The glittering city of Mumbai is always juxtaposed with the images of slums, those that are either hiding under blue tarpaulins or oozing a heavy stench through its various SRA schemes (Slum Rehabilitation Authority). It is often debated whether slum dwellers actually live in the ‘free’ flats provided to them or do they put them up for rent and go back to their old ways. Mumbai based organisation SPARC has changed that conversation by winning the Curry Stone ‘Vision’ Prize 2016.
Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centers (SPARC) and its partners, Mahila Milan and the National Slum Dwellers Federation (NSDF) have won the coveted $50,000 cash prize for their revolutionary ideas about slum design. Their project ‘What Slum Dwellers Can Teach Design Professionals’ was very well received by the jury members and the Prize Director Emiliano Gandolfi was floored by the approach. He congratulated the amateur slum architects stating, “societies are more and more polarized between architecture that is making beautiful buildings for the super rich and citizens that are flooding cities, who don’t have space to live. One of the missions of the prize is to give attention to designers with a different perspective, who are looking at how to make cities more inclusive.” In the history of the competition, the Vision Prize has only been awarded once before.
Apparently, there is a lot slum dwellers know about designing their own spaces. 67-year-old Jockin Arputham, president, NSDF has been working with female slum and pavement dwellers to find available land in the city for SRAs and what their houses should look like. In a conversation with The Hindu he said,” I organised weekend trips with about 300 women, and we would take a train to different parts of the city and identify empty tracts of land that could be used to construct housing schemes. We would find out who the land belonged to and initiate a dialogue with the government to get them to give the land for our use. When you speak to the women of the house, you know exactly what needs of the family are.” Badly planned houses mostly force people back to their original habitats.
Formed in 1984 by Sheela Patel, SPARC has come a long way. They have been credited with creating awareness about the rights of slum dwellers within the community and creating action plans. They have installed more than 5,00,000 toilet seats in the slums of Mumbai. Now spread over 70 cities with networks in more than 70 countries, Patel has ignited a fire for better policy implementation. The SPARC Samudaya Nirman Sahayak (SSNS),a non-profit construction company has already constructed 3,879 houses. With their transparent policy dialogues and co-operation with BMC, they have renovated 3,900 units and built 878 community toilet facilities. They have also been successful in granting 1,324 loans to residents.
Patel, when receiving the award said, “The award we have won is for our organisational architecture. It gives recognition to processes within institutions that build confidence of women and men living in slums, to create their priorities and voice them with commitments to work with the government to bring in changes.”
The Curry Stone Design Prize recognizes projects that use design to address pressing social justice issues. To know more about SPARC, the prize and the foundation, click here.
Feature Image Courtesy: Jonas Bendiksen
Words by Preksha Malu