Urbz confronts the most daunting problems facing slums: the value of their real estate. Well-meaning city planners, inspired to create more ‘humane’ living conditions, collaborate with profit-minded developers to execute the most common form of slum rehabilitation: level & relocate.
Nowhere is the specter of this method more omnipresent than in Mumbai’s Dharavi – often referred to as Asia’s largest slum and home to somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 people.Strategically located near the center of Mumbai and surrounded by posh neighborhoods, Dharavi would be worth billions to private sector developers seeking to build new housing, malls, etc. The people of Dharavi, therefore, become a problem, and must be relocated for development to take place.
Urbz is part of a vanguard seeking to keep the residents of Dharavi where they are by improving construction techniques and pushing back against the economic and political forces driving relocation. Above and beyond the physical work, Urbz also endeavors to change the word ‘slum,’ and how it is received. ‘Slums’ are not apocalyptic, crime infested, disease ridden sewers. They are ‘homegrown neighborhoods’ that lack adequate infrastructure. The extent to which they lack such resources is often a case of deliberate political manipulation.
According to Urbz, “Many of Mumbai’s poorest neighborhoods could become functional and even desirable with a little support from the authorities. If most “slums” don’t enjoy adequate infrastructure, it is not because it is technically difficult or even expensive, but rather because there is a deliberate political will to keep certain neighborhoods in a state of precariousness and political dependency.