Pavement Dwellings

The story of informal settlement in cities begins with pavement dwellings. These dwellings are of the most basic character and sit, as the name says, on the pavement (=sidewalk in US-English). They look improvised, just as if someone knocked together a shelter with whatever was at hand. Being most people's first step of the journey to settling in the city, pavement dwellings are emblematic of informal settlement in the dense urban world. In this chapter we will discuss the architecture and the way of living that is typical for pavement dwelling and we will show how both relate to the vernacular villages of the migrant dwellers.

Photo 1. Pavement dwelling is the most basic way of settling in a city.

Pavement dwellers are mostly the newcomers to the city. They come from the countryside and try their luck, find some work, or sell the products from their family's farm. Indeed many pavement dwellers have family outside the city, and the first trips to the city can have the character of commuting. Although the railways in Mumbai afford this commuting, the trains are extremely crowded and many have no other option but to spend the night in the city. Sheltered places however are scarce and, weather permitting, people sleep under the open sky, in the street, on the pavement. Sleeping in the open air is not uncommon in Mumbai during the hot season, and especially sleeping on rooftops is popular. It is an easy way to escape the heat that is trapped in the building and to find some privacy from the shared rooms inside. Moreover, rooftops are the first places that cool down after sunset and thus provide comfortable sleeping conditions. Rooftops of course are less secure than lockable houses and bedrooms; still many prefer the agreeable climate.

Photo 2. Near Dockyard road, Mazagaon, Mumbai. Single storey kacca pavement dwelling, built with materials that are readily available in the city.

The security issue however is exactly what makes sleeping on the pavement so unpleasant. One has no protection against whatever disturbance, and proper night rest is hard to get. Being exposed to (traffic) noise all night is already detrimental to both physical and mental health (Muzet, 2007; Pirrera, De Valck, & Cluydts, 2010). When with a group, it is possible to have one keep guard while others sleep, but disturbances come from more than bad intended people alone. Insects, rodents, and noise are permanent nuisances too. People catch rat bites in their face while asleep (Boo, 2012). Having to sleep without shelter night after night is stressful, exhausting, and eventually a threat to survival. From the perspective of symbiosis, it is of critical importance for man to be with shelter while asleep.
Once the newcomer's life in the city becomes steadier, other family members come over and a personal shelter is definitely needed. For many, the only option then is to knock together a shelter on the side of the road, in other words to create a pavement dwelling. This is how informal settlement begins; it is how a new dwelling is born; how symbiosis starts. Although pavement dwellers may be newcomers, they are not the transient population of migrants they are often believed to be. A survey carried out in 1985 by SPARC in Byculla and Mazgaon shows their stay is permanent and a vital factor in Mumbai's economy (Hollick, 2011, p. 35).
The purpose of a shelter of course is to protect its occupants against influences from outside. These influences include animals like insects, snakes, rodents, monkeys, and in rural settings also tigers. A second purpose is to protect the occupant's belongings from thieves and predators. In the countryside, cattle are often kept inside at night. In a way a house serves as a vault while much of living activities takes place outside. This purpose of keeping belongings safe is embodied in the presence of a steel filing cabinet in most households, even in dwellings that are devoid of other furniture.

Photo 3. Kacca pavement dwellings on a bridge over Reay Road, Mumbai. The use is mainly residential, accommodating employees of the neighbouring ship repair area. The ladders indicate the presence of lofts.

The architecture of pavement dwellings has a simple and obvious logic: it is a mix of countryside techniques and urban materials. Earlier we have described the architecture of traditional countryside dwellings. In this chapter we will show how it is recognizable in urban pavement dwellings. 
Skills are a human trade and inevitably move with the person that has them. For that reason, the way migrants build will be based on their vernacular origin. Therefore, the main differences between the architecture of a pavement dwelling and a vernacular dwelling lie in the materials, which are very different indeed. We already mentioned that the logic of countryside architecture is to use locally available materials. When we take that logic to the city, we find that 'locally available' is of an essentially different character. In a vernacular setting, most materials come from any place but the market. They are found in nature or are the product of the household. In urban settings, most building materials are only available through commercial channels. Cheap materials are those that come from mass production, and the cheaper are those that have gone through the commercial cycle several times, i.e. are recycled or even considered waste. Such mass produced materials are marked by uniformity. They come in standardized dimensions and are to be used in systems based on repetition. This of course is an essential difference with vernacular materials, which are not uniform and have to be worked in order to fit together. What we see in the architecture of pavement dwellings therefore, is the use of materials in a vernacular way, although those materials are intended for use in repetition-based systems.

