Thursday, April 30, 2009

EU squatters

Two thousand illegal migrants from Afghanistan are camped out in an shantytown in the port city of Patras, Greece, trying to stow away on a truck or boat heading to other European countries. The Christian Science Monitor has the story.

Calais, in northern France, also has an immigrant squatter community of people hoping to jump a boat across the English Channel (aka La Manche) to the U.K.

Both Greece and France have vowed to demolish the squatter encampment. So where will the migrants go?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

don't blame the squatters

When I was in Istanbul for the first time, in 1995, families were living in the crumbling walls of the almost completely ruined Byzantine-era Bukaleon Palace near Sultanahmet. I watched them from the balcony of my cheap hotel, and, on one of my free days, poked around the rubble of the palace walls.

Now, as Istanbul pretties itself in preparation for its 2010 designation as European Capital of Culture, the press has discovered the squatters--and it wants them out. Hurriyet offers, in English, an elaboration of a story that apparently ran first in Milliyet.

Yes the palace is historically significant, built in 842 on order of the Byzantine Emperor Emperor Iustinianus II.

But the government demolished the main palace almost a century ago to make way for the central train station. And it allowed the insanely luxurious Four Seasons Hotel to encroach on top of significant portions of the outbuildings and grounds.

If the government has had no interest in this place for decades, why blame the squatters now? Perhaps the government should look inward, at its economic policies, which still deny the mass of people a chance at legal housing.

One of the great things about Istanbul is that it hasn't completely fetishized its incredible history. The great buildings are there--in all stages of preservation and decay. I remember stumbling on a massive commercial building on a back street in Galata. It was crumbling, home to maritime and industrial firms--businesses selling anchors and lengths of chain and supplies for ships. Yet it was clear the building was significant. To enter was to be exalted. Back home, I looked in my architectural guide and discovered that it had been designed by Mimar Sinan, whose work is the root of Ottoman architecture. It was still being used by firms that were probably not all that different than the ones that used it in Sinan's time. It was refreshing to see a great building that was still quietly fulfilling its original function almost five centuries on.

Monday, April 27, 2009

the squatter index

One third of the people in Jamaica are squatters, Jamaica's Minister of Water and Housing has said. An Op-Ed in The Gleaner responds by calling for a new measure of economic progress: The Squatter Index.

If Jamaica's development is to be properly assessed, there is a need for a 'Squatter Index'. Certainly, the level of squatting is an indication of how far we have travelled from slavery; how much progress we have made since Paul Bogle and George William Gordon were martyred; what we have achieved in terms of development since Independence in long as the problem of squatting is shoved to the peripheries of the national agenda, as long as we fail to measure progress by the level of squatting, development will continue to elude us.

This is a nifty idea for all developing countries. Working with the squatters to improve their communities is not just humane, it's wise economics and politics. It offers a path to true development.

Friday, April 24, 2009

squatters squatting again

Two hundred residents of a squatter community in the Karoo town of Oudtshoorn, South Africa have seized new homes in a government-sponsored development nearby, The Sowetan reports.

Residents assert that the government has ignored the official waiting list and has been taking cash payoffs and tribute (slagding--animals destined for slaughter) from people who want the homes.

Hester and Benjamin Olifant, who say they have been on the government's housing waiting list since 1991, are among the invaders. When they joined the list, their daughter Vanessa was four. She is 22 now and still shares a small room with her 17-year-old brother, Bennet.

Many of the squatters have been living in illegal backyard shacks, made from corrugated tin. They pay rent to the owners of the main house and even having to share bathrooms with the people they rent from. "We knew that if we were to get a house of our own we would have to just go and take it," Hester said.

