Monday, May 20, 2013

The Great Slum City

One aspect of the Sherlock (TV series) which interests me is how the protagonist utilizes a vast connection of vagrant persons (aptly called the 'homeless network') to gather various information for the hero's benefit in exchange for a few bucks. It depicts a bunch of seemingly inutile members of the society performing critical functions in a formal society, which as Sherlock boasts, is more efficient than the police in terms of intelligence gathering.

Sometime later, I would find myself researching on 'informal' citizens with defined purposes in a thriving city. 0ne such website (URL) has a project called Informal City Dialogues:

Informal City Dialogues is a global, multi-stakeholder project fostering a conversation about the role of informality in creating inclusion and resilience in future cities. The informal city encompasses diverse activities and actors whose livelihoods and dwellings are usually neither regulated nor protected by the state (e.g., waste pickers, street vendors, slums, etc.), and yet often accounts for a large percentage of GDP, housing, and transport. 

Informal living

They cover many interesting topics in this site. Slum technology is one.
They solicited a competition where they ask what can 100,000 dollars do to improve the slum community. The end goal is to have a better city where a waste picker and a businessman can ride a bus together, drink coffee together etc without any pretense. The winner suggested the establishment of a slum techno hub where the residents can play around with the provided materials and tools to solve their own problems. (Site)

Another contributor argues that slums are a necessary part of a city as it serves as an opening for opportunities where the less fortunate from outside can come in and try their luck to move up the ladder. On one hand, he could be wrong in implying that even in a perfect city, poverty still exists and is a way of life. On the other hand, realistically he has  point. I'll explain.

If the elite on a very successfully city suddenly felt philanthropic due to some divine intervention, what should they do to alleviate the poverty-stricken lives of the people from areas outside of their paradise?
1. They may go to the poor rural towns and create opportunities in those areas. But what are the chances that a few establishments (malls, factories) would make the life of everyone around it to be better. Economically, the poor town is in a financial black hole and putting money there is hopeless.
2. They can invite a sizable bunch of the poor residents from those areas and just get them to live inside the city. Give them few opportunities of work. Someday, if they are diligent, they will reap the fruits of the city, the same fruits that the formal citizens get until they climb a step on that ladder. Then invite more folks inside. Rinse and repeat. Divide and conquer.

Soon the city will be bigger and more vibrant and its blessing will spread.
(This of course is just wistful thinking and purely theoretical and no proof whatsoever, so feel free to argue otherwise.)

The urban poor dilemma

In a third-world country like the Philippines, accept it or not it is practically impossible to eradicate the poverty which causes the informal citizens to flourish in the city. Street vendors, peddlers, hawkers, squatters, garbage pickers, cart-dwellers, shantytowns, grease-people (taong grasa). They are members of this urban society as valid as people on suits and ties.

The sooner we accept this fact, the faster we can think of solutions to make things better or at least more livable for the informal and formal citizens alike (solutions that may even remove the distinction between the two).

The Makeshift solution

Knowing that these citizens are on the fringes of the formal government, we might as well form an entirely different body to 'govern' them from people who will come from their ranks as they are the ones with full knowledge of their situation.

The Central Slum Government as we will christen it which will be based on the squatter towns on the mountains of Payatas or along the PNR rails. With the initial help of educated lawmakers and change-agents, the CSG will have legislative, executive and judicial arms just like real government but the CSG system will be specific to the informal citizens.

Their architects will study how to build sturdy shanties enhanced to withstand extreme weathers, minimize fires and prevent cave-ins. This while making sure that materials are available from nearby garbage dumps and junkyards. They will create easily retractable bed-enclosures for the wandering homeless.

Their nutritionists will research how to repurpose throwaway pagpag and botya meat to make them edible and not harmful to hungry stomachs to lessen the sickly from their ranks who collect and eat these food everyday.

Their chemists will find ways to make readily available ingredients into makeshift medicines against infection for their picker-gatherer bunch.

They will create recycled gloves, masks and HAZMAT suits for their waste-picker-scavengers.

All these will be performed in the makeshift laboratory in the center of the slums, akin to 'Next City's Slum techno hub.

The central government will pass laws to register each and every citizens who are part of their network (meaning they are not in the real government's database/radar/registry). ID's will be given to each homeless citizen and their roaming zone will be declared, as such, going outside that zone after the curfew or sleeping outside that zone will be answerable to the law of the slums.

Beggars will be assigned to designated zones as they will now be professional beggars working in their own cubicles. Same will be for the hawkers, peddlers, street vendors, cart stores.

Speaking of work, the homeless network model from Sherlock will be imitated so that the homeless will serve as the CIA which can be another source of income for them. They could provide valuable information to the formal government for a fee.

Economically, they will not rely too much on money. Their means of purchase will be made of those necessity for them; food, shelter materials, clothes.

All these are monitored by the CSG to ensure that they do not encroach the rights of the formal citizens and that formal citizens do not encroach on theirs. Regular intergovernmental talks and status reports will make sure that both governments are in accord.

With the model established, here will now be a system for an otherwise hardly monitored aspect of urban living. They govern themselves, they regulate themselves and they are responsible for the thriving of their great city. This will soon be a city within a city. A great city lining the pathways of another city the way a vine hugs a bamboo trellis. A city running along the railways of another city, under bridges, atop garbage dumps, roaming the alleyways,stuffed in container vans, in makeshift mansions on junkyards, abandoned buildings, in a hapless fixtures of scrap card boards and ply woods -- the Great Slum City.

Edit: These could actually clear-up Manila's notoriety as being the Gates of Hell! I wonder if I get a lot of hits if I mention that? Dan Brown  (Inferno) versus MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino. LOL.

Edit2: The informal settlers are getting a lot of heat recently. Demolitions here and there on squatter areas, fires razing a slum neighborhood thought of as conspiracy etc...

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