Slum clearance, planning, and community resistance

Slum clearance refers to the removal of slum residents for rehousing, usually with the stated goal of preparing the area for demolition and rebuilding. While "urban renewal" can lead to old and decrepit buildings being put to more "productive" and/or lucrative use, these evictions can be disastrous for slum residents. Mega-events and rising property values lead developers and government officials to displace residents, often without proper notice, legal standing, or reimbursement. Read on to learn about how four participation-based solutions use community resistance to face slum clearance in Mumbai, Lagos, Cairo, and Rio de Janeiro.



Carlin Carr, Mumbai Community ManagerUpgrading Mumbai's slums from within

Carlin Carr, Mumbai Community Manager

Mumbai's quest to become a world-class city shines with rhetoric of "clean" and "green." The efforts have spawned policies of making the city slum-free; demolitions, relocations, and high-rise government slum redevelopment buildings define much of the existing plan and actions. Standing in between the government's Shanghai dream and the existing state are the 62 percent of the city's population who live in slums. The "eyesores" are taking up precious city land that has grown in value exponentially over the decades. Plans to deal with the impediments ignore the vibrant upgrading and development that have been taking place inside these settlements all over the city.

From above, the city's thousands of slums look like crammed, dirty, and resource-deprived places. On the ground, however, it is a different story. A Dharavi-based organization, URBZ, which focuses on "user-generated cities," describes their home turf: "From the point of view of the new migrant, or that of the suburban slum-dweller, parts of Dharavi are aspirational. It is, after all, a centrally located, superbly connected business hub with seven municipal schools and dozens of private or NGO-run educational institutions. It has decent medical facilities and countless shrines and temples tailored to its fantastically diverse population. Over the years people have replaced their shacks with brick and concrete houses, which often double as retail or production spaces."

And, says URBZ, that self-construction process is key to understanding a new way of moving forward with slum areas. URBZ has launched an antidote to the heavy-handed government redevelopment policies: the 'Homegrown Cities' project seeks not only to acknowledge the local construction practices that exist in these neighborhoods, but also to catalyze the process by joining forces with URBZ's international network. "Our aim is not to revolutionize the way construction is done in homegrown neighborhoods, but simply to contribute to a process of constant improvement that is happening already," write Matias Echanove and Rahul Srivastava, co-founders of URBZ. "We intend to become actors in the local development of housing and habitat in homegrown neighborhoods."

The plan is to develop tiny plots in collaboration with the community, talented local builders and non-local architects and engineers. They will then sell or rent each house to someone from the community at the same price as for any other similar structure. "We see process as a way to creating a long-term relationship with various neighborhoods, which will allow us to get involved at other levels as well," say Echanove and Srivastava. "This will help us highlight the good work being done there, and show that there are alternatives to the wholesale redevelopment of unplanned and incrementally developing neighborhoods. We want to demonstrate that architects, planners, and others can engage meaningfully in local processes, respecting existing morphology, supporting the local economy, and bringing in their skills and creativity."

For the group's pilot project in the Mumbai suburb called Bhandup, URBZ has launched a crowdfunding page. Donations will go toward the operational costs of the pilot project. For more on the Homegrown Cities project, visit its Facebook page or follow @homegrowncities on Twitter.

Photo credits: Homegrown Cities



A couple of things strike me as important when cities are growing and becoming more developed:
1. Policy makers need to include those changes will affect the most, as in most cases slum clearance is due to city growth and urbanization projects. Including residents of slum areas and adequate notice of plans allows for alternatives to be provided.
2. Alternatives are imperative!
3.Authorities can and should support internal progress being made within these slum areas, efforts to create amenities such as schools, more sturdy structures etc. and develop slum areas if supported can upgrade a slum to an affordable low cost housing option.

With these in place and managed properly, Slum clearance can be a positive effort.

Howaida, much of your article resonated with what has been happening in Mumbai and many Indian cities. However, what continues to shock me is how little city officials know about informal settlements, the residents who live in them and how disruptive evictions and redevelopment are to their lives. This is why I think it is really important that the toolkit includes how public relations and how to give voice to those involved in these demolitions and other disruptive "urban development" drives.

You might be interested in notes from a recent conference held in Delhi that interestingly debates the very terminology on which we base these conversations. It's interesting to think about if the "naming" matters and how does this set up a legal framework between formal and informal. Is this important to advocating for rights to the city? Here's some good material to think about:

Thanks Carlin for the link. The dichotomy presented at the conference resonates with the issues we face in all our respective cities. On one hand, informal settlements are extremely hard to define and that the concept of the informal sector should be scratched all together because they are a vital part of the city's economic, whereas on the other hand there must be ways to incorporate these economic activities and housing units into an institutional structure with a functioning government system.

In Cairo what we have seen is that the government under both President Sadat and President Mubarak chose to turn a blind eye on this areas. Without the capacity to provide basic services in these areas, residents were left to provide these services for themselves. I think that this is the main cause that government officials are unaware of the problems these areas face on a daily basis. These areas were never included in any plans and so public officials were never pressured to take a closer look.

Catalina also brings up a good point about the role of social media. There are definitely ways in which these new tools have been able to give residents of these areas a space to raise there concerns. The Egyptian revolution is definitely a testament to the influence of social media in its ability to mobilize the masses to take to the streets and stand up for their social, economic and political rights. This, to me, is an indication that the tools are available to make the necessary changes, it is just a matter of utilizing them properly.

Howaida Kamel
Community Manager, Cairo |

The timing of this week’s discussion couldn’t be more appropriate as it is very much related to the recent protests and resistance actions taking place in several cities around the world. In the case of Rio and Sao Paulo the protests started with concerns regarding the price of public transportation, but rapidly they became about expressing general discontent with several government actions (or in some cases, lack of action). Although protests vary in nature and participation of interest groups, they have clearly evidenced the power that communities have when they act together for a common cause. This is a pretty evident but substantial lesson for communities fighting evictions and other related issues.

As a side comment I would also like to highlight the role that technology and social media have played in the protests as they have not only been pivotal for mobilizing people and for generating awareness about the various issues being debated, but also for following up key developments in real time and defining next actions.

Without really knowing the long term effects of these protests I truly believe that they might be paving the way for a more fluid and constructive dialogue between the government and its citizens, which up to now has showed it is still quite limited and presents clear room for improvement.

SERAC is doing a good jod keep it up! I have only one problem with Nigeria our Political Leaders do not have the political will to give the poor housing which is a constitutional right. They are the ones floating these mushroom houses developing companies from the money they steal from the public treasuring. The Federal Government has no housing delivery policy on ground that can give poor Nigerians houses, even if there is the Ministry is another problem.

I agree Benjamin the government in general could be a little more proactive about housing issues in the nation. However it is not that these programs are lacking, it is that bureaucracy and red tape slows down the process. Low income housing projects are supposed to be going on in Lagos state for various popular slum areas like Maroko. We can only hope the system improves as the nation progresses and relay on and support civil organisations that are filling the gap in the meantime.

The housing policy draft SERAC is working on should also provide the state with better insight and more inclusive ideas for low cost housing initiatives. With that in hand, the hope is that the government puts its resources to better use, listens to the various organisations and people fighting for better housing policies and that initiatives are carried out swiftly and more efficiently.

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