Slums have always been part of the urban landscape since the Industrial Era and over the years, policies such as public housing, slum upgrading, tenure security, city-wide slum removal and other measures were adopted to improve the quality of life of the slum dwellers. Each one of the policy had its own challenges and advantages and now it seems like we have made a full circle and the current policies are reminiscent of the 1970’s slum redevelopment policy.

In this blog, I will outline how slum redevelopment policies evolved over the years and describe Phase 1 of Slum Redevelopment policies and give an example of the Favela removal in Rio De Janeiro. Over the next few weeks, I will outline each of the other phases and end the series with a discussion on the future direction of slum redevelopment policies, both at the donor level and the recipient level.


Image 1: Evolution of Slum Redevelopment Policy

slum redevelopment

Source: Compiled by the Author

As seen in Image 1, the first phase of slum redevelopment policies was based on theories such as the culture of poverty and marginality. These theories portrayed slums as problematic dens of violence and prostitution; the only solution was to demolish them and relocate the residents to public housing projects.

American researchers, such as Gans and Jacobs, as well as Latin American academics, such as Castells, and American researchers of Latin America, such as Perlman, conducted extensive studies in these slums, and their research shed new light on them. These researchers and others were successful in changing the perspective of the policymakers.John Turner’s research in Peru emphasized the concept of self-help and tenure security, and his efforts showed that, when the slum residents were provided with tenure security, they improved their dwellings one brick at a time. Thus, the second phase of slum redevelopment policies was based on Turner’s ideas of self-help and tenure security.

The third phase of slum redevelopment evolved from the self- help concept to the incorporation of non-governmental organizations. NGOs became global players in this era, and slum redevelopment policies called for public input and the involvement of NGOs. The fourth phase started with the “cities without slums” initiatives launched by Cities Alliance, a group comprising several supranational agencies including UN-Habitat and the World Bank. In this phase, countries such as India and Thailand launched countrywide programs to create slum-free cities.

Phase 1: Public Housing (1950-1972)

The favored approach during this era of slum upgrading was the demolition of slums and replacement with tenement style public housing at the outskirts of the city. This mode of development disrupts the existing social, economic, and political ties to neighborhoods. While the policies of this phase were used across the world, the intellectual centers of these policies were Europe and America. At the end of this phase, these countries claimed to have eradicated slums just as they have eradicated polio (Weinstein, 2009). The fact is urban poverty still exists there, but the manifestations of it are called by other names such as urban blight or ghetto.

The theoretical framework for this phase was informed by the culture of poverty theory of Oscar Lewis (1959), and marginality theory. These theories blamed the victims for their problems and portrayed squatter settlements as a social problem. Marginality was considered a material force, as well as an ideological concept and description of social reality, and rational planning theory depicted slum dwellers
as degenerate (Weinstein, 2009).

These theories reflected popular misconceptions, stereotypes, and assumed weaknesses associated with poor communities. Migrants from the countryside to the city were seen as maladapted to modern city life and, therefore, responsible for their own poverty and failure to be absorbed into the formal employment and housing markets. They portrayed squatters as “other”, i.e., not part of the urban community. These settlements were seen as dens of crime, violence, prostitution and social breakdown. Conventional wisdom suggested that the only solution to these social problems was relocating the squatters to decent housing. The common sense view of the population at large, legitimized by social scientists, was used to justify public policies of slum removal (Perlman, 1976)

Slums were not considered part of the “Rational Scientific City” discourse prevalent in the urban planning circles of the time. There was little room for the poor in the modern, rational city. Policy measures aimed at the urban poor in the planning discourse ranged from segregation at one end of the spectrum, to outright slum removal on the other end. One of the first examples of slum removal policy and a grand example of the
modern rational city was Haussmann’s design of Paris. Rabe calls this “Haussmannisation”. His design left little room for the poor; the opening up of Paris for thoroughfares and government buildings caused the poor to flee the city as Haussmann’s avenues grandes replaced many “wretched quarters”, but no provisions were made for the lower-income classes displaced by the building process (Rabe, 2009). Slum removal, however, did not remain solely a French policy.

The tenement laws of New York, along with the 1949 and 1954 Housing Acts, resulted in slum clearance as part of a massive urban renewal program, where the outmoded, worn-out and blighted areas were replaced with well-planned development geared to modern needs (Weinstein, 2009). Pugh (1995) argues that during this era the dominant public policy in low-income housing was that the state was seen as the provider of permanent public housing, usually in the form of apartments. It was intended that public housing replace squatter settlements. Moreover, public housing was transplanted from developed countries without giving much thought to the differing contexts of developing countries (Pugh, 1995). The underlying assumption was that public housing would be affordable and effective and that it would eventually eliminate the unsanitary conditions and professionally perceived disorder of squatter settlements.

Case Study: Brazil’s Favela Removal: The Eradication of a Life Style

Janice Perlman’s research on favelas in Rio de Janeiro is one of the seminal studies on the subject. As part of her work, she looked at the effects of large-scale slum removal policies. In 1970, a favela in Rio Catacumba was demolished, and the residents were moved to high-rise apartments on the outskirts of the city. She studied the economic, social and cultural, political and physical impacts of the relocation, and her findings are
presented below:

Economic Repercussions
Perlman reports that there was a significant loss of income due to the time and expense of travel to work and changed availability of jobs (especially jobs for women). At the same time, there were the additional expenses of owning a home, including mortgage payments, as well as water, electric and other service payments. Overall, the move resulted in a net loss of household income.

Social and Cultural Repercussions
The favelados were relocated based on their income levels rather than on social and familial ties. Therefore, the social support structure of the favela did not survive the relocation. The move also isolated the residents from urban amenities such as movies, beaches, markets, spectator sports, etc. These amenities were part of the urban experience that made the residents feel like a part of the city. Perlman argues that suspicion and distrust were on the rise in some of the new developments as well as crime rates.

Political Repercussions
The favelados were politically active and united in their cause to fight the relocation. After the move, the residents and their leaders were scattered across the region, resulting in a disruption of the political structure. Perlman reports that after their experience of removal, the residents no longer saw the system as benign and lost their political will.

Physical Repercussions
The physical effects of the move were noticeably positive, especially for children, who now had access to water and sanitation. However, due to the poor quality of construction, there were constant leaks, and cracks on the walls appeared just a few years after construction. The poor construction made the residents wary of paying long-term mortgages on their units.

Image 2: Janice Perlman’s Iconic book The Myth of Marginality.



Cities Alliance (1999). Cities without Slums. Cities Alliance.

Lewis, O. (1959). Five families: Mexican case studies in the culture of
poverty. New York, USA: Basic Books.

Perlman, J. E. (1976). The myth of marginality: Urban poverty and politics
in Rio de Janeiro. Berkley, CA: University of California Press.

Pugh, C. (1995). The role of world bank in housing. In B. C. Aldrich, &
R. S. Sandhu (Eds.), Housing the Urban Poor: Policy and Practice
in Developing Countries (pp. 34-93). London: Zed Books.

Rabe, P. E. (2009). From “Squatters” to citizens? Slum Dwellers, Developers,
Land Sharing and Power in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. PhD
Dissertation, University of Southern California.

Turner, J. F. (1977). Housing by people: Towards autonomy in building
environments. New York, USA: Pantheon.

Weinstein, L. (2009). Democracy in the globalizing Indian city: engagements
of political society and the state in globalizing Mumbai.
Politics, 397.

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