Posted May 3rd 2011 at 1:32 pm by
in Thesis Chronicles, Urban informality: Improving open spaces in slums

Bangalore's Leprosy Colony: Years of Isolation

This post is part of Thesis Chronicles.

Bangalore’s old leprosy colony is located in the heart of the city, close to the Bangalore City Railway Station. The settlement formed there due to its strategic location by the railway tracks, where victims of the disease made their livelihoods.  The tracks also served as a transportation route, guiding settlers to the city by foot.

As the neighboring areas around the colony gradually grew denser, the leprosy colony became increasingly isolated from surrounding areas. Walls erected as barriers between the lepers and their neighbors and entrances to the settlement were removed. As its walls grew, the leprosy colony also became denser from within. Residents subdivided huts into two and housing construction increasingly overtook open spaces.

Today, Leprosy Colony is an extremely dense slum area in the middle of a vibrant city. The former colony is connected to another slum area on one side and has impenetrable walls on all other sides. Although leprosy is a highly curable disease and most people in the colony don’t have leprosy today, the stigma of lepers lingers on. The physical and psychological isolation is still unmistakable.

Street activities in Leprosy Colony.

There are only three entrances to the settlement, which are all quite informal and hidden. The 235 huts in the settlement are generally very small, and lack most basic services. Paths are narrow (two to five feet) and most open spaces are in fact not open but covered by low roofs. Because of the small size of the houses in combination with the high number of people residing them, the paths and all open spaces are in heavy use throughout the day. The zoning we normally find in cities, where planners “arrange” the public space is only an obstacle here; instead we see a steady flow of changing uses. Cooking, eating as well as playing, working and bathing all occur in the open. The slum streets are constantly buzzing with movement and activity, even though it doesn’t house any formal shops or other types of service facilities.

There is an interesting parallel between the open spaces of the colony and the insides of its houses.  Instead of the specific categorization of use we see in many homes in the Global North, where each room has a name that describes its use, like ‘kitchen’ or ‘bedroom,’ the room(s) in the houses in Leprosy Colony (often there is just one) have to change function throughout the day due to the lack of space. Whereas many rooms and public outdoor spaces in cities like Stockholm or Boston stay empty much of the time, the room(s) of Leprosy Colony are always filled with activity. One minute it functions as a bedroom, the next as a study and then later as a kitchen.

Prabaker lives in a 90 square foot apartment in Leprosy Colony with his wife, daughter and eight other relatives.

Post by Stina Hellqvist and Johanna Bratel. Stina is originally from the small town of Stjärnsund in Dalarna, Sweden. She received a B.S in Landscape Architecture from SLU in 2008 and has since then been studying Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning at SLU and Cornell University. She has also spent one year as a landscape architecture intern in a firm in London, UK. Johanna is currently living in Malmö in the south of Sweden, she received a B.S in Landscape Architecture from SLU in 2008. Since then she has continued her studies in Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning at SLU as well as Corvinus University of Budapest. She also worked as a producer in New York in spring of 2010.

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