Friday, December 14, 2012

'living on Chiney man land until him decide fi run we'

That's the desperate situation of squatters in Jamaica. With a close-to 50 percent increase in the number of families living as squatters over the past decade, the government is turning punitive. Dr Morais Guy, minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing, says the government is proposing to implement a modern trespass act to replace the permissive 160-year-old law that dates to the end of slavery.

The Gleaner reports on the difficult situation of several squatters in Rasta City, a shack community in Clarendon.

Question for the government: if more and more people are becoming squatters, how do you expect turning them into criminals will help?

Rome: Open for Squatting

According to government statistics, there are 2,850 squatter-occupied buildings in Rome. Reuters reports on one, a former public archives building which is now occupied by 140 families. Mariangela Schiena and her boyfriend
Henok Mulugeta moved in six months ago, after they lost their retail jobs. Unemployment among young people has passed 35 percent and those who do have jobs are often hired only on temporary contracts with limited benefits.

The squatters are pooling their money and sprucing up the building for Christmas. Schiena and Mulugeta have been working cash-in-hand jobs as cleaners and have managed to furnish their room with appliances, a television (complete with cable subscription), and a video game console.

The danger is that Rome is also enforcing more evictions -- pushing people from 176 buildings in 2011. This is a 12 percent increase from the number of squatter-occupied buildings the city vacated in 2007.

The government claims its combination of tax hikes and spending cuts will ultimately end the economic hardship. But the street-level view is not so rosy. Said Schiena, "All my friends are losing their jobs from one day to the next. I don't think this crisis is over."

Monday, November 12, 2012

Spain's squatter solution

The New York Times may avoid the word in the headline, but there's no hiding what this article is about: After the collapse of the housing bubble and the ruthless austerity imposed by the Eurozone, Spain is experiencing a a huge ramp up in evictions and homelessness -- and squatting is one of the solutions.

The article starts with the story of Francisco Rodríguez Flores, 71, and his wife, Ana López Corral, 67, their daughters, and their grandkids. When their daughters lost their jobs, they were evicted and came home to live with their parents. But when the parents fell behind on their own mortgage payments, the whole extended family was evicted from their small Seville apartment. They wound up living in the hallway and in a van. Now, they are part of a group squatting in a luxury apartment block that had been vacant for three years.As The Times reports, "There is no electricity. The water was recently cut off, and there is the fear that the authorities will evict them once again. But, Mrs. López says, they are not living on the street — at least not yet."

There's simply no reason why families -- including senior citizens -- should be condemned to a life on the street when there are, as the paper reports, 2 million vacant apartments around the country.

Friday, October 12, 2012

razings continue in Rio

Homes destroyed to widen a path. Communities ripped apart. This has become the daily threat to 1/5 of the population of Rio de Janeiro, where officials are pushing to tear apart the fabric of the city and its  favelas. Rio on Watch reports on some of the latest outrages. In particular, Theresa Williamson and her worthy group CatComm, also report that Babilônia, an 80-year-old favela on the hill above Leme and Copacabana Beach, is under threat. Residents are being asked to sign away the rights to their hillside homes, with only the purported promise of a unit in a horrible housing project 2 hours out of town.

CatComm and Rio on Watch offer legal representation to these beleaguered homesteaders and want to create a community journalism program so people can document the threats to their longstanding communities live, as they happen. It's an extremely important cause.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

squatter librarians

In what appears to be a tactical shift since the British government made it a criminal act for squatters to take over derelict residential properties, squatters have occupied and re-opened the Friern Barnet library in North London, which had been closed by the local council. According to The Guardian, 270 local libraries around the country have been shuttered due to budget cuts. The Barnet council has said it wants to sell this library site to a developer. The squatters haven't said what they'll do if the council goes through with its plan, but the new squatter library opened to the public yesterday, and local residents, who have been fighting to keep the library open, seem quite happy with the take-over.

"One action is worth 1,000 words," said Mike Gee, who has collected 7000 signatures on a petition to keep the library open. "I fully endorse what the squatters have done but I am concerned about the situation. Does the council pay a librarian to do an honest day's work or does the council chief executive, who is on 10 times a librarian's salary, get volunteers to do the job for free?"

Monday, August 13, 2012

what providence?

In a New York Times Op-Ed, Theresa Williamson, of, and Maurício Hora,  of Favelarte, document how Rio de Janeiro's Olympic plans involve the destruction of most of the first favela, Morro do Providência.

Here's a frightening detail: "at the very top of the hill, some 70 percent of homes are marked for eviction — an area supposedly set to benefit from the transportation investments being made. But the luxury cable car will transport 1,000 to 3,000 people per hour during the Olympics. It’s not residents who will benefit, but investors."

