When I was working in graphics for the presentation in Bangkok I tried to change a coloured picture to black and white. The graphic software asked me: “Do you want to have 256 colours of grey?” This question broke me and I’ve promptly correlated to what I was thinking about formal and informal. There is no black and white but hundreds tones of grey, maybe 256, or less or more. This is what I’ve learnt from Bangkok.
During the course I had always heard that formal and informal are not clearly opposite, but for me was hard to see why they are not black and white. Visiting Bangkok and being in the field this disparity was obvious and all the greys appeared.
In all site visits we identified different ways of security in land terms. Some communities had as option to buy the land, but others where the land was not available they had to rent, or lease or squatter, or had a MOU or the higher level when you were the landholder.
Communities used different methods to obtain their security, and theirs methods is just a try but the result is not obvious and clear for everyone as black is. It is like the grey, everyone’s agrees it is grey but if it’s darker or ligther depends on the light, depends on who look at it. This nuance of grey is very fragile and tenuous.
The one good example is Tha Wang, the community that lives in Water Department land. For first instance it is not even land it is water, therefore in this case water is used was a land. This community had no agreement with Water department to stay and negotiate a proper right. But they had connection to water supply and pay regularly, they had access to electricity and they even had an address, the postman came to deliver a letter. What is informality in a place where you receive your bills by post? Informal for whom? Not for the post, not for water or electricity agency. So what make its informal, is it the conditions of the house? The occupants even if they can’t participate to Baan Mankong Programme they are part of the saving groups. They want to upgrade their condition; through the physicality of their house they can move one step further to assure their staying.
That is also what is I happening in Phom Mahakam, the community located inside the fort in Rattanakosin Island. The community is located in BMA land, they don’t have agreement to stay and they can’t participate to Baan Mankong because BMA is not willing to negotiate. Their solution was to get a loan for ‘temporary houses’ from CODI and upgrade their houses. In this case two different ‘greys’ were used in pro of the community, the first is the temporary house loan that was not for a temporary condition and another clever choice was to upgrade their houses according to traditional wood style.
In my opinion this community understand that design can be a tool to secure their position in the land. In this case is the physicality of the house, its design that will make a huge difference in their discussion with local authorities or BMA or any other eviction threat.
So should we consider this community with secure land? in my opinion yes. Do they have the proper legal status? no. That’s is why the grey exist. I keep trying to imagine 256 colours of grey.