How slums are shap­ing their fu­tures

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

As the United Na­tions pre­pares a 20-year plan to cope with the chal­lenges of boom­ing ur­ban­iza­tion, res­i­dents of the world’s five big­gest slums are bat­tling to carve out a place in the cities of the fu­ture. Home to more than 900 mil­lion peo­ple world­wide - or nearly one in ev­ery seven peo­ple - the U.N. says slums are emerg­ing spon­ta­neously as a “dom­i­nant and dis­tinct type of set­tle­ment” in the 21st cen­tury.

To­day one quar­ter of the world’s city dwellers live in slums - and they are there to stay. The U.N.’s 193 mem­ber states are set to adopt the first de­tailed road map to guide the growth of cities, towns and in­for­mal set­tle­ments, en­sure they are sus­tain­able, do not de­stroy the en­vi­ron­ment and pro­tect the rights of the vul­ner­a­ble. Held once ev­ery 20 years, the UN’s Habi­tat III con­fer­ence comes at a time when, for the first time in his­tory, more peo­ple live in cities than ru­ral ar­eas.

In 2014, 54 per­cent of the global pop­u­la­tion lived in cities but by 2050, this is ex­pected to rise to 66 per­cent. “We live in the ur­ban cen­tury ... when planned, built, and gov­erned well, cities can be mas­sive agents of pos­i­tive change,” UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon said in a re­cent state­ment. “They can be cat­a­lysts for in­clu­sion and pow­er­houses of eq­ui­table eco­nomic growth. They can help us pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment and limit cli­mate change. That is why we need a new vi­sion for ur­ban­iza­tion.”

The UN’s pol­icy doc­u­ment, ti­tled the New Ur­ban Agenda, says there has been “sig­nif­i­cant” im­prove­ment in the qual­ity of life for mil­lions of city res­i­dents over the past two decades, but the pres­sures of pop­u­la­tion growth and ru­ral-to-city mi­gra­tion are in­creas­ing dra­mat­i­cally. Billy Cob­bett, di­rec­tor of the Cities Al­liance part­ner­ship for poverty re­duc­tion and pro­mot­ing sus­tain­able cities, said ur­ban growth in many parts of the world, par­tic­u­larly Africa, is not driven by ru­ral mi­gra­tion alone but by pop­u­la­tion growth.

The UN plan stresses that pro­vid­ing trans­port, san­i­ta­tion, hos­pi­tals and schools is im­per­a­tive but city strate­gies must also “go beyond” phys­i­cal im­prove­ments to in­te­grate slums into the so­cial, eco­nomic, cul­tural, and po­lit­i­cal life of cities. Ex­perts say this pol­icy rep­re­sents a sig­nif­i­cant shift in think­ing among city plan­ners and au­thor­i­ties who have his­tor­i­cally seen bull­doz­ers as the an­swer to slum set­tle­ments.

High-den­sity com­mu­ni­ties geared to pedes­tri­ans along with prop­er­ties that mix busi­ness with hous­ing can of­fer lessons for man­age­ment of fu­ture growth, they say. To­day, unchecked pop­u­la­tion growth and mi­gra­tion in many world cities - from Kenya to Mex­ico to In­dia mean slums and the in­for­mal economies and com­mu­ni­ties cre­ated around them must in­creas­ingly be seen as an im­por­tant part of the wider city.

Se­cu­rity First

The UN roadmap high­lights that a crit­i­cal im­ped­i­ment to up­grad­ing in­for­mal set­tle­ments and sus­tain­able re­de­vel­op­ment is the lack of ten­ure or own­er­ship of land or prop­erty. In 2003, 924 mil­lion city dwellers were es­ti­mated to be with­out ti­tle to their homes or land and this num­ber, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions, is ex­pected to have grown “ex­po­nen­tially”. This is a par­tic­u­larly press­ing prob­lem in Africa where more than half the ur­ban pop­u­la­tion - or 62 per­cent of peo­ple live in shanty towns and 90 per­cent of ru­ral land is un­doc­u­mented.

