Urbanization

Making Life Work in the City — THE TARKANI FAMILY

(The Tarkani Family are fictional characters)

The Tarkanis are a South Asian family who move from their rural village to their country's capital city to improve their quality of life and well-being. The internal migration process forces them to come face to face with the challenges and opportunities of urban life. Despite various struggles, they ultimately triumph as empowered agents of change within their community.

ICDP Review Report The 5 Pillars

Urbanization

A New Life

Moving and starting over has dramatically transformed life for the Tarkani family. Packing up their old life and relocating to the big city, the capital of their South Asian country, hasn't been easy. Economic and social opportunities abound, yet fear, risk and uncertainty have come from creating a whole new life from nothing. Before making the move, Hussein and Malika Tarkani spent many long nights discussing their future and the well-being of their family. Ultimately, like several other families in their community, they made the difficult decision to venture from their quiet, rural village with their children, Imran, Ghazala, and Yalda.

“As of 2008 more than half of the world’s population lived in the urban areas. Currently cities and towns around the world are growing by more than 1.3 million each week.”

The move is exciting and represents a positive hope for a better life, but the drastic changes they are immediately confronted with are shocking. The Tarkanis don’t know the first thing about what it is like to live in the city. Their families have remained in their village for many generations. While leaving the only life they have ever known is bittersweet, Hussein, as the leader of the family, ultimately determined that this big change was best economically. For him to be able to give his wife and children a higher quality of life, they had to emotionally, physically and mentally invest in the idea and expectation of what life in the city can mean for them and their children. They know there will be struggle and compromise, and they are willing to tackle these so their dreams are realized.

“Megacities, which have over 10 million people, are now home to 400 million people worldwide.”

Settling In

Unfortunately, the Tarkanis are confronted with a number of new and foreign challenges they had no way to anticipate. Finding a suitable, safe home was a tremendous challenge. For now, they settle in a crowded slum-like suburban development. Located outside of the city centre, it is the most affordable option. It’s where fellow internal migrants seeking similar opportunities and from comparable backgrounds are settling. The Tarkanis find this comforting and integral to their social circle, despite the overcrowding and poor quality sanitation facilities. There is little to no privacy, and the noise levels are invasive. The corrugated roofs, for example, are much louder in the rain than the mud roofs in their village. Most challenging, however, is that they aren’t located close enough to their work and other daily needs.

“As more people come to urban areas, space constraints and inequality in the distribution of land tend to produce rapidly increasing costs of living, with the elite capturing the most accessible and desirable land.”

The Tarkanis’ housing situation isn’t ideal, but it is what they can afford. Even though life is challenging, they have no intention of going back to their rural home. They are determined to take advantage of their right to move in search of better opportunities in their country. In fact, they encourage other family members and neighbours to migrate to the city as well—just as they too were encouraged by neighbours. For the Tarkani family, the city is where dreams come true. They aren’t the first to make a bold life change, and they certainly won’t be the last.

“Small cities, built for half a million inhabitants, have become the homes of almost 2 billion people.”

Their greatest challenge is getting the city to work better for them as shifts in population dynamics continue. Fortunately, the area where they moved is transitioning, and becoming a more sustainable and flourishing extension of the city. Unfortunately, this transition is still in process, and their new community hasn’t quite reached its potential.

Providing for the Family

Hussein’s job is as a janitor in a government building in the heart of the city’s financial centre. He is very lucky, he says, because, well, that is what everyone tells him. Many people move to the city and never find work, a devastating shock for many families who expect to find a job right away. Often, these families fall on such hard times that they can’t afford to stay, but worse, they can’t afford to return to where they came from. Such stresses and realities cause many families to break apart.

“The vulnerability of people, especially women, in many urban areas today reflects the absence of proactive, innovative planning for the provision of safe housing, adequate health services, reliable transport to the economic center and protection from violence, as well as community systems of social protection.”

