What is Urban Upgrading?

Why not tear down slums and build new?

By tearing down houses you also tear down social networks. These social links help people to cope with a difficult situation, and offer a sense of identity and belonging. Moreover from an economic standpoint, experience shows that new development can cost between 10-15 times more! And finding land is becoming increasing difficult for new low-cost developments and often outright impossible. But fundamentally, why tear down houses when already there is a huge need for sheltering families - in essence you would be increasing the problem and making things worse. First choice by far is to upgrade what you have.

Photo: New Delhi, India

New Delhi, India. Strong social ties
are in the settlements.

Photo: San Crieouvo, Brazil

San Crieouvo, Brazil. A successful project.

 Why does relocation not work?

Relocation does not work because adequate open land at prices affordable to the public sector cannot be found at suitable locations for the low-income residents who will occupy it. They are too far from employment areas (especially the casual employment on which many depend). In some cases, pocket infill sites can be found close to the slum areas, where those can be relocated who are in the rights-of-way of essential infrastructure.

Where is the evidence that in-place slum upgrading is the best course of action?

Excellent examples can be seen in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Philippines and in several countries in Latin America.

Isn't it better to invest more in economic development?

Realistically we must do both economic promotion as well as upgrading. We must create jobs for communities! But studies have shown that for every $1 invested in upgrading of infrastructure, an additional $7 of housing investment was mobilized from non-project sources. In effect, upgrading has mobilized additional energies and funds beyond the narrow scope of a project. Upgrading indirectly supports economic development through improved health. We just cannot wait for economic development and institution-building to take hold, we must do something now.

But what about improving the houses?

In upgrading, priority is given to the provision of basic services - water and sanitation - because they are linked to municipal networks which are not easily installed through community initiative. Dwellings tend to be given lower priority by the families themselves, even though they are often in poor condition. However, some programs do include optional home improvement loans and sometimes technical assistance and training. Experience has shown that upgrading basic services tends to mobilize extensive housing investment as well!    (See: Housing Priorities)

Photo: Lusaka, Zambia

Lusaka, Zambia. Pride of place.

Photo: Cairo, Egypt. Homes in all stages of development

Cairo, Egypt. Homes in all stages of development.

What about preventive measures to forestall the growth of future slums?

Upgrading of existing slum and squatter settlements addresses the backlog of urban neglect, but many cities especially in Africa and Asia will face an onslaught of new urban residents over the next several decades. Without significant improvements in the capacities of local government and the private sector to provide services for these residents, many of whom will be poor, the problem of current slum and squatter settlements is only a glimpse of the future. Despite advances and improvements in city management, most developing countries' cities cannot keep pace with their phenomenal growth and the increasing number of urban poor. Improved performance of the local government is needed in managing future urban population growth - in particular, by:

Effectively carrying out basic land use planning. For example, setting aside basic rights-of-way for primary infrastructure reduces the costs of extending networks. Revising regulatory policies discourages sprawl and settlement of unsafe or environmentally fragile areas.

More effectively mobilizing local resources. Cities with slums often have significant fiscal resources at their disposal, as well as technical knowledge and indigenous entrepreneurial talents, but are not harnessing these to provide basic improvements even to existing residents. Meeting the future growth in demand for services will require significantly strengthened urban management and financial performance, coupled with more effective partnerships with the private sector and the communities themselves.   (See Preventive Measures)

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