Social Mobility and Inclusion – Can architectural and urban interventions help improve it?

I’ve recently started following this blog called {FAVEL issues}. They publish fascinating critical pieces about informality and informal lives. Here is new piece about architectural and urban interventions to address informality. While I don’t necessarily agree with everything this post says, I did find it interesting. Janice Perlman’s 25 minute lecture at the end is a must see for anyone interested in informality.

{FAVEL issues}


Poverty and exclusion are two of the major issues that politicians – but more importantly in the context of this blog, architects, planners, and urban designers (or students of such professions) often refer to when they present projects of “improvement” or of spatial articulation between informal settlements and the formal city. Often, their final objective is to generate positive inclusion social mobility – that is, the movement of individuals or groups up (or down) from their current socio-economic level. And so, the question is: can architecture or design truly improve social mobility?

Janice Perlman, one of the few researchers that has continuously investigated life in favelas for more than forty years, published her latest book “Favela: Four decades of Living in the Edge in Rio de Janeiro” in 2010.[i] Last week, I had the opportunity to attend her presentation at the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, DC, and…

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Making cities slum free – A Dream

Another excellent piece from the Terra Urban blog about what it would take to make Indian cities actually “slum free”.

Terra Urban टेरा अर्बन

By Swathi Subramaniam, PRIA

A story of every city big or small…. Dreams are seen in urban cities. This dream brings people from all places to cities. Slums provide them an inexpensive shelter and are found in every city. They constitute close to half of the city’s population and this population is only to grow tremendously. While imagining a slum free city RAY guidelines opened new hopes at the policy level. But it cannot be achieved with only policy in mind. It needs lot of inclusive and interactive support of all stakeholders as well.

A city cannot become slum free unless the issues of the urban poor are connected with other issues of the city. Making India slum free is the biggest challenge which can only be achieved by ‘Breaking the rules’. Just like how a Primary Municipality school is considered a school of urban poor which lacks basic education quality…

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Inclusive Cities for Informal Workers

The post Inclusive Cities for Informal Workers challenges the inclusiveness of urban renewal schemes in the Global South as being exclusionary. I recently got hold of a new article by Ananya Roy called “Slum-free cities of the Asian century: Postcolonial government and the project of inclusive growth”.  Both that paper and this blog post, make a similar argument for the need to look at citymaking in the Asian Century as a “as a citationary structure which enables distinctive teleologies of development and projects of postcolonial power. More on this soon.

The World’s Largest Community of Street Performers Is About to Be Torn Apart

I am unable to be in Delhi at this time. But while I am here, Kathputli colony and its people are fighting the authorities to save there settlement from demolition. Here is coverage about the recent developments from the Time magazine blog.


The roads that lead to it are unpaved, dirty and narrow. The houses are rudimentary and sparse. The meandering alleys, slippery and narrow, are almost a hazard to navigate with an overbearing smell of sewage and wood smoke.

And yet this is where the magic happens.

Located in the western part of India’s capital, New Delhi, this slum is known as the Kathputli (or puppeteers’) Colony — though it isn’t just puppeteers who live here. With its origins in a simple encampment for roving and mostly Rajasthani performers, this 50-year-old community today comprises some 3,500 families. They are magicians, snake charmers, acrobats, singers, dancers, actors, traditional healers and musicians as well as puppeteers, and make up what it probably the largest congregation of street performers in the world. Musical instruments — for sale or repair — line the alleys, and a simple chat can turn into a magic show. Days…

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Slumming it out in the metros

Terra Urban टेरा अर्बन

A fast urbanising India poses a huge challenge to town planners who must figure out how to provide basic amenities to the thousands everyday that pour into cities which are already bursting at the seams

As India moves towards becoming a developed nation, one of its biggest challenges will be its fast expanding urban spaces. While some consider this to be boon, others realise that this is a major problem in the making due to limited resources andlack of urban planning. The state has frequently sought to address this problem but no concrete outcome has surfaced yet. Meanwhile, urban residents struggle to sustain themselves as prices of essential items and house rents skyrocket amidst poor sanitation facilities, power-cuts and poor infrastructure. Will increased urbanisation help us solve the problem or will it add to the crisis?

