Shadow Cities (Neuwirth) was one of the more positive readings we have read so far. Despite how the residents came to be in these spaces, they valued freedom, and that home was where their family and community were. The land while valuable was of lesser value than the meaning that was placed upon it. But further research I have seen how these slums have evolved into rich environments with economic value and improved living standards than described 15 years ago. Even the Planet of Slums (2006) painted a doomsday like scenario due to population growth and urbanisation.
With the book published that long ago, it was interesting to do a virtual tour, thanks to Google Maps again. As you move around the space, you can see some of the rough and ready houses. But at the same time, you can see how commercialisation and innovation have transformed the space that “no one owns”. Rocinha surprised me with a neoliberal transformation from the description in the book. So I now wonder how much of the space is now owned.
A fire in 2018 destroyed the Nairobi’s Southland (Kijiji) slum. A suspected electrical fault and lack of access saw the whole settlement reduced to ashes killing 4. Within weeks the Government were trying to control the space with 23 proposed roads where the residents only wanted three. A satellite view now shows three roads in the rebuilt space. There is a hegemonic battle that didn’t go as you would imagine in the suburbs of Melbourne. Soon after the fires, the Government were delivering materials and the spaces was reborn once again.
Watching the news stories, the residents look like they have better health, education and resources as outline int the 2004 account. The evolution of the space has come as the residents fought their way to better lives. It was still home even if they may not own the land.
Google Map view even has business location pins on them. To get a map-pin, you must apply through Google My Business, receive a code by snail mail which you use to validate the location. I can see a hotel (tin shed), Loreal Salon and cafes. The transactional use of the space has changed with its rebirth. How long will this space be a slum before economic growth evolves it into just another suburb of Nairobi?
So how long is a slum a slum? Parts of Melbourne like where the Docklands Studios now stand, parts of St Kilda or the top end of Little Bourke Street in the CBD. All these spaces have transformed from slums into thriving spaces. So despite that these slums are presently where people survive, they are also a place to belong and one of hope, opportunity and sometimes freedom.
Hope Hotel (couldn’t find it on Trip Advisor)