Seeking Relevance in the Lives of Leftover People
One billion leftover people—typically called squatters, self-builders, slum dwellers, informal
settlers, or displaced persons (it's a big category)--claim leftover spaces in cities and live in
unauthorized dwellings made of scavenged, leftover materials.
If you know just one of the one billion, you've been touched by her or his life, even if reluctantly.
A begging mother in Mumbai lays her sleeping baby's head in your lap as you idle in an open
three-wheeler,and you wave her off. An old woman standing curbside in St.Petersburg tries to
sell you a handful of peas, and you walk on. A child recycler in Buenos Aires claws through
your garbage, and you watch from a window.
Why seek relevance in the lives of leftover people?
The leftover is a potent category. Synonyms include waste, debris, rubbish, as well as surviving,
unconsumed, and outstanding. Such "leftovers"–the begging mother, a sidewalk vendor, a
cardboardbox--can be seen as something special.
According to Robert Neuwirth, author of Shadow Cities: "[S]quatters mix more concrete than
any developer. They lay more brick than any government [and] are the largest builders of housing
in the world —and they are creating the cities of the future." They are where the architectural
Leftover people often build continuously, constantly imagining improvements and additions to
whatever structure they created initially. They have a passion for building that should inspire architects.