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Kevin McCloud says the slums of Mumbai could teach the UK alot about social sustainabilty

14th January 2010

After hearing claims that the Dharavi slums in Mumbai may hold the answers to some of the problems facing our western cities, Kevin McCloud embarked on a journey to live, work, sleep and eat in the slums in order to lift the lid on the place himself.

The rubbish strewn shanty-town in the heart of Mumbai provided the backdrop to last year’s Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire. It is home to between 600,000 and one million people who are crammed into a 520-acre site. Disease is rife and it is estimated that there is one lavatory for every 1,400 residents.

Kevin was there to film Slumming It, part of Channel 4’s Indian Winter season. He has said that his experiences of life in Dharavi could teach Britain a great deal about “social sustainability”.

“There is a tremendously elastic attitude to what is theirs, what they own and how they work in and use space,” he said of the slum residents, who live side by side in corrugated iron shacks.

“A room has several functions. You can take a space and extend it out to a balcony and into the public realm. Because women don’t have huge kitchens, they rinse their pots in the street. That has to be the most civilised, sociable way of doing the washing-up – outside in the sun, chatting to your neighbours.”

“It’s all about people sharing things. It’s about making sure people are happy where they are living and content to stay there, rather than treat their home as an isolated box that is part of their pension plan or investment portfolio.”

"We should stop looking at property as pornography or an investment, and instead think of it as our home, and that home being next to another home, and those together being part of a community."

The presenter lived with a 21-strong family during his stay, all of whom had "perfect teeth and hair" despite their surroundings.

Describing the communal laundry area, he said: "Professional washers stand knee-deep in grey water all day whacking clothes against the slabs. That water comes from a little creek that runs under the railway line. There are dead rats, rubbish and toxic waste floating in it. Yet those clothes get beautifully pressed and everyone's smartly dressed. That is the amazing paradox of the slum."

The Grand Designs presenter suggests that, for all the millions of pounds spent on designing eco-towns — the Government’s answer to Britain’s housing shortage — ministers could learn about creating happy communities from the slums of Mumbai.

"I've come back with a sense of renewed hope about how we can do that," McCloud said. "If I have one message for developers and the Government, it's to focus less on eco-housing and green buildings - because, frankly, we know how to do that. Let's start focusing on the social stuff, on how we can make people happier."

Don’t miss the first episode of Kevin McCloud: Slumming It on Channel 4 Thursday, 14th January, 9 – 10pm and Friday 15th January 8 – 9pm.

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