Prince Charles's speech about Mumbai's Dharavi, the largest slum in the world (featured in the film Slumdog Millionaire) is making headlines for its tone of respectful admiration for the human and humane living conditions there.
I visited Dharavi with an NGO back in September, and I'm inclined to agree with Charles -- the poverty in Dharavi seems to be of a different character to the poverty elsewhere in Mumbai. Here you see poor children who nevertheless are shod, are playing, attending school, and not begging. Not to say that Dharavi is a paradise or even pleasant to live in -- the toxic fumes from the plastics recycling plants are reason enough to want to raise your children elsewhere -- but that, as compared to government schemes to cram poor people into tower-blocks, Dhravi has a lot going for it.
Dharavi, a Mumbai slum where 600,000 residents are crammed into 520 acres, contains the attributes for environmentally and socially sustainable settlements for the world's increasingly urban population, he said. The district's use of local materials, its walkable neighbourhoods, and mix of employment and housing add up to "an underlying intuitive grammar of design that is totally absent from the faceless slab blocks that are still being built around the world to 'warehouse' the poor".
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