So it is good that Hussein is “lucky” with his job. The family members remind each other of this when things feel extra difficult. For example, getting to work takes Hussein 2.5 hours each way, every day. There is no public transportation nearby. First, Hussein walks a mile to a designated, unofficial location where a commuter van picks him and a dozen other men up. Together, they all pile in to be dropped off at a bus stop that is the farthest from the city, and closest to the Tarkanis. Hussein takes that bus to another bus. His commute costs him two hours of his daily wage. The wasted time means less time to spend with his family. Also, the slum can become quite dangerous at night. Currently, there is a lack of public security, so violence is becoming a daily occurrence. The family is left vulnerable without Hussein’s presence.

“There are 3.6 billion people who live in the world’s cities and towns.”

Hussein’s absence from his family’s daily life in order to be at work and provide for them is threatening the family’s stability. Decisions are made without him. Malika is tasked with carrying the burden of two parents—attempting to keep their children safe, healthy and focused on school while maintaining the tasks and responsibilities of a household. The situation is frustrating for everyone. Back home, this would have been easier within their community. In the city, everyone is overtaxed and tired. It is clear the government needs to ensure safety and better services.

Fortunately, there is universal public education, and the school commute, which often involves walking, is not too difficult for the children. The challenge lies more in ensuring the Tarkani children are adequately supplied with their school materials and have enough time to study rather than work.

Adequate Health Services

Accessing any health-care services, let alone quality health care, has been challenging for the Tarkanis. The health concerns they dealt with back in their rural community haven't proven to be any better in the city. In fact, in many ways, the situation is worse due to the high volume of other people also seeking care.

“The vulnerability of people, especially women, in many urban areas today reflects the absence of proactive, innovative planning for the provision of safe housing, adequate health services, reliable transport to the economic centre and protection from violence, as well as community systems of social protection.”

When the Tarkanis require health assistance, they face long waits in overcrowded clinics for services they can barely afford. Yalda was born with several health challenges requiring ongoing treatment. Because of the lack of proper transportation connecting directly to their community, getting to the appropriate clinics means committing to a long journey first by foot followed by several buses. This is taxing physically and mentally for everyone, not only when there is an emergency, but also for ongoing treatments and follow-up.

The state does provide some universal health-care assistance, and Hussein’s income is critical to further protecting the family. Without this, they would be at a loss with the costs needed for Yalda's care. This reality highlights the tremendous challenges that exist for those living in slums.

Advocating for Change

Hussein is active in community organizing via a partnership he formed with a few fellow commuters. Meanwhile, Malika has partnered with a group of women in the slum to collectively develop a system of support and a list of needs to present to local political leaders involved with the eventual elevation of the slum. They are actively creating alternative ways for the slum to evolve. When they can make the time, they attend local government meetings, and voice their needs and demands for specific and targeted universal public services.

“Widespread participation in urban governance can help ensure that urban policies address the needs of the most vulnerable. Such participation needs to be institutionalized, for instance via dedicated budgets and the formal inclusion of civil society organizations and marginalized communities, which can help to prevent capture of governance systems by the elite and deliver governance by all and for all.”

Timing and availability are a big problem for both groups. They often prepare for these meetings together on the bus, and in the commuter vans both Hussein and Malika, along with all the other community members, rely on to get around.

As they become more and more engaged and productive, they have targeted goals that clearly list how they want their slum life upgraded via government infrastructure that delivers impact. Their requests involve improvements in health care, clean and safe water, stable energy, proper housing and reliable transportation. The government has responded decently to their proposals; however, it is in their best interest to make sure they continue making their voices heard in order to hold the government accountable for concrete outcomes.

Malika in particular, sometimes with the help of their children, is fighting hard to ensure that territorial and developmental planning go hand in hand. Basic services must be available to everyone, and the use of space must be sustainable for everyone.

It is hard to be heard by a government that doesn’t listen to the underserved, but in this case, with a newly elected administration, their needs are being heard. Their requests are many, and while it seems the government often prefers to dedicate resources to nearby wealthier communities that are trying to slow urbanization to prevent the slum from inching closer to them, there are government advocates actively engaging with them. Malika and other strong women in the community refuse to be ignored. They will not relent until their families and all residents are granted the full benefits of urban life.

All of this ideology is great and inspiring, but the immediacy of survival is at stake, and this is what consumes Hussein. The way he and Malika see it, their best bet is to endure sanitation and safety concerns, and wait for the fulfilment of promises to improve their suburban housing.