One of my longstanding heroes has been Sir Joseph Bazalgette, the man who designed and built much of today’s London sewerage system. I learned more about him while writing an article, ‘Breathing Life Into the Thames,’ that appeared in New Scientist on 24 March 1977.
As our species increasingly crowds into cities, such skills will be in growing demand. So I headed back into the office today, after a day out with labyrinthitis, in large part because I wanted to honour a commitment to meet Himanshu Parikh, the Indian engineer who has been a leading figure in the field of slum networking.
He was one 50 pioneers in social innovation spotlighted in our report The Phoenix Economy. Today, he was accompanied by his wife Rashmi and their daughter, Dr. Priti Parikh, who is a lecturer in the environmental and geomatic engineering department at UCL. And Bazalgette was one recurrent theme in our conversation. I am pretty sure he would have been fascinated by the approach Himanshu has pioneered.
Slum networking involves a citywide, community-based sanitation system and environmental improvement programme. It seeks to upgrade the infrastructure of a whole city using the network of slum settlements as a starting point. The result has been a dramatic improvement in the city infrastructure, with a piped sanitation system, clean rivers and a much improved road network – at a fraction of the cost of conventional approaches. The improvements in the infrastructure rapidly lead to a significant increase in the quality of housing, as people begin to invest time and money in their homes. Dramatic improvements are also seen in the health and education standards in the slum.
Illustration via Thames Water.