By Candy Tang
With respect to slum redevelopment, it would be more effective to grant residents title to the plots of land the currently occupy and then let market forces work, rather than looking to large scale redevelopment via professional real estate firms.
If we could all agree that one major goal of slum redevelopment is to improve the welfare of its residents, there is no better way than to grant residents the property right as a solution. A great majority of the world’s largest slums such as Orangi Town, Neza-Chalco-Itza and Dharavi are near the heart of the city. They constantly provide low-cost labor to the city but they don’t share in the growth of the city in the form of land appreciation. Assuming liquidity is high in these real estate markets, which is always the case in rapidly developed cities, slum dwellers could monetize the benefits and they are in the best position to decide when to sell and how to distribute the proceeds accordingly.
Large scale redevelopment rarely works because it is a matter of housing, job and freewill. None of this could be compromised. Take Dharavi as an example, with 80% of people self-employed in the slum’s core businesses in leather, recycling, garments and pottery, residents declared they will not agree to any development plan unless they are allotted the same amount of workspace they currently occupy. This ‘city within a city’ is a model of economic efficiency and productivity, a place where most things appear to be broken but everything seems to be working rather nicely.
It is not only economic considerations that lead people to oppose the redevelopment, but cultural considerations as well. The redevelopment proposals may erode the slum dwellers’ traditional ways of life and disrupt communities with rich histories. Its residents have a very clear sense of their own identity; they have hopes and aspirations, and a genuine belief that these are achievable. Real estate developers’ financial models only take into consideration of the cost of rebuilding the house, but not rebuilding the neighborhood. Redevelopers will not and cannot build the social and commercial networks of the self-sufficient economy of the slum.
If a broader goal is to build a slum-free city to increase the competitiveness or appearance of a city, isn’t the idea of “slum-free” a bit self-contradictory? The central problem is not slum, but a missing middle class in the context of extreme inequality and the increasing number of migrants that the city couldn’t properly accommodate anymore. It therefore requires a broader solution, the key of which is to increase the equal opportunity and social mobility. Besides entitling people with proper rights, it requires constant investment in public goods such as education and a more rigorous champion to root out corruption.