polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

Collective Resources of the Urban Poor

by Andrew Wade

In evaluating the progress and potential of the Baan Mankong (Collective Housing) Programme in Bangkok, a clear theme has emerged from the complexity of cases and multiple sites throughout the city: low-income urban communities have the proven ability to organize and effectively negotiate for upgraded infrastructure and people-centered housing solutions.

The fundamental shift this implies is from a supply-led, centralized system of housing provision to a demand-led, decentralized network of communities effectively empowered to upgrade their own neighborhoods.

Along with this shift comes the idea that more relevant and nuanced solutions grow naturally from individual communities, allowing their unique resources to find expression in incremental upgrading that gains momentum with time. The mere process of overcoming such logistical hurdles as forming savings groups, working with community architects, and pooling creative and material resources further strengthens the capacity to develop at their own pace and on their own terms.

The playground above, built efficiently in an existing open space, is a successful catalyst intervention. Constructed by local citizens with many recycled materials, the playground highlights the value of well-considered design in strengthening community ties and making the most of scarce resources.

The potential to grow communities out of an impoverished urban realm hinges upon the organizational capacity to find strength in numbers and develop agency through direct engagement with the city.

Credits: Photos by Andrew Wade.