Living Conditions and Urbanization

Have you ever imagined living your whole life in single room with your family without the luxury of privacy. This was the life of factory workers in the 19th century and currently the life of residents that live in the Dharavi slum that surrounds the city of Mumbai.

I read a first hand account of the unsanitary conditions of factory town in 1851 by Robert Baker. He describes the appalling conditions the workers lived in, houses crammed as close as possible, narrow unpaved streets with exposed sewage running alongside, questionable water quality and the thick dense smoke that filled the air. These were some consequences brought on by Industrialization and Urbanization.

Example of a poorhouse during the Industrial Revolution. Large families were forced to live in small quarters because they could not afford anything else. This illustration is from 1863 in Bethnal Green, London.

I also read a first hand account of life in the Indian slum by Mari Marcel Thekaekara. She starts by comparing a European slum and a Indian slum. She said the poorest in Europe have what the middle-class have in India. She describes the slums in the same way Baker describes the factory towns in England during the 19th century, a family of 10 living in a small room, all of the members of the family working to pay for the high rent for a small space, spending hours to do simple things like use the bathroom or fill their jugs with clean water. At the end of her article she describes the luxury of privacy, how people go their whole lives without being alone. She then tells a short story of a women at the age of 66 that finally moves out of the slums into in apartment and for the first time in her life has her own toilet that she can use by herself.  

Dharavi Industry  Dharavi, Mumbai’s Shadow City. Photograph by Jonas Bendiksen

These articles show that rapid urbanization can lead to horrible living conditions for people who moved to the cities. These accounts from the 19th and 21st century are many years apart but share the same characteristics, at the beginning of urbanization the standard of living decreases but after infrastructure advancements and proper city services are established the standard of living begins to increase.


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