Their proposal is inclusion:  "Rio is becoming a playground for the rich, and inequality breeds instability. It would be much more cost-effective to invest in urban improvements that communities help shape through a participatory democratic process. This would ultimately strengthen Rio’s economy and improve its infrastructure while also reducing inequality and empowering the city’s still marginalized Afro-Brazilian population"

Seems like a gold medal solution--but Rio seems determined to pave Providência and put up a parking lot.

Friday, July 20, 2012

senior squat

Leave it to the older generation to establish Berlin's newest squat. The Guardian has the story.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

home wrecking in Makoko

Sahara Reporters on the government-led demolition drive in Makoko, the lagoonside squatter community in Lagos. To all the commenters on the SR site who say it's a good thing because of degraded conditions there: whatever happened to consultation, to working with the population, to understanding that no matter how difficult living conditions might be, these are people's homes, where they have put down roots, where they have all their social capital. Kicking people out, demolishing what they have spent their meager savings building, is not humanitarian and not democratic. It's inhuman and totalitarian.

Governor Babatunde Fashola has a history of this. He wants to change Lagos in hurry--but destroying street markets and demolishing people's homes with no due process and no warning and no attempt to work with the citizens to make their lives and living conditions better is heartless--and, I'd bet, unconstitutional.

(praise be to Chika for the link!]

when people create property lines

My girlfriend and I attended a dance performance created by Paloma McGregor in River Park on E. 180th Street in the Bronx over the weekend and came across an interesting phenomenon: the informal parcelization of public land.

People who wanted to hold events in the park—mostly birthday parties and baby showers—sent someone to reserve their outposts early. Each group had cordoned off their space with tape. We were there between 10 am and 1 pm and none of the parties had started yet, but someone was at each location guarding their terrain against claim jumpers. None of the occupiers talked with each other. Each was totally separate, intent on keeping control of the turf they had seized. Most of the green area of the park had been taken, walled off through these impromptu property lines.

My girlfriend—the choreographer/artist Andrea Haenggi—pointed out that the key design element of the park (it was reconfigured in a $1.4 million renovation in 2007) involved fences that divide it into quasi-private spaces. There’s a fence between each of the kiddie play spaces—separating the swings from the low stone animals from the bungee monkey bars. Some lawns are totally fenced off. And there are several compressed amoeba-shaped parcels that are also fenced off—perhaps to create little wedges of undisturbed habitat or simply to make drainage better.

We started to wonder if the way the city designed the park back in 2007—cutting it into parcels with wrought-iron fencing—had spawned a community reaction—cutting it into even more parcels with duct tape.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

participation, not pacification

Theresa Williamson runs the Rio de Janeiro NGO Catalytic Communities, which has been bravely chronicling the destruction of neighborhoods in the run-up to the World Cup and the Olympics in Brazil. Now, in an opinion piece in The New York Times, she points out the country's missed opportunity. Instead of using the events as cover for demolishing favelas, pushing out 170,000 people to make way for highways and stadiums, and invading communities with well-armed police commandos in a program ominously called pacification, the country should be creating partnerships that bring favela dwellers in to join in improving their neighborhoods and their cities.

Money quote:

Rio will apparently be “made safe for the Olympics” by pushing its lowest-income residents to peripheral areas, where crime is also heading. Here in Brazil, and especially in Rio, we have a tradition of inequality — and its natural consequence, crime — and it appears the upcoming mega-events will only exacerbate it. It would be much more creative, cost-effective and empowering if resources were targeted to participatory integration. That would be an Olympic legacy to be proud of.
Easy words but radical stuff. The power structure giving the keys to the city to the squatters. That would be a real velvet revolution.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Direct Action Flâneurs (in New York)

Calling all
Direct Action Flâneurs
‘Sense Collection with a Typewriter’
in re-connection & re-flection alongside the re-occupation of Liberty Plaza

Saturday, March 17 - Join us anytime from 1 pm till dusk
Liberty Plaza aka Zuccotti Park (corner Liberty & Trinity)

Which type are you?

Join with fellow Direct Action Flâneurs engaged in “Sense Collection with a Typewriter” to create lists cataloguing our sensations—everything we see, feel, hear, and experience at the 6-month anniversary of the OWS encampment. Take the inventory, make the index, document the event. We’ll provide the typewriters. Come witness, stroll in the park, sit down, and type.

