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UNHOUSED
Creative Engagement With Global Housing Crises
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The Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD) has been doing the really hard and amazing work for many years now of creating public theater and performance art with folks from Skid Row. This exhibition is a history of Skid Row as seen through the lives and voices of many of its residents. The exhibition and events that are planned during the show are some of the most exciting cultural work around UNHOUSING that I have seen in a long time. I am going to try and go out and see the show and attend some of the talks and events.




Los Angeles Poverty Department presents
Skid Row History Museum, A Gallery Exhibition

June 28 - August 2, 2008 | Opening Reception June 28, 6-9pm

This exhibition will explore the history of Los Angles’ Skid Row through the stories of those who live, work and inspire others there. It will also celebrate those who have created positive change in this community. The Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD) is a non-profit arts organization that connects lived experience to the social forces that shape the lives and communities of people living in poverty.
Important Dates

OPENING RECEPTION
JUNE 28, Saturday, 6-9 pm
Live From Skid Row: Jeff Dietrich and Catherine Morris of the Catholic Worker and the Hippie Kitchen remember remarkable people and initiatives. Music from Ron Taylor and Oscar Harvey. Performances by Ibrahim Saba and Kevin Michael Key. Food & drinks.
PERFORMANCE & PUBLIC CONVERSATION

JULY 18, Friday, 6-9 pm
@ Lamp Community Art Project Gallery, 452 S. Main St. LA 90013
Live From Skid Row: Public discussion with Pete White and Becky Dennison of LA Community Action Network (LACAN). Music from Weba Garretson and Ralph Gorodetsky. Performance by Michelle Autry and Sunshine Mills. Food & drinks.
WORKSHOP

JULY 25, Friday, 2-6 pm
@ The Box Gallery, Chinatown, 977 Chung King Road, LA 90012
Live From Skid Row: Workshop for Skid Row residents from Lamp Community and the Downtown Women's Center. Food & drinks.
PERFORMANCE & PUBLIC CONVERSATION

JULY 26, Saturday, 6-9 pm
@ The Box Gallery, Chinatown, 977 Chung King Road, LA 90012
Live From Skid Row: Public discussion with Mollie Lowery, founder and first executive director of Lamp Community. Music from Code Zero. Performance by Tony Parker and Charles Porter. Food & drinks.
CLOSING RECEPTION

AUGUST 2, Saturday, 6-9 pm
@ The Box Gallery, Chinatown, 977 Chung King Road, LA 90012
Live From Skid Row: Public discussion with Ted Hayes, founder of Dome Village. Music from Ron Taylor, Church of the Nazarene Gospel Choir. Performance by Riccarlo Porter. Food & drinks.


A map of Skid Row will be on the floor of the front gallery, marking significant sites where these stories have unfolded. This exhibition will also include images and videos highlighting the community’s efforts and strides. These videos feature speakers at public meetings and performances by LAPD. In the back gallery visitors will be invited to contribute their ideas for Skid Row’s own “Walk of Fame,” which seeks to honor those people and organizations that have bettered the community. In this area there will be inspiration booklets for visitors to draw out their ideas of whom they believe should be honored. The ultimate vision behind the Skid Row History Museum is to create a series of permanent public artworks, (plaques, signs, and the like) actually installed in the streets of downtown for this eventual “museum without walls”.

This exhibition has many goals; one is that it will enable the public to better understand the Skid Row community and the challenges that they have endured. The second is to empower the Skid Row population with work that confers the often-denied respect that this community and its members deserve.

As a major part of this exhibition there will be multiple events, including public discussions with key figures of the Skid Row community, musical and dramatic performances and workshops for members of Lamp Community and Downtown Women’s Center. See above for list of events.

Funding assistance for this project has been provided by the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles (CRA/LA).

About LAPD:

The Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD is a non-profit arts organization that was started in 1985 by activist John Malpede. LAPD’s mission: creating performance work that connects lived experience to the social forces that shape the lives and communities of people living in poverty. LAPD is committed to creating high-quality, challenging performances and artworks that express the realities, hopes and dreams of people who live and work on Skid Row.

About CRA/LA:

CRA/LA (www.crala.org), a public agency, is regulated by the State of California and operates within the City of Los Angeles. It attracts private investment into economically depressed communities to eliminate blight, revitalize older neighborhoods, build housing for all income levels and create and retain employment opportunities. CRA/LA manages 32 redevelopment projects areas and three revitalization areas in seven regions: East Valley, West Valley, Hollywood & Central, Downtown, Eastside, South Los Angeles, and the Harbor.
About CRA/LA Art Program:

CRA/LA has had a long-standing commitment to the arts, recognizing that they play a significant role in the revitalization, growth and sustainability of our neighborhoods. Beginning in the late 1960's, CRA/LA became one of the first public agencies to set the groundwork for other cities creating policies that require developers to invest in art and culture. In the 40 years that we have invested in Downtown LA we have helped create over 100 traditional and contemporary pieces of public art and cultural facility projects. Highlights include the development of the Museum of Contemporary Art, rehabilitation of the historic neon on Broadway's theaters, and many engaging site-specific public art installations in private developments, streetscape improvements and parks.


As the deeply irresponsible U.S Congress does nothing to stem the tremendous collapse of the subprime mortgage industry and help individual homeowners, the fiasco continues to pile up personal tragedies on top of tragedies. People are not only losing their homes in large numbers, but they are also losing the contents of their storage units. Here is a link to a story in today's NY Times:

Losing a Home, Then Losing All Out of Storage
By DAVID STREITFELD
Published: May 11, 2008

Of particular interest to UNHOUSED is the increasing number of people who are trying to use storage units as temporary shelters. From the article:

A “residential unit” is one where the renter tries to illegally live in the unit. “We used to see one or two residential units a month,” Mr. Reger said. “Now I’m seeing 6 or 8 or 10. At one facility in D.C. the other day, we had three residentials.”

I saw evidence of this in Chicago. There was an elderly man living in a storage unit in the facility where the art group I work with, Temporary Services, has a large locker for storing some of our art work. He had made a partially concealed place to sleep. I think I surprised him when I was leaving the building. I got a glimpse inside his unit and saw that he had clearly been living there.

I spoke on several occasions with clerks who worked at the facility and they had many stories of people trying to make the units into homes. There was one family that would urinate in jars at night, as there were no toilets amongst the storage units, and then dispose of it during the day. He told me he found their mini-apartment filled with places to sleep and these jars of urine.

