Solutions to Slums – Redevelopment, Removal or Upgrading

By Adelyn Zhou

The class discussion on the Dharavi redevelopment project was extremely interesting because it highlighted the interdependencies and conflicting agendas of the various constituents.  The government (city vs. state vs. federal), public (Dharavi residents, Mumbai residents), private (developers), and non-profit (social workers, NGOs, etc.) sectors all held differing perspectives on the best way to redevelop valuable slum land in the middle of Mumbai.  Slum upgrading is a very controversial and challenging topic; the numerous issues of this Dharavi redevelopment project have caused it to be currently on hold.  Therefore, it is interesting to examine how other countries such as China and Brazil, home to the largest and 3rd largest slum populations in the world respectively are dealing with their slums.


Given its autocratic government system, China uses a heavy-handed slum removal approach.  Migrant workers squatting on illegal land face the constant threat of home demolition.  For example, in preparation for the 2008 Olympics, the government bulldozed numerous slums for city beautification.  However, when surveyed, fewer than 10% of the affected slum residents planned to return to their home region; they were instead going to relocate to new locations only a bit further on the city outskirts.  The “hu kou” ID system in China requires all residents to be registered, which thereby prevents migrant workers from qualifying for low cost housing.  This policy has drawn a lot of criticism because many people are left homeless and without alternatives.


Brazil also leads the world in the number of residents living in favelas (slums), famous for being home to illegal drug trades and gang violence.  Starting in 2001, Brazil began enacting a practice of slum upgrading rather than eradication – improving the conditions in a slum rather than removing it completely.  It created a “zones of special interest” that formally recognized a slum’s existence and qualified it for social services.  It also authorized the creation of joint citizen-government councils to help govern these areas.  As Rio prepares for the 2014 World Cup, it is investing millions into improving the infrastructure in its slums (e.g. schools, hospitals, water and sewage systems), while dually sending in police to break up the drug cartels.  So far, this policy has met with relatively positive results.

No slum upgrading approach is without criticism – a panacea for slums has yet to be found.  However, projects that have a high degree of public involvement and a strong social demand seem to lead to greater success.   Furthermore, integrated development programs with social components (education, healthcare) are more successful over the long run.

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In the process of my research, I also came across this article.  It interestingly compares Tokyo’s development from a slum post WWII with Dharavi which some folks in the class might find interesting.

One thought on “Solutions to Slums – Redevelopment, Removal or Upgrading

  1. Adelyn, thank you for your post!

    I find dealing with slums in the world one of the most sensitive issues we have to deal with, since it lies in the intersection of so many aspects of the life of a city and involves practically all the stakeholders of a country.

    Definitely each country decides how to deal with this issue and through your post we can see how the approach reflects the values system or the priorities of each regime. In our discussion we raised a number of issues with regards to fairness and democratic decision making, principles that are very important in our values system. However as you mentioned, usually enforcement and central planning prevails in other countries.

    I had the chance to travel to Rio and visit some of the favelas that have been “integrated” in the city of Rio. Police entered Roscinia (the biggest favela in Latin America) last November and fought out any resistance. Even now there is strong police presence 24/7. I couldn’t stop wondering if this is solution is better and if yes for whom?

    Obviously the big problem in dealing with these kind of situations is coming up with a coordinated and holistic plan to integrate the slums with the rest of the city. The usual argument before this is that by doing so we are serving the broader good of the city and upgrading the lives of the people living in the slums. But does that mean imposing the rest of the world’s living habits? Do we know better than them?

    I strongly believe the fact that Rio is organizing the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016 is not enough of a reason to force 80.000 people to change their lives. I would love to hear more thoughts about how the market dynamics or some structural changes in the economical or social context will make the change more natural and smooth for all these people.

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