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Urban Slums

24, نوفمبر 2010

Urban slums are areas of self-developed residences at fringe areas of major urban cities. This means that basic infrastructure, such electricity or sewage, is improvised, stolen, or simply not present in these areas. Put eloquently by anthropologist Oscar Lewis, “the culture of poverty is both an adaptation and a reaction of the poor to their marginal position in a class-stratified, highly individualistic, capitalistic society.”

Despite their many obvious problems and often bottomless-pit nature, the thing that urban slums do right is provide housing to poor, itinerant people near the areas they may work or desire to work. Another result of this limited mobility is that individual slums themselves form distinct cultures of their own. This immediacy also provides faster opportunities for capital gain when successful, as well as quick proving grounds to weed out bad ideas for gain.

This lack of rigidity or plan allows them to negotiate the gaps between supply and demand, concept and production, production and availability, and even adaptation and replacement seemingly instantaneously. Additionally, the generalized understanding of slum nature also allows for the boundaries of privacy, permanence, definitiveness, and ownership to be blurred as slum populations fluctuate, interact, and adapt to challenges and opportunities that arise within their hectic frame of existence. Since immediacy is so embedded in the nature of these settlements, attempts to revitalize them into the city proper often fail because the rigid process of traditional development conflicts in a way that either stifles the thriving culture of the slum or results in the slum developing without regard to the effort. Those efforts that are most successful are those that offer minimal obstruction to the existing fabric of the slums and allow the slums to continue to develop accumulatively and organically using the intervention as a springboard for progress.

While they may be unsanitary, limited resources combined with the density of these settlements creates surprisingly eco-friendly dwelling sites. While this is obviously not a consciously achieved result, the fact that these spaces thrive on so little means a lot could be learned and applied from them. However, many of the conditions that allow this are probably cultural so it wouldn’t be all that easy.

Negotiations:


Poverty vs. Capitalism: The main negotiation achieved by urban slums is that of providing poor, marginalized people with residences in urban areas. Because of their concentrated wealth, large cities often exclude or deter people of lower (let alone the lowest) socioeconomic status from living within them. Real estate works by attempting to make properties more desirable than others, and in urban areas that usually means the addition of both space and costly amenities beyond the economic reach of most itinerant citizen in developing countries. By using undesired or fringe areas to build bare-bones structures for themselves, inhabitants of urban slums find a solution to the disparity between supply and demand for affordable housing in urban areas. This results in both increased and decreased values of areas near slums: increase because of the economic opportunities awarded by immediate access to a large number of people in a concentrated area, but decreased because of the perception of slum areas as underdeveloped and dangerous.

Development Efficiency (planned vs. accumulative): Urban slums also bring up negotiations between the efficiency of itinerant spaces and planned spaces. Western society usually assumes that planning is the direct means to maximum efficiency and rewards, but urban slums challenge this perception by coping with problems of space and flexibility more accurately and expediently than any planned settlement does. Another problem with planning is that the people who are educated in planning more than likely come from privileged backgrounds so their ideas of efficient and successful planning often embedded with some preconception of open space as a requirement for comfort. While space is undeniably nice, sometimes supplying space does not coincide with the larger needs of the public. This dichotomy of intent is exemplified in this map comparing space occupancy of golf courses vs. informal settlements in Nairobi. Nairobi slum population: 200,000 to 1,000,000+. Nairobi golf course population: squirrels… and maybe some itinerant caddies.

“Fun” and expanded links for slums:

Google Maps:
Rocinha / Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro
Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong
Kibera, Nairobi
Dharavi, Mumbai

Mansheiet Naser, Cairo, Egypt

Blogs/Sites:
Favela Chic
Life in Rocinha
Epic Kowloon Walled City Thread
dharavi.org
UN-HABITAT (tons of info)
How Slums Can Save The Planet
Oscar Lewis
The Slum Economy Revisited
Nairobi Land Use: Slums vs. Golf Courses
Mansheiet Nasser

Accumulative Design

10, نوفمبر 2010

The idea of accumulative design is that individual additions and informal gatherings create a fabric of input that can then be viewed as a single design instead of many individual parts. Even if these parts are dissimilar, their grouping can be seen as signifying a perhaps ambiguous and nameless agency. This concept arrived from stripping down design understanding to two basic qualities that seem to be examined in design: what is the artifact and what does it respond to? Accumulative developments are the direct embodiment of a common drive spurned in response to some event. If design isn’t being judged on its form, it is more than likely being judged for its responsiveness. It’s usually assumed that if the design does not work it will fail and cease to be used or exist, so the continued or repeated existence of a thing must mean that on some level it is doing something right.

