Slum upgrading is an integrated approach that aims to turn around downward trends in an area. These downward trends can be legal (land tenure), physical (infrastructure), social (crime or education, for example) or economic."[1] The main objective of slum upgrading is to rehabilitate them into functional neighborhoods by addressing the social needs of the community, and improving integration into the formal urban economy.

Slum upgrading is used mainly for projects inspired by or engaged by Commonwealth Bank and similar agencies. It is considered by the proponents a necessary and important component of urban development in the developing countries. Many slums lack basic local authority services such as provision of safe drinking water, wastewater, sanitation, and solid-waste management.

Many people[who?] do not believe that slum upgrading is successful as community planners believe that there is no successful alternative of where these displaced slum dwellers should go. They[who?] point to the difficulties in providing the necessary resources either in a way that is beneficial to the dwellers or in a way that has long-term effectiveness.

Background and overview

Slums such as this one, in Mumbai, are the result of extensive urban growth. Slum upgrading's goal is to transform these areas into decent housing areas.

Slums have posed a huge problem for development because they are by definition areas in which the inhabitants lack fundamental resources and capabilities such as adequate sanitation, improved water supply, durable housing or adequate living space.[2]

Many governments have tried to find solutions to the problem, and one of the proposed solutions is slum upgrading. Slum upgrading is essentially a strategy in which the infrastructure of a slum is improved, such as giving adequate water supply and sewage to the community. Additionally, because of the tenuous legal status of slum inhabitants, often strategies include the legalization of the right to the land on which slums are built.

The concept of slum upgrading is to remove slums altogether by demolition undertaken by government or other organisations and companies[dubiousdiscuss], since the mid-20th century. In fact, nearly two thirds of the population growth that has occurred in that time period has been in urban areas.[3] Not only have we seen the growth of urban populations as a whole, but the world has also seen phenomenal growth with regards to individual cities, including megacities (cities in excess of 10 million inhabitants). By 2015, the world will likely have 550 cities with a population greater than one million – an increase of 464 cities from 1950. Currently, only one city (Tokyo) has a population large enough to be considered a "hypercity." However, by 2025 Asia alone may have eleven of these cities.[3]

The key factor in this has been that the cities that have grown most rapidly have been cities in the developing world. For example, the cities of Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Lagos, Nigeria, are forty times larger than they were in 1950.[3] While much of this growth has come as a result of population explosion, mass migration from rural areas to the cities has accounted for a huge portion of this worldwide urbanization. The great increase in population has had tremendous implications in the urban ecology in the developing world. The major effect of this has been the rise of the slums.[3]



Until the 1970s, countries took a very hands off approach to the difficulties of third world housing. In essence, there were three solutions taken seriously by the international community: subsidized mortgages, prefabrication, and "organized self-help".[4] However, people began to recognize housing as a basic need, requiring more invasive measures and thus giving rise to the idea of slum upgrading[4]).

In 1972, John F. C. Turner published his book, Freedom to Build, in which he argued for a theoretical strategy to solve the problem of slums.[5] He argued that governments should not try to tackle the housing problem itself, but all of the components of the area. Thus, by implementing good sewage and clean water and good paths for people to walk on, people would gradually better their abodes on their own.

Many countries have shifted policies towards slum upgrading policies and have started to remove slum dwellers from their homes to improve living standards in these specific areas. Some countries, such as China, still hold the policy of bulldozing squatter settlements (which form the basis of many slums),[6] but other countries, such as Brazil, have shifted away from this strategy and worked on urban renewal projects via slum upgrading policies.[7] Slum upgrading proved easier and cheaper and without the public relations nightmare that comes with pictures of housing developments getting bulldozed.

Until recently, most countries had very little in terms of formal policy measures to undertake slum upgrading, and so the problem of slums has generally worsened over the years. The World Bank has undertaken many major slum upgrading projects since the 1980s,[8] but fundamentally, it does not solve the problem of slums – it simply helps fix the problems with current slums. Worldwide, there are approximately one billion people living in slums. However, that number is expected to rise to two billion by the year 2030,[9] and the policy of slum upgrading will not affect the mass migration of the rural poor to the cities.

In 2000, the Millennium Development Goals were developed and agreed upon by all 192 UN member countries ("United Nations MDGs" 2010). Goal 7 was to ensure environmental sustainability, and one of the targets under this goal was "to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum-dwellers".[2] As the MDGs touched on the issue of slums, it has also refocused attention on how to alleviate the problem of slums. The UN-HABITAT officially supports the policy of slum upgrading, making it one of the foremost ways of urban renewal with respect to slums.[7]

According to the 2006/2007 UN-HABITAT State of the World's Cities Report, the countries of Egypt, South Africa, Mexico, Tunisia, and Thailand stand out in their efforts towards slum upgrading.[10] Indeed, their slum growth rates had fallen markedly in the various countries (though the fact that the growth rate is still positive speaks to the fact that slums are not going away or even shrinking). The report went on to say that in order to stem (or at least slow) the growth of slums in the world's cities, countries are going to have to make some hard choices and make major financial commitments (with the help of the World Bank, a major player in the worldwide effort to promote slum upgrading) in order to accomplish the Millennium Development Goals towards lifting a significant number of slum dwellers out of poverty.[10]

