Slum
Overview
 
A slum, as defined by United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 agency UN-HABITAT, is a run-down area of a city characterized by substandard housing and squalor and lacking in tenure security. According to the United Nations, the percentage of urban dwellers living in slums decreased from 47 percent to 37 percent in the developing world between 1990 and 2005. However, due to rising population, and the rise especially in urban populations, the number of slum dwellers is rising.
Encyclopedia
A slum, as defined by United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 agency UN-HABITAT, is a run-down area of a city characterized by substandard housing and squalor and lacking in tenure security. According to the United Nations, the percentage of urban dwellers living in slums decreased from 47 percent to 37 percent in the developing world between 1990 and 2005. However, due to rising population, and the rise especially in urban populations, the number of slum dwellers is rising. One billion people worldwide live in slums and the figure will likely grow to 2 billion by 2030.

The term has traditionally referred to housing areas that were once relatively affluent but which deteriorated as the original dwellers moved on to newer and better parts of the city, but has come to include the vast informal settlements found in cities in the developing world.

Many shack dwellers vigorously oppose the description of their communities as 'slums' arguing that this results in them being pathologised and then, often, subject to threats of evictions. Many academics have vigorously criticized UN-Habitat and the World Bank
World Bank
The World Bank is an international financial institution that provides loans to developing countries for capital programmes.The World Bank's official goal is the reduction of poverty...

 arguing that their 'Cities Without Slums' Campaign has led directly to a massive increase in forced evictions.

Although their characteristics vary between geographic regions, they are usually inhabited by the very poor or socially disadvantaged. Slum buildings vary from simple shacks to permanent and well-maintained structures. Most slums lack clean water, electricity, sanitation and other basic services.

The rising phenomenon of slum tourism
Slum tourism
Slum tourism is a type of tourism that involves visiting impoverished areas, which has become increasingly prominent in several developing countries like India, Brazil, Kenya, and Indonesia...

 has western tourists paying to take guided tours of slums. This tourism niche is operating in almost all major slums around the world, including in Mumbai, Rio de Janeiro, Kibera, and Jakarta.

Etymology


The origin of the word slum is thought to be the Irish phrase S lom é (pron. s'lum ae) meaning "it is a bleak or destitute place." An 1812 English dictionary defined slum to mean "a room". By the 1920s it had become a common slang expression in England, meaning either various taverns and eating houses, "loose talk" or gypsy language, or a room with "low going-ons". In Life in London Pierce Egan
Pierce Egan
Pierce Egan was an early British journalist, sportswriter, and writer on popular culture.Egan was born in the London suburbs, where he spent his life. By 1812 he had established himself as the country's leading 'reporter of sporting events', which at the time meant mainly prize-fights and...

 used the word in the context of the "back slums" of Holy Lane or St Giles. A footnote defined slum to mean "low, unfrequent parts of the town". Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens
Charles John Huffam Dickens was an English novelist, generally considered the greatest of the Victorian period. Dickens enjoyed a wider popularity and fame than had any previous author during his lifetime, and he remains popular, having been responsible for some of English literature's most iconic...

 used the word slum in a similar way in 1840, writing "I mean to take a great, London, back-slum kind walk tonight". Slum began to be used to describe bad housing soon after and was used as alternative expression for rookeries
Rookery (slum)
A rookery was the colloquial British English term given in the 18th and 19th centuries to a city slum occupied by poor people...

. In 1850 Cardinal Wiseman described the area known as Devil's Acre
Devil's Acre
The Devil's Acre was a notorious slum near Westminster Abbey in Victorian London. The Devil's Acre was located along Old Pye Street, Great St Anne's Lane and Duck Lane in the parish of Westminster St Margaret and St John.In the 19th century it was considered one of the worst areas of London and...

 in Westminster
Westminster
Westminster is an area of central London, within the City of Westminster, England. It lies on the north bank of the River Thames, southwest of the City of London and southwest of Charing Cross...

, London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 as follows:

"Close under the Abbey of Westminster there lie concealed labyrinths of lanes and potty and alleys and slums, nests of ignorance, vice, depravity, and crime, as well as of squalor, wretchedness, and disease; whose atmosphere is typhus, whose ventilation is cholera; in which swarms of huge and almost countless population, nominally at least, Catholic; haunts of filth, which no sewage committee can reach - dark corners, which no lighting board can brighten."

This passage was widely quoted in the national press, leading to the popularisation of the word slum to describe bad housing.

