Today’s Solutions: February 08, 2023

How do you successfully help residents of a slum move into housing that improves their quality of life while maintaining a strong sense of community? You let them in on the design process and hear them out. At least that is what is happening in an informal settlement in the Indian city of Ahmednagar.

From slum resident to homeowner

The neighborhood, called Sanjaynagar, has existed for more than 40 years, with some residents living together with as many as 11 other family members in one single room. Conditions, however, are bound to improve soon as some residents are now moving into their own new apartments as part of the first phase of a community redesign — a project that was largely led by the residents themselves.

“One of the critical aspects of this process was to have the community be the decision-makers whilst the architects and social workers acted as facilitators,” says Sandhya Naidu Janardhan, managing director of Community Design Agency, an organization that worked together with the community, a local social work nonprofit, and many other stakeholders on the project.

Overall, the project intends to replace homes hosting almost 300 families with bright, low-rise apartment buildings that feature community spaces and plentiful greenery. The project was funded by the Curry Stone Foundation, an architectural foundation, together with the Indian government, as well as a $1,350 contribution from each family to cover part of the construction.

Improving social and economic opportunities for residents

Similar to other slums around the world, for many years, the Sanjaynagar neighborhood has experienced poor living conditions, such as overcrowded homes, a lack of safety, and limited access to basic amenities like potable water. Residents are also often subjected to stigmatization for living in informal settlements.

“Young, employable men and women do not reveal which neighborhood they are really from in order to even make the cut for a job interview,” Janardhan tells Fast Company. After the redevelopment, the government will no longer classify the neighborhood as a slum. “The new neighborhood will provide not just a safe, healthy, and vibrant place to live but provide an opportunity for future generations to flourish and thrive both socially and economically.”

Participatory and inclusive design

To ensure that these marginalized communities have a seat at the table, the design team included them in the new neighborhood’s design process from the start. Together, they created community spaces that could foster social cohesiveness and a sense of community. Some of the features include courtyards for each apartment building, bridges that connect them, community gardens, as well as a shared space for childcare. Plus, the residents also had a say in the aesthetics of the neighborhood.

“The quality of the design and standard of construction that we are proposing further pushes the boundaries on what is acceptable as decent housing for communities living in poverty,” says Janardhan. “Our design intends to preserve the social fabric of the community, through thoughtful and purpose-driven planning and architecture.”

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