What is Urban Upgrading?

Will it cost a lot?

Costs can range from very low - affordable by all families - to very high requiring outside financing. In some areas the community took the initiative and provided free labor, which lowered the costs appreciably for both community and the city. (But be careful - the administration is often more complex!) In other cases whole infrastructure systems need to be upgraded on a city-wide basis, clearly requiring large financial inputs. In such cases, upgrading can be staged which spread the costs over a longer period.

Are the costs sustainable?

The key to financial sustainability is to design these programs in a way that is affordable based on the income of the community and the city and country in which they are operating. Standards need to be flexible and designs need to conform to the affordable budget envelope. It's clear that the poor in these communities currently pay higher prices for services such as water than they would if they received it through formal mechanisms. They are willing to pay for service access and land ownership. Experience of donor agencies points to affordable models in every region of the world in the poorest countries and neighborhoods. Back of the envelope calculation based on actual project costs in countries in each region indicate that when spread over a 20 year period, programs of upgrading that would provide services to all slum areas of developing countries could be implemented at a total cost of approximately 0.2 and 0.5 percent of GDP. Including the costs of incremental bulk infrastructure investment, O&M, land acquisition and necessary institutional support could place annualized costs in the range of 1-2 percent of GDP. In most countries this could be financed in part by the residents and in part by a reallocation of expenditures at the local and national level. Financial affordability is not the main constraint - institutional capacity and political will are.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Community workshop.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Community workshop.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Community meeting.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Community meeting.

Why is community involvement important?

Some believe that it is quicker and less troublesome if we just go ahead and contract the work out thus avoiding such problems as a potential loss of control or inefficient disbursement. It may be quicker, but experience from projects all over the world points to one fact: community participation is vital for a success. Why is this? The community knows the area and their problems better than practitioners as outsiders will ever know. Getting their input and having them help decide the nature of a project will develop a sense of 'ownership' and increase the project's chances for success. Sustainability is another factor - without the backing of the community, the project will have difficulty in continuing. (See: Interactive Community Planning)

Are 'squatter slums' different from 'city-center' slums?

Both need support and improvement to allow them to join the city community, but in different ways. Squatter slums tend to be on the outskirts and often illegally occupy land. Families incrementally build their own houses, but have great difficulty in getting clean water, disposing sewage in a sanitary way, and accessing other customary community services. In addition, legalization and regularization are big issues. (See: Land readjustment) City center slums are found in older city sections, with families and young migrants crowded into run-down buildings with very poor or no services. They generally rent rooms or share small apartments in converted houses or apartment buildings. Services are deteriorated and other public services are poorly provided or non-existent. Historical districts often suffer from deterioration and decline and they require sensitive approaches to improvement. On the other hand there are many casual employment opportunities, and housing is very inexpensive although rundown. In these areas bringing the infrastructure up to standard, and providing basic services is important. (See: Housing Priorities)

Photo: Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Rooftop

Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Rooftop
squatters in city center.

Photo: ChiangMai, Thailand

ChiangMai, Thailand.
Peri-urban housing.

Photo: Voi, Kenya. Peripheral village.

Voi, Kenya. Peripheral village.

Photo: Cairo, Egypt

Cairo, Egypt. Squatters in the
‘City of the Dead’ of central Cairo.

What other actions need to be taken to complement upgrading?

Upgrading addresses directly some of the most egregious manifestations of urban policy and institutional failures, but these also have to be confronted by complementary efforts to correct these failures and to build positive channels for improving the economic prospects of the poor. These complementary components of an urban poverty strategy would include:

Sectoral Reforms. Reforming regulatory and policy regimes for housing, land and infrastructure markets removes obstacles and disincentives to access for the poor. Pro-poor sectoral frameworks would remove inappropriate standards of provision that raise costs, encourage entry of new technologies and small-scale and other competing suppliers, make subsidy policies more effective and better targeted, establish more equitable tariff and cost recovery systems, and facilitate active partnerships among private investors and utilities, community groups and local governments to seek practical solutions that meet the demands of the poor;

Finance. Engaging private financial institutions to develop institution-based strategies to extend access to credit for housing and investment in services to the poor, including both financing for developers and infrastructure providers, and micro-credit for households;

Jobs. Measures to support small-scale enterprise and remove regulatory or other obstacles to the growth of the informal sector which employs many of the urban poor;

Governance. Improved governance and management of cities to make local governments more responsive to the issues facing the poor;

Social Capital. Measures to facilitate and strengthen the organizational capacities, access to information, and social capital of the poor communities. Upgrading programs have in fact proven a highly effective forum for community action in many cases, helping members negotiate with city hall and utility companies to define solutions that meet their demands. There is also evidence of broad social benefits for the community, such as reductions in violence.

Other Targeted Activities. Other traditional measures to fight poverty, including social safety nets, public works employment, and promotion of health care, training and educational opportunities, also have an important place in an urban poverty program. Particular attention in the urban context also needs to be given to child care for working parents, activities for vulnerable youth (including street children), and efforts to combat crime and violence.

Photo: Kids - New Delhi, India

New Delhi, India. Child care can be an
important benefit for working parents.

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