Tuesday, May 27, 2008


I am privelaged to be living next to the slum. We hire a lot of them and most of them have had access into our homes, and they know we are not really rich. Even them, if they had a better job, they would find a better place to live. But now, their jobs are casual, small, unpredictable. They see a lot of struggle living here as well.”

Priscilla lives in a gated estate right next to Kibera (the largest slum in the Nairobi) and was doing a lot of work on her house. She is one of many people I have met here in Nairobi who either work or live with walls around their buildings. In fact, Nairobi is a gated city. In fact, much of the developing world is. If you are upper class, middle class, or even lower middle class, living in a city, you most likely have a wall around your home and a security guard protecting it. However, many of these seem to be different from some of those now taking firm hold in the US, and consequently much of the rest of the world, which are based more on class segregation and not on real issues of security. In the rural mountains of North Carolina where I am from, new gated communities are developing all over the place, often in the middle of nowhere.

People here describe the walls as visual deterrents, but not social ones. They still work actively to know and be involved with their neighbors and surrounding community. This negotiation of the public and private is one of the key notions in understanding and designing better communities. The notion of a semipermeable wall is also manifested physically. Dotted along the outskirts of Priscilla’s community, people have set up stores that open onto the main street. These spaces of transition are a connection for people on the outside of the walls with those on the inside, as they are mutually linked to each other.

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