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Himanshu Parikh

Himanshu Parikh is a Cambridge, UK based Indian engineer who developed of the concept of ‘slum networking.’ This stems from how the infrastructure of cities was traditionally based on 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, 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. As long as these systems work, cities don’t have to rely so heavily on natural topography. However, in the developing world, the systems often don’t work, leaving communities deprived of basic services like water and sewer.

Parikh is best known for the redevelopment of Indore, India, for which Parikh was awarded the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture. It was there that the concept of ‘slum networking’ was first deployed at scale, and it has since been replicated throughout India.

Prior to Parikh’s improvements in Indore, nearly 30 percent of the slum houses were unfit for human habitation. Additionally, the cities’ 1936 sewer system only served 5 percent of the population and 10 percent of the city. All city ­sewage and solid waste was 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.

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.

We had a chance to speak with Himanshu on our podcast, Social Design Insights. Listen to Episode 32 | Slum Networking.