Liv­ing with­out se­cure ten­ure means liv­ing un­der con­stant threat of evic­tion. Slum dwellers who have no way of prov­ing own­er­ship of as­sets also have no ac­cess to credit, fur­ther erod­ing any mo­ti­va­tion to im­prove homes and neigh­bor­hoods. For gov­ern­ments, par­tic­u­larly in poorer coun­tries, slum ar­eas with­out ti­tle are a par­tic­u­larly vexed prob­lem as the great ma­jor­ity are not mapped, lit­tle is known about de­mo­graph­ics or spa­tial use, and the way res­i­dents have set­tled is of­ten so dense that hous­ing and ser­vices are hard to fit in. The lack of ba­sic in­for­ma­tion also means they can­not use the most com­monly used of­fi­cial land reg­is­tra­tion sys­tems.

Roads Bat­tle in Kenya

Nairobi’s vast Kib­era set­tle­ment - com­ing from the Nu­bian for for­est or jun­gle - is de­scribed as Africa’s largest slum and com­prises more than a dozen vil­lages from Soweto East to Kianda. A mix of eth­nic groups make their home there although no­body knows ex­act num­bers. Ac­cord­ing to the last Kenyan cen­sus, the pop­u­la­tion was 170,070 in 2009 but other sources, in­clud­ing the UN, es­ti­mate the set­tle­ment is now home to any­where be­tween 400,000 and one mil­lion peo­ple.

Much of Kib­era’s em­ploy­ment comes from the nearby in­dus­trial area of Nairobi but an es­ti­mated half of Kib­era’s res­i­dents are job­less, sur­viv­ing on less than $1 a day. Only 27 per­cent of Kib­era’s 50,000 stu­dents at­tend gov­ern­ment schools, with most at­tend­ing in­for­mal in­sti­tu­tions set up by res­i­dents and churches, ac­cord­ing to the char­ity Map Kib­era. Vi­o­lence, al­co­hol and drugs are rife and clean wa­ter scarce.

Kib­era’s res­i­dents also strug­gle with no garbage ser­vices, free flow­ing sewage and the slum be­came in­fa­mous glob­ally for the so-called ‘fly­ing toi­lets’ - throw away plas­tic bags used by res­i­dents forced to re­lieve them­selves out­doors. Yet amidst the squalor there are many res­i­dents like Peter Nya­gasera and his fam­ily who have worked tire­lessly to im­prove their neigh­bor­hood. Nya­gasera and his wife Sarah Oisebe up part of a for­mer dump site in Kib­era to cre­ate a play­ground for the res­i­dent-run school and a chil­dren’s cen­tre for or­phans. For these chil­dren, he says, school is the only place they re­ceive a hot meal each day.

But de­spite all their hard work, the com­mu­nity has been forced to mount a court chal­lenge to stop con­struc­tion of a road planned to cut through the area and de­mol­ish the school - and this com­mu­nity is not alone. A sec­ond group of res­i­dents from the marginal­ized Nu­bian group are also with­out for­mal ti­tles and fight­ing for own­er­ship to pro­tect their homes, many re­cently marked with red crosses for de­mo­li­tion to make way for the high­way. Their case will be heard in Kenya’s High Court in Novem­ber but res­i­dents are de­spon­dent. “Chil­dren will suf­fer,” said Nya­gasera.

Work­ing Slums

One of the tough­est and most vul­ner­a­ble as­pects of life in the slums is the bat­tle to find reg­u­lar work. Cities are job hubs and prox­im­ity to em­ploy­ment has long been a ma­jor driver of slum de­vel­op­ment and ex­pan­sion. Glob­ally, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Labour Or­ga­ni­za­tion, 200 mil­lion peo­ple in slums were with­out jobs in 2013 while UNESCO es­ti­mates that more than a quar­ter of the young, ur­ban poor earn lit­tle more than $1.25 a day.

