A Train Runs Through It

To these Thai fruit vendors, a train roaring through the middle of their makeshift market, coming inches away from their lychees — and their toes — is just another part of improvisational adaptation.


This kind of hyper-dense land-use is important in an over-populated world. While in the Western world we have laws describing how far away train tracks must be from buildings, in slums, people don’t have the luxury of laws and safety regulations.

Steward Brand, the founder of the Whole Earth catalog and early internet community The Well, is enthusiastic about the ability of dense cities such as this one to help the world: “That’s where vast numbers of humans—slum dwellers—are doing urban stuff in new and amazing ways. And hell’s bells, there are a billion of them! People are trying desperately to get out of poverty, so there’s a lot of creativity; they collaborate in ways that we’ve completely forgotten how to do in regular cities.”

And at that, it’s a perfect example of what Bruce Sterling calls Favela Chic: “Favela chic takes the logic of software and networks and applies them to institutions no matter what they are. It’s like taking a mac laptop and using it to hammer in nails. It represents the promise of change, instead of making do with overused stuff. It makes sense to young people and idealists. It’s consistent and easy to grasp. The problem is that over time, it tends to be squalid. It is user centric rather than planned. It’s made of small pieces joined: beta, open source rather than refined by competition. It pastes over institutional failngs with utopian rhetoric”

(with thanks to Michael Rule for the video)

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