What’s the action score?
Direct Action Flâneurs
stroll around with their “type” of typewriter, find a place to sit, and generate lists with the typewriter. The lists will be gathered through on-the–spot observation (sensing) of movements, objects, colors, sounds, etc. in Liberty Plaza, akin to an ethnographer performing a field study or a choreographer interpreting and describing human movement. A list of what people hold in their hands, a list of human proportions, a list of what is written on banners, a list of bits of overheard conversation, a list of the names of policemen, a list of the colors of peoples’ pants. While typing, you can at any time interrupt yourself with a personal list (like a to-do list, a biographical list, appointment list) and/or your own collected thoughts. We will give you a list of lists--possibilities for observation--but you can create your own. Through typing you will generate as well a copy of your written list which will go into an outbox where passersby can read it in the moment. You can type for as long as you want, and you can change to another “type of typewriter” if you want.

Why collect lists?
The lists have the potential to highlight patterns and find meaning in the OWS anniversary. The collected lists will also serve for future Direct Action Flâneurs projects.

Why use a typewriter instead of a laptop or pen and paper?
We enjoy the sound of the keys typing. We enjoy the physical engagement. We enjoy that each typewriter has its own typeface and its own feel. We enjoy that they make you slow down. We enjoy that we don’t need electricity to make them work. We enjoy the simplicity. Take a step back. Allow history into the present and future.

Direct Action Flâneurs

Monday, March 05, 2012

victims of an event they don't want

In Brazil, 170,000 people may face eviction ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. The New York Times reports on the land fights that are currently raging around the country.
In Rio, evictions are taking place in slums across the city, including the Metrô favela near the Maracanã stadium, where residents who refused to move live amid the rubble of bulldozed homes. The evictions are stirring ghosts in a city with a long history of razing entire favelas, as in the 1960s and 1970s during Brazil’s military dictatorship. Thousands of families were moved from favelas in upscale seaside areas to the distant Cidade de Deus, the favela portrayed in the 2002 film “City of God.”
The article points out the para-military approach the government is taking, invading communities and engaging in hand to hand combat with residents. And it highlights how the authorities denigrate communities to make it appear as if their eviction is for their own good. Take Vila Autódromo, a Rio favela slated for destruction to make way for the Olympic Park. Here's Rio's housing czar, Jorge Bittar, on the state of the community: “Vila Autódromo has absolutely no infrastructure. The roads are made of dirt. The sewage network goes straight into the lagoon; it’s an absolutely precarious area.” But, as the Times reports, Vila Autódromo actually has spacious houses that the residents built themselves, with guava trees providing shade in their yards. And, though the roads may be dirt, people own cars, which the Times notes is a sign of making it into Brazil’s expanding lower middle class. "We’re victims of an event we don’t want," Inalva Mendes Brito, a schoolteacher in Vila Autódromo, told the paper. "But maybe if Brazil learns to respect our choice to stay in our homes, the Olympics will be something to celebrate in the end."

Sunday, March 04, 2012

the shame of the city

In the past year and a half, squatters in Metro Manila have experienced 50 demolition drives affecting more than 16,000 families, community groups have argued in court. They are pressing for an injunction that would ban  demolitions and evictions in the city. The Journal has details.

Friday, March 02, 2012

the destruction of Istanbul

"If you leave a city at the mercy of speculators, it will die."

Those are the chilling words of a Turkish activist talking with The Guardian about the future of Istanbul, where 50 neighborhoods have been earmarked for redevelopment and 7.5 billion Turkish liras ($4.2 billion) has been set aside for real estate projects in 2012. Much of the history in those neighborhoods is in danger of being erased. In Tarlabaşı--an immigrant neighborhood, first Greek, then Kurdish, and now North African--up to 278 buildings may be demolished.

It's a classic case of people vs. profits. The Turkish Contractor's Association estimates that the construction work set for Istanbul will produce $87 billion in profit -- but the cost in people's lives and the rending of the historic fabric of the city of the Sultans far outweighs that.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Occupy london evicted

see my post in Stealth of Nations.

shantytown in South Korea

We tend to think of North Korea as the deprived country, but here's a peek at Guryong, a shantytown in downtown Seoul. Residents have been living in shacks here for more than 3 decades, ever since they were evicted in the 1980s as Seoul went on a development kick for the Olympics.

A recent fire has drawn attention to the community that is adjacent to the luxurious downtown neighborhood of Gangnam.

The Korea Herald has details.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

squatters build normal urban neighborhoods

In Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, "a chronic lack of affordable housing has resulted in even professionals and public servants moving into informal settlements as they shun available but unattainably priced private homes."

Here's the seriously bad math of housing in the city, according to The Asia Sentinel: "Many people in public service and formal private sector employment earning less than K500 (US$242) per fortnight are unable to pay rental costs of K5,000 per week for a two bedroom apartment, or the average purchase price of K1.3 million for a three-bedroom house in central Port Moresby. The private housing market mainly services expatriates and workers living in employer provided accommodation."

The average two-bedroom apartment in this city of close to 1 million people costs twenty times more than many workers earn.

