where do we stand
where do we go
where do we dwell
where do we build
what do we measure
let us be poetic
forum: spatial, temporal and notional openness of a place for and of equal people.
adda: a social space, as free as possible, for loose talks, debates, thoughts, even gossips among friends, as known and commonly practiced in the Bengali culture – and indeed it will be easy to find its world-wide correspondents, from the East-African baraza to the French coffeehouse, from the Latin-American tertulia to themajlis in Arabian countries.
Habitat Forum Berlin’s adda make space for disputations, reflections and conceptions on habitat-related topics and shall encourage all-round discussions.
HFB is documenting everyday life and self-organised interventions in Karail Basti, a squatter settlement in the heart of Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital city. Thanks to the ASA-programme, since 2012 also participants from Germany can support the project. Together with their peers from Bangladesh, they explore the area and share, here, impressions as well as highlights from the field.
Over the years, the insensitive measures undertaken by the state toward the unauthorized settlements of Dhaka city have placed us in serious doubt regarding the perception of ‘development’ among our political and administrative class. The existence of basti is considered as an antonym of progress, mostly because of their so-called illegality, low living standards, inadequate sanitation and service facilities. However, since Bangladesh recognizes housing as one basic human right that should be extended to all its citizens, the state is responsible to provide these services along with adequate living space. Upon the failure of the state, the people had to self-organize their space in the city, but often found themselves evicted or their houses demolished for ‘development’ measures. You cannot simply take ‘development’ initiatives without considering half of your urban population, i.e. those who live in these self-organized settlements. The question of validity or legality is far beyond that – and even if it is a question, what has been the role of the state concerning numerous illegitimate structures built by the formal sector?
Last week – on 14 March 2016, the day a fire occurred at Beltola, which borders with Karail –, the CBO leaders of Karail Basti had a meeting with the NGOs pertaining to their present situation in relation to the incidents of eviction, demolition and fire in Sat Tala Basti and Kalyanpur Basti. They no longer want to live under constant threat of eviction and proposed to hold a fair discussion with the government and the NGOs. Talking with us one day after the meeting, they pointed out that without proper rehabilitation schemes, eviction will simply create another basti at another place. Over the last 25 years, people and NGOs as well have put many investments in Karail in addition to housing; they cannot start to form a settlement again from the very beginning. Besides, they refuse rehabilitation far away from the city like in projects such as Bhashantek at Mirpur 14, which is in fact a satire under the name of rehabilitation.
The inhabitants of Dhaka’s basti are the labor force for the formal sectors. We cannot imagine a single day without any rickshaw puller, CNG driver, cleaner, housemaid, security guard, day laborer or garment worker. The city runs as they work. They see themselves, and are, legitimate citizens of this country. ‘What is the point of creating “Digital Bangladesh” or becoming a “Middle-Income Country” when these ‘developments’ disregard the basic human rights of nearly four million people of the city?’ – they ask. Purbachal Model Town, Uttara Model Town, Jhilmil Prokolpo and numerous other housing proposals from the public and private sector have addressed only the high and middle-income group. What about the marginal communities of the society? All should know that nonintegrated initiatives don’t offer a proper refinement, as people with different income levels depend on each other. Another issue during the meeting was the government’s proposal to develop a 47-acre IT-Village on the area of Karail. In this proposal, the government contemplates to give the company implementing the project the responsibility to do ‘something’ for the basti people, though even this is not clearly described!! The community of Karail Basti has repeatedly demanded to be involved in whatever initiative is planned. Yet, they have not received the slightest update. If this or another project must be implemented on part of the area, why doesn’t the government lease to the inhabitants of Karail the remaining land? Then with the help of the NGOs, buildings for which the community will pay in long-term installments could be built. They understand that since the proportion of population to the available land is very high, vertical expansion might be inevitable. But the government could also sell the land to Karail people, who would pay it via long-term installment loans, they add.
