Kevin McCloud: Slumming It

This was the most interesting thing I’ve ever watched at school. I won’t give particulars of the lesson because I feel that’s trespassing on at least a few boundaries, but I will describe to you the video, and its meaning.

Kevin McCloud, the architect/designer, presenter of ‘Grand Designs’, famed for his dry wit and nasal southern accent, lives with the people of Dharavi for a few days. Dharavi is a Mumbai suburb and slum.

He learns their way of life, all the while of course, being filmed. We only saw the first episode, the first in a two-part series. The video raised some interesting points with relation to how we use space in Britain, and how we have lost the sense of community that seems to be thriving in Dharavi.

Although most of the people he met had a healthy suspicion of westerners, the way in which all three generations would live so harmoniously side by side, in such cramped conditions, causes us to reflect on how they do things there and wonder what lessons we could learn.

The people have very little possessions or wealth, even so, they manage to get on with things and show the British stiff-upper lip to a greater extent than any colonial officer. They seem well adjusted to hardship, having faced it in some form or other since the day they were born. However, this merely causes them to find new and ingenious methods of overcoming those hardships.

There is an average population density of 293,000 people per square kilometer in Dharavi, and the way that they use space is amazing. At one point an entire street stops work and is transformed into a place of prayer. Two minutes later they’re up and going again.

The last thing I would want to do is glorify squalor (which Dharavi certainly has a lot of, sanitation is a terrible problem there, in the film we saw a water pipe running along side raw sewage) but it has to be said that we are lacking in a good many things which they have in abundance.

In the fifties we decided to knock down the old Victorian slums, to relocate the working classes on mass to nice little Essex suburbs were the countrymen would dilute their coarseness and turn them into gentlemen. However those post-war governments didn’t take into account the destruction of communities that had existed for half a century or more. As a result we have adults who are terrified to take teenagers to task and youngsters going to university to do hairdressing.

Of course we can’t undo those changes, what’s done is done. But someone should sit own and think what adjustments could be made to our lives to mirror theirs.

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