This is absolutely harrowing and speaks volumes to the terrible lack of affordable housing in the U.S. It is unconscionable that people have to live in this way. This is the brutal truth about free markets and how they chew up people and don't take care of the needs of everyone.

It would have been really great to see some images of peoples' temporary homes with this article, but I imagine it is something that is terribly difficult to document and that the companies that own the storage units don't really want people to know about this. I am going to try and document some of these shelters that people create in storage units, both out of my own curiosity about how people house themselves during housing crises, but also to try and make this more visible.

Mumbai from air + view of Asia's largest slum area - Dharavi

It is difficult to find very much information about the word "slumsploitation." I doubt it gets much use. I first came across it in an excellent article in Mute magazine: "Slumsploitation – The Favela on Film and TV," By Melanie Gilligan.

http://www.metamute.org/en/Slumsploitation-Favela-on-Film-and-TV

Slumsploitation - the exploitation and disempowering of slums and slum dwellers for the entertainment of outsiders - films present favelas, slums, informal settlements, as extremely dangerous places filled with more or less undesirable people who are highly sexualized, and the victims of their respective unjust societies because of where they live. There is also the contradictory glamorization of the violence that exists in these places. These films tend to include a hero from the slum who fights his/her situation and aspires to a middle class exit from the slums or somehow for the salvation of his/her fellow slum dwellers.

This safe consumption of the other of the global slums from afar seems to be expressing itself - in what also can be called slumsploitation - in the surprising number of drive or ride-by home made video recordings of slums that one can find on youtube. They are from all over the world. These videos show slums from the safe distance of a plane, car, or train window. There is often little introduction or narration and we are to understand that just the existence of these places, and the shock that they exist, is the subject matter and narrative.

A search of the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) for "slumsploitation" yielded these results:

Keywords (Approx Matches) (Displaying 9 Results)
1. bumsploitation (1 title - Bum Hunts: Tales from the Bum Cage (2003) (V))
2. nunsploitation (41 titles - Shoot 'Em Up (2007), ...)
3. drugsploitation (1 title - The Pace That Kills (1935))
4. blaxploitation (500 titles - Training Day (2001), ...)
5. sexploitation (274 titles - Showgirls (1995), ...)
6. sexploitation-film (2 titles - Hideout in the Sun (1960), ...)
7. scixploitation (1 title - Sex Galaxy (2008))
8. sexual-exploitation (21 titles - Cruel Intentions (1999), ...)
9. animal-exploitation (9 titles - Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007), ...)

Titles (Approx Matches) (Displaying 7 Results)
1. Triple X Selects: The Best of Lezsploitation (2007)
2. That's Sexploitation (1973)
3. VH1 News Presents: Hip Hop Videos - Sexploitation on the Set (2005) (TV)
4. Boxoffice Bonanza of Sexploitation Trailers, Volume II (????)
5. Harry Novak's Boxoffice Bonanza of Sexploitation Trailers, Volume I (1992)
6. Sultan of Sexploitation, King of Camp (1999) (V)
7. Pimp & Ho: Adventures in Queersploitation (2001)

An interesting set of results, but no entry for slumsploitation. However, it gives us a sense of what the word could mean when put in relation to other films that have been designated as somehow exploiting the very people or subjects that they are about.

Films that could be described as slumsploitation:
• Bus 174, directed by José Padilha, 2002
• Carandiru, directed by Hector Babenco, 2003 )(See Melanie Gilligan's article for an explanation of why this film should be included in this list)
• City of God, directed by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, 2002
• City of Men (Telenovela - a spin off of City of God)
• Favela Rising, directed by Matt Mochary & Jeff Zimbalist, 2006
• Lower City, directed by Sérgio Machado, 2005
• Tsotsi, directed by Gavin Hood, 2005

Your help in adding films to this list, and a better articulation of this emerging genre of films, would be greatly appreciated.

Tsotsi, 2005, directed by Gavin Hood, set in a Soweto slum, near Johannesburg, South Africa.

Media portrayals of people who live in "slums" have an impact on how those who live outside of them perceive their inhabitants. Mass media mainly reinforce stereotypes that have very little to do with peoples' actual lives. These stereotypes can have a real impact when people on the outside, who consider themselves decent and sympathetic, fail to support the struggles of slum-dwellers, in part because of manufactured opinions about them (that they are dirty, lazy freeloaders, always committing crimes, etc.). Politicians, private developers, and those who seek to benefit in displacing people who have built their own homes and sections of major cities, benefit from an ignorant populace. Bad media representations misdirect sympathies away from the people who need them the most.

The still emerging international genre, commonly referred to as “slumsploitation,” has a mixed role in how these communities are perceived by the many people who will never actually visit them in person, but only through a trip to the movie theater or by renting a DVD.

I had a first hand experience of peoples’ manufactured attitudes about slum-dwellers repeatedly while staying in Dharavi (Mumbai's largest incremental settlement). I told Mumbaikars and Indians from other cities, whom I met, that I was staying in Dharavi. Their first response was always shock, then disgust, then outright contempt for the people who lived there. When I asked if they had ever visited these, or other areas, and talked to the people who live there, the response was always no. I was warned by one man, on my flight from Frankfurt to Mumbai, that Dharavi was an incredibly dangerous place and that I would have a lot of troubles. His ideas about Dharavi only came from the media, he admitted to me. I found Dharavi to be incredibly safe at all hours. People were friendly and generous. It was when I visited the tourist areas, like Colaba, of the city that I felt the most unsafe.

Tsotsi is intended as a film about one man’s redemption from a brutal life of crime. This film falls on its face immediately failing to create even the smallest amount of sympathy with the main character who is just too fake and too stupid – too inhuman – to believe. This is a combination of bad writing and equally bad acting.

Tsotsi, the title name of the main character, means "thug" we learn very quickly into this abysmal film about a poor, aspiring gangster who lives in the periphery of Johannesburg, South Africa. Tstosi and his gang take the train into central Johannesburg from their ramshackle slum and rob people on the trains. The first victim we see is an older middle class black man. The crew rob the man, and Tsotsi - in an example of the stiff writing of the script is when the film tries to show us just HOW BAD he is - unnecessarily stabs the man to death. This takes away any possibility that we are going to sympathize with Tsotsi. He is a murderer, and a frivolous one at that. Somebody should have explained to the writers how this undermines the premise of their film.

Watching this movie was an endurance test. Not since my early film studies days of sitting through unbelievably tedious video art, have I felt what I was watching to be such a pain in the ass and not worth my time. The plot of this film just doesn’t make sense.

