Learn from the Slums

Feb 11th, 2009 | By | Category: Princely Projects

Prince Charles offers his wisdom on the built environment.


Prince Charles of Wales, a longtime advocate of traditional urbanism, suggested last week that we look to the world’s informal settlements (aka slums, shanty towns, favelas, barrios, etc.) as a model for housing the world’s poor. Places like Dharavi, the setting for the film Slumdog Millionaire, offer a better model for housing the urban poor than many of the attempts made in the West, suggested the Prince.

The Guardian UK quotes the prince as saying:

Dharavi, a Mumbai slum where 600,000 residents are crammed into 520 acres, contains the attributes for environmentally and socially sustainable settlements for the world’s increasingly urban population, he said. The district’s use of local materials, its walkable neighbourhoods, and mix of employment and housing add up to “an underlying intuitive grammar of design that is totally absent from the faceless slab blocks that are still being built around the world to ‘warehouse’ the poor”.

“I strongly believe that the west has much to learn from societies and places which, while sometimes poorer in material terms are infinitely richer in the ways in which they live and organise themselves as communities,” he told planners, charity workers and government officials.

“It may be the case that in a few years’ time such communities will be perceived as best equipped to face the challenges that confront us because they have a built-in resilience and genuinely durable ways of living.”

The Prince, who by the way made these comments from a splendid London palace, is the benefactor of The Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment, an organization which has been involved in attempts to upgrade slum areas in Sierra Leone, Jamaica and New Orleans. He was joined by Jockin Arputham, founder of the National Slum Dwellers Federation of India.

Currently, about half the world’s population lives in urban areas, and that percentage is set to rise dramatically over the next several decades. According to projections, much if not most of that growth will be in informal settlements, places which exist outside of official frameworks, and often do not even appear on maps.

In most cities, these neighborhoods are seen mainly as an obstacle to “orderly” growth and development, and are thus targeted for demolition and redevelopment – without much regard for the welfare of the people who live there. Some countries however, notably Brazil and Venezuela, have begun to recognize and invest in their cities’ informal communities.

Via: The Guardian. See also Robert Neuwirth’s blog Squatter Cities.

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