a revolutionary thought. How many people need to get evicted before the world understands?


Toure Zeigler said...

Ironically the elimination of squatter homes will just push out residents to other crowded slums or squatter developments which will make the situation even worse for these urban places

Kerchina said...

This is another great article on squatters that everyone should check out:

-Christina Luster

Anonymous said...

Mumbai is the major city in India where the people density is unimaginable, and there are hundreds of slums around. The only solution government has to step in and take action...
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rn said...

BC planning: you've gotten the point. So called 'slum redevelopment' often results in downraiding, where middle-class folks come in to snap up below-market-price properties. This form of gentrification does simply push the poor people out to the margins of their cities.

Kerchina: Thanks for the great article on refugees and migrants, who are often among the most desperate people on the planet.

John: No one's arguing against government action. The question is whether government should be working with squatters to determine what they want and how to improve their homes or whether it is best to use a one-size-fits-all response that will demolish everything adn rebuild in a way that will limit families to 225 square feet and break longstanding community relationships. In Dharavi, the redevelopment is more like a traditional real estate deal, stacking the squatters in highrises and freeing up adjacent property for market rate development.

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Anonymous said...

Do you know of any organizations in Istanbul working to support the squatters (in Sulukule and elsewhere)? I live here now and want to get involved, but I speak very little Turkish so my searches are coming up with nothing.

Acumensch said...

Everyone is gentrifying in the race for development.

PS. I like your blog, it's my first time here. Can you give me links to some theory behind squatting?

rn said...

Acumensch: I don't know that anyone's written a 'philosophy of the squat.' And though it might be really great if someone did, I don't know that it's necessary, as squatting is a result, mostly, of necessity not theory.

There are a couple of indispensible books: For rural to urban migration, I recommend John Berger's great trilogy of novels: Pig Earth, Once in Europa, and Lilac and Flag. They're not theory, but they're incredibly thoughtful. Both Latife Tekin (from Turkey) and Patrick Chamoiseau (from Martinique) have written impressive novels of the squatter reality.

For some visionary (though idealistic) ideas on how self-organization can reach beyond labor and beyond ideology, I recommend some of the work of Andre Gorz (though, sadly, some of his salient later texts have yet to be translated into English).

Let me put some more thought into this and I'm sure I'll come up with more.