Tsotsi gets in a fight in a bar and brutalizes one of his underlings. He wanders off and finds himself near the heavily fortified home of a middle class couple. A woman pulls up in her nice car and can’t get the automatic gate to work. She gets out of her car and calls for her husband. At this point Tsotsi steals her car. He then realizes that her very young baby is in the back. Thus begin a bunch of ridiculous capers, not intended to be funny (and they aren’t but might have been better if this were made as a comedy), that are difficult to believe.

Slum life is an important context for this film and helps to describe Tsotsi’s character. But this component of the film is handled just as poorly as the rest. I feel ambivalent about what the impact of this film might have been in its native South Africa or on those of us who consume it out of context.

The script is based on a novel, by the same name, by the mighty playwright Athol Fugard, who has done many devastatingly powerful plays some of which have been made into films; “Master Harold and the Boys” is probably one of his best known plays made into a film.

The acting, especially by the main character, is uneven to poor, with supporting characters often outdoing him. It is difficult to believe that Tsotsi won the awards that are boasted on the film's official web site: http://www.tsotsi.com/english/index.php

Equally baffling is the critics' consensus at Rotten Tomato, which gave this film a ridiculously high 81% rating: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/tsotsi/

If you are in the mood for slumsploitation, I highly recommend watching Lower City (2005), directed by Sérgio Machado. This film is the complete opposite of Tsotsi in how good the acting, story, and compelling drama are. I will make a post about this movie in the future. I need to watch it a few more times. If you do watch it, make sure you check out the special features to see how intensely the actors and director prepared for shooting this film.

Cidade Baixa (Lower City) - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0456899/
Apr 17 (2008) - Dharavi, Mumbai, 2008
I plan on completing a long site report on my trip to Dharavi, Mumbai, India, in the coming month or so. For now, I will post some of the images I took while there with brief annotation that will be developed more in the site report.

I was in Mumbai attending a workshop organized by the amazing folks at Urban Typhoon. More about that in a later post as well.

Dharavi is a massive area in Mumbai made up of informal housing, businesses, and city management. Estimates of the number of people who live there have ranged between 500,000 and 1,000,000 people!

Note: click on an image to enlarge, then click again to get a full size image.

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Street scene near the Shivar Guest House, where I was staying, as were many from the Urban Typhoon workshop


Street scene in the Koliwada neighborhood of Dharavi


This street borders Dharavi and is constantly filled with market stalls, pedestrians, and all sorts of vehicles, carts, animals, and more.


This street market takes up two lanes of the road (depicted above) that runs along Dharavi. You can see that businesses and houses are built right up to the edge of the road leaving the road itself as the only space that can be used for markets such as these. There is an amazing abundance in these markets, like the vegetables you can see here.


Koliwada buildings and a rooftop


Dharavi is known to many who live outside it or who visit Mumbai by air, by the seemingly contiguous rooftops that are common in the area.


Remains of a smaller, self-built structure typical of Dharavi architecture, in front of a larger apartment building in the back. These larger buildings are made when owners of buildings, like the one in the front, decide to get together, and finance them as a replacement for the smaller, informal buildings... perhaps in anticipation of official, government "redevelopment" of the area


This image shows a settlement just outside of Dharavi. You can see several levels of building from the informal houses in the front, to the larger apartment buildings of increasing scale behind.


This is along the same street as the image above. You can see a small mosque built on top of one of the buildings.


Animals can be found tethered to poles, carts, or wandering around Dharavi, and greater Mumbai.


Goat on a car


Goats help to reduce the amount of solid, food waste that is generated every day in Dharavi.


Waste handling is a giant problem for Dharavi. Not only does it pile up, but it also affects the way people who don't go there, or who aren't sympathetic to the Dharaviwallas' situation. This was often the first thing people brought up when I asked them what they thought or knew about the area.


Human waste is handled in different ways throughout Dharavi. Here is an open trench that carries human waste, waste water, and garbage out of the area. The facades of these buildings are absolutely amazing!


Here is a relatively closed waste water trench. These are very common throughout the area.


Freshwater comes from wells dug beneath Dharavi, or from private sources that are tapped into and split an unbelievable number of times. Often, the freshwater pipes run just above, or through the waste water channels.


This image is confusing, but I wanted to put it in. It shows the waste water trenches opened up. Several men were cleaning the trenches out by hand. They were pulling roots, paper, plastic, human waste, and other unknown substances out and making piles like these. I saw this maintenance of the waste trenches happening all around Dharavi. This image is from Koliwada.


This is one way of managing excess water. Trenches are dug and filled with small stones.


Here you can see an open trench of waste water, fresh water pipes, and wires providing electricity to the local buildings.


There are no city services provided for Dharavi: no water service, no waste handling (both solid and liquid) and no electricity. Electricity is pirated and shared in truly stunning ways like this hub.


Electricity being shared between these two high rise apartment buildings in Dharavi


These boys bathed in public, then filled containers with water to take home. A lot of bathing takes place in public in Dharavi as there are not spaces in peoples' homes, nor are there many facilities for indoor bathing. People bathe with their clothes on.


There are very few public spaces in Dharavi. This one is in Koliwada and is used for cricket, holiday celebrations, and public gatherings.


This image, and the one that follows, shows the narrow paths between the buildings in Koliwada. This actually helps to keep the houses cool in Mumbai's sweltering, humid climate.




Mumbai is an intensely dense city. No space goes unused. Spaces near the train tracks are off limits to people building houses. This doesn't stop them from using that land for farming. This, and the next two images, is of an urban farm at the Sion train station. The vegetables and herbs raised here were being sold on the street market (depicted above) just less than 100m away.






People in Dharavi work extremely hard, from sun up to sun down, in ways that make those of us familiar with a western "Protestant work ethic" blush with a sense of laziness. There are many small districts in Dharavi. Here is an image from the pottery district. The stereotype of Dharaviwallas as lazy people who want to freeload is so completely false that you know it is not true the minute you step out of Mumbai and into the area.


Men bending metal in an outdoor factory.

http://www.skidrowthemovie.com/

If you want a firsthand account of an UNHOUSED person's life, strike up a conversation when you take him to eat at a local diner. Or buy a bottle of whiskey and share it on a park bench. This is the simplest way to meet someone who you probably have ignored or walked by rapidly because it is too uncomfortable to give him a pittance from your pocket for his survival. Whenever I hear someone complain about panhandling, or homelessness in general, this is usually my first response: "Have you ever talked to someone who lives on the streets to get his story?" The answer has almost always been, "No." I have met several, really amazing men who live on the streets of Chicago and LA just by slowing down, and not being afraid, to listen to what they have to say. Try it sometime. Overcome the fear and hatred you have that is not yours alone, but comes from the culture around you. Why do you have such deep contempt for a person who doesn't have a home?

