Over a billion people – a sixth of the world’s population – currently live in slums. Worldwide urbanization and mass poverty have led to many people living a marginalized existence outside the official city limits.
In Places We Live Jonas Bendiksen puts himself at the center of the home, amongst the creative decor, small ornaments and souvenirs, and asks the slum dwellers to recount their lives. The overriding narrative is that of the human capacity to establish a normal life and create a home. Huge variations in the circumstances of individuals and personal style are unveiled, and our understanding of how we live in the twenty-first century is challenged.
The Venezuelan capital is located in a valley, with commercial districts and well-heeled residential areas near the valley floor. But look upward in any direction, and you will see shantytowns built into the steep hillsides.
The population of Caracas has more than quadrupled in the last 50 years, fueled in part by Venezuela’s recent oil boom. Despite President Hugo Chavez’s populist platform, and even though Venezuela holds South America’s largest oil reserves, about 50 percent of Caraquenos live in poor neighborhoods known as municipal services such as waste collection, regular mail delivery, sewage systems, and legal electricity connections.
The barrios also face a serious security issue. According to UNESCO, firearms kill more people in Venezuela than in any other country not at war. In 2007, the annual tally approached 12000 murders countrywide. In the tattered social fabric of Caracas and its barrios, internecine gang warfare, robbery, and other violent crime produce 100 homicides a week.
Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya
Kibera, East Africa’s largest slum, is home to one-quarter of Nairobi’s population. Here, about 700,000 people squeeze into a piece of land the size of New York’s Central Park.
Because there are no paved roads in Kibera, residents use the active railway track that cuts through the area’s center as their main pedestrian thoroughfare. An exposed sewer system runs among thousands of 10-by-10-foot shacks. Because of its unauthorized status, Kibera has always been excluded from official urban plans and receives next to no municipal services, such as public water, sanitation, schools, and health care.
According to the U.N. Population Fund, one in five children who live in Kibera will die before his or her fifth birthday. Insecurity and violence haunt families trying to build better lives. But with monthly rents as low as $7, this self-policed, self-organized enclave is often the first stop for rural migrants fleeing destitution in their villages to try their luck in the city.
Dharavi, Mumbai, India
Mumbai is the world’s most densely populated urban area. It is estimated that by 2020, it’s population will have swelled from 18 to 24 million. Even though it is the richest city in India, about two-thirds of its residents live in its countless zopadpattis, or slums.
Dharavi, Mumbai’s best-known slum, is the home to aproximately 1 million residents living off the official city grid, most without access to basic sanitation. This 1-square-miule neighborhood is dense with enterprise. In thousands of single-room factories, businesses, and sweatshops, migrant laborers and longtime residents work day and night sewing clothes, tanning hides, running bakeries, and recycling all manner of waste, from oil cans to plastics.
Dharavi, however, is likely to vanish within a decade. Mumbai’s authorities are rallying to recast the city as a world-class showpiece for India’s economic boom. With is’t prime location close to office parks and commuter rail lines, Dharavi’s slums are slated for demolition and reincarnationas middle-class apartment blocks.
Indonesia’s sprawling capital is an urban planner’s nightmare. In just three generations it’s population has exploded from 2 million to 13 million people, or more than 20 million if you count the surrounding suburbs.
There is no single, prominent slum area in Jakarta. Instead, the urban poor are scattered, living in hundreds of pockets of poverty throughout the city.
One-quarter of Jakarta’s population live in kampungs, poorer neighborhoods that are often remnants of villages absorbed by the selling metropolis.
Another 5 percent are the slum dwellers found in ubiquitous illegal settlements that have formed under highway overpasses, near railway tracks, and along the edges of riverbanks and drainage canals.
Aside from routine evictions, fires, and cramped living quarters, slum dwellers must also contend with the threat of severe flooding, as two-fifths of Jakarta sits below sea level. Many of the poorest neighborhoods are near the city’s trash-filled storm drains and have little protection from the annual monsoons.
For the full sets with narrated stories, click here.