Photo 4. Sheets of corrugated steel are used here in a non-repetitive and non-systemic way.
In addition, mass produced materials often require relatively sophisticated equipment for making them fit in an off-standard situation. The absence of such equipment is reflected in the apparent sloppiness of the pavement dwelling. From an industrialized perspective the dwelling looks messy as materials look 'damaged' (although they are only worked to fit), whereas from a vernacular perspective, it is the material that is unforgiving and causing the problems.
From the perspective of symbiosis, the pavement dweller is confronted with locally available materials that hardly afford construction of a basic dwelling in a vernacular way, i.e. by the dweller as self-builder. Producing and establishing a home is hindered by the mismatch of techniques and materials, respectively vernacular and commercial. The pavement dwelling is a typical example of the transition from vernacular to commercial and it shows how difficult it is to combine the two.
As for ownership and property, the economic dimension of symbiosis, the pavement dwelling is again emblematic of the interface of vernacular and commercial. The materials are commercially acquired, whereas the land on which the dwelling is built obviously is part of public space, which can only be appropriated with the consent of the local community. This dilemma, or conflict, is reflected in a ruling by the Indian Supreme Court in a case of the Bombay Pavement dwellers against the BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, also known as the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai). The court issued a judgment that said that the BMC had the right to keep the pavements free from huts and encroachment as that right superseded the right to life and livelihood of the dwellers as citizens of India. It also ruled however, that prior notice should be given to those to be evicted, but that the city was not obliged to rehouse them (Hollick, 2011, pp. 34–5). This ruling underlines the idea that public space in the city is public and cannot be appropriated for private use. It is therefore non-vernacular.
Domicide and Evictions
Although a pavement dwelling provides the basic protection that every human being needs, its own existence is under constant threat. By their sitting on the pavement, narrowing the street and reducing public space, pavement dwelling becomes problematic for the proper functioning of the city. The local government therefore sees itself entitled to remove the settlers and demolish their dwellings. Although such evictions are legally justified, they are an act of domicide[1] at the same time. People's homes are killed and with them die the dwelling-occupant symbioses. Suffering the traumatic effects of domicide time after time is what brought pavement dwellers in the Byculla neighborhood to negotiating an arrangement with the municipal demolition squads. The dwellers realized that the already traumatizing event of the demolition of a home was worsened by the fact that they received no notification in advance. Demolitions were executed on such short notice that people could just flee their home and had no time to take any of their belongings with them. As there was no justification for this additional damage and trauma, it was agreed that dwellers would be notified in time so they could properly vacate the place before demolition. In exchange, the dwellers offered to have the demolition carried out by themselves, which at the same time allowed them to take valuable materials from the site. This way, the demolitions were effectively no longer domicide and thus less stressful and traumatic. The benefit for the municipality was the reduction of work, waste, and social unrest.
Pavement dwellings by their nature stretch out like a ribbon along the streets. This makes them more vulnerable to eviction than larger, grouped, pockets of informal settlement, especially where their presence substantially reduces the available space in the street. A narrow road is therefore a more risky location than the wide boulevard in Photo 5.

[1] "Briefly domicide is the murder of the home. […] More formally, domicide is defined as the deliberate destruction of home by human agency in pursuit of specified goals, which causes suffering to the victims." (Porteous & Smith, 2001, p. 3+12)

Photo 5. N.M. Joshi Marg, Byculla, Mumbai. Half of this street is blocked by a house, which reduces traffic pressure and provides a safe place for the pavement dwellers on the right.

Typical for the pavement dwelling is its adhering to a wall or a building. The height of the dwelling is often related to the height of that wall. This means that pavement dwellings are an important indicator of the quality of public space in the planned city. Squatter settlements do not occur against a shop window or a house front with door and windows. They mainly cover blind walls and fences with little life behind it. It is therefore fair to say that encroachment is facilitated by certain urban design. Then also, the way to build a dwelling is again strictly practical. The roof of most pavement dwellings is sloped up to the wall behind, draining the rainwater to the front and off to the street. If it were the other way round, rainwater would inevitably seep into the dwelling.

Photo 6. N.M. Joshi Marg, Byculla, Mumbai. Dwellings becoming more and more pucca. These dwellings are quite permanent as also the neat use of paint is telling. All of them have a loft.

Photo 7. Pucca pavement dwellings built of masonry show the permanence of this way of living. Painted in blue, matching the tarpaulins and drums, they mark a quality of more than subsistence level.

