Himanshu Parikh is a noted Indian engineer whom we honor for his development of the concept of ‘slum networking’ and his work with poor communities throughout India.
Parikh is best known for the redevelopment of Indore, India, for which Parikh was awarded the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture. It was there that the concept of ‘slum networking’ was first deployed at scale, and it has since been replicated throughout India.
Slum networking is a disarmingly simple concept which dictates that the natural organization of old growth cities was fundamentally derived from topography and gravity.
In older, developed cities like Paris and London, civil systems parallel the natural flow of rivers, estuaries and topographies – this is so because prior to modern technology, gravity was the only thing that could bring you water, and carry your waste away.
With the advent of modern technology, many civil systems in the developing world (which were often designed by well meaning western engineers) ceased to rely on gravity and instead relied on mechanization: pumps, roads, trucks, etc. As long as these systems work, modern cities don’t have to rely so heavily on the natural topography of a city. However, in the developing world, the systems usually don’t work, leaving communities often deprived of basic civil services like water, and sewer.
Such was the case in Indore. Prior to Parikh’s improvements, nearly 30 percent of the slum houses were unfit for human habitation. Additionally, the cities’ sewer system built in 1936 served only 5 percent of the population and 10 percent of the city. All citysewage and solid waste were discharged into the Khan and Saraswati rivers; most of the slum communities were organized on the banks of these two rivers.
Parikh noticed that the natural water courses coincided with the slum settlement. He took advantage of these factors and proposed a new infrastructure path for services like sewage, storm drainage and water supply utilizing the natural river course. The network created by the infrastructure resulted in housing improvements, as well as providing new roads and footpaths, storm drainage, sanitation and sewerage, potable water supply, earthworks and landscaping, street lighting management, and the removal of solid waste.
The provision of these basic services had a profound effect on the city. Incidences of illness went noticeably down, and incomes climbed by a third. Through this work, Parikh has shown a reliable and relatively simple method for improving life in slums. We had a chance to speak with Himanshu on July 27, 2017, learn more at Social Design Insights.