What is a slum?
The words "slum," "ghetto" or "blighted" get tossed around very lightly when we talk about cities. A slum or blight is something to be removed, in fact we have legal terms for "blight removal" and "slum clearance." I remember an occurrence several years ago where I read a Blight Study for a redevelopment project, and the author concluded that 50 foot wide residential lots were sub-standard and therefore blighted. Because, after all, who in their right mind could build a house on a 50 foot wide lot? (Never mind that the adjoining neighborhood was replete with houses on lots from 30 to 50 feet wide)
The thoughts of what actually makes a "slum" and what constitute our views of them came after viewing the video below about the Dharavi slum in Mumbai, India. It's beautifully shot, and worth 5 minutes out of your day. It's not a beautiful place in the traditional sense, but Dharavi does exhibit an awful lot of other positive characteristics for neighborhoods: it's full of life, people are industrious, there's obvious joy & whimsy in the environment, and it's ridiculously efficient in terms of the use of land.
Places like this are typically top of the list for "modernization" and removal, and we led the way with our urban renewal (removal) projects starting in the 1950's in the US.
But should they be?
Should we rethink our view of these places?
Is our desire for beauty obscuring vital, human places?
Should these places evolve? If so, how?
I don't often leave an article with a string of questions, but this video certainly leaves me with many more questions than answers. As the world continues to urbanize, these kinds of questions will come to the forefront of urban planning and design. For now, I'm ready to sign up for a tour.