De­spite this, in many de­vel­op­ing economies, the en­gine room of job cre­ation is found in the heart of in­for­mal economies like those in the fave­las of Rio or the bustling hives of ac­tiv­ity in big In­dian cities like Mum­bai. Au­thor Robert Neuwirth spent four years re­search­ing his book, ‘Shadow Cities’, which looked at in­for­mal economies in global shanty towns. He be­lieves these un­li­censed eco­nomic net­works are vastly un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated in scope and power and es­ti­mates they ac­count for some 1.8 bil­lion jobs glob­ally. “It’s a huge num­ber and if it were all to­gether in a sin­gle po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, this eco­nomic sys­tem would be worth $10 tril­lion a year. That would make it the sec­ond largest econ­omy in the world,” he said.

In Mum­bai, where an es­ti­mated one mil­lion peo­ple live in the bustling Dhar­avi slum, res­i­dent-owned small busi­nesses - from leather work­ers and pot­ters to re­cy­cling net­works - have cre­ated an in­for­mal econ­omy with an­nual turnover of about $1 bil­lion. Res­i­dents live and work in the same place and are now cam­paign­ing ac­tively to en­sure that any re­de­vel­op­ment of their homes or con­struc­tion of new hous­ing takes into ac­count the need for home-based ground floor workspaces.

“Peo­ple think of slums as places of static de­spair as de­picted in films such as ‘Slum­dog Mil­lion­aire’,” said San­jeev Sanyal, an economist and writer, re­fer­ring to the Academy Award-win­ning movie that ex­posed the gritty un­der­belly of Dhar­avi. “If one looks past the open drains and plas­tic sheets, one will see that slums are ecosys­tems buzzing with ac­tiv­ity... Cre­at­ing neat low-in­come hous­ing es­tates will not work un­less they al­low for many of the messy eco­nomic and so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties that thrive in slums,” he said.

Rahul Sri­vas­tava, a founder of Mum­bai’s In­sti­tute of Ur­banol­ogy, said the big­gest im­ped­i­ment to up­grad­ing in­for­mal set­tle­ments is their “il­le­git­i­mate” sta­tus due to the ab­sence of ti­tle. Set­tle­ments that are home to fifth-gen­er­a­tion mi­grants can­not be classed as “in­for­mal”, he says, and it is high time the nar­row per­cep­tion of these neigh­bor­hoods is changed.

Dy­ing for a Pee

In Cape Town, the shanty towns of Khayelit­sha stretch for miles, a grim brown sea of ram­shackle wood and iron shacks that con­front vis­i­tors ar­riv­ing at the air­port but are out of view of the city’s glass tow­ers or the leafy sub­urbs on nearby hills. Khayelit­sha’s pop­u­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to the 2011 Cen­sus, is 99 per­cent black. Jean Co­maroff, a Har­vard pro­fes­sor of an­thro­pol­ogy and African Stud­ies, said de­spite “valiant ef­forts” from city au­thor­i­ties and ac­tivists in re­cent years, Cape Town it­self still of­fers lit­tle room for its slum res­i­dents beyond “servi­tude” work as do­mes­tics or in the ser­vice in­dus­tries. “It is poised on a knife edge and the dif­fer­ences be­tween the beauty of the city it­self and what you see on the Cape flats is the stark­est you will ever see in the world.” she said.

In Cape Town, city au­thor­i­ties are not only strug­gling with pro­vid­ing hous­ing and san­i­ta­tion for a burgeoning pop­u­la­tion but face the task of try­ing to re­verse the apartheid era en­gi­neer­ing that built the spa­tial seg­re­ga­tions that still ex­ist to­day. Ex­perts say that not only is there not enough new af­ford­able hous­ing but what has been built re­mains dis­tant from em­ploy­ment, forc­ing long com­mutes for those who are lucky enough to work.

