Fostering Inclusive Cities through Slum Upgrading

December 6, 2021

Written by Shubhagato Dasgupta, Senior Fellow and Anindita Mukherjee, Associate Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research

Slum upgrading has been a critical part of urban development goals for about five decades now. Many local, national and international projects and programmes have deployed different approaches towards slum upgrading across Asia. Approaches dealing with slums have ranged from demolition and resettlement to formalization of the informal (Weksea, Steyn, & Otieno, 2011; Wirlin, 1999, 2010). Beginning in 1972, the World Bank launched urban upgrading projects to improve services, infrastructure and housing in hopes of reducing poverty and meeting basic needs (Corburn & Sverdlik, 2017). Through the years, slum upgrading initiatives in Bandung, Indonesia; Quezon City, Philippines; and Hanoi, Vietnam, among others have been considered fairly successful, however upscaling projects from small neighbourhoods to the city scale remains a challenge.

Asia and Africa, despite their relatively low urbanization rates (50% and 43%, respectively), will contribute substantially to the future growth accounting for 86% of the world's urban population growth over the next four decades (World Urbanization prospects, 2018). The rapidity and enormous volume of urbanization further increases the pressure on the already scarce available urban land and infrastructure, intensifying slums/informal settlement formation. Consequently, cities are facing increased risks associated with economic, social and environmental crises. This is compounded by the lack of legal land tenure that further exacerbates precarious living conditions (French et al, 2018) in these highly dense slum/informal settlements.

While slums have been concomitant to increasing urbanisation, the COVID-19 pandemic has further underscored the need for a more robust and immediate solution to address the challenges. Social distancing, safe sanitation and frequent hand washing constitute the first line of defence against the ongoing pandemic. However, informal settlements typically suffer from lack of access to basic civic and social amenities and remain characterized by dilapidated built structures – increasing their vulnerability considerably. The situation further intensified owing to the economic consequences of widespread lockdowns. Hence, building forward better from this pandemic will necessitate integrating slums within the city fabric which may further foster inclusive and resilient cities envisioned in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the New Urban Agenda (NUA).

Against this background, with an aim of “Reimagining Inclusive Cities in Post Covid Era” a group of organizations including Cities Alliance, GIZ India, Habitat for Humanity, World Bank, Human Settlement Management Institute (HSMI), ADB, National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA) and Scaling City Institutions for India (SCI-FI) at the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) came together and organized a 3-day International Symposium to facilitate and renew a global dialogue on the present state of informal settlements in India vis-à-vis the regulatory, legal, financial and planning interventions required in the long-run to achieve resilient and inclusive cities. The symposium highlighted learnings from the ongoing housing and land policies globally hihting localised efforts towards achieving NUA and SDGs. 

Responsive urban planning frameworks are critical to cover problems across urban and peri-urban areas and address multijurisdictional issues. Universalising basic civic services to the informal settlements and integrating them into the urban fabric remains the primary building block and has the potential to mitigate disproportionate impact in the face of disasters including the pandemic. Sustained innovative interventions, redressing regulatory bottlenecks and tackling the practical difficulties of mainstreaming a city's informal economy should form the cornerstones of future urban development. At the same time cities and communities that had mainstreamed participatory and inclusive processes were better able to mitigate the disproportionate impact on the urban poor. Involving the urban residents, especially economically weaker sections in policy and decision making, city planning and the implementation processes appear to be a key enabler for successful implementation of the upgradation programs. Examples in Asia also start to pinpoint how an effective use of technology and spatial tools, city-wide cost-effective upgradation planning, and decentralised approaches can make slum upgrading work, and potentially scale up.

Nonetheless, the questions over tenure regularisation, feasibility roadblocks, decentralisation, lack of institutional capacities and inability to create financing pipelines in the delivery of services in building urban resilience remain. The key would be to strike a balance between the different priority areas that are thrown up by the real-world contexts, and keep the urban poor at the centre of policies. This approach would address the imperative need to mainstream the slum upgradation program, with affordability, scalability, replicability, and sustainability.

In order to build consensus among local, provincial, national and regional stakeholders, we look forward to continue this dialogue at the 8th edition of the Asia Pacific Housing Forum during the session on Fostering inclusive cities through slum upgrading to take place on Tuesday, December 7, 2021 at 11:30 - 13:30 (UTC+7) Thailand time. We will not only discuss the challenges of scaling up slum upgradation but also deliberate upon what it would take to ensure participation of people into the city planning and implementation processes to drive the resilient city agenda.


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