Leaving behind last year’s adventures in the slums and cities of Latin America (LAC) I recently started new adventures in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (ECA). First stop Tbilisi, in beautiful Georgia, second stop Chisinau, in Moldova. Both of these cities welcomed me (on the airport-hotel commute) with rows and rows of Soviet building blocks.

One of the reasons I ‘decided’ to come to this region was because I believed Eastern Europe and Central Asia has TODAY many urban development challenges that other regions will face TOMORROW. While comparing to other developing regions, many would think that there are no slums or informal settlements in Former Soviet Union countries -where the State had more control on urban development- this region has its own kind of ‘slums’[1]. Most interesting it has a lot of vertical slums.

The vertical slums in the ECA region have a couple of things in common with “The Projects” or social housing schemes that were developed in many developed countries. Many of today’s vertical slums in the ECA region were developed following a “Ford” model based on standardized housing units and low production costs (Does this sound familiar?). Identical buildings blocks were assembled like Lego’s and basic service provision was designed following engineering models without any view of economic or energy efficiency. As the Soviet Union collapsed and countries gained independence, their newly formed Government’s privatized these building blocks. Two decades later, many of these buildings are in dangerous structural conditions and have precarious access to basic services. The deterioration of their structure and living conditions is both the consequence of the lack of maintenance (in most cases due to the absence of vertical-housing management models) and the lack of ‘design’. In fact many of these buildings were constructed to last a couple of decades and are way past their expiration dates.

Does this sound familiar? The vertical slums in the ECA region have a couple of things in common with “The Projects” or social housing schemes that were developed in many developed countries in the 70s AND ALSO have a lot in common with many of the slum upgrading schemes developing countries are favoring today. I believe that it is worth learning from this region not only to prepare ourselves for the challenges we will face tomorrow but to avoid taking the wrong development road today. In the following year I will be co-leading (if fundings get approved 😉 ) a study on informal housing in the ECA region and on Roma inclusion through integrate housing interventions, so you will probably continue to hear from my “adventures” and experience in this region.

Last but not least, a Tetris parody of Soviet union construction of building blocks.

[1] Please forgive my use of the word ‘slum’. I understand and probably agree that it is not the best word to use in the Europe and Central Asia context and invite you to give me any suggestions you might have.

3 thoughts on “Vertical slums

  1. Reblogged this on ramblinginthecity and commented:
    This is absolutely going to happen to all the ‘redevelopment’ projects here in India, where slum dwellers are being relocated into high rise towers with little thought to maintenance of structure and services in the future, or to the suitability of vertical living to the lifestyle of the poor. Like in many other things, we are about to repeat mistakes that have already been made elsewhere. I strongly believe we should look at market-based, low-rise, high density options as well as focus on upgrading existing informal settlements…

  2. Hi, I actually did most of my research work in India, in Mumbai, before getting my new job, and I completely agree with you in the problems of maintenance and design. I visited a large number of Slum Rehabilitated Blocks which just after a couple of months had their lifts not working and had already started to deteriorate due to the use its inhabitants were giving to common spaces. So I guess it is not only about design but also a lot about behaviour and lifestyle (i.e. inhouse economic activities).

    From a urban development perspective, this kind of development is good in the sense that it allows to densify cities that were previously very dense but overcrowded. Would love to hear what you mean by low-rise high density options….

    Thanks for the debate!

  3. Good piece and thought provoking too; thanks for this. I look at Delhi and find that there is enough land for need, but not for greed. Vertical slums seem less probable though; horizontal shunting-out of the urban poor and their livelihoods is a more realistic threat.

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