In­side, how­ever, res­i­dents are strug­gling - and at times los­ing their lives - due the ab­sence of the most ba­sic ser­vice - toi­lets. Ac­cord­ing to the So­cial Jus­tice Coali­tion’s Ax­o­lile No­ty­wala, us­ing a toi­let can be one of the most dan­ger­ous ac­tiv­i­ties for res­i­dents and a ma­jor prob­lem for women and chil­dren. A Com­mis­sion of In­quiry into Polic­ing in the shanty towns in 2012 found that 12,000 house­holds have no ac­cess to toi­lets and the link be­tween vi­o­lence, par­tic­u­larly against women and chil­dren, and the need to walk long dis­tances at night was high­lighted by re­searchers and ac­tivists.

A math­e­mat­i­cal model built by Yale Univer­sity re­searchers last year con­cluded that dou­bling the num­ber of toi­lets to 11,300 in Khayelit­sha would re­duce sex­ual as­saults by a third. “Higher toi­let in­stal­la­tion and main­te­nance costs would be more than off­set by lower sex­ual as­sault costs,” lead re­searcher Gregg Gonsalves told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion.

DIY Ser­vices

Across the world in Pak­istan, Orangi Town in the port city of Karachi is be­lieved home to around 2.4 mil­lion peo­ple although no­body knows ex­actly as the last cen­sus was in 1998. Widely cited as Asia’s largest slum, it sprawls over 8,000 acres - the equiv­a­lent of about 4,500 Wem­b­ley foot­ball pitches. Known lo­cally as “katchi abadis”, the first in­for­mal set­tle­ments emerged in the wake of the Indo-Pak­istani war of 1947, which led to a huge in­flux of refugees. Un­able to cope with the num­bers - by 1950 the pop­u­la­tion had in­creased to 1 mil­lion from 400,000 - the gov­ern­ment is­sued refugees “slips” giv­ing them per­mis­sion to set­tle on any va­cant land.

The set­tle­ment’s pop­u­la­tion re­ally ex­ploded in the early 1970s when thou­sands of peo­ple mi­grated from East Pak­istan after the 1971 war of in­de­pen­dence, which led to the es­tab­lish­ment of the Repub­lic of Bangladesh. Since then, land has also been traded in­for­mally, usu­ally through a mid­dle­man who sub­di­vided plots of both gov­ern­ment and pri­vate land and sold them to the poor. Un­like many other slums world­wide the lack of ser­vices - not hous­ing - is the ma­jor prob­lem.

Com­mu­ni­ties have built two and three-room houses out of con­crete blocks man­u­fac­tured lo­cally, say ac­tivists. Each house is home to be­tween eight and 10 peo­ple and an in­for­mal econ­omy of mi­cro busi­nesses has emerged as peo­ple cre­ated liveli­hoods. In the early 1980s, how­ever, some res­i­dents within the enor­mous slum de­cided they’d had enough of wait­ing for gov­ern­ments un­will­ing or un­able to fund san­i­ta­tion and so em­barked on build­ing a sew­er­age project on a “self-help” ba­sis.

Now glob­ally renowned, the Orangi Pi­lot Project (OPP) has helped res­i­dents de­sign, fund and build their own sew­er­age sys­tems and pipe­lines and, since 1980, has brought la­trines to more than 108,000 house­holds in a project con­tin­u­ing to­day. To date, say OPP sta­tis­tics, 96 per­cent of the set­tle­ment’s 112,562 house­holds have la­trines with res­i­dents foot­ing the bill of 132,026,807 Pak­istani ru­pees ($1.26 mil­lion) - all DIY. “In fact, peo­ple in the town now con­sider the streets as part of their homes be­cause they have in­vested in them and that’s why they main­tain and clean the sew­ers too,” said OPP’s di­rec­tor, Saleem Aleemud­din.

Bot­tom Up De­vel­op­ment

Jose Castillo, an ur­ban plan­ner and ar­chi­tect in Mex­ico City, says that Ci­u­dad Neza, home to 1.2 mil­lion peo­ple, should serve as a model for other blighted ur­ban ar­eas and slums. Short for Neza­hual­coy­otl, Neza sits on the bed of Lake Tex­coco which was slowly drained in a bid to com­bat dev­as­tat­ing flood­ing over a cen­tury and more. How­ever the dry land ended up be­ing too salty for farm­ing and was slowly picked up by de­vel­op­ers who laid out a grid of streets and sold off boxy parcels, most with­out proper ti­tles.