Films like "Skid Row The Movie" where a famous, well off person pretends to be homeless, are irritating at best. This shit is unnecessary. Go out and get a copy of "Dark Days" or grab a bit torrent of it. It is a respectful, beautiful movie made by Marc Singer, who was himself without a home for at one point, about people living in the tunnels under Penn Station in NY. In "Skid Row The Movie" hip hopper Pras Michael lives on the streets for 9 days. This is enough time to get an introduction to the miserable conditions that we have constructed - society, in this case Los Angelenos, construct these situations as it is in our power to end them by providing support for everyone if we want - for a staggering number of men and women living in LA's Skid Row. Nine days on the streets?! What a fucking joke. I want to see the famous person who decides to spend a year on the streets, cuts himself off from living in a home, any source of money, maybe loses touch with family, and in general descends into the hell that is being without a home in this country. And, he should do it without any cameras until after a full year. Then, maybe the movie would be worth watching.

Please, don't rely on the flimsiness of well-intentioned filmmakers and hip hop stars to tell you that it is fucked up that people live on the streets, dangerous for them, and if everyone could get some badly needed help (even if they made poor life decisions that lead them to the street), they would be off the streets as fast as possible.

I admittedly haven't seen the film, but am ordering a copy right now. I have many deep suspicions about this film given the micro-genre of homeful-person-pretends-to-be-homeless-to-show-us-how-bad-it-is movies. This is one of many films and "hard hitting news reports" that are a part of this micro-genre - people with good or not so good intentions tell the rest of us how bad homelessness is and that we need to pay attention. The recent interview (http://www.alternet.org/movies/82014/?page=entire) of Pras Michael by Alternet gives us a clue that this is more of the same within in this micro-genre. The interview, for the most part, is inane and offers no insights, where an interview with someone living on the streets would provide a great deal more in less space. Why do we need to create these artificial layers of mediation to address the vast inequality that our society relies on to function. If you want to know about housing crises, and people who live on the streets, check out the sidebar and some of the groups, movies, and books that there. Taking action to improve even one person's life is better that sitting and watching movies like this one or numerous other ones like it.

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Here is a previous post about this film and a Chicago sleaze ball journalist, Walter Jacobsen, who pretended to be homeless and then reported on it. It is worth watching for just how condescending and disconnected the man is from the reality of being homeless.

http://unhoused.livejournal.com/12198.html
I plan on posting an extensive, very long report from the Urban Typhoon Workshop in Koliwada-Dharavi. I had initially thought of just writing something brief, but there is so much to tell and say just to begin to give a sense of the context and what happened there, that the short report is already 7 pages long and probably will end up being around 20. Until then... here is a nice little article in the Mumbai Mirror about the workshop and the celebration party at the end of the week.

---


The Urban Typhoon event proved that residents themselves know how best to deal with the challenges in their lives.

Blue Frog Leaping
By Rahul Srivastava

Last week Mumbai’s night-club Blue Frog was hit by a storm. Philadelphia-based DJ Paul Devro had whipped up a frenzy that left everyone screaming for more. But it was not just a regular Mumbai weekend. The Blue Frog had leapt over a very high wall that night. Their clientele included special guests from Koliwada-Dharavi who would not have ordinarily stepped into such a space on their own. And not just because of the money question.

That night however, together with their new friends from abroad, India and some from Mumbai, they danced together to create a special cosmopolitan energy the city had not seen in a long time. And they danced to music that evoked other vibrant urban traditions - US Ghetto-tech, Brazilian favela-funk, Argentinean Cumba, UK Grime Rhythms, Jamaican Shanti-bass, Bollywood, and their very own re-mixed Koli-based rhythms, which will soon be heard on every global dance floor.

What made this possible was an unusual event - the Urban Typhoon. Paul Devro was part of a large troupe of artists, architects, planners, media-practitioners and social scientists who had spent a week with the residents of Koliwada-Dharavi to evolve open-ended participatory plans, visions and charters through their conversations and dialogues.

The participants had come from places as far-apart as Lithuania, Chile, Italy, Japan, Switzerland, the US and UK. They overcame linguistic and cultural barriers within minutes and forged bonds and friendships with residents of Koliwada through the workshop, to collectively develop pragmatic and people-evolved visions for their future.

This was a different sort of political event. One without rallies and speeches, without the heavy guilt-inducing over-serious mood of the activist. No wonder the residents didn’t want anyone to leave, international, national or local. And they got completely absorbed in the concerns of the workshop itself. During the final day of presentation, Koliwada-wasis walked through each stall and asked critical and penetrating questions.

Yet in Mumbai, everything beyond a point depends on the political arrangements between power and resources. Everyone also knows that eventually only the completely insipid, commercially motivated and anti-people plans are the ones that make the day.

It is easy to dismiss a workshop such as this is as a fairy-tale moment, to see it through cynical eyes.

However, whatever I saw and experienced convinced me more than ever that if you let people look after themselves, things can only get better. And that ordinary residents have the best knowledge about how to deal with the challenges in their lives.

The ideas, visions, questions and challenges that the residents of Koliwada-Dharavi threw up were practical, sensible and far more doable than any fancy top-down plan that the city periodically throws at their face.

All the visiting workshop participants did was organise and complement them with their professional skills. That’s exactly what the approach of the government should be. There’s nothing more or less to the task of setting up a decent life in the city for everyone.

According to Bhau Korde, a Dharavi resident and co-organiser of the workshop, what made him such an enthusiast was the simplicity of the vision - clearly expressed in the words of Matias Echanove, the chief organiser and visualiser of Urban Typhoon: “It’s all about trusting people and what they are capable of. Just try it once to check it out.”

Indeed. Let’s do it. Mumbaikars have nothing to lose.

Link to the article
The folks over at MONU, an urbanism magazine based in Rotterdam, have put this call out for contributions to their next issue.

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Ever since our cities became areas of continuous interaction and ever-expanding exchange the term “exotic” - understood as counterpart to the “local”, the “native” or even the “authentic” - has become a rather vague term. Who – in actual fact - is still able to distinguish between the one and the other, between the exotic and the local? Who would be interested anyway? Yet, once again, there seems to be an increasing fascination with, and interest in, importing and seeing certain urban elements from other parts of the world in our own cities. There are, apparently, more Japanese people visiting the fake Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas than the original in Paris. What makes this displacement so interesting today?

