Urban planners must prepare for more slums

Over our 20-year democracy, South Africans have struggled to improve life for people living in informal settlements. We are not alone in this – slums are a reality, from Venezuela to Islamabad, and the world is bracing itself for more.

A recent report from Foreign Policy shows that urbanisation is quickly accelerating. In 1950, 29% of the world’s population built their homes in cities, but in 2014 more than 50% of the global population lives in cities. This trend shows no signs of stopping – the UN estimates that a third of the world’s population will live in slums by 2050.

“The growth of slums is a bit like climate change: We know it’s happening. We know it’s important. But no one, so far, seems to have much of a response,” writes Prachi Vidwans for Foreign Policy.

In India, a local government has given a nod to building 10 000 new “transit accommodations” for displaced slum inhabitants. In Venezuela, the infamous 45-storey “Tower of David” building has been evicted, with residents now living in government subsidised housing on the outskirts of the city.

South Africa, where there are over a million households in informal settlements, was praised for being “proactive in improving existing slums”, but this claim appears to be based on government information.We still have a long way to go when it comes to recognizing informal housing. Violent evictions have marred attempts to reconcile the colonial and apartheid legacy that left many landless. Recently, Western Cape police fired live ammunition during evictions in Philippi and in Gauteng the South African Human Rights Commission found that the City of Johannesburg had violated the human rights of women and children living in an unfinished women’s hostel in Alexandra township.

Vidwans says there are two main problems in the way governments both local and abroad have responded to increased urbanisation and the slums that come with it. The first is a lack of planning. She argues that “slums might not be slums” if governments planned for more migrant workers to enter the cities.

The second problem, she says, comes down to the “systematic neglect of slum dwellers, who continue to be treated by cities as outsiders”. Slum-dwellers are human beings who are “entitled to basic human rights and a modicum of respect from governments” she says, and there is value in inviting shack-dwellers to join the city.

Instead of allowing slums to develop without adequate services and then evicting families and destroying their  homes when an area needs to be upgraded, authorities should be planning for them in advance, Vidwans argues. There is a financial incentive to this too – upgrading slums costs five times more than planning for them.

The slums are coming and urban planners must get to work preparing for new members of urban life. Our new neighbours deserve equality and respect.

Read the full story on Foreign Policy.


– Image via Wikimedia Commons