Such a simple design feature as an overhang or porch roof over the front door can make a huge difference. You barely see a self built house in Dharavi without an overhang over the ground floor or a small porch roof over the front door, and all along the street are makeshift covers where one has not been incorporated. It provides protection from the sun and the rain to make a day outside in the elements easier to bear, or simply a sheltered place to sit and watch the world go by.
One of the first things I noticed around Mumbai was the bars on a lot of the windows. To me these conjure up images of high security against the fearful outside world. But in fact they offer an extended living space, a place to dry clothes in an apartment lacking outdoor space, or a windowsill to keep plants on to offer a speck of greenery. A look at a row of houses like this offers a glimpse into the lives of its inhabitants.
Another minute addition that allows street sellers shelter from the sun and rain, and to create a defined shop space, are metal hoops hammered into the pavement. These provide a source of tension to attach rope to which provides the structure of a temporary shelter. Other street sellers have opted for a brick or heavy piece of rubble to tension the rope, but a small metal hoop is a far more elegant solution, with less potential for a domino effect fall along the crowded streets.
Colour can totally change the feel of a street. Whether the walls of a house have been washed a bright blue or an artist has added to their touch with a mural, it brightens an otherwise dull concrete and metal street and has the added bonus of hiding the dirt! There is a series of murals along the walls of Khotachiwadi in South Mumbai, left over from an Urbz mashup event a few years ago, and on my first walk through I noticed them and immediately warmed to the area.
Adding plants or greenery to an area also lifts it. Along the main street of New Transit Camp are a row of trees planted by a guy who has lived there for nearly 50 years. He has watched them grow up and now they contain stories of the past and the development of NTC. A row of plant pots outside a house shows that someone thinks about their neighbourhood and has put time and a bit of tender loving care into making it look nice.