How the World’s ‘Village-Cities’ Facilitate Change

Perched behind the fog that conceals Bogotá’s mountains is William Oquendo’s house. It is a labyrinth of doors and windows, wherein a bedroom opens into the kitchen and a bathroom vents out into the living room.

“Village-cities,” Usme - Bogotá, Colombia. Image © Laura Amaya
Five thousand 5,000 kilometers away in Rio de Janeiro, Gilson Fumaça lives on the terrace level of a three-story house built by his grandfather, his father, and now himself. It’s sturdy; made out of brick and mortar on the ground floor, concrete on the second, and a haphazard combination of zinc roof tiles and loose bricks on the third. The last is Gilson’s contribution, which he will improve as his income level rises.
On the other side of the world in Bombay (Mumbai since 1995), houses encroach on the railway tracks, built and rebuilt after innumerable demolition efforts. “The physical landscape of the city is in perpetual motion,” Suketu Mehta observes in ‘Maximum City.’ Shacks are built out of bamboo sticks and plastic bags; families live on sidewalks and under flyovers in precarious homes constructed with their hands. And while Dharavi—reportedly the largest slum in Asia—has better quality housing, running water, electricity and secure land tenure, this is not the case for most of the new migrants into the city.
View from William Oquendo’s house, Barrio El Dorado - Bogotá, Colombia. Image © Laura Amaya
Stemming from the informal nature of the development of cities, urban transformation in South America and South Asia is a process entirely dependent on time and money. From squatters to township developers cities grow progressively, responding and always adjusting to the immediate needs of a community.
Gilson Fumaça’s house, Favela Santa Marta - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Image © Laura Amaya
Mangal Kunj residentail building after the construction of the upper floors. Bandra (W) - Mumbai, India. Image © Laura Amaya
The culture of ‘village-cities’, the rapid urbanization, and the sharing economy make it so that there is constant adaptation. William’s house will soon have a fourth story, and Gilson Fumaça will consolidate the third floor of his favela home, making way for a new terrace level above. Mumbai slum dwellers will substitute plastic roofs for firm tiles and replace bamboo sticks with brick walls. Other buildings like Mangal Kunj will construct their fourteenth and fifteenth stories, while Bogotá will continue to see steel rebars protruding out of the tops of houses, ready to rise another level with the birth of a child or after the promotion of a family member.
Mangal Kunj residentail building before the construction of the upper floors. Bandra (W) - Mumbai, India. Image © Laura Amaya
Mangal Kunj residentail building, Bandra (W) - Mumbai, India. Image © Laura Amaya
1] Mehta, Suketu. Maximum City : Bombay Lost and Found. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004: 137.
[2] (a) Anuário Estatístico Do Estado Do Rio De Janeiro. Rio de Janeiro, RJ: O Centro, 2010. DVD; (b) Alcaldía Mayor de Bogotá DC, Mapa de Bogotá – Atlas, http://mapas.bogota. (accessed April 2012); (c) Ministry of Home Affairs – Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India, Census of India 2011, (accessed August 2014).
[3] Mehta, Suketu. Maximum City : Bombay Lost and Found, 488.
[4] Mehta, Suketu. Maximum City : Bombay Lost and Found, 549.
[5] UN-HABITAT, State of the World’s Cities 2010/2011: Bridging the Urban Divide (London: Earthscan, 2010): 44.
A version of this article previously appeared on Urbz.
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