Stina Hellqvist and Johanna Bratel lived in Bangalore, India, for two months to research land use and public space in slums. Their proposal for upgrading Leprosy Colony, IN_SITU, comes on the heels of India’s announcement that it will be a slum- free nation. This post details IN_SITU, which also serves as their master’s thesis in Landscape Architecture at the Swedish University of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The full thesis is available for download.
Leprosy Colony has some clear problems to address in order to be called a sustainable neighborhood. Many of its residents live their lives segregated from the rest of the city. They suffer poor sanitary services, low tenure security and limited access to public spaces and greenery.
The settlement has, however, a wide range of very fine and valuable qualities that should be taken into account as the redevelopment of this area is planned. Leprosy Colony’s buildings are inviting – at a human-oriented scale. The people who live there enjoy an active and social street life.
With no help from experts, the residents of Leprosy Colony employ many of the core ‘sustainable community’ practices that planners tout (such as mixed-use buildings, local construction materials, a comprehensive recycling system, and a pedestrian-oriented layout).
The problems, combined with the potential and the existing qualities in the slum, have inspired our proposal for an upgrading process in Leprosy Colony. The concept for the proposed upgrading, named IN_SITU (lat. “in place”) is built on two major concepts.
The first is connection, linkage, integration – these are the qualities necessary for opening up Leprosy Colony to the rest of the city. The second is flexibility, adaptation, elasticity – these qualities will promote a settlement that can evolve over time. In our thesis we divided these main concepts further into strategies, which together form an inclusive and site-specific slum upgrading proposal focusing on connectivity and the public realm; and social, economic, and environmental sustainability.
• Improved Connectivity and the Public Realm
Connectivity plays a vital role in the life of a city. In a well-linked city people constantly cross paths and spontaneous meetings occur in the public realm. Today Leprosy Colony is, just like its surrounding slums, extremely isolated from the rest of the city grid.
The settlement has grown organically into a network of winding paths. It often takes a long time to get from one place to another – a house, for example, might intrude upon an important connecting path. It is thus important to increase connectivity between and within the area to simplify the connections. The IN_SITU concept aims to open up existing paths so that they become more direct in order to increase accessibility. This means creating connections between different nodes in the area.
Despite the fact that residents make tremendous use of open spaces in Leprosy Colony and its surrounding slum area, there are few open spaces to be found. The ones that do exist are small in size but fill many important functions for the slum dwellers, which is precisely why they are kept open. The IN_SITU concept suggests enhancing these existing open spaces and their qualities while also introducing new ones. In some cases, well-selected houses need to be torn down to make this possible. In other cases, vertical extension of a few houses may pave the way for more public space.
The open spaces in Leprosy Colony host a wide variety of activities all day long, and it’s important to maintain that multi-functionality in newer and bigger spaces. By preserving their simplicity and not limiting the areas to specific activities, the public spaces can continue to fulfill many needs as activity flows.
• Flexible Anti-flood System and Greenery
Every monsoon season, Leprosy Colony suffers major flooding. An underground drainage system currently handles storm water runoff in the slum, but the system is not equipped to handle the amount of rain that falls during the monsoon months. The result is flooded streets and houses.
Leprosy Colony, however, presents simple and sustainable possibilities for an open storm water drainage system. An existing naala (open channel) stretches along the northern edge of the slum, and the whole settlement slopes down towards this channel. By creating five new open storm water drains perpendicular to the naala, water could be channeled out from the settlement. This could be achieved by building up the paths leading down to the main drains to a 2% fall.
As the distances are quite short, the ground has to be raised a maximum of 0.5 m in some locations within the settlement to generate the fall. These five new open paths could also serve as green corridors. IN_SITU proposes greenery on the south and north sides of Leprosy Colony to increase connectivity with tree plantations along the storm water channels, creating green spines in the new north-south links. The trees easily receive water in the hard urban environment, even during the dry season, since they are connected to the storm water swales. As these spines are also connected to the slum’s major public open spaces, they offer great possibilities for community-oriented, small-scale urban farming.
• Upgrading of Housing Stock
The concept proposes an incremental housing upgrade process, changing the settlement over time by gradually improving already existing urban structures, IN_SITU. The advantage of this approach is that it’s flexible and changeable depending on social and economic conditions, and also takes local natural conditions into account. At the same time, it is a humble way of taking care of established social structures and communities that play an extremely important role in a sustainable future development.
• An Alternative Use of Governmental Funding
The traditional procedure for slum rehabilitation in India starts with government money, set aside specifically for slum rehabilitation, in form of the JNNURM/RAY scheme. This modernization scheme has been launched by the Indian government under Ministry of Urban Development to improve the quality of life and infrastructure primarily in the cities with a total investment of over $200 billion. Generally, the amount of capital put into the different projects is around RS 300,000 ($ 6,800) per household. A comparable amount is put into the Leprosy Colony development. Often, this money is spent on low-quality multi-storey buildings on the location of the former slum, or on a relocation site. IN_SITU proposes an alternative use of the JNNURM/RAY money, and an unconventional development procedure.
By supporting the slum community in a resident-steered upgrading process, less money would fall between the cracks (to developers and under-consultants) and more capital would reach the actual slum dwellers. Consultants (such as site-wide plumbing and electricity work) could do some of the work, but slum dwellers would rebuild their own homes, with support and education by an NGO if necessary.
• Framework for Neighborhood Expansion
India has set a goal to become a slum-free nation in a near future, but the country’s focus is mainly on slum rehabilitation rather than preventing slums in the first place. One of the major problems associated with slum formation is poor people’s inability to step into the formal housing market. A solution to this problem could be to add a framework for selling small plots in under-utilized areas of the city. By preparing these areas with water, sewer and electrical connections and creating a mixture of plot sizes (but all small), poor people, as well as people from slightly higher social strata, could enter the housing ladder.
Around Leprosy Colony there are a number of poorly utilized areas that could be used for such development. A possible scenario could be that the first area to be developed into these new plots are the ones immediately south of the slum, partly by those who had their houses demolished in the upgrading of Leprosy Colony. As the new metro station is built, the area around it could be developed and eventually the whole area would be more efficiently connected, and the former fragmented urban structure smoothed out.
In a similar way, areas all over Bangalore could be developed. Small, poorly utilized areas are cut off into small plots and together they form a network of small-scale, pedestrian-friendly areas around the city.