What if the poor were part of city planning? | Smruti Jukur Johari

What if the poor were part of city planning? | Smruti Jukur Johari

What is our imagery of cities? When we imagine cities, we often imagine it
to be something like this. But what if what you’re looking at
is just half a picture, but there is a city within the city. This part of the city
is often seen as slums, squatters, informal, and people living here
are called illegal, informal, criminals, beneficiaries,
supplicants, etc. But in reality, these are poor people with no choices. Poverty is a vicious cycle. If born poor, it can take
three or more generations to escape one. Many are forced in this cycle
without choices, to live on pavements, along train tracks, in dumping grounds, along rivers, swamps and many such unlivable spaces, without clean water, toilets or housing. But these places are not unfamiliar to me, because since the age of six,
I accompanied my father, a doctor, who treated patients
in the slums of Bombay. Growing up, I would help him
carry his bag of medicines after school lessons — I loved doing that. Wanting to do something
about these habitats, I decided to become an architect. But quite early on, I realized that the beauty of architecture
was only for the rich. So I decided to do urban planning and joined an NGO in India
that works with the urban poor who organize themselves
to access basic services, such as water, sanitation and housing,
for the poor living in cities. Now I spent 10 years of my life
in professional education, in learning, and then five years in unlearning it. Because I realized that all my training in architecture,
design and planning failed ground realities. And this is where I learned
the power of choice. I unlearned many things, but there are two myths about the poor that I would like to share
that we live with. The first myth is a perception that migration of poor people
into cities is a problem. Is migration really a choice? My mentor Sheela Patel asked to those who think
of this as a problem, “Go ask your grandfather
where he came from,” she says. So what do poor people do
when they migrate in cities? Let me share an example. This is the Mumbai International Airport. All that you see in blue
are large informal settlements around it. Close to 75,000 people live here. So who are these people
that work silently in hotels, restaurants, as laborers, babysitters, house helps and countless other jobs that we need for cities to function
without a glitch? And where do they live? In most cities, they live in slums. So let us think again. Do we want poor people
to stop migrating in our cities? What if they had a choice of not to? The second myth is my personal experience. It’s this attitude that we
professionals know better. We professionals love
to make choices for others, especially for the poor. Let me share an experience. In a workshop that looked at designing
250 new houses for poor families from a slum nearby, there were different building materials
that were presented, ranging from papier-mâché,
cardboard, honeycomb, etc., simply because they were affordable. But there was this one idea
that was of shipping containers. Now we immediately approved of it, because we thought it was sustainable,
scalable, affordable. But during this presentation, a lady from the slum humbly spoke up. And she asked the presenter, “Would you choose to live in it?” (Laughter) “If not, then why did you think we would?” Now this was a personal
unlearning moment for me, where I realized that poverty
only changes affordability — it does not change aspirations. Now poor people have lived
in temporary structures all their life. They go from wall to wall, moving from bricks to tin. They move from building from bamboo, tarpaulin sheets, plastic,
to cardboard, to tin, to bricks and cement, just like the way we do. So somewhere here, we were forcing
our choices on them. So should we force our choices on them, or should we broaden their choices? Now what if the opportunity to choose
was given to people? These are women who lived on the pavements
of a neighborhood in Mumbai. Now they faced constant evictions,
and in response to it, they organized a women’s network
called Mahila Milan. Not only did they fight against evictions
with those in power, saved money and bought land, but they also designed
and helped construct their own houses. Well, these were illiterate women,
so how did they do that? They used floor mats and saris
to understand measurements. A sari is four meters in length
and 1.5 meters in width. They used these simple day-to-day items
to demonstrate house models. And even they made
three options to choose from and invited all their fellow residents
to come and have a look. (Laughter) And everybody loved this option
that had a loft in it, simply because it did two things. One is that it accommodated
larger families to sleep in. And two, it allowed home-based work, such as bangle-making, jewelry-designing, embroidery-stitching,
packaging items, etc. Now they also decided
to not have a toilet inside, but instead have it outside
in the corridors, simply because it gave them
more space and it was cheaper. Now, professionals
could have never thought of something like that. A formal design would have necessitated
to have a toilet inside. Now these are smaller examples — let me share some larger context: 881,000,000 people — that’s about one sixth of this world,
