Friday, May 9, 2014


There are several debates as to whether in dealing with slums cities must demolish or upgrade these slums. It is really difficult to choose whether cities should go for demolition or upgrading as different contexts demand different approaches. At times, a combination of the two may be warranted. To appreciate whether a demolition or an upgrade is needed when dealing with slums, it is imperative to appreciate the dynamics and complexities that are associated with slums. This is because the understanding of the origin of slums presents short-term to long-term ramifications for policy formulation. Apparently, the causative factors and consequences of slums are well known. In 2003 for instance, the theme of the Global Report on Human Settlement by the UN-Habitat was on slums and in the Millennium Development Goal 7, slums are identified as a key indicator. Similarly, many also argue that the greatest challenge of cities in this century and the foreseeable future for developing countries are slums. Obviously, without a focused attention to the issues of slums, a serious "negativity" in our urban setting, will present dire consequences for human development and reducing urban poverty. 

There is no doubt about man’s survival ethics or behaviour. In the absence of “rules and regulations backed by serious enforcements”, man desperately search for survival and the building of livelihoods to reduce, mitigate and cope with shocks and risks to his survival also poses great challenges for entire communities and cities. Certainly, these are evident in many of the known cities in developing countries—they are characterized by uncontrolled growth and build environments expansions, congestion, poor sanitation, and in one phrase, “almost chaos.”

So in the presence of several long-term proposals that are often suggested i.e. tackling the root causes of slums in developing countries in the urban century, the question remains: how do we solve the current situations of slums? This narrative attempts to provide some answers.

Evidence from world development trends suggests the evolution of policy options to manage the global challenge of slums can be categorized into three main strategies. From the early times when the issue attracted most attention till now the various options that have been implemented include:

  1. Eradicating and relocating
  2. Clearance and Redevelopment
  3. Slum Upgrade

The building of Institutional capacities especially the town and country planning departments or physical planning departments of developing countries to manage and sustain urban population growth. As this presents a long term response, efforts must be made to design a comprehensive programme specifically dedicated at upgrading slums. Subsequently, an authority to manage this program would be necessitated with the devolution of these responsibilities to the local government levels in the future when their capacities have been developed through this same program. A case in point is Egypt and South Africa where conscious effort have been made towards urban development in their respective countries with the development of national urban policies and urban development programs. There should also be a responsive mechanism to developing livelihood capabilities. That is instituting activities to develop capabilities that would lead to wealth creation and respond to shocks. Consequently, as we improve housing conditions (often at the center of upgrade programs), there should be improved access to basic social services of water, health, and education, which are the foundation for promoting economic livelihoods within these cities.
Concurrently as these are being put in place, economic livelihood programs such as access to credits, capacity improvements of SMEs and employment creation within these slums and economic safety nets must be instituted. 

There should also be the design and institutionalization of public-private partnerships framework to support slum upgrades. The focus is to clearly evaluate the levels, actions and scope of interventions by the various actors in the framework. This is paramount as without a clear definition of roles and avenues of contributions by actors, the tool becomes an abstract on the shelves of theoretical minds.

And in the long term, rural development interventions in developing countries should be re-examined. Evidently, over the past 50 years of national policy interventions in developing countries, rural development have occupied the center stage with limited emphasis on urban and regional development. During all these times, the consequences of rural development interventions on urban areas have rather been speculative than imperative. With the imminence of the urban century, the interconnectedness of rural and urban areas as well as regions should be empirically tested, mainstreamed into national policies as well as inform responses to rural and urban interventions at the local level. 

Historically, Eradicating and Relocating slums have not been viable because the poor needed to be close to city centres where there are more informal income opportunities, and because often the cost of transportation is unaffordable to the poor. In addition, Governments not only had to spend resources cleaning slums and resettling inhabitants, but also had to finance public transportation to facilitate access to employment in the central city.

For Clearance and Redevelopment of slums, the approach involved the demolition of existing structures and systems that characterized slums and then replacing them with new developments at the same site. This approached eroded supplementary economic activities in the form of small businesses that original supported these dwellers and the cost of this strategy was high thus was unsustainable (mostly 10-15 times the cost of improving the infrastructure of the slum)

The first two options clearly illustrate the short comings of demolishing slums and the subsequent reject of the approach to a more friendly or socially responsive approach to the handling of slums.

Slum Upgrade is now the most advocated for approach in many places. Indeed, this has been the current orientation by most practitioners and huge investments are extended towards projects that emphasize this approach. In countries such as Brazil, India, Egypt, Nigeria and Ghana, and many other countries where such initiatives have been implemented, the evidences put out suggest that livelihood improvements have been achieved at a lower cost as well as with improved participation by inhabitants— particularly in improving their attitudes towards housing, sanitation and environmental management.

Although this offers a better alternative, it demands a viable and willing financial sector. Furthermore, illegal occupants become owners at the expense of the original owners where without proper compensations may render the process ineffective. This is where the issues of land titles or physical assets become paramount. Brazil’s management of the slum situations in Sao Paulo is a good example of how the issue of land titles can be managed. Similarly, public-private partnerships are in many cases seen as very important in adopting slum upgrade as a viable option.

Slum upgrades is relevant and crucial not because it is the direction all over the world but because of the devastating consequences of displacements in whatever form— most particular in an urban certain where strong physical assets and communal social assets are weak for slum dwellers. 

The fight for human survival is primarily underpinned by man’s desire to create livelihood assets as indicated early. Therefore, when the mechanisms of survival whether legal or illegal (in this context slums) are destroyed, it further pushes the poor, excluded and the vulnerable into severer forms of deprivation and impoverishment—thus making Eradicating and Relocating and Clearance and Redevelopment a challenging approach.

Although slum upgrade seems to be an appropriate strategy in the phase of the other two, it is also imperative to emphatically advocate for a comprehensive approach.

NB: This narrative benefited from the "History of Urban Upgrading." 


  1. Slum upgrading is 3 times more expensive than site and service. How should we share our efforts? Solve the problem of 1 family or for the same money the one of 3?

    1. Thank you for your comment Pedro B. Ortiz. That is an interesting argument you bring out.

      Site and service in my understanding only looks at the cost of providing particular services to a site without recourse to the core housing structure that slums needs to have. So for a particular site without human habitation, the strategy is only to provide the lot layouts, roads, and the foundation infrastructure of electricity, water, among others to the site. That is what makes site and service as a strategy less costly.

      Unfortunately, dealing with slums goes beyond site and services. It entails tackling the services as well as the housing infrastructure of these slum dwellers. If one is to go by only site and services, the construction of housing for the poor slum dwellers will rest on individual families. Certainly, slum dwellers do not have the capacity to afford this. Evidently that is why they make do with mid-shift structures.

      In addition, in many urban areas, particularly in developing countries, scarcity of land and other land challenges make it difficult, costly and controversial to adopt this strategy which requires new sites for development. In this case, it would imply relocating these dwellers and the challenges thereof are presented in this article already.

      Yet still, site and services may provide some rethinking of the slum situation. I hope to see how this will transform into solving the challenge of slums in the phase of rapid urbanization, land scarcity, and urban poverty, particularly in developing countries.