Other terms that are often used interchangeably with "slum" include shanty town
Shanty town
A shanty town is a slum settlement of impoverished people who live in improvised dwellings made from scrap materials: often plywood, corrugated metal and sheets of plastic...

, favela
Favela
A favela is the generally used term for a shanty town in Brazil. In the late 18th century, the first settlements were called bairros africanos . This was the place where former slaves with no land ownership and no options for work lived. Over the years, many freed black slaves moved in...

, skid row
Skid row
A skid row or skid road is a run-down or dilapidated urban area with a large, impoverished population. The term originally referred literally to a path along which working men skidded logs. Its current sense appears to have originated in the Pacific Northwest...

, barrio
Barrio
Barrio is a Spanish word meaning district or neighborhood.-Usage:In its formal usage in English, barrios are generally considered cohesive places, sharing, for example, a church and traditions such as feast days...

, and ghetto
Ghetto
A ghetto is a section of a city predominantly occupied by a group who live there, especially because of social, economic, or legal issues.The term was originally used in Venice to describe the area where Jews were compelled to live. The term now refers to an overcrowded urban area often associated...

 although each of these may have a somewhat different meaning. Slums are distinguished from shanty towns and favelas in that the latter initially are low-class settlements, whereas slums are generally constructed early on as relatively affluent or possibly a prestigious communities. The term "shanty town" also suggests that the dwellings are improvised shack
Shack
A shack is a type of small house, usually in a state of disrepair. The word may derive from the Nahuatl word xacalli or "adobe house" by way of Mexican Spanish xacal/jacal, which has the same meaning as "shack". It was a common usage among people of Mexican ancestry throughout the U.S...

s, made from scrap materials, and usually without proper sanitation, electricity, or telephone services. Skid row
Skid row
A skid row or skid road is a run-down or dilapidated urban area with a large, impoverished population. The term originally referred literally to a path along which working men skidded logs. Its current sense appears to have originated in the Pacific Northwest...

 refers to an urban area with a high homeless population and a term is most commonly used in the United States. Barrio
Barrio
Barrio is a Spanish word meaning district or neighborhood.-Usage:In its formal usage in English, barrios are generally considered cohesive places, sharing, for example, a church and traditions such as feast days...

 may refer to an upper-class area in some Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

-speaking countries and is used to describe only a low-class community in the United States. Ghetto
Ghetto
A ghetto is a section of a city predominantly occupied by a group who live there, especially because of social, economic, or legal issues.The term was originally used in Venice to describe the area where Jews were compelled to live. The term now refers to an overcrowded urban area often associated...

 refers to a neighbourhood based on shared ethnicity. By contrast, identification of an area as a slum is based solely on socio-economic criteria, not on racial, ethnic, or religious criteria.

Characteristics

The characteristics and politics associated with slums vary from place to place. Slums are usually characterized by urban decay
Urban decay
Urban decay is the process whereby a previously functioning city, or part of a city, falls into disrepair and decrepitude...

, high rates of poverty
Poverty
Poverty is the lack of a certain amount of material possessions or money. Absolute poverty or destitution is inability to afford basic human needs, which commonly includes clean and fresh water, nutrition, health care, education, clothing and shelter. About 1.7 billion people are estimated to live...

, illiteracy, and unemployment
Unemployment
Unemployment , as defined by the International Labour Organization, occurs when people are without jobs and they have actively sought work within the past four weeks...

. They are commonly seen as "breeding grounds" for social problems such as crime
Crime
Crime is the breach of rules or laws for which some governing authority can ultimately prescribe a conviction...

, drug addiction, alcoholism
Alcoholism
Alcoholism is a broad term for problems with alcohol, and is generally used to mean compulsive and uncontrolled consumption of alcoholic beverages, usually to the detriment of the drinker's health, personal relationships, and social standing...

, high rates of mental illness
Mental illness
A mental disorder or mental illness is a psychological or behavioral pattern generally associated with subjective distress or disability that occurs in an individual, and which is not a part of normal development or culture. Such a disorder may consist of a combination of affective, behavioural,...

, and suicide
Suicide
Suicide is the act of intentionally causing one's own death. Suicide is often committed out of despair or attributed to some underlying mental disorder, such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, alcoholism, or drug abuse...