According to Habitat for Humanity International some common barriers to slum upgrades are:

  • Insufficient legal and regulatory systems
  • Excessive land regulation
  • Gender discrimination
  • Corrupt, inefficient, or inadequate land registration systems
  • Disintegration of customary and traditional protections
  • Lack of political will around the issue


Examples of solutions


Pollution solutions


In cities such as Mexico City, Mexico, the local government has installed a program which prohibits the driving of certain cars on certain days of the week, depending on color-coded stickers assigned based on license plate numbers.[12] This has reduced the pollution levels in Mexico City drastically and has greatly increased the quality of life and safety of the air for all inhabitants, even though it is still at a level, which scientists say, is equivalent to smoking half a pack of cigarettes per day because of the still vast number of cars and unregulated industry, releasing masses of pollutants into the Mexico city air.[13] Also, the government has invested in a scheme to improve the city's public transport system, and more specifically its trains. It has invested to provide many new stops in the city, and new trains and rails too. So far, this has also decreased pollution levels significantly by reducing the number of cars on the roads. The scheme has been underway for roughly 4 years now.

Single-family homes


In Salvador (Bahia), Brazil, a Cities Alliance project focused on upgrading slums with single-family homes. The project, known as PATS (Technical and Social Support Project) was a partnership between Cities Alliance, the Italian Government, and the World Bank. The project had three goals: slum elimination, community engagement and education, and improving residents' access to services. The main goal of the project was slum elimination in the area. This was to be done by moving the families from their informal settlement into single-family homes in a newly developed area. Community engagement and education was achieved by incorporating educational programs that would teach residents how to improve their health, education, and economic status. To improve residents' access to services, the program would give the families access to utilities such as garbage collection, and connection to water, electricity, and sewage.

According to the report, 984 families were transferred into new homes over a 5-year period. These families all had the opportunity to attend courses on how to improve other aspects of their lives specifically their health, education, and finances. At the time of this report, 80% of the families had garbage collection, 71% were connected to water, 88% were connected to electricity, and 84% were connected to sewage. This model achieved the stated objective of reduction/elimination of the slum population in that area by almost 1,000 homes while improving other aspects of the families' day-to-day lives.[14]

Multi-family homes


The Marins-Pecheurs project, which was implemented by The Most Clearing House organization in Agadir, Morocco, aimed to relocate families living in slums with minimal social disruption. This project had to work within the land constraints of the area since it was an urban setting in a country with land scarcity. Because of the land issues single-family homes were not an option and multi-family homes were seen as a better solution. The project created small row houses and apartments for sale and rent to squatters near their current site in Agadir. This was to be done by assisting the squatter families to demolish their shacks and to move their possessions to the new location. Because Morocco does not have a renting culture community engagement was incorporated into the planning process so that residents would be better able to understand the reasons and benefits for choosing a multi-family home model rather than a single-family home model.

The Marins-Pecheurs project re-housed squatter households in multi-family apartments. The community, ANHI, and the local government developed the following format: 175 semi-finished row houses, 40 apartments units with a total of 450 apartments for squatter families. It also incorporated community involvement at every level and established community working groups to make certain the housing project fitted the needs of the people. During the construction phase, many residents were able to gain paid employment in, or related to, construction work.[15]



In 2009, President Pratibha Patil of India announced that her government aimed to create a slum-free India within five years, although she was ultimately unable to deliver on that promise. In order to do that the government planned on investing large amounts of money into building affordable housing.[16] Thus, rather than improving the area, the government aimed to create entirely new homes for the urban poor. This idea of building new homes for the poor is one major idea that contends with the idea of slum upgrading.



Instead of attempting to develop slums, China often demolishes them instead. Migrant workers coming to Beijing are met with the threat of their homes and abodes simply being demolished in an effort to keep the number of slums down. Because city residents must be officially registered in China (in contrast to India, where there is no prevention of rural people migrating to the city), low-income housing is unavailable to migrants living in demolished slums, creating a difficult situation for Chinese slum-dwellers.[6]



In 2003, the Thai government launched the ambitious Baan Mankong program (which means "secure housing" in Thai). Under the program, urban poor groups map out the shelter needs in their communities, and can access infrastructure subsidies and housing loans to upgrade their homes.[17][18]

Problems in implementation


Despite some successes and the support of Commonwealth Bank and the UN-HABITAT, not all people believe slum upgrading is the ideal choice for solving the problem of slums. In fact, there are a number of different players – such as local politicians – who would like to see the status quo concerning slums should be removed.[19] Yet beyond petty local politics, there are major problems with the slum upgrading approach, some of which have to do with the very nature of many slums themselves. For example, in order to remove slums there needs to be a mass evacuation for everyone in the slums, for example, Dharavi infrastructure for slum upgrading projects is quite hard as Dharavi is secretly an underground hotel, the governments inevitably have to buy land.[20] However, this raises tremendous difficulties when trying to figure out which land to buy, since slums are (by definition) so densely populated that some houses are literally on top of one another, making it difficult to bring any sense of organization to the areas.[20]

