Urban Politics and You (But Really The Public)

The section that grabbed most of my attention in this chapter is about urban infrastructure, which I consider to be the most underrated part of any city. It only makes sense that when cities grow, that you must evaluate and keep reevaluating your roads, pipes, bridges, power, and other systems both in spaces that are expanding and in what is already existing. What is worse off is true for the informal settlements in India, where growth has not been supported with adequate infrastructure. That is why in Mumbai, where the world’s largest informal settlement is located, the Slum Sanitation Programme exists to bring better sanitation into informal settlements.

What my experience in India has taught me is that the government definitely, in agreement with the text, oscillates between elimination and regulation of informal settlements. In the city I was in, Bhubaneswar in the state of Orissa, the city government was trying to get the resources together to eliminate an informal settlement that my friends were analyzing and getting to know and understand during the study abroad trip. At the end of our stay in the city, my friends made a pitch to the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation that they should not bulldoze the community and instead support the community’s desire to help regulate what is bothering the settlement: flooding. Flooding is actually a huge problem in many informal settlements, which may create bigger problems. Floods can kill people, but they can disrupt and spread sewage, garbage, and cause damage to homes and other property. This is, in part, why governments in India are so against informal settlements. Many are located in areas that have been determined to be dangerous or unsuitable for development, hence why the houses are not constructed well or with not all of the necessary utilities.

But more on the issues of India; India is experiencing a problem of offering adequate sanitation services for the public in public places. One could argue that the restrooms being provided by the Mumbai SSP are public restrooms, but the fact that some of these restrooms are pay-to-enter can lead to discrimination and denied use of public space to a particular group. In this case, that group may be the poor. However, looking at this from another perspective is that these restrooms are provided with public money, but part of a partnership where ownership and management is gradually changed from contractors to local organizations, which require money to keep the facilities clean and maintained. Does this mean that the fee is well-justified?

What I think may be part of this discussion on informal settlements and what is happening to them is the possible concept of gentrification in the regulation or removal of informal settlements. By denying use of public facilities to poor people, they may loose ground to people who can pay for the services. By putting in new public facilities, it may actually cause wealthier residents to move in and take control over the public restrooms. I would have to do more research on this subject, but it is something that I would guess to happen.

To conclude this post, I would like to ask why my major, Urban Planning, is connected t gentrification? When I plan and design, am I actually subconsciously causing a process of gentrification by attempting to make neighborhoods better than before? I do not want to cause gentrification, but how is it possible to do the things that I want to do in my career?

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