In this post of the Relational Poverty Network blog, Nick talks about how the first step to (un)knowing poverty is to become aware of poverty around you. But, at the same time not to make assumptions about what it means. I will post more about this soon, but Nick’s post is worth a read. The task of (un)knowing poverty is a difficult one, for conversations about poverty are everyone and therefore, we all assume what it means.
“……we argued that opening participatory arenas is not sufficient to empower the most marginalized citizens. The urban poor often reveal to be uncomfortable, helpless if not apathetic when invited to participate in the public sphere. To put it very bluntly, organizing meetings and joyfully cheering citizens to “Speak up! Speak up!” does not appear as the most relevant strategy to make them “speak”.”
This quarter in my TA class as well as in the courses I’ve been taking, participatory planning and indeed the power of participation has been the topic of hot debate. This two part blog post should be read by anyone interested in participatory planning or research because it really brings to the fore and questions assumptions that we are want to make as planners and researchers. To me it also clarifies the fact that depending on the context, one has to be really cognisant of where the community it in terms of active participation. In the Global North and in a many places in the Global South, groups are very aware of their latent power, and actively participate to further their ‘interests’, but there are still those that do not recognise or dismiss it. The strategies of how we address and work with these two types of groups are very different. Both require us to let go of some very intrinsic understandings of our roles as researchers.
I’ve seen informal settlements around railroad lines in Mumbai and Delhi, I’ve never seen the kind of appropriation that you see in the video here. I cringe away from saying “pretty awesome”, but it is interesting to say the least. How we as designers assume that we have the know-how and the tools to design settlements, dwellings and spaces in the face of such ingenuity always surprises and disturbs me. At the same time, I don’t want to romanticise the conditions that these people are living in, but there is definitely ‘Value’ in their appropriating spaces around them with such creativity. I’d go so far as to say, that this creativity is something we can only admire because it comes from a place that one can only experience and not learn to access.
Well hell– I am romanticising it!