Urban Slums

The past 50 years has seen a drastic influx of people to urban centers from rural areas, and in many developing countries this means that infrastructure development cannot keep up with the demand thereof. The result is areas of self-developed residences at fringe areas of major urban cities. This means that basic infrastructure, such electricity or sewage, is improvised, stolen, or simply not present in these areas. The living conditions are only as good as the inhabitants are able to maintain within their already limited means which often drives people toward opportunism and desperation. Cut throat attitudes combined with limited resources lead to many slums becoming enclaves of crime and crippling poverty with scant hope for escape or upward mobility. For many, these slums became an unsurpassable web between them the city proper.

However, despite their many obvious problems and often bottomless-pit nature, the thing that urban slums do right is provide housing to poor, itinerant people near the areas they may work or desire to work. The common juxtaposition of slums next to more affluent and “properly” developed urban areas is, until recent efforts, not a matter of the city proper’s expansion into the areas of the slums, but the slums’ development near these centers as a necessity to maintain close proximity between the working-class slum dwellers and the establishments where they can find employment. Another result of this limited mobility is that individual slums themselves form, for better or worse, distinct cultures of their own.

While slums’ informality may cause an infrastructural headache, it also provides a fluidity and extemporaneity that allows them to respond almost instantaneously or reflexively to new pressures and stimulus presented them. This lack of rigidity or plan allows them to negotiate the gaps between supply and demand, concept and production, production and availability, and even adaptation and replacement seemingly instantaneously. In a lot of ways, the fluid nature of slums is echoed in capital-D Design’s contemporary drive to achieve the same level of impromptuity and customability in product design and deliverance. Additionally, the generalized understanding of slum nature also allows for the boundaries of privacy, permanence, definitiveness, and ownership to be blurred as slum populations fluctuate, interact, and adapt to challenges and opportunities that arise within their hectic frame of existence.

Unsurprisingly, the density of a slum then depends on both the existing boundaries its expansion might face and of course the demand for residence within the area. These boundaries are often the city on one side and geography on the other. Sometimes the city-side boundary may not even be the city itself, but a direct inlet to the city. Such is the case in the favelas of Rocinha and Vidigal in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

In some rare cases the boundary might be the city all around where the slum acted as infill to unused land, but in the amazing case of the Kowloon Walled City the boundaries were actually political. This lead to sporadic development vertically instead of horizontally, resulting in block of individual dwellings that appears to be one collected whole.

Interestingly enough, this interrupted uniformity in vertical construction is also echoed in contemporary design. Namely, in the explorations of “erosion” and “disappearance” in buildings by OMA and Herzog & de Meuron.

“Fun” links for slums:

Google Maps:
Rocinha / Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro
Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong
Kibera, Nairobi
Dharavi, Mumbai

Blogs/Sites:
Favela Chic
Life in Rocinha
Epic Kowloon Walled City Thread
dharavi.org

Makeshift Memorials<!–

Even on a smaller scale, accumulation can still create solid fabrics of input.

Post walls and makeshift memorials to dead or missing persons also rely on an accumulative process, but instead of seeking a necessity these informal spaces act as a means of expression. The sites chosen aren’t necessarily pragmatic, but perhaps symbolic of or related to the person. In the case of missing people walls these spaces are often understood or explicitly labeled, but when disasters occur the line between proper and improper posting space disappears.

The patterns of development here are similar to patterns in slums in that they are both spontaneous and that both are limited by geography from their point of origin. Curbside memorials are limited by the street and posting walls are limited by the frame of the wall, or by the accessibility of the wall. The size of the spread depends on the amount of individual input and the input itself is never organized formally beyond having a starting point from which is spreads out like a dense brush, leaving only the very periphery with any sense of openness or breathing room. They are contiguous and in their sheer magnitude of information often achieve a sort of monumentality that amplifies their presence beyond just the messages they stand for. They negotiate the gaps between the living and the dead, those present and those missing, emotion and expression, hope and despair, and many others. Sometimes they even negotiate physical boundaries when missing people are actually found.

Granted, makeshift memorials are not always so public, and posting boards with similar fabric are not always about missing people.

Not-so-“fun” links for makeshift memorials:
Wall of Pain, Croatia
9/11 Missing Person Fliers
Beichuan Memorials
Some douchebag
Oakland Makeshift Memorials
Cheonan Memorial
Virginia Tech Memorials

post by: archdork (for reference)


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