Dharavi, the Biggest Shanty-town of Asia

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Is it possible to include shanty-towns in the development projects of a country? The answer is actually very simple: yes, it is possible and it needs will and courage. Shanty-towns are usually a part of the city landscapes of developing countries. They are almost a part of the identity of huge cities like Rio de Janeiro, Bogotá, Mexico, El Cairo and Bombay and they reveale the big diference between social classes in those countries where it is possible to find First-World-Districts with the Non-Touristic-Areas of the shanty-towns. One of the most famous in the planet is Dharavi, the biggest one of Asia, 17 acres of land and more than a million people at the skirts of Mumbai. What it happens is that Dharavi is today a part of what is called in India slum redevelopment. Something that could be interested if we think in a Latin American context. What about Ciudad Bolívar, Las Comunas of Medellín and Cali, La Ciénaga of Cartagena de Indias or El Punto Negro of Barranquilla?

By Albeiro Rodas, picture “Dharavi – Asia´s lasgest slum” by Adrian Fisk. | Español

The history of Dharavi is a real Greek Tragedy. It was one of the Great Koliwadas of Bombay, it is to say, a vast fishing community inhabited by the kolis, a fisherfolk living of the creek that came in from the Arabian Sea. The City-Island of Bombay started its huge development that brought to the joining of the separated islands and then, such process, let Dharavi deprived of its traditional sustanance. The new dry lands of the city were rapidly settled by new comers. Potters, leather tanning industry, artisants, garment traders and others created a city inside the city far from what was the old fishing village. New migrants to Mumbai looked for Dharavi in order to rent a cheap place to stay, which prices could be as cheap as US$4 per month (COP$8,000).

Slum redevelopment

Picture “Ciudad Bolívar, Bogotá“, by Leo Villamizar.

The slum redevelopment, urban renewal or urban regeneration is not a new term, although it can has many meanings according with what a country understands by urban development of its cities. Urban renewal processes can be traced already to the European Industrial Revolution when the physical insfrastructures of the cities were failing in the face of increasingly rapid growth population. However it meant the forced displasament of the working class and the poor to suburban areas., like it happened in the second part of the 19th Century in Paris. In United States one of the most important cases is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that was known as one of the most dirtiest and most economically depressed cities around the world. The multimillionaire R.K.Mellon, became the first major city to undertake a modern urban-renewal program in May 1950. However, reactions against urban renewal are not always pacific. Jane Jacobs, in his work The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961, wrote against the modern urban renewal. His work created movements against it and conducted to the concept of community development that in USA has President Lyndon Johnson at the head of the idea. More than destructions and displacement of families, the proposal of what is community development sees for renovation, selective demolition, commercial development, tax incentives and other activities thought to revitalize urban neighborhood.

Colombia has had its own history from urban renewal to community developments, although both can be found around the country. One of the most famous example of urban renewal can be found in Cartagena de Indias when in 1930 its major proposed the demolition of the Walls (Murallas) because he wanted to expand the city. For many developers of the time in the city, the ancient Spaniard Wall – that today is Patrimony of the Humanity -, meant the symbol of an old infraestructure that did not allow the progress of Cartagena de Indias. The Wall was only an obstacle to the development of the city, they said. Even the English company Pearson and Son Limited proposed to the Ministry of Public Works to open some holes to the Wall and the demolition of some parts for commercial spaces. The urban renewal intention was only stopped by the II War World and the time would give to the Wall its due appreciation. Medellín was the other city of urban renewal processes throught its history of development. Since the end of the 19th Century, the town of narrow streets was stumbled by the urban renewal that came to be known locally as the ensanche (widening). The misterious fires of Parque Berrío in 1917, 1921 and 1922 allowed also the construction of modern buildings. Nowadays, the city has done a lot in the recuperation of its downtown and places that were before abandoned are being integrated in plans of development.


According with Gayatru Ramanathan from Reuters, slum redevelopment is becoming big business across India. People living in the slum get the proper material for construction, mortar houses and the developing of commercial properties. The biggest project will be Dharavi where some 100 firms will participate in the development of the region that would cost around US$225 billion according with Mukesh Ehta, a former New York real estate developer. In the plan of the program is included the construction of schools, colleges and hospitals and the participation of the government is the main key to motivate the participation of developers who will build commercial or residential units providing in return free houses for slum dwellers.

Woult it work in Colombia and Latin America something similar? Would Ciudad Bolivar in Bogotá become in a near future a Latin American example of community development where firms can invest and dwellers can participate in a great business to benefit everybody? In the modern times it is possible to find some kind of examples in similar sense in Colombia, but with little participation of the commercial sector that would revitalize some areas as it happens in India. The Indian idea is to include those shanty sectors inside the economic dynamic in such a way that their dwellers can participate not only and the reconstruction of their housing, but also participate in the new economic dynamic of the slum redevelopment.


1 Comment

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  1. carlton

    really sad 2 know,living in d 21st century..ppl are nt really concerned abut d slums..Do undrstand tht an everage peron shuld tk initative bt wht abut the welthy people & espically d politicians..Its really tym to change or else aftr couple of deceades still a person like me would continue posting coments on improvisation..regds..
    A well wisher..

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