1/09/2012

Today's Images: Vertical slums, Caracas, Venezuela

The Foreign Policy Magazine posted January 7th 2012 a series of images on Vertical Slums that rises in Caracas as symbols "of the depths to which Venezuela has sunk under President Hugo Chavez."
Last year, July 20th 2011, Virginia Lopez reported in The Guardian that about 2,500 squatters are occupying this incomplete high-rise building, a 190-meter tower with 45 stories.


Suggested article: Virginia Lopez, "Tallest squat in the world becomes emblem of Venezuela housing crisis", The Guardian, Wednesday 20 July 2011.

Tower of David (Torre de david). Credit photo: Meredith Kohut/ New York Times/Redux/Eyevine. Originally
appeared on The Guardian.
—> Resident Diana Olmos, 14, folding laundry at her home on the 7th floor of an uncompleted 45-storey
skyscraper in Caracas.
As Virginia Lopez wrote, this building has been built for the Venezuelan investor David Brillembourg during the booming financial centre of Caracas of the early 1990s. The construction stopped due to the the 1994 crisis. Today is the building still uncomplete with its staircases that lead nowhere and its ramps spiraling into infinity, and lacks elevators.
Caracas, capital of Venezuela, with a population of 1,815,679 for the Little Caracas, and 4,196,514 for the Caracas Metropolitan Area. The area is 433 square kilometers (Little Caracas), but 1,930 square kilometers (Caracas Metropolitan Area). Its density is 1,431.5 pp/square kilometers. So Caracas is facing an important housing problem, scoring a lack of almost 400,000 houses leading, which a dramatic impact on the population's quality of life. Indeed, 51% of the population live in pecarious shantytowns with no access to basic services, Virginia Lopez added. About 2,500 illegal residents occupy this tower giving a renaissance to this building, as reported. Yet this high-rise tower is dangerous; walls and windows are lacking on many floors. In this result, lacking such basic amenities severely affects living conditions. Tragic accidents seem to be frequent. A young girl recently fell to her death from a high floor, Simon Romero and Maria Eugenia Diaz reported.
Tower of David. Credit photo: Angela Bonadies and Juan Jose Olavarria. Originally appeared on Foreign Policy.
—> A resident named Maria sits with her family in their apartment on the sixth floor.

Yet, in spite of the dangerosity of the tower, the squatters seem to adapt to these precarious living conditions inside this derelict building. Jhonny Jimenez, a member of the founding group and one of the tower's main co-ordinators says: "The night we came in, I was scared, but I was also excited to finally have my own home. We organised people according to their needs: the elderly who can't go up flights of stairs would go in the tower floors and large families would get more space."
Whilst the precariousness of the building, this building is, for its residents, more than a shanty as it proposes services. As Gregorio Laya, a cook, says: "Here I step out the door and there is a bus stop that takes me to my job in five minutes. This place is blessing."

In order to ease dwellers' living conditions, co-ordinators supervize the general functioning of the tower. Thereby, each of the 22 inhabited floors has co-ordinators.

Suggested article: Simon Romero and Maria Eugenia Diaz, "In Venezuela Housing Crisis, Squatters Find 45-Story Walkup", The New York Times, February 28, 2011.

The Tower of David. Credit photo: Angela Bonadies and Juan Jose Olavarria. Originally appeared on
Foreign Policy.
—> The Tower of David, called after David brillembourg, the tower's investor died in 1993.
The building is incomplete due to the crisis of 1994 lacking of elevators, installed
electricity, running water, balcony railing, windows, and even walls in many places.
As Virginia Lopez, The Guardian, reported, Tower of David is far from the perfect home. No sewage system
is in place, lorry-delivered water is rationed, whole sections of the building are in the dark and the absence of
lifts forces people to walk up hundreds of stairs.
As, not so long ago, Simon Romero and Maria Eugenia Diaz reported in The New York Times in February 2011, [t]he skyscraper, surrounded by billboards and murals proclaiming the advance of President Hugo Chavez's "Bolivarian revolution," is a symbol of the financial crisis that struck the country in the 1990s, the expanded state control over the economy that came after Mr. Chavez tool office in 1999 and the housing shortage that has worsened since then, leading to widespread squatter takeovers in this city.

For the residents, this building symbolizes something else entirely in this city's center. Better, as Leo Alvarez, a lawyer says: "It's a city within a city, with corner shops on every other floor, cybercafes and apartments that double as hair salons and other types of informal buisinesses. It functions, and quite well, with no authority other than their pastor."

A large number of observers write on Tower of David among others, Mike Davis who pointed out, the building "is testimony to the acute housing shortage in Caracas, a problem, like crime, that has vexed the Chavez government. Despite official rhetoric, the Bolivarianist regime has undertaken no serious redistribution of wealth in the cities and oil revenues pay for too many other programmes and subsidies to leave room for new housing construction."

Suggested reading: Mike Davis, Planet of Slums, Verso, 2007.
Robert Neuwirth, Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, a New Urban World, Routledge, 2004.

I posted some of the series of images as mentioned above and warmly recommand to check out Foreign Policy's website. Below is an abstract of comments. The entire comments can be read on the website.


The Skyline of Caracas is dotted with modern buildings pushing upward, but some of these buildings have come to symbolize not the successes of Venezuela, but rather its worst failings. As journalist Peter Wilson writes for Foreign Policy, the rise of "vertical slums" across the city have become "of the depths to which Venezuela has sunk under President Hugo Chavez."
Above, a skyscraper, officially called Edificio Confinanzas but better known as "David's Tower,' named after the businessman David Brillembourg. Intended to be the third-highest building in Venezuela, construction on the building stalled after Brillembourg died in 1993 and his business — a financial consortium called Confinanzas — failed.
It sat unoccupied, a towering eyesore on the skyline until 2007, when families began organizing to take over the building. Today, about 2,500 squatters live in the deserted building.
Vertical Slums. Credit photo: Angela Bonadies and Juan Jose Olavarria. Originally appeared
on Foreign Policy.
—> Laundry and potted plants line makeshift "balconies" along the unfinished exterior of the building.
Families now live throughout the building, some driven to desperate measures by a housing deficit
of about 2 million units, Wilson reports. "With an average of four people per home, that means
about 8 million people are currently homeless in Venezuela, living in shelters or with relatives or friends, or
stuck in unsafe housing, " he concludes.
Tower of David — details. Credit photo: Angela Bonadiez and Juan Jose Olavarria. Originally appeared on Foreign Policy.
—> Unfinished steps criss-cross the building. The lack of handrails and exterior walls makes climbing hazardous.


More: here.

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