Sunday, August 18, 2013

Home for the Urban Poor

By Chester Cabalza

The five-hectare Baseco compound in Manila colorfully paints the portrait of urban poor settlements in the Philippines. It consists of Engineer’s island and two stone breakwaters that extend out from it into Manila Bay.

Photo from Emily Sealy's blog
In 2001, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC) identified the island as a high priority for urban renewal. But land tenure security is a necessary condition for the bank’s urban renewal work. In 2004, the Gawad Kalinga (roughly translates as ‘to give care’), a non-government organization, facilitated by politicians and ‘civil society’, was invited to rehabilitate the Baseco compound and constructed multihued modest houses for urban poor settlers whose formerly depressed houses were ravaged by fire.

However, behind the colorful houses and village granted to urban poor beneficiaries, they still aim for their dream home. They formed a people’s organization to lobby to the government land tenure security and social housing projects. And despite the many advantages urban settlements provide, the poorest residents often live in exceptionally unpleasant and unhealthy conditions. 

Theoretical implications and social constructions in understanding the issues of slums, housing and land tenure in many metropolitan cities had been studied by various scholars such as, Escobar 1995, Seabrook 1996, Gopal 1997, Low 1999, Appadurai 2004, Caldiera 2005, and Racelis et. al., 2010.  

Nevertheless, the concept of “home” among slum dwellers has always been problematic. Community members in urban informal settlements are themselves migrants from rural areas, aspiring for better employment and opportunities in urban city, or they work as overseas contract workers in foreign countries to support the needs of their families.  

Some would often link informal settlements as one of the curses of fast-changing urbanization and with the inevitable and unstoppable development recently experienced by Asian cities, issues on home and family relations become dysfunctional. And what more the deprived urban poor families in slum areas in different cities?

This ethnographic paper shall present narratives of an urban poor man-leader in Baseco Manila on how he struggled to build his ‘dream house’ and ‘colorful village’ for his fellow indigent neighbors as they struggled and aspired for to live in a community with a reputation for outbreaks of violence, gang activities, demolition, street protests, crime, drug syndicates, trafficking, teen-age pregnancy with disobedient, unruly, out-of-control youth who have abandoned their society’s cultural values.

But ultimately, what is “home” for the urban poor settlers in booming Asian cities? 

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