The fascination with the “exotic” and its appearance in our cities has a long history, although at first merely going in one direction: from the “West” to the “East”. Interest in the exotic by the Western World was first stimulated by trade with the Eastern World back in the 16th century. But right from the start there has always been this intriguing contradiction in the term “exotic” as being on the one hand associated with fantasies of opulence and barbaric splendour, yet on the other hand considered as integer, uncorrupted and tasteful. The charm of the unfamiliar with its thrill of menace hasn’t lost its attraction even today and has been turned into a global phenomenon that can no longer be discussed within the narrow-minded Orient – Occident dialectic. These days, all kinds of foreign urban elements evoke the atmosphere of far-off lands all over the world. A finish sauna can be as exotic in Sao Paulo as Islamic ornamental motifs on a building in New York City.

MONU#9 investigates what the term exotic actually means for our cities and how exotic urban elements appear, what they look like, and how they may influence our cities. In any case, exotic urban features appear more and more as an inexhaustible source for progressive urban design ideas. When the exotic influenced the appearance of the “Art Nouveau” at the end of the 19th century, it might today have the power to create an “Urban Nouveau”.

We invite daring concepts, mind-stretching speculations and ground-breaking new strategies about the topic “Exotic Urbanism” for our next issue of MONU. Submissions may be essays, photography, art projects or design concepts that trigger the term “exotic” in the urban context. MONU #9 will be published in the summer of 2008. Submissions or questions should be sent to info@monu-magazine.com by the end of June 2008.

http://www.monu-magazine.com
UNHOUSED will be quiet for a few days. I am in transit to Mumbai to participate in the workshop organized by Urban Typhoon (http://unhoused.livejournal.com/#unhoused21602) to generate counter plans to the private, illegal, redevelopment that is happening in Mumbai to the area known as Dharavi.

I will post many images and a report from the week when I am back in the U.S.

If you want to follow the developments in the workshop, visit: http://www.dharavi.org

I also hope to collect information on gatherings like this, that take the needs, desires, and voices of the people in the area (i.e. the Koliwada neighborhood of Dharavi, Mumbai's largest informal settlement) as the starting point for making plans, designing solutions, articulating resistance, and other things, that empower, rather than speak for them. It isn't enough to just design like you give a damn. We need to work with people we give a damn about, and use our creative skills and voice to activate others' - to transmit our power into a shared resource, so we can go along together, without competition, for it is competition that has created the huge imbalances and inequalities that exist in India and so many other places.
It has been very difficult for me to post anything in the past month. Surviving, making money, has taken priority over posting to UNHOUSED. This has caused me to reflect a great deal about producing information, knowledge, entertainment... immaterial labor)... whatever this all adds up to... for free for anyone to take and use. This is the dark, down side of blogging that has really upset me: all these people, myself once included, believing that they are remaking media, turning the power structures around, producing opinions from the bottom and so on, are really fulfilling the wet dreams of neoliberals. Blogging, now seems very pathetic to me, more of an affirmation of how destructive capitalism is than a truly liberatory pursuit. There is an insane amount of surplus knowledge being produced, but an equally crazy number of people doing it who are totally broke, locked out of the possibility of making an economy from all this production. There have been some really stupid attempts to take what I do here and to profit it from it by people who want me to review, for free of course, their products - green building materials - which is not what UNHOUSED is about. This isn't a site for fantasizing about consuming a better future, it is about dealing with how the current global economic situation is exacerbating really old, historical inequalities, particularly how they are expressed in housing crises and struggles.

The absurdity of blogging hits me every time I drive through a broken landscape, of jobs sent overseas (thanks WTO, GATT, IMF, World Bank, and all the multinationals whose shareholders are raking in the money as our economy falls deeper down a chasm that is hurting so many more than is being reported) to teach in a prison that holds many people who are victims of neoliberal globalization. This bi-weekly trip, to a prison town (a town whose economy once ran on manufacturing, but now relies on the poor replacement of a prison to fuel its employment and infrastructure needs) imprints on my body the failed economic policies of both Reganomics (who increased the wealth of the wealthy at the expense of the middle and working class) and its transformation into global trickle down hell for a growing number of Americans. I breath in, and emote my way through, a brutal, brutal fucking landscape. It is a terrain of GMO crops, giant agri-business, crumbling rural infrastructure, bleak futures as prison employees or minimum wage slaves at Wal-Mart. Where is the outrage at this situation? Why do people accept this situation? It baffles me as I drive through on increasingly expensive gasoline that I know is the byproduct of a US war on two fronts.

I have a lot more to say about all of these, but, for now, I will keep doing UNHOUSED, to look at global housing crises and how American-style neoliberal capital is fucking so many more people up now than ever before. This isn't progress, it is horrendous. Somehow, my blogging is a part of this problem as it attempts to fight it. It is hard to make sense of it all.

I write this while sitting in an airport waiting to go to Mumbai, to Koliwada, a neighborhood in Dharavi, Asia's largest slum. This is where global capital mixed with historical infrastructural inequality has hurt a tremendous number of people for a really long time. The Urban Typhoon group from Tokyo wants to fight this situation, with the people most directly affected by it. The week-long workshop that they have set up will gather people from Koliwada, Dharavi, Mumbai, other places in India, and many folks from abroad to rethink the redevolopment of the area from the perspective of the people who live there, not the private corporation that has illegal purchased the area.

It is hard to connect the rural landscape of the Midwest with the teaming slums of Mumbai, but there is a connection. It is a deep one that is obfuscated by many layers of complicated relationships that are economic, social, political, geographical, historic and so much more. I hope to learn more about how to connect these two places to each other, but also to the growing number of similar situations, that express themselves in completely different ways, where people are suffering as a smaller number of people concentrate wealth into a de facto global governing system that leaves the majority of us is desperate, miserable conditions.

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This house is briefly mentioned in Martin Pawley's amazing book "Garbage Housing," which I have gushed over on these pages before.

A Man’s 6-Pack Can Serve as His Castle
By RALPH BLUMENTHAL
Published: March 7, 2008

HOUSTON — From his front porch, John Milkovisch was able to see the beer truck heading for the local grocery, spurring him into action. “He’d run over there and clean them out,” recalled his son Ronald. “He never had less than 8 to 10 cases stacked up in the garage.”


