“Slum networking” stems from the traditional tendency of city infrastructure to coincide with natural features, such as topography and gravity. Prior to modern technology, gravity was the only thing that could bring water in and carry waste away. For example, in old, developed cities like Paris and London, civil systems parallel the natural flow of rivers, estuaries, and topographies. With the advent of modern technology, however, many civil systems in the developing world (often designed by western engineers) ceased to rely on gravity and instead relied on mechanization: pumps, roads, trucks, etc. If these systems work, cities are independent of their natural topography. Unfortunately, in the developing world, the systems often do not work, leaving communities deprived of basic services like water and sewer.
Prior to Parikh’s improvements in Indore, nearly 30 percent of the slum houses were unfit for human habitation. Additionally, the city’s sewer system, installed in 1936, only served five percent of the population and ten percent of the city. All city sewage and solid waste were discharged into the Khan and Saraswati rivers, and most of the slum communities were organized on the banks of these two rivers. Parikh proposed a new infrastructure path for services like sewage, storm drainage, and water supply utilizing the natural river course. The program involved building gravity-based systems of sewage and storm drainage, the planting of gardens, and the surfacing of roads. In addition, 120 community halls were constructed for health, educational, and training activities. In structures such as these community halls, Parikh advocates for “mindful buildings,” based on simplicity, frugality, and multiplicity. The provision of these basic services had a profound effect on the city. Incidences of illness decreased noticeably, and incomes climbed by a third.
Through this work, Parikh has shown a reliable and relatively simple method for improving life in slums. Currently, Parikh spends most of his time in India on developmental work, teaching intermittently.
We had a chance to speak with Himanshu on our podcast, Social Design Insights. Listen to the episode below.