Slums, shanty-towns, favelas - they are all products of an exploding migration from rural to urban areas. Over the last half century, people living in or near metropolises has risen in proportion to the global population. Migrations from rural areas to urban areas have grown exponentially as cities have developed into hubs of economic activity and job growth promising new opportunities for social mobility and education. Yet, with all these perceptions holding fast, many people who choose to migrate find themselves in the difficult circumstances of integrating into an environment without the proper resources to accommodate the growing population. Cities, for example, like Mumbai, India’s largest city and 11th on the list as of 2012 with a population of an estimated 20.5 million. According to a New York Times article from 2011, about 60% of that number live in the makeshift dwellings that now occupy lucrative land for Mumbai’s developers.
More to come after the break.
Slums, especially those of Mumbai, have been looked upon with interest in recent years by those willing to look past the destitution that comes along with them. They show some of the most enterprising and inventive uses of the urban environment. They are tight communities that rely upon the delicate balance of sparse resources, the reuse and recycling of urban and environmental materials. The market that has naturally developed among them include specialized industries such as tanneries, clay pot-making, and recycling of plastics. These types of jobs employ many people living in the slums but provide a very meager income, further stifling the social mobility that cities promise. With such labor intensive options, access to education is also very limited. Life in these makeshift communities require innovation and adaptation.
As so many of slums are built on undeveloped land with no access to public infrastructure, resources for clean water and power are also scarce. Brick and mortar shanties rise up sporadically to accommodate new growth and develop organically as the need arises. And while these slums may operate quietly on the fringe of the developing economy of Mumbai, there is a growing anxiety about their horizontal expansiveness. It turns out that the irony of the slum dweller is that while the settlements and communities are of no economic value to the government, the land upon which the slums are built is worth billions of dollars in development money.
This situation is not a new for Mumbai’s government. Since the 1970′s it has been looking for ways to free up the land for development. Some solutions required government force, treating slum dwellers as squatters and demolishing their homes. The problem was frequently resurgent and as treatment became inhumane another solution was implemented. This time the approach was to take account of the new citizens. The government took a census and issued identification cards with the plan to bring improvement to the dwellings. Until 1990, Mumbai issued soft leases to the slums on land that was not explicitly reserved by the government. Since 1990, the more productive solution has become to offer slum dwellers new options that would finally dismantle the slums and sell the land to developers.
For over a decade now the Slum Rehabilitation Authority has been working to make this possible. The plan for each development involves five stages and first requires 70% approval from slum dwellers to relocate in to new modern buildings built in place of their current homes. The Dharavi Redevelopment Plan a proposal from the SRA, for Dharavi, considered the largest slum in Mumbai, is currently being debated. Architect Mukesh Mehta, is assigned to plan the restructuring of the slum into a high-rise, mixed-use development that will provide 65% of land area to residences and lease out the remaining land for commercial uses. The developers’ incentives come from a promised 1-1/3 square feet of land for every 1 square foot that is paid for. The residences will also be divided such that the ground floors will be reserved for the replacement housing while the upper stories will be sold at market values. The developers also have the 35% of land to lease for profit.
The plans have promised residents 220 square feet apartments to replace their homes; activists insist on 400 square feet homes, citing that the interconnectivity of the slums and the informal and courtyard spaces that are freely occupied at ground level are not accounted for. There is also the question of the culture shock associated with relocating to such different environments. Dharavi is a city within a city with a culture and lifestyle that has developed over generations. All health concerns aside, it is a unique home that has a full community, unique spatial structures, and an innovative use of resources that is horizontally spread over many acres and can be traversed vertically and horizontally along terraces, roofs, canopies and courtyards. This is the nature of need-based, organic growth. This is a habitat.
What the future holds for Dharavi’s current residents is unclear. The opportunity to have access to public amenities – health, education and infrastructure – will be a stepping stone for the migrant communities that came to Mumbai envisioning a better future for themselves and their children. But until that time comes, it will be a question of adapting to a different kind of community and different kind of lifestyle from rural areas or urban slums.
Megacities, cities that have a population that exceeds 10 million people, are growing in number. According to this interactive graph by The Guardian there are now 23 megacities around the world and that number will continue to grow whether or not issues of housing shortages and resource management are solved.