There’s no denying that cities are the future homes of society. Highly densified urban centers where one can work, live and play in one place, by 2020 more than two thirds of the population will live in cities, and in Mexico this figure will be more than 90 percent. Urbanization is occurring at such a rapid rate that there are several other issues that are taking a backseat, such as equality, decent housing and security. So what happens to the citizens who cannot afford an apartment in the city center or who earn minimum wage and cannot afford a mortgage?
Approximately more than 60 percent of Mumbai’s 20 million citizens live in slums, which explains its nickname “Slumbai”. Its notorious slums surround the city and as a solution, the government has created the Slum Rehabilitation Authority, which plans to verticalize its communities. The first developments were between seven and 10 stories high, but in the past years there have been new developments of 19-22 stories high. The Times of India reports that apart from there being too many floors, maintenance costs for vertical developments are far beyond the reach of the families living there. Like in any major city, land is gold and by moving slums into vertical buildings, there is a great profit to be made. Harvard Business School found that Dharavi, the city’s oldest and largest slum, could yield returns of 40 percent making it a “gold mine”. Read more about the Vision of Vertical Slums in Mumbai here.
The Centro Financiero Confinanzas, more commonly known as Torre David, stands out in the Caracas skyline as the third tallest tower. When construction began in 1990, it was to be one of the most luxurious skyscrapers in the country. Its construction came to a halt in 1994 during the Venezuelan banking crisis and was soon abandoned. But it didn’t take long before it became home to thousands. In the 2000s, Venezuela went through a housing crisis with a shortage of more than 400,000 homes. Citizens began to inhabit the unfinished tower and surrounding buildings and by 2011, it had more than 2,500 residents and a peak population of 5,000. Families created businesses inside from barber shops, book stores and even a church. The lack of social housing promoted the use of the Tower of David as informal housing for several years. This lasted until 2014 when the government launched Operation Zamora, a program through which it relocated more than 1,200 families into new homes in a town south of Caracas. Watch a BBC documentary on Venezuela’s Tower of Dreams.
Kowloon Walled City was one of the most densely populated places in the world. Within its walls lived more than 50,000 people in a space no larger than 2.6 hectares. Kowloon was originally a military fort that, after the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during WWII began to take is shape as a vertical slum. The fort was Chinese territory but was surrounded by UK land and refugees began to inhabit the fort. In 1948, the UK government tried to dislodge the fort but after failing to do so, it adopted a “hands-off” policy. The lack of government enforcement made the fort a haven for crime, drugs and prostitution. To contain its growth the government decided to place a height restriction of 14 stories so it would not interfere with the Kai Tak Airport. Finally, both the Chinese and UK goverments came to an agreement that the conditions and crime within the walls constituted inhumane living standards and signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration to demolish the city. It was later transformed into a park. As for the 33,000 citizens, the Chinese government compensated them with US$350 million. Take a look inside here
IS IT TOO LATE FOR MEXICO?
At the moment, most of Mexico’s cities are filled with horizontal developments with only a few skyscrapers beginning to appear on the horizon. Yet Monterrey, Mexico City and Guadalajara are beginning to see more and more verticalization as more people move into their city boundaries. Mexico’s inequality can be seen on the outskirts of these urban areas, expanding into the surrounding hills and valleys.
Mexico is home to more than 112 million people in more than 28.6 million houses according to CONAVI. There is a housing deficit of more than 7 million homes. Each passing year, the housing deficit forces communities to move to the outskirts of cities and encourages the development of informal dwellings, creating poverty and widening the gap between social classes. But how long will it be until there is no more room to expand to, or the commute time increases from an average of two hours to four? Mexico could learn some lessons and ensure the conditions of its cities do not escalate to those of Mumbai, Caracas and Hong Kong.
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