Urbanisation in India is currently following the distributed pattern with a diverse range of large and small urban centres emerging around the country. This will…

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A question of survival?

The Hindu (read the original piece here) today published an op-ed about the development at Kathputli Colony. The author raises many important questions in this — development for whom? And by whom?– being a very pertinent one. The piece focusses on how what the people in Kathputli actually need is an upgradation of basic services and not a total change in the way they live their life. I cringe at this assumption that the author knows what they need, and it’s not apartments but upgradation of services. The piece also talks about an Artist’s Village being the ideal solution. In my work at Kathputli, I have heard mention this as well. And yes, it does seem like the ideal solution– not just because of the romantic notion of what the village might be like but also because in some ways the solution is coming from the artists themselves.

However, the piece and most of the things that I have read about Kathputli in the media and elsewhere paint a picture of the colony where there are no others. Official estimates show that 40% of residents actually belong to professions that are not considered artistic or they are not descendants of traditional gypsy clans. Both in the colony and in what is written about Kathputli, these people have very little presence. The present model of resettlement and rehabilitation paints all those living in slums, with the same brush. And essentially the struggle in Kathputli is about individuality of the artists, because their livelihoods and the spaces they inhabit are very tightly intertwined. By moving them to apartments that are generic and in no way respond to their ways of living, the DDA and the Delhi Govt. is essentially asking them to change how they live and what they do.

However, by presenting Kathputli as a colony where only artists live, the same brush is applied to the non-artists or rather their presence is completely negated. To me, Kathputli brings to the fore more than anything, the need to understand each of these slums and communities individually, to understand what keeps them together, where are they coming from, how do they live etc.  For like Kathputli is not just another slum, it is also not just an Artists Colony.  This requires a major shift in out understanding of who lives in these spaces– not just migrant workers, not just artists, not just criminals– but people. People and not just numbers, people who have families, who have their own ways of living, who like you and me, are trying to work towards a better tomorrow for themselves and their children.

Thoughts of Kathputli and its people

Last summer I spent a few weeks in Kathputli Colony Delhi, interviewing and talking to its people. This 50 odd year old “slum” in West Delhi is one of the first sites for in-situ rehabilitation of slum dwellers being initiated by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA). To say that Kathputli has taken over my thoughts would not be an understatement. As I sit here trying to work out the framework for a paper on the research that we carried out there, I can’t help but think how far removed this is from the lives of the people at Kathputli. Today someone asked me “What is your aim in writing about this? Are you hoping to change policy?” and my answer was “yes, of course”. But immediately a thought popped up in my head- “This is not going to change their lives or perceptions of others! Kathputli might not be there when you go there this summer”. When we were in Kathputli people would often say  “You are educated and you live in Amrikaa. Please do something. Please talk to the DDA and convince them not to move us!”. Even then, I used to feel unable to convince them of how, like them, I too was helpless. I guess I am cynical, you see there is an ingrained cynicism in us Indians, that I am unable to let go of. A cynicism that keeps telling me that nothing is going to change, that I am but a mere Ph.D. student. I am no big mover and shaker! I don’t know any politicians, or bureaucrats. I also feel like a hypocrite- for what is going to change if I choose to live in the US and write about Kathputli from thousands of miles away, while the people of Kathputli face the fear of eviction every day. Then I remind myself that we all have a path, and this is mine. At this time, my path has led me to a place where my job is bring this to the notice of the movers and shakers. 

And as I go back to the framework, I also thought I’d share a few pictures from Kathputli. I ended up with more that 500 pictures of the children there. It seemed like the first word these kids learnt was “photo”. They would grab at me, not let go till I promised to take their pictures with their friends, on their own, with their mom or dog. They have beautiful smiles like all children!

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