as we talk here — are living in slums
and informal settlements. Almost every city in the global south
has large slums in the size of townships. Kibera, in Nairobi, Dharavi, in Mumbai, Khayelitsha in South Africa, just a few. Now initially, they were all
on waste and abandoned lands that cities were never interested in. As cities grew, poor people started building
on these lands and brought value to this over time. And today, these lands have become
real estate hot spots that everybody wants a piece of. So how do cities and those in power
choose to deal with them? They demolish them and evict them and move them away
from their cities and economies in order to build a new infrastructure. They move them into vertical housing, which in reality looks like this. Now when built in high densities, they lack natural light and ventilation, and it often leads
to unhealthy conditions. Now, on one hand, poor people are not involved
in the participation of design, and there is poor quality of construction. And on the other hand, they do not understand
how to do maintenance, you know, keeping bills,
keeping records, forming societies — this is always difficult for them. And being forced to move
into this formal society, they end up looking like this
in a few years. Because formalization is not a product, it’s a process. Moving from informal to formal
for poor people is a journey. It takes time to accept and adapt. And when that choice is not given, it becomes like this, which I’m afraid, in future,
these would become the slums. Now instead of doing this, what if we accommodated poor people and gave them a choice
to be a part of our cities and develop them where they are, giving them basic services,
like in this picture? Now what happens if cities
and governments could work together, if governments acknowledge poor people, and they could build it together? This is Mukuru. It’s a large informal
settlement in Nairobi. It’s one of the largest
settlements in Africa. It’s home to 300,000 people living over 650 acres of land. To help us understand that scale, it’s like squeezing
the population of Pittsburgh into the New York Central Park. That’s Mukuru. So to give us a glimpse, this is the condition of housing. And this is what it is in between them. So what is life in Mukuru like,
just talking briefly? Five hundred and fifty people
use one single water tap and pay nine times more than what anybody else
in the city could pay, simply because there is
no water infrastructure and water is sold. Many come back from work to find out
that their houses do not exist, because they have either been bulldozed, or they have been burned down. So, tired of this situation, a local slum dwellers’ federation
called Muungano decided to do something about it. In four years, they organized 20,000 residents
to collect data, map structures and put it together. And the plan was very simple — they only needed four things. They wanted clean water, toilets, decent roads and, most importantly, not to be evicted. So they presented this
with the government of Nairobi. And for the first time in history ever, a city has agreed to do it. The city of Nairobi,
the government of Kenya, declared Mukuru
to be a special planning area, which means that people
could come up with their own plan. People could decide to come up
with their own norms and standards, because the standards that work
for the formal citizens do not work in informal settings. So what does that mean,
to give us an instance? If these are roads in Mukuru, you can see that there are houses
along both sides of the road. Now in order to bring in a city bus, as per the standards, planners would have gone for
a luxurious 25-meter-wide road. Now that would mean displacing
[25] percent of the structures — that’s a lot of people. So instead of doing that,
we came up with a 12-meter-wide road, which had the structures intact
and brought the city bus without compromising
on much services. In another instance,
let’s talk about community toilets. You know, in high-density areas, where there is no scope
for individual toilets, like the public toilets that we have here. So we would go for a male section
and a female section. But imagine this situation. In the morning rush hours to the toilet, when everybody is in intense
pressure to relieve themselves, and if you’re standing
in a queue of 50 people, and there is a child
standing behind an adult, who wins? Children end up squatting outside. And that’s why women decided to come up with a separate
squatting area for children. Now, who could have thought
of something like that? The idea here is
that when poor people choose, they choose better. They choose what works for them. So choice is everything. And power decides choice. And we need those in power — politicians, leaders, governments, architects, planners,
institutions, researchers — and all of us in our everyday lives
to respect choices. Instead of choosing what is right
for people, for the poor, let’s acknowledge
and empower their choices. And that is how we can build better and inclusive cities for tomorrow, completing the imagery of cities built by the choices of its own people. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “What if the poor were part of city planning? | Smruti Jukur Johari

