This doctoral research aims to achieve two specific tasks: First it intends to describe the contemporary urban condition of Kolkata — the least researched Indian mega-city -, on an overarching level, by applying a specifically designed analytical approach of patterns and pathways. Kolkata constitutes a metropolitan city region with over 18 million inhabitants and is by far the poorest and least developed urban mega-region in India. Second this thesis centres on Howrah, which represents a marginalized, deprived and often overlooked ‘Westside’ of this mega-city, where almost no research has been conducted so far. Howrah, being administratively an independent city of at least three million people, has been undergoing important urban transformation despite, or rather because it has always been at the fringe of the city, physically as well as in public perception, in contrast to its actual high geographical centrality. More than 60% of its population are dwelling in slums.
More specifically this thesis will describe and analyse the urban transformation that is going on in Pilkhana, a particularly rapidly transforming area within Howrah. This area is located right next to the very city centre of Howrah, a former shantytown in vertical transformation, where still slum-like conditions exist. The term ‘vertical slum’ is coined and used for a very recent development of multi-storey, self-built brick buildings replacing former squatter settlements.
Theoretically a multitude of different approaches from the field of development studies, planning theory, poverty research and urban studies will be applied. A Dooyeweerd-based approach will be used as an overarching framework to bring the different approaches together. Further there will be a rigours discussion and critic of the term slum. Having its origin in the Victorian period of England’s underclass settlements known for their very poor hygienic and living conditions, the meaning of the term varies nowadays from continent to continent and even from country to country. Many scholars have gone so far as to abandon the term slum completely, as it has lost its original meaning and connotation. Nevertheless the term slum is integral part of the Indian urban discourse and will therefore be used to connect with the on-going debate on urban poverty and informal settlements.
The doctoral research first aims to describe and analyse the wider context of Kolkata’s urbanisation processes through adequate historical and spatial analysis. It further intends to produce several maps, that will allow a better understanding of Kolkata’s urban condition following the method that has been develop at the chair of professor Schmid at the ETHZ. The main aim of this thesis is, however, to answer a multitude of question concerning the transformation processes that are currently taking place in Howrah: What triggered the rapid urban transformation from a former slum area into an urban development side with multi-storey, self-built brick buildings seen as a ‘vertical slums’? What are the consequences for the living conditions of local residents? Do we actually see a new form of gentrification or urban upgrading? What is happening to the former tenants? What are the forces/actors behind this transformation? Who is losing and who is gaining from this process? How do the local economic, political, social and religious situations contribute to these urbanisation processes? A Dooyeweerd-based approach will be used to start answering those questions.
Further this thesis aims to critically discuss the term slum, how and if it really applies to the given situation of informal settlement in Howrah.
Finally, despite the widespread poverty in Howrah, it will be argued that cities should be seen as part of the solution and not as problem in the struggle to overcome poverty. Cities and particularly the process of urbanisation are still considered by many Indian observers as the main problem, and the major focus of development aid is still on rural poverty. Howrah is, however, seen as a ‘normal’ contemporary Indian city, and by no means understood as a pathological phenomenon, or as an urban anomaly.
Start: August 2010
Co-Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Saibal Kar