Whatever the solution is, it must address the whole community of Karail Basti, that is each family. These people are not looking for charity, they need cooperation.
Sadia Sharmin, ASA-volunteer 2016
That Bangladesh’s urban poor, consistently denied the access to basic resources and adequate housing, are often left no alternative but to occupy public sector’s urban space, is a known fact. The inhabitants of Dhaka’s basti or self-organised settlements, also supported by NGOs, have learnt to negotiate space and self-organise themselves in order to ensure basic infrastructures and their right to stay put. However, the repeated instances of eviction without notice, destruction and molest fires in various basti of the city in the last 6-8 months suggest that government and corporate forces might soon be taking sharper, and increasingly undemocratic, measures to demoralise them and make their efforts and their hopes vanish. One of the latest cases, the eviction-cum-fire in Pora Basti in Kallyanpur area on the 20th of January 2016 – where no proper notice was given to the dwellers and the causes for the fire have not being further investigated by the responsible authorities –, is being discussed throughout the city’s self-organised settlements with deep fear and concern. Aside this dramatic case, the existence of other basti is likely to be seriously endangered. For example, in Sat Tala Basti in Mohakhali, thousands are fearing for their homes and livelihoods, as eviction rumours have recently spread out; alike, during our last visits in Karail Basti, we stated otherwise unexperienced doubts and concern even among some of the CBO leaders.
While general threats of eviction and concrete cases of random demolition by state forces have occurred frequently enough in Karail in the past, a stay order emitted by the High Court protected the area and the dwellers counted till recently on the possibility to negotiate with the State, if not a permanent stay, a further stay order. Vis-à-vis the mentioned developments in the city and the overall critical law-and-order situation in the country however, many have started to fear that Karail might be destroyed even before the current stay order expires in mid 2016.
Partly, their concerns derive from rumours that the entire area should be developed either to house offices and employees of the Electricity Department, or to become Dhaka’s “IT Village”. Partly, they look with scepticism at ongoing works on the Banani Lake: two earthen dams are being built cross the water body, linking the Gulshan side to Karail. Are they being built against water pollution, like some have declared, or for less harmless goals?
According to our sources in the settlement, talks around the fate of Karail Basti will start as soon as in the first days of March. While some see in such talks an opportunity to push forward their cause in the law arena, some doubt (in spite of the support granted by eminent lawmakers and judges) this can compete with state and corporate interests that are well known to Dhaka courts’ members, and even worry that eviction might be thereby speeded up.
It is worthwhile to notice that a third reason of concern for some of Karail’s CBO leaders and other representatives of Dhaka’s basti bashee (“slum dwellers”) lies in the calls in favour of “climate change resilience” and “urban sustainability” prioritised by the UN in the last few years. They expect that government bodies and NGOs, with the pretext of taking measures to counter climate change disasters or enhance the city’s sustainability, might boost upgrading and development works that impact negatively self-organised settlements (as these are often particularly exposed to environmental risks) or even lead to their complete removal from the city centre.
All this leaves us confused and worried. What does it count to head towards becoming a “middle-income country” if the State remains such that it doesn’t cater to all of its inhabitants, regardless of their class, income and origin? Who else is going to cater to their needs? And why is it so easy to forget that housing is not simply “a” need but a human right?
Elisa T. Bertuzzo, lead researcher
Living in Karail benefitted my Bangla, my understanding of the production of social space as well as of the importance of otherwise “taken for granted” resources like water and electricity; most importantly, it helped building up the relationships that I still draw on these days. But I don’t think it strictly necessary to settle in Karail to understand how cultural and social practices, affiliations, modalities of social control, regulation systems and ownership as well as power relationships act on the settlement. What is strictly necessary is to be thorough in one’s encounters with this special habitat. To spend time there, I mean, to be lavish with the time spent there: one must be ready to allow hours to pass with “nothing” happening. For exactly in those empty hours, she will detect the culture of the place, with its subliminal rhythms and codes. In Karail’s case, I would call it a culture of resilience: a system of rules, norms of conduct/behaviour, values – based on specific, not easily tangible, maybe ethereal and fluctuating expectations and explanations – that all inhabitants necessarily share and that allows them to shape their environment without too much conflict. Back in 2009, this system seemed an incredible achievement, a kind of utopia. Now I know that it is just about thorough self-organisation.