The squatters say that when they opened some of these new concrete houses, they found sheep and donkeys inside.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

is this a crime?



baghdad shantytown

I don't know any more info than the caption provides: Shantytown of recyclers: Iraqi boys peer through the widow of their makeshift home in Baghdad's al-Dora slum. One hundred and seventy homeless families live in the slum, surviving on the little money they can make by collecting recyclables. (AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP/Getty Images)

Can anyone elaborate?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

women's rights & squatters' rights

Three-quarters of the leaders of squatter communities in Chile are women, The Valparaiso Times reports. And, according to a study of almost 300 shantytowns by the housing NGO Un Techo Para Chile, half of the squatter leaders are housewives. The study also showed that almost 55 percent of the leaders of shantytowns had never finished primary school. "This new study is important not only because it is a wide and modern picture of the reality in regards to shantytowns leaders, but also because it is the only study in Chile able to show leaders’ interests, motivations and environments," said Javiera Pizarro, a leader in the study.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

fences and neighbors

Two municipalities in Argentina are engaged in a war of words over a security wall. San Isidro Mayor Gustavo Posse is building a wall to separate the residents of La Horqueta, in his town, from those in Villa Jardín, a squatter area in neighboring San Fernando. SF's Mayor Osvaldo Amieiro has filed for a court injunction against the barrier, calling it "an outdated Berlin wall" that is "discriminatory and xenophobic." The Buenos Aires Herald (registration required) and 3 News (New Zealand) have details.

The San Isidro Mayor says he is building the mile-long 9-foot-high barrier to block thieves based in the shantytown in San Fernando who prey on 33 rich families who live in La Horqueta. Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli condemned the wall, saying, sensibly, that "Crime is fought with more inclusion and not with discrimination."

Monday, April 06, 2009

serbia goes after the roma

Serbia is this year's lead nation for the Roma Decade, a political commitment to improve the socio-economic status and social inclusion of Roma people in Europe, but at the same time the Belgrade government has demolished a Roma squatter settlement to make way for an access road to a venue for the Student Games 2009, B92, youth radio in Belgrade reports. Mayor Dragan Đilas said the Roma, "could realize their rights if they really are citizens of Belgrade" and called their demand for new housing "blackmail."

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

brunei evicts

For decades, squatters in Seria, a town in the wealthy Sultanate of Brunei, have lived in peace. Now, since they are on oil company land, they are being told to expect eviction any day, reports the Borneo Bulletin.

Awang Ngabong Anak Matan has been living in his "temporary" house for over 18 years. Ten other family members, including his two grandchildren, aged one and two, are also staying in the dilapidated house. The 59-year-old man, who has been served with several eviction notices in the past from BSP (Brunei Shell Petroleum), lamented to the Bulletin that he "had no choice but to stay in the house because he has no place to go".
And check out the government's insulting offer to the squatters:
All the squatters who were served with eviction notices were instructed by the Land Department to apply for temporary stay licences at Kampong Lumut Tersusun, which is a squatter settlement area in Mukim Liang. The only catch is that all those who apply for the temporary stay licence at Kg Lumut Tersusun will need to fork out their own money to level the land within three months and construct a house within six months. If they fail to do so, they risk having their applications withdrawn. "This is absurd. We just don't have that kind of money to build a house within that limited period of time," said Awg Ngabong.

fences and forests

Rio de Janeiro plans to wall in several major favelas, in an attempt to prevent sprawl from wiping out the tropical forest, the Associated Press reports.

The article suggests that appoximately 205 hectares (506 acres) of Rio's urban rainforest were destroyed from 2005 to 2008, and says officials blame most of the destruction on the expansion of the favelas as more newcomers arrived from Brazil's interior. So the state government will erect seven miles of 10-ft-high barricades.

506 acres is a lot of land. I'd like to see the statistics on the expansion of major downtown favelas like Dona Marta, the one mentioned in the article, which is on a very steep hill overlooking the middle class neighborhood of Botafogo and doesn't have a lot of room to grow. And I'd like to compare that with the impact of development on the forest in the Barra de Tijuca (a wealthy district to the south) and the Baixada Fluminense, to the north.