From Bogotá to Bombay: How the World’s ‘Village-Cities’ Facilitate Change

“Village-cities,” Usme - Bogotá, Colombia. Image © Laura Amaya

Perched behind the fog that conceals Bogotá’s mountains is William Oquendo’s house. It is a labyrinth of doors and windows, wherein a bedroom opens into the kitchen and a bathroom vents out into the living room.

Five thousand 5,000 kilometers away in Rio de Janeiro, Gilson Fumaça lives on the terrace level of a three-story house built by his grandfather, his father, and now himself. It’s sturdy; made out of brick and mortar on the ground floor, concrete on the second, and a haphazard combination of zinc roof tiles and loose bricks on the third. The last is Gilson’s contribution, which he will improve as his income level rises.

On the other side of the world in Bombay (Mumbai since 1995), houses encroach on the railway tracks, built and rebuilt after innumerable demolition efforts. “The physical landscape of the city is in perpetual motion,” Suketu Mehta observes in ‘Maximum City.’ Shacks are built out of bamboo sticks and plastic bags; families live on sidewalks and under flyovers in precarious homes constructed with their hands. And while Dharavi—reportedly the largest slum in Asia—has better quality housing, running water, electricity and secure land tenure, this is not the case for most of the new migrants into the city.

Callous Indifference or Fetishizing Poverty: What Exactly Can Architects Do About Slums?

The Torre David in Caracas, the subject of Urban Think Tank’s research for the 2012 Venice Biennale. Image © Iwan Baan

In an excellent essay for the Architectural Review, Charlotte Skene Catling deftly ties together a number of recent debates in the field of morality in architecture, from the false accusations aimed at Zaha Hadid by critic Martin Fuller to recent debates over whether architects have any responsibility to tackle poverty, an ostensibly political issue. Taking aim at one article in particular - in which Dan Hancox argues that architects such as Urban Think Tank who engage in humanitarian work are often ‘fetishizing poverty’ – Catling dissects the work of many of those in the field to find that they in fact do vital work to connect the top-down and bottom-up approaches that would otherwise never meet in the middle. Or, as Urban Think Tank’s Alfredo Brillembourg says, in opposition to the horizontal city of the 19th century or the vertical city of the 20th, “the 21st century must be for the diagonal city, one that cuts across social divisions.” Click here to read the article in full.

A Future Without Slums: Too Good to be True?

© Denis De Mesmaeker

As the tide of urban migration sweeps across the developing world, cities experience an overpowering pressure to provide basic services such as electricity and sewage treatment to an enormous amount of people building illegal shacks on city outskirts. When they fail, the slum is born – but is it possible for a city to expand without ? In Hanoi, Vietnam, officials hope to answer this question, with a number of tactics that have led to a “culture of semi-legal construction.” Read this article in The Guardian to learn how  manages to curb slums and provide a basic standard of living to its poorest inhabitants.

India’s Most Successful Architect: Improving India’s Slums or Exacerbating Social Gaps?

On what used to be a shantytown, ’s the Imperial Towers now loom over low-income apartments. Image © Mahesh Shantaram for The New York Times

“The Indian poor live in perpetual darkness, while the Indian rich live in perpetual light.” This fact is obviously embedded in Mumbai, where luxury condominiums rise in the middle of slums. Many of these extravagant buildings were designed by ’s most commercially successful architect, Hafeez Contractor, who believes his arrestive work is the beginning of slum redevelopment. Learn about his crusade and how he’s been criticized in this New York Times article by Daniel Brook.

Why Do Slums Persist in Prosperity?

Aerial view over Mumbia. Image © Flickr CC User Cactus Bones

In a recent article for the Atlantic Cities, Richard Florida examines some new research from MIT that criticizes the idea that are a natural stage in the modernization of , showing that many slums continue to persist and even grow in cities/countries experiencing increased prosperity. Rather than economic growth, argues Florida, accountable governments and institutions make much more of an impact on slum development. You can read the full article here.

Inside the World’s Tallest Slum: Venezuela’s Tower of David

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What was once a symbol of ’ bright financial future is now the world’s tallest slum: ’s Tower of David. Squatters took over this unfinished 45-story skyscraper in the early 1990s, after its construction was stopped due to a banking crisis and the sudden death of the tower’s namesake, David Brillembourg.

Now, as the government is grappling with a citywide housing shortage, many residents have spent most of their life within the walls of David. And despite the tower’s reputation as being a hotbed of crime, residents have managed to build a self-sustaining community complete with a communal electrical grid and aqueduct water system.

Few cameras have been allowed into the depths of the tower, so watch as Vocativ captures a rare in-depth access to residents’ daily lives.

Interview: William Hunter Discusses Contested Urbanism in Dharavi

Slum, Mumbai, India; © Gynna Millan; Courtesy of Flickr User Development Planning Unit University College London

Dharavi – Asia’s largest slum of one million with an average density of 18,000 residents per acre – is amidst a heated debate between its people, the government and private investors as it sits on some of India’s hottest real estate in Mumbai. While the government is grappling for solutions on how to successfully dismantle the low-rise slum and relocate its residents to a high-rise podium style typology, the investor’s profit-driven approach has placed residents on the defense, “rendering Dharavi a perfect storm of contested ,” as architect, urban designer and author William Hunter describes. 

In light of this, we would like to direct you to an interview by Andrew Wade of Polis in which discusses Dharavi’s dire situation and the motivation behind Hunter’s new book, Contested Urbanism in Dharavi: Writings and Projects for the Resilient City. Read the interview in its entirety here and read a recap on Dharavi’s situation here.

Design Students Create a Tool to Map Slums

Shop in Heliopolis © Frank van Leersum via Flickr

Meagan Durlak and James Frankis, both students studying Transdisciplinary Design at Parsons New School for Design, have developed a mobile mapping tool to unveil the true dynamics of informal slum communities, as revealed by Metropolis Magazine.

The system, called Mark, is being tested in the Heliopolis favela of Sao Paulo, Brazil, after which the duo hope it will be “scalable and adaptable” enough to be applied to other informal settlements all over the world. The SMS-based tool is designed not only to provide information about the settlements to external organizations, but also to be a sharing platform for the residents who become cartographers of their own neighborhood.

Read about the motivation behind the Mark project after the break

Infographic: Life Inside The Kowloon Walled City

Courtesy of South China Morning Post

It has been twenty years since the of the Kowloon Walled City. To mark this, the South China Morning Post has created an info-graphic that details the facts and figures of what life was like inside this architectural oddity. 

Read more about the madness that was KWC after the break…

Slum Rehabilitation Promise to Mumbai’s 20 Million

Aerial View of Mumbai; Courtesy of Flickr User Cactus Bones; Licensed via Creative Commons

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, ’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.