Elisa T. Bertuzzo, lead researcher
My memories of how I entered Karail for the first time in a small group, back in September 2012, have become blurred. I had landed at Dhaka airport only a few hours earlier, I was not recovered from the lack of sleep and was feeling like caught in a time warp. However, my curiosity to finally get to know Dhaka and Karail personally outweighed jetlag.
After a bus – or was it a CNG? – ride along the streets of Dhaka, finally a rickshaw brought us to the border of Karail. I quickly understood that the easiest way to move through the narrow, crowded streets and pathways of the peninsula that Karail occupies would be on foot. I allowed the interplay of impressions – a combination of colors, sounds and smells – to affect me. At university, I had learned procedures and methods to look at and grasp buildings and districts. Here in Karail, I sensed, it would proceed differently. Where does a road begin? Where does the courtyard of a housing cluster end?
Space in Karail is used in many different ways – access areas are also places to meet, shop owners use their premises not only as retail areas, but as living rooms and meeting point as well. And on the top of it, passers-by can always find shelter under the shops’ roofs when it rains.
During one of our visits in Karail, we got to know Shahidul Kafil. He introduced us to his family and allowed us to measure his living space. Anytime we met, he invited us for a chat and a tea or lemonade in his little pharmacy, which adjoins his living spaces and opens to a busy market street. There are several of these wider and busy commercial streets in the settlement, running almost parallel one another from the east to the west, mostly connected via smaller paths. Looking at the road geometry one could try to categorize it on a map. It was thanks to Shahidul that I understood – during a workshop – that these categories do not necessarily correspond to the orientation of Karail inhabitants. In his map of the settlement, he did not draw the supposedly prominent commercial routes first, but highlighted the smaller link roads. I realized that he was right: when, leaving the settlement across the Banani Lake on a small wooden boat after that first-ever visit, memories and events linked into my own “inner map” did not match at all with Karail’s “geographical map”.
Louisa Scherer, ASA-volunteer 2012
About three months ago, I started my journey to Dhaka. I was highly motivated to learn and explore in an unfamiliar cultural context, but at the same time the new tasks filled me with questions. Would I be able to put all ideas worked out far away, sitting at my desk in Berlin, into practice? Would people in Karail Basti open the door to some German student asking questions about their daily life, including their income and their reasons to move to the basti?
After six weeks of intense fieldwork on site, I can answer the latter question with a clear yes. While in Germany I got used to skeptic faces when doing research, I couldn’t count the cups of tea that the dwellers invited me to drink in their homes. Even when I asked people to accompany them during their entire day for as long as five days, no single person refused. Neighbors even asked me whether I could come to their house next! Meghla, a school girl, agreed despite the fact that her house was being converted from tin to brick and the family had to change rooms every 2-3 days. The family quickly learned that thanks to my height, I can easily lift lamp sockets over roof beams or pick dry laundry from the roof without having to climb on a chair. As for Meghla, she soon decided to call me her big sister, as she got tired of having to explain to everybody who the foreign person next to her is; Moneja, with whom I regularly walked to her housemaid job, just called me her bodyguard.
Still, there are obstacles that I wouldn’t face in German surroundings. When I once came home to my room after 9 pm, I received disapproving looks from my landlord, clearly signaling that I shouldn’t come home that late. I realized I would not be able to follow Milan’s dancing activities at his home, which started after his evening shift at the supermarket, at 11 pm. This week, I wanted to walk Reshma to school, but due to the tense political situation, the school remained closed. Instead, I’ve spent long hours nearby the cooking places – I’m sure I could write a Bengali cooking book by now! As people in Karail are very generous when it comes to offering food, it’s been very strenuous to let them understand that I cannot eat 3-4 plates of rice every day. At the beginning I used to wonder why so many people take shower around noon. Then I realized that nobody would take shower at 15° C after getting up in the morning, and I too started to wait for the warming sun on midday.