. In many poor countries they exhibit high rates of disease
Disease
A disease is an abnormal condition affecting the body of an organism. It is often construed to be a medical condition associated with specific symptoms and signs. It may be caused by external factors, such as infectious disease, or it may be caused by internal dysfunctions, such as autoimmune...

 due to unsanitary conditions, malnutrition, and lack of basic health care. However, some like Dharavi
Dharavi
Dharavi is a slum and administrative ward, over parts of Sion, Bandra, Kurla and Kalina suburbs of Mumbai, India. It is sandwiched between Mahim in the west and Sion in the east, and spread over an area of 175 hectares, or...

, Mumbai
Mumbai
Mumbai , formerly known as Bombay in English, is the capital of the Indian state of Maharashtra. It is the most populous city in India, and the fourth most populous city in the world, with a total metropolitan area population of approximately 20.5 million...

, are a hive of business activity such as leather work, cottage industries, etc. Rural depopulation with thousands arriving daily into the cities makes slum clearance an uphill struggle.

A UN Expert Group has created an operational definition of a slum as an area that combines to various extents the following characteristics: inadequate access to safe water; inadequate access to sanitation and other infrastructure; poor structural quality of housing; overcrowding; and insecure residential status. A more complete definition of these can be found in the 2003 UN report titled "Slums of the World: The face of urban poverty in the new millennium?". The report also lists various attributes and names that are given by individual countries which are somewhat different than these UN characteristics of a slum.

Low socioeconomic status of its residents is another common characteristic given for a slum.

In many slums, especially in poor countries, many live in very narrow alleys that do not allow vehicles (like ambulance
Ambulance
An ambulance is a vehicle for transportation of sick or injured people to, from or between places of treatment for an illness or injury, and in some instances will also provide out of hospital medical care to the patient...

s and fire trucks
Firefighter
Firefighters are rescuers extensively trained primarily to put out hazardous fires that threaten civilian populations and property, to rescue people from car incidents, collapsed and burning buildings and other such situations...

) to pass. The lack of services such as routine garbage
Waste
Waste is unwanted or useless materials. In biology, waste is any of the many unwanted substances or toxins that are expelled from living organisms, metabolic waste; such as urea, sweat or feces. Litter is waste which has been disposed of improperly...

 collection allows rubbish to accumulate in huge quantities. The lack of infrastructure is caused by the informal nature of settlement and no planning for the poor by government officials. Additionally, informal settlements often face the brunt of natural and man-made disasters, such as landslides, as well as earthquakes and tropical storms. Fires are often a serious problem.

Many slum dwellers employ themselves in the informal economy
Informal economy
The informal sector or informal economy as defined by governments, scholars, banks, etc. is the part of an economy that is not taxed, monitored by any form of government, or included in any gross national product , unlike the formal economy....

. This can include street vending, drug dealing, domestic work, and prostitution. In some slums people even recycle trash of different kinds (from household garbage to electronics) for a living - selling either the odd usable goods or stripping broken goods for parts or raw materials.

Slums are often associated with Victorian Britain, particularly in industrial, northern English towns, lowland Scottish towns and Dublin City in Ireland. These were generally still inhabited until the 1940s, when the government started slum clearance
Urban renewal
Urban renewal is a program of land redevelopment in areas of moderate to high density urban land use. Renewal has had both successes and failures. Its modern incarnation began in the late 19th century in developed nations and experienced an intense phase in the late 1940s – under the rubric of...

 and built new council houses. There are still many examples left of former slum housing in the UK, however they have generally been restored into more modern housing.

Growth and countermeasures


Recent years have seen a dramatic growth in the number of slums as urban populations have increased in the Third World
Third World
The term Third World arose during the Cold War to define countries that remained non-aligned with either capitalism and NATO , or communism and the Soviet Union...

.

In April 2005, the director of UN-HABITAT stated that the global community was falling short of the Millennium Development Goals which targeted significant improvements for slum dwellers and an additional 50 million people have been added to the slums of the world in the past two years. According to a 2006 UN-HABITAT report, 327 million people live in slums in Commonwealth
Commonwealth of Nations
The Commonwealth of Nations, normally referred to as the Commonwealth and formerly known as the British Commonwealth, is an intergovernmental organisation of fifty-four independent member states...

 countries - almost one in six Commonwealth citizens. In a quarter of Commonwealth countries (11 African, 2 Asian and 1 Pacific), more than two out of three urban dwellers live in slums and many of these countries are urbanising rapidly.

The number of people living in slums in India has more than doubled in the past two decades and now exceeds the entire population of Britain, the Indian Government has announced. The number of people living in slums is projected to rise to 93 million in 2011 or 7.75 percent of the total population almost double the population of Britain.

