Pavement Dwellings

Living on the Sidewalk

Probably the most elementary form of informal settlement in a big city is the pavement dwelling. As the name suggests, the dwellings are located on sidewalks in streets of any size. The initial activity can be street vending, on a sheet or in an improvised little stall. The development continues with vendors spending the night on their spot, putting up a little shelter, family coming over, and so on.

Photo 1. Near Dockyard road, Mazagaon, Mumbai. Single storey flexible pavement dwelling, built with extensive use of recycled materials.

Settlements in a vulnerable location are often made of flexible materials like sheets of cardboard, plywood, corrugated steel, and tarp. The mixed use of materials requires very smart solutions. Structures that are more permanent, such as masonry and concrete, are built by dwellers with less risk of destruction. The risk can be reduced by physical factors such as less cramped lots. Political conditions also provide security. As compensation for their votes, leaders protect dwellers from eviction.

Photo 2. Pavement dwellings on the bridge over Reay Road, Mumbai. The use is mainly residential, accommodating employees of the neighbouring ship repair area. The ladders suggest the presence of attics.

Photo 3. Backsides of pavement dwellings on bridge over Reay Road.

Pavement dwellings by their nature stretch out like a ribbon along streets. This makes them more vulnerable to eviction than larger, grouped, pockets of informal settlement, especially when their presence substantially reduces the available space in the street. A narrow road is therefore a more risky location than a wide boulevard.

Photo 4. N.M. Joshi Marg, Byculla, Mumbai. Half the street is blocked by a house, reducing traffic pressure and providing a safe haven for the pavement dwellers on the right.

A dwelling’s position between vulnerability and security is reflected in its architecture. The use of materials is one of them, although the local availability of materials may have a higher priority. The application of recycled materials or sheeting is not restricted to insecure locations. Masonry and concrete however are rarely used other than in situations with a high security.

A good indicator of a sense of security is the care for aesthetics. Painting over the fa├žade and the use of decoration evoke the message that the primary need for shelter is met.

Photo 5. N.M. Joshi Marg, Byculla, Mumbai. These structures are more permanent, as the neat use of paint is telling. Many of them have an attic.

Photo 6. First floor with a view.

Photo 7. Permanent structures, built of masonry. Painted in blue, matching the tarp and the drums.

Typical for the pavement dwelling is its adhering to a wall of a different building. The height of the dwelling is often related to the height of that wall. Dwellings with an attic often sit against higher walls.

Photo 8. A row of pavement dwellings sitting along a very long wall. The height of the dwellings follows the height of the wall.

The roof of most pavement dwellings is sloped up to the wall behind, draining the rainwater to the front and on the street. If it were the other way round, the rainwater would inevitably seep into the dwelling.

Photo 9. Ballard Estate, Mumbai. Probably the smartest of all pavement dwellings.

A very special case is a fence available on the kerb of the sidewalk. It is a rare occasion but it can be used very effectively.

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