Last-minute preparations are made before the opening ceremony of the Beer Can House.
John Milkovisch, left, with his wife, Mary, spent 20 years at work on what is known as the Beer Can House. Michael Stravato for The New York Times

From 1968 until his death 20 years later, Mr. Milkovisch, an upholsterer for the Southern Pacific Railroad, not only emptied 50,000 cans or more of his favorite beverage but also put the containers to good use, cladding his house and workshop with thousands of maintenance-free flattened beer cans (Falstaff was a favorite) and shading the sun with garlands of tinkling beer can tops and tabs.

Known to generations of sidewalk gawkers as the Beer Can House, the folk art monument was dedicated Thursday and will open to the public on Saturday for the first time since its purchase from the Milkovisch family and a seven-year restoration project totaling $400,000.

“Most people who take the lead in doing something truly innovative are considered a little bit crazy,” said Mayor Bill White, cutting a ribbon and paying tribute to “the hard work of generating all those beer cans.”

Inside, a quote from Mr. Milkovisch adorns a wall. “They say every man should leave something to be remembered by. At least I accomplished that goal.”

What may now be Houston’s second-zaniest spectacle was bought by the zaniest — the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art, a foundation growing out of one man’s obsession with his favorite citrus fruit.

Working alone from 1956 to his death in 1980, Jeff McKissack, a Houston postman, built a maze of connected chambers, balconies and tiled walkways extolling the health benefits of oranges. The structure costs a dollar to tour, the same as the Beer Can House.

Marilyn Oshman, the art patron who founded the Orange Show, said it was no accident Houston played host to such attractions. “One good thing about not having any zoning is you can do stuff,” Ms. Oshman said.
It had to happen sooner or later that someone would revive the really fantastic idea of making bottles for water (or beer) that could also be used as bricks for making housing in "crises" situations. The United Bottle proposal recalls the Heineken World Bottle(WOBO), a bottle that could be used as a brick after the beer was consumed, and what Martin Pawley calls "secondary use." The development of the WOBO is presented in Pawley's book "Garbage Housing." I hope to eventually make a PDF of the book and post it on UNHOUSED.

World Bottle: http://unhoused.livejournal.com/4687.html


Garbage Housing, By Martin Pawley, Krieger Publishing Company, 1975, 118 pages, hardcover, ISBN: 0470672781



United Bottle

United Bottle proposes a new PET water bottle designed to function as instant building material in crisis situations. The project's working hypothesis is that design should think beyond the product and consider the waste for future use. Fifty billion PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles are currently circulating in Europe alone. Since the obligatory bottle deposit was introduced, the return quota has exceeded 90 percent. PET bottles can be used as returnable bottles, recycled, and transformed into a variety of products – from all forms of PET vessels to textiles, such as linings and fleece fabrics. This process – called "Up-cycling" – mostly occurs in China, while the final products are sold again on the European market. Taking into consideration this intersection of local and global circuits and the increasing scarcity of resources, United Bottle suggests additional recycling circuits. The form of newly designed PET bottles can fit into regular boxes or on palettes used for water bottle distribution, and can be joined to build solid walls. On demand, the bottles can be taken out of regular recycling circuits and redistributed – to be filled with found local materials and used as prefabricated building units to construct temporary structures or repair damaged buildings.

The United Bottle project designs a second life for an everyday product, building upon local knowledge of construction techniques, patterns of improvisation, and existing uses of consumer waste. During their fellowship term, Hebel and Stollmann will operate a publicly accessible "United Bottle laboratory" at Van Alen Institute, to be accompanied by an installation of prototypes, information, materials, building samples and catalogues that support the concept of performative research and communicate the project to a wider public.

There are more really great images on their site: http://www.united-bottle.org/


Robert Neuwirth was interviewed on Public Radio International's "The World" program on February 1st. There is a link to some photos Neuwirth took of the Kibera Slum (pictured above).

Life in Nairobi’s Kibera slum (8:00)

"Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan announced today that Kenya's rival political parties have agreed on a plan to end the violence. Violence has flared in the country since the disputed presidential election in December. Some of the worst violence has occurred in Nairobi's Kibera slum. Anchor Lisa Mullins speaks with Robert Neuwirth, author of the book, "Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World." Neuwirth lived in Kibera for several months while researching his book."

Listen: http://www.theworld.org/wma.php?id=0201084

Here are some photos Neuwirth took in Kibera: http://flickr.com/photos/pritheworld/sets/72157603831714596/

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The sub-prime mortgage scandal-collapse has done an immense amount of damage to the U.S. and global economy and has hurt many low-income families. People who have lost their homes because of these bad, predatory lending policies, are taking out their frustration and are retaliating against the people and companies who exploited them, by trashing the houses that they have been forced out of. Housing is a human right, not something that should be speculated on and forcefully taken away from people. It is unforutnate that all of this energy can't be pooled and mobilized into a political force that powerfully confronts the fantasies of unregulated markets that, this collapse so clearly demonstrates, are false.

Can't Pay Your Mortgage? Trash Your House and Leave
By Scott Thill, AlterNet. Posted February 1, 2008.

As housing markets tank, "trash-outs" are on the rise, leaving owners, lenders and banks fighting over who should pay the clean-up bill.

On the lookout for disturbing trends? Here's one for your pile: According to a recent article in Fortune, there has been a noticeable increase in not just fraud but arson that has kept pace with the housing depression. Professionals in the insurance and lending industry are bracing themselves for all manner of similar situations, as homeowners either trash or simply leave their trash lying around their houses, often taking off without even claiming their furniture. This is already a dirty problem in the housing business, with owners, lenders and banks having to figure out a way to stick each other with the check when tenants destroy their property on their way out the door. Woe is the person left behind to clean up the chaos.

The article continues here: http://www.alternet.org/workplace/75228/

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Walk Through Dharavi, Mumbai, India

SPARC India - long time advocates for the people who live in places like Dharavi - has created a video channel on youtube to advocate for the preservation of Dharavi, Mumbai's enormous slum, which is under the threat of violent redevelopment of the entire area. There are only two short videos so far that they have posted, but they are worth checking out to get a sense of what would be lost should redevelopment displace, and take the self-organized livelihoods from many many people.
This is a wonderful story about a new shelter that is opening soon in Oakland. Rather than just building the cheapest, ugliest, most functional building possible to warehouse people who need to get off the streets, East Oakland Community Project has built Crossroads, a new facility that embodies the important position of helping those who need it the most by providing shelter that is healthy - that doesn't exacerbate of inhibit the health problems many people living on the streets endure. Wendy Jackson, who spearheaded the building project, puts it simply, "The building has to be healthy to make people healthy." The thoughtfulness of this initiative is stunning and it is the details that count. In addition to making a building that helps people heal, they have one room and toilet set aside specifically for transgendered homeless persons.