These last days, I have hardly been doing more than sitting inside a courtyard. Being attentive all the time and coping with all the impressions is much more exhausting than carrying out a quick household survey. At night I’m always very tired and usually go straight to bed. Maybe in order to cope with all the newly gained experiences, I need to change location quite regularly and go back to my second home, in Shyamoli, where I take some rest and a cup of good coffee, too. Sure, doing research in Karail features various personal constraints and asks for a high degree of flexibility. But experiencing the people’s hospitality is worth all the effort.
Lisa Lampe, ASA-volunteer 2014/15
An anthropologist could derive very interesting information from living in a basti like Karail, spanned as it is between rural tradition and urban dynamism. She could as well write a wonderful report on the way women and children adapt themselves to spaces that are changing at unexperienced pace, coping with the need for privacy, protection, decentness and the challenge of a congested, thick and dense habitat. Or she could gain insights on the way men state their authority – generally legitimised by their still prevalent role as bread-earners – in their day by day family interactions (well, in fact husbands who quitted their jobs after their wives and/or daughters have got employed in a garment factory, or drudge in wealthy households, seemed to maintain unchallenged authority: a sign of women’s still unfulfilled emancipation, their feeling vulnerable in a public sphere that is thoroughly male-dominated? …or do mothers prefer to leave things as they are for a sense of responsibility towards their children, whom they wish to ensure a “normal” childhood? …how does the social construct “family” ensure its persistence even when the power relationships between husbands and wives are so unfairly distributed?). However, since I am not an anthropologist, and since I feel claustrophobic when I stay for too long in the same small space – and Karail’s homes are all “too small” –, my object of research necessarily had to be an “extroverted” one.
It had to concern the movements, transitions, interactions and exchanges between the organism that the settlement represented and the urban surroundings. It seemed that a membrane separated the two areas, but so tiny and intangible a membrane that goods, people, values, news were continuously interpenetrating those. A continuous osmosis. I observed that certain actors, or agents – shomitees, saving groups, etc. – controlled how that osmosis occurred, how it impacted the community, and how the community could take advantage from it… My focus was to be set on the men’s world. Indeed, women found their place and space in that world too: those who ran restaurants or tailor shops around boro math, those commuting from Karail to Gulshan/Banani on an everyday basis, those who, coming back from the factories, chatted within their group of peers… children, they knew their ways too – at least the boys. It was a world in which I liked to locate myself; of which I would have liked to be one part, amidst the thousand other factors and persons that boost Karail’s social process. Of course, this required that I’d keep in mind where I come from and which responsibilities, if at all, I should stick to.
After 2009, I settled again in a room of Karail in 2012 and 2013. I now liked to spend time, if not in my small hut, in the courtyards; I chatted with the women and tried to follow their daily rhythms. I wondered what had changed: did I feel closer to mothers and children because I had grown older? Or was the simple reason that, since in the meantime a majority of clusters have been refurbished and assembled in bigger units, the courtyards offered more space to move?
Elisa T. Bertuzzo, lead researcher
The development of Karail as a basti is associated with the absence of statutory urban provisions for the inhabitants of the basti who considered migrating in the city for their survival. The housing conditions, utility provisions, and social, economic and political requirements of these inhabitants are at the very margin of fulfillment and are organized outside the statutory necessities. The absence of recognition of the needs of these new inhabitants of the city has resulted in the involvement of influential local inhabitants towards allocation of unused and vacant government land, as well as operation of utilities. Social and economic services demand the development and maintenance of dynamic relationships between influential persons, political leaders, government authorities and non-government organizations. However, the lacking recognition does not mean that the basti is isolated – in the contrary, observant consideration and negotiation with legal and non-statutory institutions and actors are ongoing.
