An urban village is an independent community or ‘village’ located within a larger city. While urban villages have been constructed in various forms throughout the western world, in Asia they are more an adaptation to local demands. While some are easily mistaken for slums, indeed they are often untouched by the hands of urban planners, they exhibit more permanence in both infrastructure and inhabitants so don’t easily fit into this category of urban living. Urban villages exist as both a consequence of urbanisation and as a response to government neglect in the areas of affordable housing, public services and employment opportunities. Think of a close-nit neighbourhood with an urban economy of small businesses from cobblers to cafes to mechanics and marketeers and you on on the right track to defining one.
Unfortunately, most of these villages have a tenuous future. Their ‘handshake’ dwellings (so named because they are so close they literal shake hands with each other) are usually poorly built, can be somewhat of an eyesore, and more importantly occupy valuable real estate and thus are always on the radar of developers. Urban villages have somewhat unfairly become associated with gang violence, petty crime, drug abuse, and prostitution and yet the reality is often far different
Urban villages are not on any tourists’ itineraries and visitors will no doubt be overwhelmed by their peculiarities: the smell of raw sewerage flowing into a runoff; the precarious cobwebs of power-lines illegally tapping into the main grid to name but a few. However, locals are not hostile to outsiders indeed the personalities you might meet: proud, family orientated, defiant in the face of adversary, make a compelling case for experiencing them.