The Not So Simple Question: Where Are You From? (And I Don't Mean The Grammar)

When coming into a community for the first time, neighborhoods can be akin to lines drawn in invisible ink.

When coming into a community for the first time, neighborhoods can be akin to lines drawn in invisible ink. Sometimes, it seems like you have to proactively search out a community to see that different neighborhoods exist there.

Now, I’m not claiming to be an urban planner, a specialist in urban studies, an anthropologist, or anything of the kind. I’m an engineer. With, really, only two urban studies/anthropology classes under my belt. Admittedly, my courseload is dominated by problem sets, labs, small design projects, and case studies. Never, have I conducted fieldwork.

However, in undertaking this documentation project with Urbz for a little under three weeks, I’ve taken an interest in the definition of neighborhoods by different communities. And I find it very interesting how some neighborhoods are much easier to define than others.

To get a better idea of what I’m trying, I’m going to use Dallas as an analogy since I know it very well.

I have friends that live in Highland Park, Oak Cliff, Pleasant Grove, Greenville, South Dallas and so on. All these neighborhoods are in Dallas. They are part of the city. And when you write their address you still write Dallas, TX. But there’s a hierarchy—Dallas then North Dallas, South Dallas, East Dallas (no one says West Dallas, really) then specific neighborhood. North Dallas consists of Dallas from the Richardson boundary all the way until the edge of the city, no inner city Dallas included. And that’s pushing it. Within North Dallas, but separate from it, is Highland Park. For, if you live in Highland Park, you say, “I’m from Highland Park.” No one really calls that North Dallas. For Highland Park is separated from the rest of North Dallas through (roughly and not limited to) median income, socioeconomic status, culture, (arguably) race (too touchy, but it’s the elephant in the room). The lines of demarcation are clearly etched—you know if you’re part of Highland Park or not.

Now let’s look at a more common example.

Oak Cliff. It’s part of South Dallas. But do a lot of people know exactly where Oak Cliff starts and ends? Not really. Partly it’s because the surrounding neighborhoods share the same socioeconomic status, race (on a very general basis), slang, rough median income, neighborhood style, and culture. I’m from Oak Cliff, I’m from South Dallas is more readily lumped together and thus the lines are fuzzier.

That being said, it’s interesting to see that the residents of BMC, of Koliwada, of Municipal Chowl, and of other chowls primarily use Dharavi as their community of identification. However, after some interviews with a few persons in New Transit Camp, it’s interesting that some have said that they are from Dharavi and that those in Kholiwada, BMC, and other chowls are too far east to say they are from Dharavi and that they exist as their own neighborhood.

I can’t say that patterns seem to emerge on whatever standing or whatever detail. I’ve only been here for not even three weeks weeks. But I have noticed that people of New Transit Camp are hesitant to consider Koliwada and BMC and the surrounding chowls of the east as part of Dharavi. And that more families in Koliwada, BMC, and the surrounding chowls have called NTC a slum or a place where illegal residents reside. That is not to say that they say this with disdain. Or that I’m noting some tension. No. Not at all. That is just the language used.

I’ve also noticed that when prompted, it is a lot simpler for residents of NTC, Koliwada, BMC, and the surrounding chowls to identify New Transit Camp as a neighborhood than it was to draw the divisions between Kholiwada and BMC and the surrounding chowls.

It would be interesting to study how large or how small a specific neighborhood defines their community to be and to examine if any patterns emerge in how these spaces are defined (landmarks, streets, addresses, etc).