From Kacca to Pucca
The pavement dwelling as a building consists of a roof held up by some structure, walls making it a room, and of course a door. In its most basic form, it is only a roof made of plastic sheet or blue tarpaulin. Walls are made from cardboard, hard board, corrugated steel or any sheet form material, as shown in Photo 2 and Photo 3. In cases where pavement dwellings are not removed by authorities and stand for longer time, improvements are made by for example the use of masonry for walls, the construction of an additional floor creating a loft, and the use of cement fiber sheets for roofing (Photo 6, Photo 7, and Photo 12). This transition from kacca[1] to pucca[2] is similar to what we saw in vernacular houses. Note however that in pavement dwelling, the distinction between pucca and kacca can be quite diffuse. Metal sheeting for example, is a pucca material, whereas when recycled and applied in an improvised pavement dwelling, it is more kacca. It is therefore not only the materials but also the way they are applied that make a structure pucca. In addition, kacca and pucca are relative qualities and not absolute, i.e. a structure is more pucca vis-à-vis another structure. 

From the materials one can also tell something about the security of tenure of the dwellers. The more permanent the materials, the more permanent is the whole situation. The existence of a pucca version of pavement dwelling illustrates the permanence of such dwellings and shows that the dwellers are not the transient people they are often thought to be. 

The layout of a pavement dwelling is basic: it is one room, measuring some 7 x 10 feet. There is often no further division, as it simply makes no sense to divide an already small space. The one room that serves all purposes is much the opposite of the idea of functionalism, in which every activity, every 'function', gets its own room. From this perspective, functionalism is rather space consuming. The obvious way to create more floor space in the one-room dwelling, is to add a mezzanine or a loft. Thus the loft that is typical for vernacular rural architecture is also found in many, if not most, urban pavement dwellings. An important factor in the popularity of lofts is the lack of privacy experienced in one-room dwellings. Being a low space, the loft affords to lie on a bed, and escape the permanent presence of others. The ladder that provides access to the loft is mounted outside, as inside it would take valuable space. Thus the loft has an independent access, which adds to the privacy and even affords renting out.

[1] A kacca (also: kutcha) house in the countryside is built of readily available material like stone, mud, branches and leaves. In the city the most readily available materials are those that come from recycling and thus may have a pucca origin.

[2] A pucca (also: packa or pakka) house is built of processed and therefore more solid and permanent materials like brick, roof tiles, timber, steel and cement.

Photo 8. Backsides of pavement dwellings on a bridge over Reay Road, Mumbai.
As in a city buildings generally bound the streets, pavement dwellings always sit against something like a wall or a fence. Such a background is a welcome structural support and can be practical in its details. Concrete ledges serve as kitchen shelves; steel bars are used as coat racks. Less handy situations occur too. Sidewalks are the domains of lampposts, fire hydrants, storm drains et cetera and as it is impossible to remove them, many a dwelling has a lamppost jutting through the roof or an awkward piece of street furniture in the room.

Photo 9. Pavement dwellings lining a compound.

Photo 10. This pavement dwellings sits against a fence that surrounds a compound. The fence is probably put there to keep pavement dwellings away from the wall.
Pavement dwellings typically sit against blind walls and fences. Thus, they are often located around compounds and on bridges, as illustrated by Image 1, Image 2, and Photos 8, 9, and 10. A special case is a fence available on the curb of the sidewalk as shown in Photo 11. It is a rare occasion but it can be used very effectively, as only a tarp and a couple of sticks are needed to complete the shelter. Surprisingly, this over-formalization of public space by means of a fence on the curb has created ideal conditions for informal settlement.

Photo 11. Ballard Estate, Mumbai. This tarpaulin spanning the sidewalk between a wall and a fence is probably the simplest variety of all pavement dwellings.

Photo 12. Living is an activity that partly takes place outside the house. A common practice in the countryside, used as a strategy for dealing with little indoor space in de crowded city.

Way of Living
Another link with the vernacular house is the lifestyle or way of living. It is actually a key factor in living under the typically cramped pavement dwelling conditions. In the countryside, many activities are performed outside the house, whereas the house itself mainly serves for sleeping and storage. A similar way of living can be seen in pavement dwelling, as activities like cooking, washing, and even bathing take place in the street, right in front of the dwelling (photo 12). The outdoor space thus is an extension of the home. The symbiosis of the dwelling and the dweller is in fact extended with the outdoor. This shows that also in pavement dwelling the word dwelling must be read as both the physical structure and the activity. Pavement dwelling is a way of living, a way of life.

Boo, K. (2012). Behind the beautiful forevers. Life, death and hope in a Mumbai slum. London: Portobello.
Hollick, J. C. (2011). Apna Street. Pune: Ameya Prakashan.
Muzet, A. (2007). Environmental noise, sleep and health. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 11(2), 135–142. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2006.09.001
Pirrera, S., De Valck, E., & Cluydts, R. (2010). Nocturnal road traffic noise: A review on its assessment and consequences on sleep and health. Environment International, 36(5), 492–498. doi:10.1016/j.envint.2010.03.007
Porteous, D., & Smith, S. E. (2001). Domicide: The Global Destruction Of Home. McGill-Queen’s Press - MQUP.

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