Many governments around the world have attempted to solve the problems of slums by clearing away old decrepit housing and replacing it with modern housing with much better sanitation. The displacement of slums is aided by the fact that many are squatter settlements whose property rights are not recognized by the state. This process is especially common in the Third World. Slum clearance often takes the form of eminent domain
Eminent domain
Eminent domain , compulsory purchase , resumption/compulsory acquisition , or expropriation is an action of the state to seize a citizen's private property, expropriate property, or seize a citizen's rights in property with due monetary compensation, but without the owner's consent...

 and urban renewal
Urban renewal
Urban renewal is a program of land redevelopment in areas of moderate to high density urban land use. Renewal has had both successes and failures. Its modern incarnation began in the late 19th century in developed nations and experienced an intense phase in the late 1940s – under the rubric of...

 projects, and often the former residents are not welcome in the renewed housing. For example, in the Philippine slums of Smokey Mountain
Smokey Mountain
Smokey Mountain was a Filipino singing group formed by musical director, composer, conductor Ryan Cayabyab and executive producer Judd Berlin...

, located in Tondo, Manila
Tondo, Manila
Tondo is a district of Manila, Philippines. The locale has existed prior to the arrival of the Spanish, referred to as "Tundun" in the Laguna Copperplate Inscription. One of the most densely populated areas of land in the world, Tondo is located in the northwest portion of the city and is primarily...

, projects have been enforced by the Government and non-government organizations to allow urban resettlement sites for the slum dwellers. According to a UN-Habitat report, over 20 million people in the Philippines live in slums, and in the city of Manila
Manila
Manila is the capital of the Philippines. It is one of the sixteen cities forming Metro Manila.Manila is located on the eastern shores of Manila Bay and is bordered by Navotas and Caloocan to the north, Quezon City to the northeast, San Juan and Mandaluyong to the east, Makati on the southeast,...

 alone, 50% of the over 11 million inhabitants live in slum areas.

Moreover new projects are often on the semi-rural peripheries of cities far from opportunities for generating livelihoods as well as schools, clinics etc. At times this has resulted in large movements of inner city slum dwellers militantly opposing relocation to formal housing on the outskirts of cities. See, for example, Abahlali baseMjondolo
Abahlali baseMjondolo
Abahlali baseMjondolo , also known as AbM or the red shirts is a shack-dwellers' movement in South Africa which is well known for its campaigning for public housing. The movement grew out of a road blockade organized from the Kennedy Road shack settlement in the city of Durban in early 2005 and now...

 in Durban
Durban
Durban is the largest city in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal and the third largest city in South Africa. It forms part of the eThekwini metropolitan municipality. Durban is famous for being the busiest port in South Africa. It is also seen as one of the major centres of tourism...

, South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

.

Critics argue that slum clearances tend to ignore the social problems that cause slums and simply redistribute poverty to less valuable real estate. Where communities have been moved out of slum areas to newer housing, social cohesion may be lost. If the original community is moved back into newer housing after it has been built in the same location, residents of the new housing face the same problems of poverty and powerlessness. There is a growing movement to demand a global ban of 'slum clearance programmes' and other forms of mass evictions.

Variations of impoverished settlements

  • Favela
    Favela
    A favela is the generally used term for a shanty town in Brazil. In the late 18th century, the first settlements were called bairros africanos . This was the place where former slaves with no land ownership and no options for work lived. Over the years, many freed black slaves moved in...

     (slums in Brazil)
  • Gecekondu
    Gecekondu
    Gecekondu is a Turkish word meaning a house put up quickly without proper permissions, a squatter's house, and by extension, a shanty or shack...

     (slums in Turkey)
  • Ghetto
    Ghetto
    A ghetto is a section of a city predominantly occupied by a group who live there, especially because of social, economic, or legal issues.The term was originally used in Venice to describe the area where Jews were compelled to live. The term now refers to an overcrowded urban area often associated...

  • Hooverville
    Hooverville
    A 'Hooverville' was the popular name for shanty towns built by homeless people during the Great Depression. They were named after the President of the United States at the time, Herbert Hoover, because he allegedly let the nation slide into depression...

     (slums in 1930s USA)
  • New Village
    New Village
    New Villages , also known as Chinese New Villages , are settlements created during the waning days of British rule over Malaysia in the mid-1950s.-History:...

     (slums in Malaysia)

  • Refugee shelter
    Refugee shelter
    Refugee shelters include the most basic kind of structure created in the aftermath of a conflict or natural disaster as a temporary residence for victims who have lost or abandoned their homes. There is a continuum ranging from the most temporary tent accommodation through transitional shelter to...