Do we need any more proof that the housing market is broken? How can anyone even call this a market? It isn't even managed scarcity. It's absolute dysfunction. We're in the second decade of the 21st century -- and it's high time to admit that squatter communities are normal urban neighborhoods

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

don't they deserve dignity?

Treating people with dignity seems out of the question in Brazil, where authorities are moving ever faster to transform 12 cities for the World Cup and the Olympics. As the Associated Press reports, about 170,000 people have been threatened with ejectment, or have already been ejected from their homes.

Evandro dos Santos, from Favela do Metro, whose home and store are scheduled to be destroyed in a sprucing up of Maracana stadium, told the AP, "I have built something here - a house, a business. That's what I want. Not a gift, not charity. I want to keep on working and earning my money and feeding my family."

From the article:
With preparations starting for the Olympics and World Cup, Metro's residents initially were offered government-built housing in a working-class suburb 45 miles away, with poor access to transportation and jobs. About 100 families accepted, under duress. Another 100 or so took the offer that followed: resettlement in a closer housing project. About 270 families are resisting the move, said the Metro residents association president, Francicleide Souza. "We are living in fear and uncertainty," Souza said. "We don't know what will happen to our families tomorrow." Compensation paid per home for Rio's removals in 2010 averaged $16,000. The amount varies according to the size and quality of a structure. The money offered is not nearly enough to find another home in Rio, said Eliomar Coelho, a city councilman heading an investigation into removals. Market studies say Rio's real estate is now among the most expensive in the Americas.
The world over, fancy sporting events have always meant massive evictions. The question is why? Why are poor people considered an eyesore? Why does the convenience of tourists matter more than the dignity and well-being of the population? Why do governments refuse to treat people with justice, fairness and dignity?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

a new book on Bombay squatters

Katherine Boo's new book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, about life in the Mumbai squatter community of Annawadi, sounds interesting, according to this review in The New York Times.

Monday, January 30, 2012

From the Super Bowl to Kibera

cross-posted from Stealth of Nations:

Friday, January 13, 2012

invest in life

crossposted from Stealth of Nations:

You, too, can invest in something infinitely more valuable than profits. It's a strange new commodity called life.

As The New York Times reports, Copenhagen's Christiania squatters, famed for their anti-free market ways, are selling shares in their community so they can buy it from the government. What do you get for your investment: "a symbolic sense of ownership in Christiania and the promise of an invitation to a planned annual shareholder party." As one squatter calls it, "ownership in an abstract form."

According to the Copenhagen Post, after striking a deal with the state this summer,  Christiania residents now need to raise 76.2 million kroner (almost $13 million) to buy the  majority of the area’s properties and an additional six million kroner  to rent adjoining green spaces. The first 43 million kroner (or approximately $8 million) is due on 15  April 2012. Several prominent people have purchased Christiania Shares, including  Margrethe Vestager, minister of the economy and interior, and Mogens  Lykketoft, president of parliament. The shares are available for  purchase online at

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Squatters in New York

A decade or so ago, there were well-established communities of the homeless all over the New York City, set up by people who formed close bonds and knew that the shelter system was too dehumanizing and brutalizing for them. The pier on Twelfth Avenue just across from the Chinese consulate had several dozen wooden shacks. A median in Long Island City, Queens, where two seldom-used freight lines parted ways, was a friendly location for another encampment. Photographer Margaret Morton documented the homeless casitas of the city and the community in the tunnel under Riverside Park.

Most of these communities have been destroyed, either because these locations have been reclaimed for use (AMTRAK now runs trains to Albany along the previously derelict Riverside Park tracks) or because real estate interests pushed to clear these parcels.

Now, The Brooklyn Daily reports on a small shantytown in Coney Island that has lived against the odds for five years. I hope this community survives its new-found publicity.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

who guards the guardians

The New York Times offers a recap of the violent doings of the police in Rio de Janeiro. Which brings up the question: with the growth of the program of so-called 'pacification' that pushes drug dealers out from their perches in the favelas and replaces them with the police, are they making life in the favelas any better. One answer, from Alba Zaluar, a famous Brazilian academic who has long studied police tactics in Rio: “They’re invading, watching over, buying favelas from traffickers.” Not comforting words.

It's long been known that the police take payoffs from the drug gangs. It's long been known that most of the shooting deaths in Rio involve the cops. As the Times article shows, the cops are just like the drug dealers--they're not afraid to torture and kill people they perceive as their enemies, and the top echelon of police militia leaders run their semi-official gangs from jail.

Pacification, it seems, only replaces one brutal criminal gang with another. And the new one may be worse. The police are invaders and occupiers with no roots in the favelas. At least the drug dealers were communitarian outlaws.