Thursday, 13. September 2012


Madeleine Imbeck / Arpad Hetey

The Slum as Inspiration Model for Future Cities

Some thoughts on the potential of slums based on Dieter Laepple’s presentation “Will the whole World become a City?”

What are the problems of our “modern cities” and what is the potential of urban growth?
The “modern city” is conceived as an effective engine offering the emancipation from the constraints of nature. This urban way of life is not only damaging the ecosystem, but also questioning the survival of humanity. Cities are a matter of constant change, evolution, innovation, and creativity. They are manifestations of history and culture and areas of political, cultural and social struggles.

Urban population is growing fast, which leads to expansion of slums and urbanization of poverty. Many of the new poor urbanities will live in informal settlements or in slums and will suffer from overcrowding and environmental degradation. Slums may be poverty traps or transitional spaces. They can be seen as arrival cities and thus function as key instrument in creating a new middle class. In 2001 one third of the world’s population was living in slums. Whether a slum is a place of economic and cultural boom or an explosion of violence depends on our ability to notice and our willingness to engage.

In certain aspects slums may serve as model for future cities: First, urban agriculture is increasingly practiced by the poor people to supplement declining income and to mitigate food and income insecurities. Secondly, a slum is primarily a working place, not a living place. Very important economic processes are going on in slums. Compression of time and place was the utopia of cities 100 years ago, but we need to bring back production to urban places.

Several Earths would be required to allow all of humanity to live in suburban houses with two cars and lawn, but every body wants to arrive there. The challenge lies in learning how to use people’s creativity and new technologies in order to fully exploit the potential of urban growth.

Dharavi, Mumbai, India, nicknamed ‘Asia’s largest slum’

“Architecture often deals with image, planning, codes, and aesthetics. The basics of practical use and the beauty of pragmatism tend to be overlooked or forgotten. Informal dwellings are almost purely practical and are therefore an important source for good ‘design’.” Sytse de Maat, EPFL

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