"A Shelter Is Built Green, To Heal Inside and Out: A 'Dignified' Home for the Homeless"
By Carol Pogash
New York Times
January 28, 2008

OAKLAND, Calif. — Although he will not be moving from the dilapidated homeless shelter here for another week, Paul McClendon, 55, has his oversized baby-blue garbage bags packed. Sitting on his bed in a winter jacket, he talked Thursday about the new, so-called green shelter with the central heating that he will be moving into.

For a man who has lived on the streets, the prospect of the new facility was hard to fathom.

“It’s going to be one beautiful place,” Mr. McClendon said, smiling. “It has respect for the environment, global warming and saving trees.”

The facility, Crossroads, which will accommodate 125 residents, may be the only “green” homeless shelter built from the ground up. It has a solar-paneled roof, hydronic heating, artful but practical ceiling fans, nontoxic paint, windows that can be opened to let in fresh air, and desks and bureaus made from pressed wheat.

It will be a big change for residents, who are used to the old shelter with ratty couches, small and inadequate space heaters, floors and walls pocked and blackened with dirt, broken lighting, electrical cords snaking along floors and a leaky ceiling.

The residents are waiting for beds to be delivered to Crossroads so that they can move in.

When Wendy Jackson, executive director of the East Oakland Community Project, began searching for financing for the project, she said some people told her, “ ‘They need a good place, but that’s going too far.’ ” People, she said, “didn’t get it.”

But, Ms. Jackson, a social worker who graduated from Bard College and worked at a homeless shelter for young men in the East Village in Manhattan, said, “There’s a larger issue than just sheltering people.” Most of her residents have asthma, allergies, H.I.V. or diabetes, she said, and they need a healthy environment in which to heal.

Ms. Jackson “had this holistic approach,” said David Kears, the director of the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency. Her attitude, he said, was “ ‘The building has to be healthy to make people healthy.’ ”

Ms. Jackson spent 10 years, seven of them raising money from government and private agencies, replacing the decrepit facility with a state-of-the-art $11 million building. It is about a mile from the old shelter, in one of the poorer parts of town: there are more than 6,000 homeless in Alameda County, nearly half of them in Oakland.

Most homeless shelters opened in the 1980s in churches, synagogues and abandoned warehouses, said Michael Stoops, acting executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington. Mr. Stoops, who has worked in the field for 35 years, said he believed Crossroads was the first green homeless shelter and should be “a model for others around the country.”

“The homeless care about the environment,” Mr. Stoops said. “If they can be part of a facility that is reducing energy costs and saving the planet, homeless folks are all in favor of that, just like most Americans.”

Over time, Ms. Jackson convinced critics that an old warehouse was not good enough for her residents.

At Crossroads, each resident will have his own locker closet and storage drawers built into his bed. A day room provides durable wooden chairs and computer carrels.

The dorm-like structure painted crayon colors has angled exterior walls that make it an instant landmark. Ms. Jackson said she wanted a building that was “dignified,” adding, “People in crisis need to see things are under control.” Ms. Jackson said she hoped to lure volunteers with the clean, well-lighted place. Crossroads has an examining room for medical volunteers, a wing for homeless families, with bathrooms and tubs for toddlers who otherwise must shower with their parents, a private dining area and kitchen.

One dorm room and bathroom is set aside for transgender residents. Another will serve as an infirmary for those just released from the hospital.

As Ms. Jackson gave tours of the facility on a recent afternoon, sunlight poured through the windows. “People will be sleeping in a cozy environment and waking to sunlight,” she said.

“This is the intersection of environmental and social justice issues,” said Dr. Mini Swift, the board chairman of the East Oakland project.

Periodically during the afternoon the newly installed security alarm blared — another matter Ms. Jackson would have to resolve.

“We’re asking people to focus on serious issues in their lives,” Ms. Jackson said during a quiet moment. “It’s easier to do that when the place is functional.”

Link to the article
This looks interesting, though it is not clear how open it is to anyone who wants to join. Personally, I prefer the workshop being offered by Urban Typhoon (http://unhoused.livejournal.com/21602.html), which I will be attending, in the Koliwada neighborhood of Dharavi as it will be lead by people from the area and not high-profile theorists and academics from other countries. I wonder why the organizers of the Urban Body Research Studio need to maintain their academic hierarchies when going in to understand a place that could benefit from their knowledge, but in a different manner, where the people of the area are empowered and given a voice and something is built up together rather than in this top-down fashion. They say in the outline that they want to interrogate old ways of thinking about places like Dharavi, but don't seem willing to question their own inquiry and how that might get in the way of truly transformative, empowering work. I look forward to seeing what the results are of both the Urban Typhoon and Urban Body Research Studio efforts.



Mapping Dharavi

Urban Body Research Studio on Mumbai

The studio aims at exploring and mapping the complexity of elements, which constitute the urban, social and cultural texture of squatter settlements in the city of Mumbai. Considering these areas within the broader framework of urban transformations and redevelopment projects, the studio looks at the slums as forms of emergent’ urbanities, which function with a multiple logic and structure of relations both within itself and with the outside.

Strategically, the studio questions both binary logics of opposition and problem-solving attitudes. Polarities such as formal/informal, legal/illegal will be put under scrutiny in order to understand the intertwining and shades of meanings that operate within a multi-faceted context. An explorative and analytical attitude will be therefore encouraged as a device to understand unfamiliar urban mechanisms in a non-judgemental way.

Questions of self-organisation, informal micro-economies, gender roles, private and public spheres will be addressed in relation to both their impact on the actual definition of the slums and to their relation to the broader network of power and political structures of the city. The main focus of the studio will be the slum of Dharavi; being the largest squatter settlement of Asia it allows for a deep and privileged understanding of the multiplicity of layers – on the local, regional and international level – that operate in the constitution and definition of these urban emergences.

Streets will be addressed as the crucial element of analysis. They represent the physical realm of interaction and social experimentation while also being the membrane through which different types of spaces mingle and transform. They will be the “laboratory” to understand relationships between flows of capital, labour forces and patterns of dwelling and inhabitation.

Throughout the nine weeks of its program, the studio will propose and interdisciplinary approach that will be developed through a variety of devices. An “action-learning” approach would foster students to embrace an experiential understanding of knowledge production.