Different delivery systems help Karail Basti’s inhabitants in their everyday life. The water, electricity and gas delivery systems are the main component of the basti’s settlement. Water, one of the most urgent demands, has been recently legalized. The electricity system is distributed to the inhabitants with the unofficial help of government officials: the inhabitants have legal papers relating to the electricity, but in spite of this, electricity is usually considered as an illegally provided service. Finally, the gas provision is organized totally informally: the inhabitants don’t understand why the government refuses to provide them gas for money, as it would get the profit from them, instead of “losing” money to the unofficial providers.
Farhana Kaniz Sharna, associate researcher
As my first spot for the observation of daily routines in Karail, I chose one of its five overland entrance points. An opening in the wall that divides Karail from the T&T area on the north-western fringe allows for transit and exchange between Karail and the adjacent, purely residential, area. School children can easily be distinguished by their backpacks. Sometimes the color and cut of the school uniforms allow for identification of the school they attend. They never walk in groups of more than 3 or 4 students. I also identified two groups of men coming home from work (sometimes only passing Karail on their way home): one group was notably well dressed, carrying a briefcase in one hand, the other group carried roundish tin boxes which seem to be the Bangladeshi-version of lunch boxes. Some wore uniforms often having a kind of ID card attached. Many women passing by carried babies or toddlers on one arm.
Although an equal amount of people entered and left the place, the majority of purchased goods clearly left Karail into the direction of the T&T settlement. It’s been the first time I consciously noticed bicycles on the streets of Karail – as I rather got used to see men, carrying a helmet and apparently undaunted by death, riding bicycle on the big streets of Dhaka. Just as new was the finding that children as well use bicycles in their leisure time.
With the beginning of dawn and the coming home of more workers, three more shops on the little square got opened. The atmosphere changed rapidly after 5:15pm, when dawn changed to dark. Lights went on, the children slowly vanished from the streets and the shops filled with men drinking tea. Right next to the gate, a TV screen at about 3 meters height turned on: it displayed the location, names and opening hours of the nearby pharmacy and clinic, which I found very interesting. At about 5:45pm, a shop owner invited me to have tea with his customers. As an ‘interesting stranger’, I seemed to be a welcome topic to talk about. Around that time, people, especially men, started to practice adda on the street and indeed, nobody was ashamed to say that they like to gossip.
Claiming back my spot the next morning, the most interesting action I could observe on the square was the selling of fish. To me, it seemed like the selling place had the same function which the tea stalls had played the evening before. Mostly men gathered around the seller, negotiated prices, discussed the quality of the fish, exchanged the news of the day and smoked cigarettes. The small stall was the center of attention and even people who didn’t want to buy fish often stopped for a small chat at that place. The fish vendor had 3-4 different sizes of fish stored in 3 big pots. After selling a bag of fish, he took new fish out of the pots and placed them on top of a big plate. Regularly, he sorted the fish according to their size. It was really interesting to see that the biggest fish sold first and the smallest were the last. Just before he had sold all his fish and prepared his equipment for the next day, two men came with new fish and took over his spot. The entire scene looked like a choreography – or a well rehearsed practice.
Lisa Lampe, ASA-volunteer 2014/15
In the 1960s, the government of Bangladesh acquired around 90 hectares of land for telecommunication-connected infrastructure development. With the advent of residential development, the area, mainly used for seasonal cropping, was flooded both by urban and construction waste and everlasting rainwater. The government failed to initiate the planned infrastructural development, that is why the Ministry of Telephone and Telecommunication (T&T) renounced the land to the Ministry of Housing and Public Works and to the Ministry of Science and Information & Communication Technology. During that time, the city was not as crowded and land was not such a crucial issue as it is today. For this reason, the land wasn’t considered for commercial uses. This was a vital prerequisite for the development of the big settlement.
