26 March 2010

Slums & Favelas

According to UN-Habitat statistics, the slum population of the earth is expected to exceed 1.1 billion in 2010; the total urban population for this year will probably be about 3.5 billion.1 A common problem in all countries is equity formation in the poorest areas, which often conflicts with supplying public services to those who live there. This is because one of the most important public services is assisting job creation and capital formation, closely followed by utilities, medical services, transportation, and public health.

Selected Slums, Worldwide
NameMetroEst. Pop.
Soweto Johannesburg 1,695,047
Orangi Township Karachi 1,200,000
Nezahualcoyotl Mexico City 1,140,528
Ezbet El Haggana Cairo 1,000,000
Dharavi Mumbai 1,000,000
Mathare Nairobi 1,000,000
Tondo Manila 630,604
Kibera Nairobi 550,000
Bumbu Kinshassa 525,770
Kimbanseke Kinshassa 523,180
Korail Dhaka 500,000
Tondo Manila 407,330
Manshiyet Nasser Cairo 350,000
Valle de Chalco Mexico City 323,461
Ixtapaluca Mexico City 290,076
Cité Soleil Port au Prince 250,000
Rocinha Rio de Janiero 180,000
Govindpuri Delhi 150,000
Heliópolis Sao Paulo 120,000
Yerawada Poona 109,308
Belen Iquitos [Peru] 65,000
Timbauba Recife 60,000
San'ya Tokyo 35,000
Cingapura Sao Paulo N/A

In less developed countries (LDC's), cities typically grow at the expense of the countryside, and migration is usually "push-driven." The "push" takes the form of reduced income potential from small farms (in cases where land reform has taken place) and rural unemployment (in areas where it has not).2 When rural immigrants arrive in the slums, they are likely to find grossly inadequate provisions for themselves. The authorities will not know what to do with them; the local residents won't want to pay the taxes for them, or have them occupy greenfields; the local workers won't want to compete with them for jobs.

This typically leads to informal settlements, known as favelas (Brazilian Portuguese), barriadas (Peruvian Spanish), "shantytowns", "slums," and so on. These are in the city because that is where jobs are to be found.

In cities of the LDC's, informality does the following:
  1. criminalize residency: urban residents may lack a right to live in a particular place3; they almost certainly will live in a settlement that is not authorized (for example, on squatted land or structures; in land set aside for farming or watershed);
  2. deny tax revenues: in most countries that are still developing, a chronic headache is a lack of financial resources to urban governments. This is a severe problem in the USA; in countries like India or Brazil, it's catastrophic. Government revenues are allocated on the basis of official population data, which is likely to undercount by a wide margin; and most urban expenditures must come out of locally-collected taxes.
  3. criminalize employment: informal occupations include activities that are illegal per se, such as drug trafficking or prostitution, but they are not limited to those things. All human services are supplied by the informal sector of LDC slums, from medical to transport, garbage collection, banking, local security, and prepared food. But there is no licensing system, and entrepreneurs may face violent resistance to entering markets. As a result, gangs usually act as both state (regulator and civil court) and firm.
  4. reduce productivity: Informal businesses are almost always tiny and confined to the smallest tools available; this prevents industrial efficiency. Informal banking is expensive, unreliable, and underused; home equity is precarious and often ignored by the authorities in "slum clearing" programs.
Typically slum dwellers learn that accumulating productive capital is a doomed endeavor; the authorities will think nothing of destroying it just to get the slum dweller to go somewhere else.4 Yet this violates a fundamental expectation that people have of their leaders, viz., that their leaders will defend them and theirs. In slum settlements, the official authorities are little different from an army of occupation, and in many cases are an army of occupation.5 Activists on behalf of the slum are usually seeking formal recognition of their property rights (at least, to the physical structures); often, when this is won, the state is still inclined to ignore what it claimed to have granted. It can do this because the slum dwellers are regarded as nuisances, not citizens.

Job creation, for most slum dwellers, comes from capital formation. Labor is superabundant in the slum; it makes the slum an economic benefit for the rest of the city, but a huge share of the income of slum residents comes directly from other slum residents, not outsiders. When enterprises employ workers in the slum, they are limited by capital. This is why charitable enterprises have glommed onto the microcredit bandwagon en bloc. After decades of paying top dollar to aid recipients to get them to integrate the "backward classes" into economies that are already struggling to industrialize, aid agencies are now acknowledging the existence of a separate third world inside the third world.