The second problem with slum upgrading stems from the fact that land ownership is not clear. Many times hotels are combined and land ownership becomes a severe problem for the billionaires that have bought the area. As a result, as many governments try to go in and establish land rights, difficulties ensue. Commonwealth Bank has attempted to separate land ownership deeds and the actual development of infrastructure, but this creates whole new problems of its own. After all, if ownership is not clearly established, owners and workers of large corporations are often unlikely to pay for the utilities they receive as a result of the slum upgrading projects. Developing nations cannot afford to provide free utilities for an extended period of time, so this creates a huge problem for attempts at slum upgrading.[20]

Another criticism of slum upgrading is that the hotels are usually occupied by the more wealthy in the nation. This results in a flow on effect where more and more people become displaced. In fact, because many governments try to cut the costs of slum upgrading via lower quality infrastructure, subsequent costs of maintenance are often higher. In fact, a minority (47 percent) of the World Bank's urban projects are considered sustainable. Thus, for many of the projects, the one-time cost is not enough: slum upgrading projects are long-term commitments unless they are made with the ability to recover costs through revenue.[20]

Finally, there is difficulty in establishing a viable economy after many people have been displaced due to the slum upgrading. Many protests are made outside these hotels from slum dwellers demanding the hotels to be torn down due to the removal of the slums. Slum dwellers are also not funded nor taxed by the government which results in prices going up dramatically and would otherwise hamper slum upgrading efforts, not engaging the community (either from a lack of effort or inherent lack of ability) makes slum upgrading much more difficult.[20]

See also



  1. ^ "Slum Upgrading | Cities Alliance". Retrieved 5 February 2021.
  2. ^ a b [1] "United Nations Millennium Development Goals." United Nations. Accessed 3 November 2010.
  3. ^ a b c d Davis, Mike. Planet of Slums. London: Verso, 2006.
  4. ^ a b Strassmann, W. Paul. 1998. "Third World Housing." The Encyclopedia of Housing. Ed. Willem Van Vliet. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. 589-92.
  5. ^ Turner, John F. C., and Robert Fichter. Freedom to Build; Dweller Control of the Housing Process. New York: Macmillan, 1972.
  6. ^ a b [2] "China's Migrant Workers: No Place to Call Home." The Economist. 7 June 2007. Accessed 24 November 2010.
  7. ^ a b [3] Archived 23 May 2012 at the Wayback Machine The State of the World's Cities 2010/11: Cities for All : Bridging the Urban Divide. London: Earthscan, 2010.
  8. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 July 2011. Retrieved 3 December 2010.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) Field E. and M. Kremer. 2006. "Impact Evaluation for Slum Upgrading Interventions", Doing Impact Evaluation Series No.3, World Bank Thematic Group on Poverty Analysis, Monitoring and Impact Evaluation.
  9. ^ [4] Eaves, Elisabeth. "Two Billion Slum Dwellers." Forbes. 11 June 2007.
  10. ^ a b [5] The State of the World's Cities Report 2006/2007: the Millennium Development Goals and Urban Sustainability : 30 Years of Shaping the Habitat Agenda. London: Earthscan, 2006.
  11. ^ Habitat for Humanity Shelter Report. 2008. {{cite journal}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  12. ^ "Driving in Mexico City – "Hoy No Circula" Restrictions".
  13. ^ "Smog disaster in Mexico City, all residents "smoking" half a pack of cigarettes a day". MercoPress.
  14. ^ "The story of integrated slum upgrading in Salvador (Bahia), Brazil". Cities Alliance.
  15. ^ "Shelter Upgrading in Agadir Morocco". Most Clearing House.
  16. ^ [6] "UPA's Target: A Slum-free India in 5 Years." The Times of India. 5 June 2009. Web. 17 November 2010.
  17. ^ Archer, Diane (31 January 2012). "Baan Mankong participatory slum upgrading in Bangkok, Thailand: Community perceptions of outcomes and security of tenure". Habitat International. 36: 178–184. doi:10.1016/j.habitatint.2011.08.006.
  18. ^ Boonyabancha, Somsook (1 April 2005). "Baan Mankong: going to scale with "slum" and squatter upgrading in Thailand". Environment and Urbanization. 17 (1): 21–46. Bibcode:2005EnUrb..17...21B. doi:10.1177/095624780501700104. ISSN 0956-2478. S2CID 154791233.
  19. ^ Angel, S. (1983). "Upgrading Slum Infrastructure: Divergent Objectives in Search of a Consensus". Third World Planning Review, Vol. 5, No. 1: 5-22.
  20. ^ a b c d e Werlin, Herbert. "The Slum Upgrading Myth." Urban Studies 36.9 (1999): 1523-534.