By now, the area has become a prime location for the settlement of the low-income population of Dhaka and people call it “karail basti”, i.e. “Karail Colony”. It is located within ward 19 of Dhaka City Corporation (BBS, 2007) and surrounded by the Banani Lake on three sides as well as by residential areas, private universities, government quarters and diplomatic offices. Many inhabitants of Karail Basti are employed in the Gulshan area as housemaids, drivers, rickshaw pullers, sellers, gatekeeper, and night guards etc., many also work in garment factories.
In my perception, if you want to reflect on Karail Basti, you should not only consider it in its physical form, but consider it in a social and political sense. First of all, the inhabitants, while making and contributing to the whole community, stick to their local origin: it is often seen that people from particular districts live in the same area and build networks within each other. This is how areas like “Barishal Colony”, “Kumila Potti” etc. have got their names. Nevertheless, I think because of the high density and because generations of families have already lived there, the social relationships between different groups are very tight. This is where the sense of community comes from: Karail Basti has become an encompassing identity factor.
Furthermore, Karail Basti as a place is a political issue. Since the inhabitants always fear eviction because the land is a government property, the local leaders – as well as informal, self-nominated leaders – maintain political connections to help and protect the residents from eviction. We observed also a kind of internal “groupism”, as the inhabitants support different political groups. Many residents reported that they preserve and maintain political connections through the local leaders, who should convince the ruling party not to destroy the settlement. The inhabitants also believe that the government may decide not to destroy the basti because it is the home of a large number of voters. This is the strength of the inhabitants who vote in this ward.
Farhana Kaniz Sharna, associate researcher
“Listening to your experiences makes me wonder if I really know my own country well.”
Exploring the city of Dhaka by walking, some days ago I ended up sitting in a fancy office at one of the many tanneries. Widely criticized for causing severe damages to the environment, they supply the international marked with cheaply produced leather. The owner of the company – a well educated man who has been living in many countries and travelled the world – was really surprised to hear about my experiences in Karail Basti. When I told him that I regularly spent some nights in a small room in the Basti without feeling uncomfortable or insecure (even as a foreign woman), he wouldn’t even believe me. He’s not the only person I met who was told by parents and friends to stay away from bastis and who don’t dare to even take a step inside.
So what is it like to not only spend days in Karail, but the evening, night and early morning, too? When I enter the compound through an almost invisible tin door, I usually get asked by the members of at least three families if I have “eaten my rice” yet. “Eating rice” is a synonym for having either breakfast, lunch or dinner and intends much more than just a plate of rice. Until late at night, the families take turns cooking rice, vegetables, lentils and fish or meat at the two stoves inside the courtyard. People continuously enter and exit the courtyard and as far as my language skills allow, I can have some small talk with the neighbors while sitting on a mat on the floor or one of the multifunctional beds.
Closing my door before going to sleep doesn’t mean that I’m excluded from what’s going on around me. Although the street noise of Dhaka is far away in Karail, I sometimes feel like being on a fair before falling asleep. People gossiping over a glass of tea, rats running over the rooftops and especially the sound of dozens of TVs fill the air in the late evenings. By now I can recognize recurring TV commercials and know at what time my neighbors go to bed. Sometimes I listen to people fighting on the streets without ever knowing what their argument is about.
Karail has 12 mosques on an area as small as 50 acres. The usual call of the muezzin in the early morning therefore sums up to a loud concert that wakes me up at about 5 am. But the dominating sound I hear before getting up is the gurgling of the water pumps caused by people pumping water into their reserve tanks. When I go outside to get some hot tea and phita (warm rice cakes), I see a lot of sleepy faces and some people wrapped in blankets at the benches of the nearby tea-stall that is open all night. Some of the shops are already open and people gather in front of them to spread the first news of the day.
