In a world of increasing overpopulation, we as Canadians are privileged to exist where we do and often forget the large percentage of those who occupy condensed slums as their homes. Despite their shortcomings, when we peel back the exterior, one finds an intricate way of life led with surprising ingenuity. By acknowledging the subtle victories that homegrown communities have made and offering some support and security to them, there is a great opportunity for gathering insight and constructive knowledge. The grey area of rights and legalities surrounding Dhavari are in a stagnant state if not a volatile one, especially with increasing interest through privately owned parties. On the other hand, there is clearly something incredible taking place here that could be mutually beneficial to residents and state alike if nurtured correctly. Developments like Dhavari should not be overlooked in the larger scheme of things as they have an organic quality of natural evolution and adaption to them that could be effectively applied elsewhere.
In their article ” This is not a slum” (2016) Echanove and Srivastava take the time to investigate and acknowledge the miraculous transformation of rickety cloth lean to’s into a rich, dynamic neighborhood (20). High population density coupled with a lack of construction regulations has resulted in consolidated, multi-purpose dwellings assembled by the inhabitants for their own specific needs (21). These tactics are arguably as sophisticated as they are primitive and the output of hard work is reflected in economic contributions. According to conservative estimates “Dhavari produces around 500 million in yearly exports” which is enormous for its size of just above 2 square kilometers (20). This information surely reinforces Dhavari’s achievement of more than a hopeless slum but rather a testament to hard work and resiliency of humans doing their best with what they are provided, no matter the size.
Dhavari, however, remains “an illegitimate urban space”, an unplanned slum. Although they have found benefits to defying building codes, Dhavarians lack in basic amenities and have no real security to their occupancy. Those rights are occasionally given to some seen as key players yet homes are still subject to demolition if municipal authorities despite supposed political protection (22).
Echanove and Srivastava suggest that by “reflecting on the continuous updating of shelters and business’ by the residents over generations” cities should try appointing areas free of real estate market influence with legitimate occupancy rights. These would be designated to affordable and creative use of space, with less regulation. This, in turn, would ensure large amounts of rentals and substantial economic possibilities could grow from it (23).
Being an artist and creative person I admire such places, their resourcefulness, complexity, and success despite marginalization. Here we have happy people that have a way of life that is built on working together and collective support. By looking at what’s been accomplished on their own one could imagine the benefits from some outside assistance. Sadly, when backed by private parties, city planner and “slum rehabilitation schemes tend to flatten occupied land with false claims that include rebuilding proper housing for the existing residents (22). Yet after allocating only a small portion (if any) towards that, profits are then reaped by selling the rest at market value. Vancouver residents like myself may be reminded of similar claims being made here in regards to development in our own Downtown Eastside for low-income housing. These silver-tongued proposals are often accepted and don’t remain true to the initial plan but by then there isn’t much that can be done. The greediness, lack of compassion for the for the lives and basic human rights of the disenfranchised are truly sickening.
Unfortunately, the influence of the real-estate sector run deep in all corners of our world and advocation of rights for those in the way of their plans often fall on deaf ears. Affirmative action like that suggested by Echanove and Srivastava such as ” creating enclaves that are free from speculation led real-estate markets to increase their dynamism and creating a framework for legitimate occupancy rights” are the first step in the direction of viable and humanitarian solutions scenarios (23).
Along with the authors, I agree that the Dhavari model is not applicable to all areas with large slum populations. Yet as the number of people increases so rapidly and population density issues mirror that, we are in need of direction and perspective. By keeping an open mind and learning from the possibilities inspired by places like Dhavari, we are increasing our chances of a better, more productive urban future. Flexibility opens the door for innovation. Maybe the answers lie not in the speculation of those formally trained to plan the future of our cities and their impending problems but the demonstration of ingenuity by those working together making it happen right there in there out communities. By any means.