  • Rookery
    Rookery (slum)
    A rookery was the colloquial British English term given in the 18th and 19th centuries to a city slum occupied by poor people...

     (Slums in London, England)
  • Shanty town
    Shanty town
    A shanty town is a slum settlement of impoverished people who live in improvised dwellings made from scrap materials: often plywood, corrugated metal and sheets of plastic...

  • Skid row
    Skid row
    A skid row or skid road is a run-down or dilapidated urban area with a large, impoverished population. The term originally referred literally to a path along which working men skidded logs. Its current sense appears to have originated in the Pacific Northwest...

  • Tent city
    Tent City
    A tent city is a temporary housing facility made using tents. Informal tent cities may be set up without authorization by homeless people or protesters. As well, state governments or military organizations set up tent cities to house refugees, evacuees, or soldiers...



Organizations and concepts

  • Abahlali baseMjondolo
    Abahlali baseMjondolo
    Abahlali baseMjondolo , also known as AbM or the red shirts is a shack-dwellers' movement in South Africa which is well known for its campaigning for public housing. The movement grew out of a road blockade organized from the Kennedy Road shack settlement in the city of Durban in early 2005 and now...

  • Homeless Workers' Movement
    Homeless Workers' Movement
    The Homeless Workers Movement is a shack-dwellers' movement in Brazil. It originated from the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra in 1997...

  • Homeless International
    Homeless International
    Homeless International is a British NGO focusing on urban poverty issues in the developing world. It is a membership organisation registered both as a charity and a company limited by guarantee, with many members being UK housing associations.- History :...

  • Ranjit Naik
    Ranjit Naik
    Shri Ranjit Poojari Naik was a renowned Architect and Social Worker, who helped Mumbai slum dwellers, and particularly the Banjara people.-Background:...

  • Slum Dwellers International
    Slum Dwellers International
    Slum Dwellers International is a global non-governmental organization that manages networks of the urban poor and slum dwellers that are organised into federations and which are usually based in the Global South. Its funders include the World Bank, USAID and the Gates Foundation.SDI argue that...


  • Slumlord
    Slumlord
    A slumlord is a derogatory term for landlords, generally absentee landlords, who attempt to maximize profit by minimizing spending on property maintenance, often in deteriorating neighborhoods. They may need to charge lower than market rent to tenants...

  • Slum upgrading
    Slum upgrading
    Slum upgrading consists of physical, social, economic, organizational and environmental improvements to slums undertaken cooperatively and locally among citizens, community groups, businesses and local authorities.The main objective of slum upgrading is to alleviate the poor living standards of...

  • Squatting
    Squatting
    Squatting consists of occupying an abandoned or unoccupied space or building, usually residential, that the squatter does not own, rent or otherwise have permission to use....

  • United Nations Human Settlements Programme
    United Nations Human Settlements Programme
    The United Nations Human Settlements Programme is the United Nations agency for human settlements. It was established in 1978 and has its headquarters at the United Nations Office at Nairobi, Kenya...

  • Urban decay
    Urban decay
    Urban decay is the process whereby a previously functioning city, or part of a city, falls into disrepair and decrepitude...



Further reading

  • Robert Neuwirth
    Robert Neuwirth
    Robert Neuwirth is an American journalist and author. He wrote Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World, a book describing his experiences living in squatter communities in Nairobi, Rio de Janeiro, Istanbul and Mumbai. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, The Nation, and...

    : Shadow Cities, New York, 2006, Routledge
  • Mike Davis (scholar)
    Mike Davis (scholar)
    Mike Davis is an American Marxist social commentator, urban theorist, historian, and political activist. He is best known for his investigations of power and social class in his native Southern California.-Life:...

    :Planet of Slums London, New York 2006 ISBN 1-84467-022-8
  • Elisabeth Blum / Peter Neitzke: FavelaMetropolis. Berichte und Projekte aus Rio de Janeiro und São Paulo, Birkhäuser Basel, Boston, Berlin 2004 ISBN 3-7643-7063-7
  • Floris Fabrizio Puppets or people? A sociological analysis of Korogocho slum, Pauline Publication Africa, Nairobi 2007.
  • Floris Fabrizio ECCESSI DI CITTÀ: Baraccopoli, campi profughi, città psichedeliche, Paoline, Milano, ISBN 88-315-3318-3
  • Matt Birkinshaw A Big Devil in the Jondolos: A report on shack fires by Matt Birkinshaw, 2008

External links

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