The set­tle­ment re­ally grew in a burst of ur­ban mi­gra­tion in the mid-20th cen­tury when new ar­rivals to Neza set up shacks of wood and card­board, liv­ing with­out elec­tric­ity, a sewage sys­tem or run­ning wa­ter, schools or paved roads. Old timers re­mem­ber in the early days they’d be lucky if a bus came ev­ery two hours. Vic­to­ria Gomez Calderon, 82, moved to Neza from east­ern Mex­ico as a young woman, and re­mem­bers clearly the pu­trid re­mains of the lake just a half block from her tiny home. “It was a pure waste­land,” she said.

In the early 1970s, res­i­dents banded to­gether to de­mand ser­vices and a gov­ern­ment pro­gram to for­mal­ize own­er­ship and pro­vide land ti­tles. Neza’s rep­u­ta­tion as the world’s largest slum, coined when its pop­u­la­tion was com­bined with two other blighted ar­eas decades ago, no longer ap­plies, they said. To­day, de­spite its se­vere prob­lems from con­tin­u­ing poor ac­cess to trans­port and schools to high crime rates, Neza’s de­vel­op­ment holds lessons in growth and re­silience for oth­ers. Plan­ner Castillo says Neza is teem­ing with mi­cro en­trepreneurs work­ing from home or shar­ing spa­ces in what would be called co-work­ing in trendier places. “My ar­gu­ment is let’s stop ask­ing what ur­ban plan­ning can do to fix the city and let’s fo­cus on un­der­stand­ing where we could also learn from those pro­cesses,” he said. “There’s a strong sense of pride in place. It’s a com­mu­nity based on the no­tion that jointly these peo­ple trans­formed this ter­ri­tory.”

Priscilla Con­nolly Di­et­rich­sen, a pro­fes­sor of ur­ban so­ci­ol­ogy at the Univer­si­dad AutÛnoma Metropoli­tana in Mex­ico City, agrees. “The story isn’t, ‘Oh dear, dear, what a ter­ri­ble slum.’ In a way, it’s a suc­cess story, in spite of the present prob­lems,” she said.

Slums are Cities

The 23-page draft doc­u­ment up for adop­tion at Habi­tat III in Quito is the re­sult of months of closed-door ne­go­ti­a­tions, held in sev­eral na­tions, in­clud­ing Indonesia and the United States. Some crit­ics are dis­ap­pointed the pol­icy frame­work con­tains no tan­gi­ble tar­gets and will be non-bind­ing on mem­ber states. “It’s easy for gov­ern­ments to sign some­thing that is not en­force­able,” said Michael Co­hen, a for­mer se­nior ur­ban af­fairs of­fi­cial with the World Bank, who has ad­vised UN Habi­tat. “It doesn’t have much bite. It talks a lot about com­mit­ments but has no dates, places or num­bers.”

Sup­port­ers, how­ever, ar­gue the New Ur­ban Agenda will not only fo­cus at­ten­tion on the ur­gent need for holis­tic plan­ning of cities but also work to fun­da­men­tally change the way ur­ban growth is de­bated and dis­cussed both na­tion­ally and glob­ally. Im­por­tant driv­ers of planned growth are a well-oiled sys­tem of land own­er­ship, ti­tle and ten­ure which then paves the way for gov­ern­ments to col­lect rev­enue to pay for new ser­vices.

Equally im­por­tant is the need for con­certed plan­ning ap­proaches so new hos­pi­tals, bus ser­vices, and schools are placed where they are needed with thought given to fu­ture growth and em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties. There has, how­ever, also been some crit­i­cism of the UN’s shift from a tra­di­tion­ally ru­ral fo­cus to a city driven, ur­ban one and its fail­ure to link the New Ur­ban Agenda to the UN’s Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals and cli­mate change bench­marks.

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