The first four weeks will be dedicated to getting “acquainted” with the urban, social, political and cultural context of Mumbai in general and Dharavi in particular. Seminars, guest lectures, video screenings will be part of the program. Students will be also provided with a basic methodological tool-kit that will allow them to relate in a morally and professionally sober way to a non-western and unfamiliar context. The studio will then propose a three-weeks research and mapping field work in Mumbai, which will be followed by two more weeks for elaboration and post-production of the collected material.

The “results” of the studio will be presented in a public exhibition at TU Delft and NAi and will be the core material for a forthcoming publication. There will also be a follow up of the research that will be presented at the CCA, Canadian Centre for Architecture, in Montreal in the Fall of 2009.

http://www.urbanbody.org/UB2008/Mumbai/
“People who talk about revolution and class struggle without referring explicitly to everyday life, without understanding what is subversive about love and what is positive in the refusal of constraints; such people have a corpse in their mouth!”
– Raoul Vaneigem, from The Revolution of Everyday Life


Click image to enlarge

Sunday, January 6, 2008, the New York Times ran the above graphic to show how many times both Republican and Democratic candidates for president were using the word “change” in their stump speeches, each trying to claim for him or herself the mantle of “agent of change.” It is hard to not see this as cynical and the candidates as automata fed lines directly from polls regurgitating what they think the American populace wants to hear. We do want change, but we want more than talking about change. It is important to note that not a single one of them takes head on the vicious politics that are responsible for the decline of quality of life for most Americans: Reaganomics. It is rather chilling how often the Republican candidates try to summon the image of that champion of the wealthy to revive their lackluster, pulled from the compost heap, ideas. What is most repugnant, it that the poster boy for change, Barack Obama, even went so far as to invoke Reagan in some bizarre attempt to garner votes. Obama had a corpse in his mouth; the most rotten, vile, putrid, and greedy death, cynically drooled on American voters. The other Democratic candidates seized the opportunity to hammer Obama for this, but did nothing to create a public reassessment of just how much damage the “Reagan Revolution” did to the middle class, working people, the mentally ill, and those who were structurally forced from their homes and neighborhoods. Instead, all the candidates drone on… change… change… change… change.



This reminds me of the South Park episode “Night of the Living Homeless” which in the glorious frat boy libertarianism (the propensity of responding to complex social problems with simplistic uninformed answers often at the expense of those who are oppressed by how our society functions) of the show’s writers and producers blames people for their problems then laughs at them. South Park belches and farts its politics into the minds of millions. This episode is no different from the others in this regard. It depicts homeless people as undead, unable to do anything but mindlessly repeat, “spare some change.” The town of South Park is eventually over run with homeless people and they all hound the inhabitants with a ghostly chorus of “change, change, change…” The young protagonists, Kyle, Eric, Stan, and Kenny, find out that their town has been flooded with homeless people because another town advertised services in South Park as a way to get them all to go away. The show resorts to more frat boy politics playing on peoples’ fears that if you provide a decent, respectful, helpful and ultimately just, range of resources to help people you will only attract every homeless person and bring your city’s quality of life down. This does not happen. The numbers of homeless people exploded in the first years of Reagan’s presidency because of cuts to welfare, public spending, and social programs particularly funding for mental institutions. The number of homeless persons increased everywhere and they stayed put to maintain social ties to their communities. There wasn’t the feared mass migration to warm climates or liberal cities with progressive attitudes and services. The boys of South Park save the town by telling all the homeless people that their problems will be solved in California – that there is “spare change” there. South Park is a deeply irresponsible show, ironic given the right wing rhetoric of “responsibility” which is code for a hyper-individualistic denial that we all have a stake in making our society work for all people. Thanks, bros.



“Poverty is not an individual problem. It is a structurally established set of institutional arrangements that changes as the political economy changes.”
- Gregg Barak, from “Gimme Shelter: A Social History of Homelessness in Contemporary America” (1991)

Barak vs. Barack

Gregg Barak’s book “Gimme Shelter: A Social History of Homelessness in Contemporary America” looks at historical definitions and analyses of homelessness from left (blaming a string of bad luck and circumstances) and right (blaming individuals for self-indulgent behavior) wing perspectives and summarily dismantles their assumptions and ideological obfuscations. They get in the way of accurately understanding the causes and effects of homelessness. Barak’s book is a sober, welcomed look at this contentious issue. Here is how Barak frames his analysis:

“Explanations of interpretations of the homeless have typically fallen into four groupings; individual characteristics such as alcoholism, mental illness, and lack of marketable skills; family disruptions involving domestic violence, runaway children, or elderly persons who lose family support; institutional policies affecting dependent populations such as AIDS victims of the deinstitutionalization of the chronically mentally ill; and market forces related to housing affordability such as tightening of the low-income housing pool, rising mortgage interest rates, declining relative wages, or job shortfalls. Contrary to these conventional analyses, I will argue both implicitly and explicitly throughout this book that the more important changes underpinning homelessness today can be found in the emerging relations of global capitalism as these are expressed domestically in competing class interests, social policy formations, and individual versus collective rights of justice for all.” (p. 17)

The book makes the argument that the contemporary state, under Neoliberal ideology, is organized to guarantee the global capitalist order, and not to systemically, and in a just manner, make sure wealth and resources are distributed equally, both inside a country and to the rest of the globe. Reagan’s policies and efforts had an enormous role in causing these massive destructive changes. Barak says, “The consequences of the Reagan ‘revolution from above’ was the overthrow of the progressive system of taxation enjoyed by the average American during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. In its place wass substituted the currently regressive system of taxation where the corporate and rich sectors, including the affluent, pay less and everybody else (90 percent of Americans) pay more.’ (p. 65)

As you can see from the image above, I have used way too many post-its to bookmark this book. (There is way too much good hard thinking by Barak to share in this relatively short post.) If you turn it on its side it kind of looks like a city on a big body of water. This book is an important tool for understanding how the political economy of a society functions on the national level and how it includes and excludes people, but it also forcefully shows us we must consider how globalization is radically restructuring our planet. This is a constant concern for UNHOUSED and there is not nearly enough literature or activities addressing the global impact of neoliberalism on existing inequalities in housing. Planet of Slums only gets so far with its analysis, and though it has inspired much thought and activity in this direction, I am waiting instead for hundreds more books like Barak’s that are still to be written. They offer us a greater glimpse and hope of articulating change.

We should not sit by when anyone invokes Reagan. We need a backlash in this country on an unprecedented scale against Reagnomics and the harm it did, but it won’t happen when we sit content with just the “faint whiff of criticality” pacified by the mere utterance of the word “change.”
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