on intervening in slums

December 1, 2008

Insightful commentary on _urb_, from Mark Collins of proxy:

“Slum ‘upgrading’, as it is understood by municipalities across the world, is about infrastructure. Sao Paulo has been extremely aggresive in introducing electrical metering, road construction, sewage channeling and other infrastructural efforts to alleviate the ill-effects of overcrowding and unplanned growth. These efforts were highlighted in a recent ‘Global Dialogue’, which brought together representatives from governments in China, India (Mumbai), Egypt (Cairo), Kenya (Nairobi). Sao Paulo’s methodologies were hailed as the standard bearer for slum upgrading and each delegate seemed to suggest that it could serve as a template for urban remediation  in their own locality.

But what about the space? Infrastructure upgrades invariably mean demolition, wich means relocation…

At the Slum Lab, we have identified three modalities of approaching the slum, each of which can be engaged in in parallel, continuing within the framework of opportunism. One can sense the need for preservation, albeit frustrated by the slum’s insistence on continual self-transformance. We have engaged in attempts to record the spatial characteristics of the favela, through photo, video, 3d models and data sets. You can approach the slum as a researcher and look to formulate hypothesis and construct models. That is our preferred modality at Proxy – we are foremost interested in architecture as an informational medium. Finding connections between emergent morphology and the myriad variables of sociability, financing, politics and physical circumstance is a deep project, which is made more substantial by the availability of new data and more capable software (software that speeks specifically to the ‘bottom-up’). Lastly, the slum is a place of architectural intervention and invention. It must not only act in unconventional ways, but it must do unconventional things. By necessity, infrastructure, community and sustainability invest projects with a moral compass while the challenges of geography frustrate normative designs. These are interesting places for creative minds to work and experiment – especially given the void of conventional practices – but it means coming to terms with ‘bottom up’, whether through grudging co-existance or synergistic opportunism.”

This is a challenge for our project.  I think we have the outline of an ‘unconventional practice’, but the territory that we aim to act in is unstable; it has emergent intentions and immediate needs of its own.  Because our project is a proposal, it will be our responsibility to allow the territory to imprint itself on the project.  It would be easy to ignore the intentions and needs of the slum in favor of using the slums (to present ourselves as ‘sustainable’ or as ‘community-minded’ or even just ‘hip’); we will have to work to avoid that (though I think our preferred methodology, of intervention through the insertion of a flexible and responsive infrastructure, is a great starting point for accomplishing exactly that work).

A couple of news items that intersect with these concerns:

Angola ‘made thousands homeless’:

Angola’s government has been criticised for forcibly evicting thousands of people from their homes to free land for new housing projects in Luanda.

A report by Amnesty International also says the Catholic church has been involved in evictions in the capital.

According to Amnesty, homes have been demolished repeatedly in one district since September 2004 to make room for new public and private housing.

It says none of the affected residents has received compensation.

Neither have they been offered adequate alternative accommodation, the human rights group says.

Making way for Angola’s middle class:

The Angolan capital of Luanda is home to five million people, about a quarter of the country’s entire population, with most living in “musseques” or slums.

One of those used to be Lucas Kaxingadoes, who has lived in Bairro Cambamba on the southern outskirts of Luanda for several years and where some families occupied the land 30 years ago.

His family began by farming the land and built houses with whatever materials they could find.

But they also took manual jobs in the city, saving what they could and eventually building houses made of concrete.

Lucas, however, doesn’t have a house any longer.

His home, like many others, was cleared to make way for new property to house the country’s burgeoning middle class.

Lucas says policemen came and destroyed his home and those of his neighbours in an effort to clear the land to make way for new developments.

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