SFI Seminar: The Slum as Organism

SFI Seminar

Monday, June 10, 2013 • 12:15 p.m. • Collins Conference Room, Santa Fe Institute, 1399 Hyde Park Road in Santa Fe.

Jan Nijman Director, Center for Urban Studies, University of Amsterdam

The Slum as Organism

Abstract: Urban slums have proliferated throughout the developing world in cities of the so-called global south. In Mumbai, India, over half of the population of 12 million is now said to live in slums, a greater number in absolute and relative terms than ever before, despite a range of successive policies aimed at slum eradication or rehabilitation. Why do slums emerge and why (and how) do they persist or survive? What is the place or role of the slum in the wider urban environment?

Using Dharavi as an empirical case, it is argued that slums (in India) function according to a distinct logic and on the basis of an intricate social fabric that is interwoven with the local economy. The slum is subject to some government and external interference but it largely operates organically, as an unintended city. If the first question is how the slum works, the second question is how it relates to the urban system of which it is a part.

These problems have a fundamental spatial (and scalar) dimension but must simultaneously involve economic, political, and cultural aspects. The very notion of the slum itself, too, is inevitably problematized. The argumentation is in part based on extensive surveys of households and firms in Dharavi.

Note: The SFI is unable to accommodate members of the public for its limited lunch service; you’re welcome to bring your own. Visit www.santafe.edu.