  1. They used clothing to measure housing. Such a beautiful display of perseverance and love. Stories like this should be all over the news ❤️

  2. What if?……… What if there was any money left for any improvement, and the government didn't steal everything they could? Good example , the ANC South african government. Please stop sending foreign aid to the ANC !!! You are flushing your money down the toilet !!!!!!!! Do some proper research before arguing !!!!

  3. Nopes this will never work. They live in sufferance and with problems and they will see good for themselves. But its a big question if poors see good for themselves may be the conditions what u showed before sud be like tat. Its u people your ngo who visited and bettered their lifestyle.

  4. 把贫穷和饥饿算进计划,中国共产党已经这么做了。而且在50年前。你已经看到结果。结果就是。饿死超过2000万人。同样是这个政党,现在正在向全世界传播武汉肺炎的病毒。

  5. and the meth heads with rotten teeth can run the dentistry
    and the crack heads can run the pharmaceuticals
    and the the fatties can run the FDA
    the homeless can run the Housing dept
    prostitutes and aids cases can run the health dept
    pedophiles can run child protective dept

  6. I grew up poor. Most poor people are poor because they can not plan their lives, and you want them to build cities? Are you going to pay them for that work, exploit them, do you think they will even be reliable? The ones who will be reliable are hustlers. These people have the time to build houses with clothing but not enough time for a job? Not to mention this is not the US. Not to mention if squatters come onto our land just because we are not building homes on it, they are poorly mistaken- pun intended. What in the ever-loving world… I could go on and on and on…

  7. Said they have no choices? And then talks about choices they have or try and have…. The woman you talked about saved money and bought land…Why can't more people do that… Mutiple people work for a common goal is the key. I wold say the housing gets like that because the government give them the housing. You don't take care of things that you don't earn. I saw it with neighbours I had that were on assistance and given a house. Lawn was never maintained and home was dirty.

  8. I don't know who you are, but I love you and I'm here to help you. If anyone just wants to talk, needs an ear even, I am here for you.

  9. Unfortunately, everyone looks up the hierarchy and not down, everyone wants to find a way to become richer and have a better live for themselves. Noone cares for the less fortunate than them.

  10. Let's empower choices made by poor people? The same poor people that have made such great choices in life that they are now poor??? This has got to be the dumbest a laziest idea I've ever heard. We are all dumber for having listened to it.

  11. Ya really think the RICH are going to allow the poor to take THE MONEY FROM THE RICH? Israel is a great example of how the RICH get the poor to pay for the INSANITY of 'god's' chosen INSANE.
    Joe Magnets

  12. That's one of the best TED Talks I've heard recently. The idea behind it can change the world (sad it's not already a part of reality). Also, speaker is incredibly smart and realistic professional and kind human being

  13. I would love to network with this speaker. She could offer a world of knowledge to address the homeless crisis here in the States.

  14. I was making the same suggestion that homeless communities should be self sustaining and organized by those living in the community. Modeling the shipping container method for building suitable housing that would be ran and organized by the residents.

  15. What a hilarious idea. Good way to completely ruin modern life and send us back to the dark ages….just let crackheads design a city LOL!

  16. We NEED this woman here in California to assist with planning and prepoing and solving the homeless crisis here. She would understand my strategy to build a homeless community, or poor community where their choices are respected and empowered. She put exactly what I've been proposing to the L.A. Mayors and Governor. We have so much emoty land here where we could build these communities via Crate Modular. I've spoken to manybhomeless and poor and they are hapoy with their tents and their poor community. They have their own way of life being poor and homeless, and these individuals are highly intelligent and spiritual. They are loving and many are helpful. Given their own land and place of refuge would be ideal. With the basic necessities and services available to them as mainstream society. The fact of the matter is respecting these individuals choice to be poor and live off the land. Yet, they deserve safety and access to healthcare, etc in order to thrive in this community.

  17. They sure ain't about Portland's planning , they put gates or fences up under the bridges to get rid of homeless people. That's how the poor get took care of. Fact. Sick bastards.

  18. The poor are part of City Planning:
    They are a commodity they are a catalyst and they are a tool and they are a pincushion punching bag for police experience.

  19. i LOVED THIS! I have always seen a true beauty in the way Slums develop and work. It is not something i've ever really understood about myself, why would I love the creativity and uniqueness of places that are unkempt, difficult to live in? I finally understand why, thanks to this talk! I love the way it's designed to work, not to look uniform. I love the choice. The self-direction. Letting people design for their needs, not the needs of others…. and as a disabled person, it would help me if there was more freedom with a lot of housing stuff, because right now i'm in a life situation where I cannot afford to live anywhere except with family paying my rent. If building codes were different I could take out a loan and go build a tiny home in a convenient spot, but with how things work I would need like 50x the amount of money I could feasibly get in order to comply with laws about who can build what where and having to be hooked up to services X, Y, Z, or else >____< accessibility for disabled people could literally improve by RIPPING down some of the current housing regulations in the USA!

  20. She was really excited when she was giving this Ted talk sometimes. And that really is for a reason. I mean, this woman came out of em slums and now made it out and is such a wonderful woman, working on her thoughts and ideas in order to use the time she was given and create something helpful out of it. Now standing on stage, presenting her

  21. India has the best solution…. Passing the CAA and removing people from the citizenship list, than killing them on the streets

  22. To be racist: If she would speak accent free english she would be three times more attractive.

    EDIT: It's a very interesting talk, nice to hear!

  23. She speaks of these poor people as if they are a different species that she's studying, the caste system in India is inhumane.

  24. They already are in america… Its illigal to be poor, so they pile everyone up into prison industrial complex and have cheap slaves!! Paid for oublic dollar, to for profit prisons who sell labour for profit to corporations…. Yay….