Spending a night in Karail doesn’t only save me about 2 hours of traffic jam per day, but allows me to get some deeper insights into the everyday life of its residents and raises even more questions in my head. I am happy if I can share and discuss my experiences and views with other Bangladeshis and people abroad. Facing reactions like the one of the tannery-owner often makes me wonder which reactions the experiences of my counterparts would raise in my head, if they would spend some time doing research in my home country.
Lisa Lampe, ASA-volunteer 2014/15
I explore in Karail. It’s really a cream-place, this mini-island within Gulshan, Banani and Mohakhali. I haven’t ever seen such a slum before, truly organised by the inhabitants themselves. Everywhere in Karail, whether at the boat stations or at the market (bazaar) or in various livelihood activities, they have found a systematic way of doing things.
During my first visit, Elisa first showed me the many entrances to Karail. I was really curious and tried to figure out the ways inside Karail, the main Karail. The roads’ net at first was really puzzling to me, but now I can say it’s very easy. They have medical centers, pharmacies, a big bazaar which many people from inside and outside the settlement visit for daily shopping. This basti has organised itself via its own CBOs (Community Based Organization) and now is provided (legal) water by Dhaka WASA (DWASA), which was very surprisingly to me. The inhabitants don’t have any legal rights nor documents to live here, but they are getting water from government. Right now, we are studying how this water is distributed and used, which differs from zone to zone.
Nowadays, it’s difficult to find one-storied buildings here: more or less every house is two-storied. I was stunned by one big three-storied mosque with tiles in all floors. Many men work as rickshaw pullers and women often have a job as housemaid. But there is also a constant in- and out-migration, as many people come from their village, shift a few times inside Karail while working for different employers in Dhaka, again go back to the village and again come back for living and work.
Though urban dwellers, Karail inhabitants don’t have the right of living, housing etc. in this urban area as yet. They fear eviction, but at the same time – especially since they got access to a government service, such as DWASA water – they hope that perhaps, they may get the right to stay.
Tamanna Siddiqui, associate researcher 2014/15
The boat came closer to the small landing pier that stepped out of the raw of tin-shed houses along the shoreline of Banani Lake. In a few seconds, I would enter Karail Basti for the first time. From now on, my involvement with the settlement would not only consist in studying texts and aerial views, but I would witness it as a social space, led by the question: „how is real life here?“. In the upcoming days, I began to grasp Karail Bosti spatially. There are demarcations and subdivisions, various neighbourhoods and different functional areas. Karail’s complexity, at first sight insurmountable, can be apprehended, its elements by and by dismantled and recomposed. In the best case, this leads to the understanding of single entities and coherences.
I believe I lost the status of an alien, which I felt at the beginning, with increasing routine – at least, I felt more confident, as I now knew the routes and we as a team were becoming attuned one to another. At the same time, I realised that we, showing up with our measurements, questions and examinations, interfered and somewhat changed Karail’s everyday life, although we wanted to grasp and describe this. Nonetheless, as time went by, the physical map got enriched. Meanwhile, we realised that the inhabitants of Karail had a different understanding of what a map of the neighbourhood should be. “This map is useless“ said one man during a workshop, “I do not need to know how exactly the shoreline goes, but I do need to know at what corner I have to turn to reach a specific house. And for that, a map must look like this!“. Thereby, he drew a rectangular grid with the houses located in rectangular order: complexity has various layers and even the map as a tool very different meanings.
I have been studying urban planning for three years now. I wonder what I have learned so far, which tools and knowledge are relevant on which scale. To design a city, to understand “the urban”, to grasp the context – aren’t these aims quite pretentious? Besides the established approaches to deal with the urban, the word informality arises. It comprises various definitions, depending on who is using the word and with which objective. I have come to the conclusion that I need to meet, explore and witness the situations described as informal on a case by case basis in order to use, evaluate and eventually doubt the word.
Paul Klever, ASA-volunteer 2012