The microcredit approach to capital formation (and job creation) is the main method now in place for economic development in the Third World. As mentioned, it replicates on a national level the model of development used by the World Bank/IMF towards the LDC's at a global level. Prior to the 1970's, the preferred method of economic development and monetary stabilization was prophylactic: countries like Pakistan, Indonesia, and Brazil were encouraged to develop domestic industries to reduce the hazard posed by capital flight or sovereign debt default. If essential foodstuffs were produced domestically, the argument went, then famine was unlikely to occur as a result of currency crises. After the mid-1980's, most developing countries changed to export-oriented development policies. In some cases, such as southern Africa, this can generally be said to have been unsuccessful. In areas where it has been successful, some argument exists over whether it was the EOI policy or the centralized control of capital investment and imports that did the trick (e.g., China, Republic of Korea, Taiwan R.o.C., Viet Nam).6

One big advantage to donor countries of the microcredit-microdevelopment approach is that it can directly bypass the local government, and deal directly with local NGO's or with the residents of slum areas themselves. A downside is that slum enterprise is itself entirely unsupervised, and can use the aid money to defraud or extort from other slum residents. It's not clear how serious a problem this last item is. One problem is that the idea assumes that slum residents are capable of sound construction work; even in jhuggi jhopri settlements (or temporary shanty towns in India, typically settled by construction workers) it's unlikely that very many workers have the spare time, energy, or range of skill to build a seismic residence (Davis, 2006, p.72).

Another advantage is that development aid is directed for the most part to things that residents are likely to want. In the past, a common approach was to clear informal structures and build housing projects. In the table above, the link for Cingapura goes to an article about a fairly recent Brazilian program of development that began with a project and turned to renovation assistance. In the areas of Cingapura where the old structures remain (but in renovated state), one appears to have Jane Jacob's ideal city: a dense, but small-structure neighborhood navigated mainly by foot, in which residents often use the street as a sort of living room.

An obvious downside to this, however, is that the slum is actually gentrified; while the residents may seem poor by the standards of North American or EU managers, the new occupants are likely to be outsiders who snap up professionally-improved lots. The former residents migrate to a new slum. At the same time, as legal structures recede to accommodate informality, the very function of the laws (such as the preservation of public spaces, safe waterways, adequate drainage and sanitation, etc.) is defeated. The local government is defeated and sidelined; it may have deserved this, but microfinance typically enshrines the defeat as permanent irrelevance for the state.

  1. UN-HABITAT defines a slum as "housing with one or more of the following conditions: inadequate drinking water; inadequate sanitation; poor structural quality/durability of housing; overcrowding; and insecurity of tenure." See Planning Sustainable Cities — Global Report on Human Settlements 2009, Part VI Statistical Annex , p.6. However, relevant to this post is the definition of slum used by the government of Maharashtra State: "a congested, unhygienic area or buildings that are public hazards."

    Population of the world and divisions thereof, see Ibid., p.9; population of slums (by country), see Ibid., p.24. Curiously, despite detailed statistics on slums in Latin America, Africa, and so on, none appear for the developed nations. However, global projections for the developed world as a whole appear in the site for the Global Urban Observatory (GUO)
  2. That migration to cities is typically push-driven is my own personal inference based on studies of others. Take, for example, Michael Herrmann & David Svarin, “Environmental pressures and rural-urban migration: The case of Bangladesh, UNCTAD (January 2009), p.5:
    The rapid expansion of the labor force in the non-agricultural sectors, which leads the way to an accelerated expansion of the population in the urban centers, is attributable to relatively strong push and pull factors. On the one hand, a relatively weak agricultural development, which has been attributable to the recurrence of natural disasters, enforces people to search for employment opportunities outside agriculture; on the other hand, a relatively strong development of the non-agricultural sectors, which has been due to the expansion of the textile industries, has enabled many people to find employment in the non-agricultural sector.
    Notice the "pull" comes from the creation of textile jobs, which are presumably more attractive than rural jobs. But rural jobs are simply unavailable; rather than leaving the countryside to seek an improvement, workers leave under duress: textile jobs are notoriously awful, especially for people accustomed to quiet and fresh air. Bangladesh slums are certainly not more attractive places to live than the adjacent countryside. And indeed, the next section of the paper cited above outlines the push-like character of pull-driven urban migration:
    Although agricultural labor productivity has increased in Bangladesh, it is not so much due to an increase of agricultural value added, as it is due to a decrease of the agricultural labor force, associated with accelerating rural-urban migration in the country. The development of the agricultural sector in Bangladesh is therefore more appropriately measured by yields in agricultural produce. Our data shows that despite considerable investment in agriculture, yields in important agricultural produce have fallen during the past decades. Since the early 1980s yields of groundnuts, rice and wheat fell by 1 mt/ha on average. The main reasons for the weak agricultural development are exogenous factors, notably climate-change induced natural hazards. Natural hazards destroy harvests and threaten food security, especially of poor households.
    In other words, policies taken by the (urban) authorities, or rich countries, have made it impossible for even a declining labor force to make a living off the land. Juxtaposed against the putative "pull" of urban jobs, it is clear that the "pull" takes the form of a Hobson's choice: move to a slum or starve.
  3. Many, if not most, pre-industrial or incipient industrial countries have restrictions on labor mobility. For example, in the People's Republic of China, citizens could be compelled to live where the authorities chose, and denied permission to move. After the 1990's, there was still a requirement that citizens secure permission live permanently in any particular shi, or municipality. See Kenneth G. Lieberthal & David M. Lampton, Bureaucracy, Politics, and Decision Making in Post-Mao China, University of California Press (1992), Chapter 12, "Urbanizing Rural China: Bureaucratic Authority and Local Autonomy" p.354ff. In England, between 1662 and 1832, the Settlement Act effectively tied each certifiable pauper to one of the 15,000 parishes in the country.