  25. I propose to have this lady come to the US and work ahare her ideas with Mayor of LA to address skid row.
    Lord knows those educated pompous idiots over there should finally LISTEN to the residents of skid row.

  26. So for people in the comments; poor ppl dont have the same opportunity as you do, especially when you are privileged in the USA.

  27. very nice to hear…meaningful, intelligent
    not just a speech and rhetorical…

    a problem AND a solution at the same time!
    Hope the powers that be…learn from this!!!

  28. Great idea. The best recommendations for the beneficiaries must always come from them. I wonder now how we come up with actionable insights from getting everyone’s opinion. Do we let suggestions go through voting?

  29. What if the rich learned that they were always killed every time they allowed the inequality gap to grow too large. Laissez faire economics are a failure, we need to try interventionism or something new because "billionaire" while your own countrymen are starving is intolerable.

  30. It depends. If they are California druggies/ zombies then may be not a good idea. If they are a legitimate homeless working persons with values and priorities, then yeah. They do this already with the homeless in Kalamazoo Michigan. They sit on boards with the city and it appears to work.

  31. @12.30 who would want to squat next to each other?

    Seriously 😓

    @4.40- 'Poverty only changes Affordability and not Aspirations'

    And what do you think when you make these toilets for kids where they have to squat next to each other with each other's stench.

    Very Ironic.

  32. There just are too many people on the planet.
    Vertical land usage is a solution to crowded urban areas.
    Also, there are building regulations which makes it unsafe for individuals to design their own domiciles.
    I agree with her to a point but it needs to be planned well and as a cooperative effort.

  33. I like the way of talking / expressions / all the pronunciations of each and every words : very deep and real knowledge: very simple and effective way of understanding : I love to watch and listen ' Ted ' .
    You are doing really amazing things
    Thanks TED From bottom of heart 💡🕯📡🔎✉📍✂🔮🎤📣📢📻🎬📹📺📽🔬🔖

  34. We really want open-source design project for home designs, in fact, there is a desperate need for something like Linux foundation for health care and housing sector

  35. Haha that's a good one. Let's have a bunch a Crack heads and alcoholics sitting on town council. Sounds like a great idea

  36. "When poor people choose, they choose better, they choose what works for them.
    So choice is everything and power decides choice.
    We need those in power… and all of us in our everyday lives to respect choices.
    Instead of choosing what is right for people, for the poor, let's acknowledge and empower their choices. And that is how we can build better and inclusive cities for tomorrow, completing the imagery of cities built by the choices of its own people." Smruti Jokur Johari – urban planner

  37. "When poor people choose, they choose better, they choose what works for them.
    So choice is everything and power decides choice.
    We need those in power… and all of us in our everyday lives to respect choices.
    Instead of choosing what is right for people, for the poor, let's acknowledge and empower their choices. And that is how we can build better and inclusive cities for tomorrow, completing the imagery of cities built by the choices of its own people." Smruti Jokur Johari – urban planner

  38. Can over-regulation be reduced by allowing people with property rights full control of their own properties so long as they assume full responsibility for all rational consequences by either having sufficient insurance against all future liabilities or settling up an escrow account with sufficient funds?

  39. We are curently doing a similar project here, in Jakarta, Indonesia. We do a Community Action Plan, where slum dwellers sit with architects and other experts (from NGOs) to make a plan for their houses and neigborhood. Then with the support from the local government, we build it. I see it as a win-win solution for everyone. The government finaly have a more promising solution that everyone can agree with. While the people learn alot about regulations and the mindsets and reasons behind urban planing. Plus it gives the people more sense of belonging to the city they live in. I hope a humble solution like this is more known so a lot of people can live a better life.

  40. This is Direct Democracy in action. When people themselves decide what to do. And not vote for their leaders.

    This talk is a proof that it works wonders in small scale.

  41. This is best talks I heard , the presentation is well documented and flow is amazing. So inspirational. If you want to know the value of single resource ask these people.

  42. I was about to question on why they always show slums in Kenya, but this was actually very educative. I'm Kenyan and didn't even know of this plan. Thanks for this talk.

  43. One of the best documentry . I have heard. I loved your way of speaking maam .

  44. Thanks for sharing such informative and useful video. The poor choose what works for them, and that could be applied to everybody. Do not blindly be a follower of someone else, you always do the choice yourself because you are the one who knows yourself the best.

  45. Amazing! I am inspired, hopeful and wiser after watching this! I will follow your work and ideas w keen interest, thank you for stepping on that stage.

  46. i will live in a ship container, as long as we can make it liveble ,or we can build something big and tall , with lots of affordable rooms , this important things is we have a staying ground in this city, otherwise ,some developer can just buy the land and decide its going to be some fancy place, poor people are not wanted here

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