    Restrictions on labor mobility are typically motivated by the need to certify the poor for eligibility for relief. In pre-industrial England, for example, one was allowed to move away from one's parish, but could not receive relief outside of it. Since most laborers seem to have been vulnerable to recurring episodes of unemployment and destitution, this was an important constraint from emigrating from depressed areas. In the collectives of the Communist regimes, rural workers were typically treated as serfs of the regime and confined to kolkholzy or sovkholzy their entire lives. This was a more extreme form of mobility restriction. More recently, China and Vietnam retain the Hukou/Ho khau system of household registration (Congressional-Executive Committee on China, "China's Household Registration System"-2006)(Refugee Review Tribunal: Vietnam [Australia-10 May 2005] ).
  4. Probably the most devastating example of this was the 2004 destruction of Yamuna Pushta, an immense slum complex in Delhi. The demolition displaced perhaps 150,000 people. It was precipitated by Delhi hosting the 2010 Commonwealth Games. This tragic event was depicted in the documentary "Yamuna Gently Weeps" (trailer here). See also "Over 300,000 people to be forcefully evicted from Yamuna Pushta," Habitat International Coalition (2004). Another documentary of slum demolition is "Phnom Penh for Sale - Cambodia" (Journeyman Pictures 2009), where a settlement on Boeung Kok Lake, Phnom Penh, was demolished to make way for commercial development ("A further 160 families in Cambodia face forced eviction," Human Rights Blog, 2009). The settlements around Boeung Kok Lake that are under attack house some 4,200 families--a tiny fraction of the number liquidated overnight in Delhi. In 2008 alone, Amnesty International received reports about 27 forced evictions, affecting an estimated 23,000 people.

    In Lagos, Nigeria, there is the example of Maroko. Maroko was a former fishing village that became a refuge for urban poor driven from gentrified parts of booming Lagos. By 1990, its population was around 300,000. It was bulldozed in July of that year without any meaningful resettlement scheme. In this particular case, the perpetrator was a military regime internationally renown for kleptocracy. See Chinazor Megbolu, "Maroko Evictees Take Case to African Commission," This Day (14 January 2009). See also Davis, p.101. See also Davis's list of major slum evictions (102).
  5. This refers not merely to obvious examples such as the Occupied Territories of Palestine, or to urban centers in Iraq, or formerly Tamil-controlled regions of Sri Lanka. In a great many LDCs, civil wars or coups have led to parts of a country being under military rule. In such cases, there was little, if any, difference in conduct between the nation's army toward its own population, and that of a foreign invader towards the civilians in combat zones.
  6. See, for a brief summary of the history of development policy, see Rajneesh Narula, "Switching from import substitution to the ‘New Economic Model’ in Latin America: A case of not learning from Asia" , Latin America/Caribbean and Asia/Pacific Economics and Business Association (December 2002). Note that the merits of the respective policies are not at issue here; the point is merely that a change in policy regime took place, and the Bretton Woods Institutions were instrumental in this change.

Sources & Additional Reading

Tripti Lahiri, "Ayn Rand move over: In Pune, India, shantytown residents design by consensus" Christian Science Monitor, (25 March 2010)

Filipe Balestra website;"Sambarchitecture"; Sara Göransson has no dedicated website

David Basulto, "Incremental Housing Strategy in India," Archicentral (18 May 2009)

Filipe Balestra and Sara Göransson, "Incremental Housing Strategy in Pune, India," A Weekly Dose of Architecture (25 May 2009)

Bromwyn Curran, "The Cruel Utility of Slums" , Development Asia (January-March 2010), p.16

Mike Davis, Planet of Slums, Verso Press (2006)

Srinanda Sen and Jane Hobson, "The Pune Slum Census: Creating a Socio-Economic and Spatial Information base on a GIS for integrated and inclusive city development" GIS Development Conference Proceedings, Enschede, The Netherlands (May 2002)

The Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centers (SPARC; the NGO that sponsored Filipe Balestra & Sara Göransson visit to Pune); publications page; see especially Sundar Burra, "Co-operative Housing in Pune" (November 1999)

Alex Perry, "Life in Dharavi: Inside Asia's Biggest Slum," Time (12 June 2006)

UN-HABITAT Global Report on Human Settlements,

Flickr Map of Netaji Nagar, Poona (Pune), Maharashtra State, India

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