This blog is part 2 of the Evolution of Slum Redevelopment Policy blog that I started last week.

slum redevelopment

Phase 2: Self-Help (1972-1988)

There are two parts to the Self-help Policy: Tenure security and Slum upgrading. Tenure security is considered as the holy grail of slum upgrading policies. Research has shown, that giving tenure to the female head of household addresses female poverty and empowers the actual caregiver of the family (Datta 2012). The approach has been adopted by various countries and has been acclaimed for its success. However, there has been some criticism of tenure legalization. First, the approach has been questioned since it has been most widely used by the middle class and has resulted in gentrification. In addition, formalizing informal land has been disastrous for renters as it has substantially increased their costs of living. Second, the emphasis on physical or infrastructure improvements without addressing social and political issues has been criticized as superficial or the “aestheticization” of poverty (Roy, 2009). That is, infrastructure improvements have often failed due to poor maintenance or inferior construction quality. Third, as Mukhija argues, the layout, density or the nature of the land sometimes does not allow for slum upgrading. Clearly, in those cases, alternative policies need to be adopted.
The second stream of housing redevelopment policy was based on John Turner’s ideas of “self-help” (Turner, 1977). Turner was the most influential critic of the vast array of scholars, who claimed that the state had failed by providing medium-rise apartment blocks that were unsuitable for low-income groups. Research by Turner, Perlman and Castells show- ed that housing conditions within squatter settlements improve over time due to the efforts of the residents. Thus, they argued for self-help programs or slum upgrading schemes; the catchphrase of this era was, “helping the poor help themselves” (Pugh, 1995; Davis, 2006).

planet of slums
Davis argues that Turner, in collaboration with sociologist William Mangin, was a singularly effective propagandist who proclaimed that slums were less the problem than the solution. Despite this, the then radical idea, Turner’s core program of self- help, incremental construction, and legalization of spontaneous urbanization was exactly the kind of pragmatic, cost-effective approach to the urban crisis that Robert McNamara, at that time the President of the World Bank, favored (Davis, 2006).
The self-help, or slum upgrading approach was a low-cost and affordable housing alternative that was advocated as a means of fulfilling loan repayments in low-income housing. Pugh summarizes this approach of the Bank to low-income housing as “affordable-cost recovery-replicability”. The intention was to make housing affordable to low-income households without the payment of subsidies. This was in contrast to the heavily subsidized public housing approach (Pugh, 1995; Davis, 2006; Mukhija, 2003).
One of the most popular programs in this phase was the World Bank’s Slum Upgrading Program (SUP). There were two elements comprising program: 1) tenure security and 2) improving access to infrastructure through the construction of toilet blocks or providing access to drinking water. Lending for urban development by the World Bank increased from a mere 10 million dollars in 1972 to more than 2 billion dollars in 1988, and, between 1972 and 1990, the Bank helped finance a total of 116 sites-and-services and/or slum-upgrading schemes in 55 nations. Davis argues that this was a mere drop in the bucket in terms of the need, but it gave the Bank tremendous leverage over national urban policies, as well as direct patronage relationships to local slum communities and NGOs (Davis, 2006).

Case Study: Indonesia’s Kampung Improvement Program

Indonesia’s nationally implemented Kampung Improvement Program (KIP) is one of the best examples of the successful implementation of a slum upgrading policy, and it was instrumental in significantly reducing urban poverty and improving the quality of life of Indonesia’s urban poor (Das, 2008).

KIP began in Jakarta in 1969, under Indonesia’s First Five Year Development Plan, with World Bank funds, as well as joint funding by the Government of Indonesia and the city government of Jakarta. From 1974 to 1988, KIP was a primary component of the World Bank’s funding of urban development in Indonesia, and KIP was regularly incorporated into Indonesia’s successive national Five Year Development Plans starting in 1974 (Das, 2008).

The primary purpose of KIP was to improve the quality of life in an urban kampung (the word means village, but is often used as well to mean an urban slum) by providing basic physical infrastructure such as paved footpaths and roads, paved drains, garbage bins and collection, and public water taps and toilets. The rationale was that improving physical conditions in the kampung would stimulate the improvement of individual houses, and eventually upgrade the socio-economic characteristics of the community. For the first ten years or so, KIP focused almost entirely on physical improvements in public areas, but then began to include some primary health components, particularly those aimed at children.

Over a period of nearly 30 years, KIP was implemented in almost 800 cities and towns across Indonesia. The design of the program allowed for expedited implementation, and the low cost and simple technology allowed for easy replication. Overall, the program was successful in reducing poverty in the country (Das, 2008).

Traditional Indonesian societal customs of deliberation and discussion, community mutual self-help, reciprocal assistance and volunteering for community activities were incorporated into the KIP program’s community participation. Das (2008) indicates that of the available tools, community mutual self-help called gotong royong was widely used in KIP implementation.

Lessons Learned

The central and most vocal of criticism of the slum upgrading approach comes from Mike Davis who argues that under the guise of “helping the poor help themselves”, the state has withdrawn from its historical commitment to provide housing to the urban poor. In addition, the cost-recovery provision of the World Bank has effectively priced the poorest of the poor out of the market for self-help loans. Davis cites Lisa Peattie, who argues that in 1987 the bottom 30 to 60 percent of the population (depending on the country) were unable to meet the financial obligations of the slum upgrading program (Davis, 2006).
Moreover, the infrastructure improvements, such as those to water supply and sewerage, have been spotty at best, and the poor quality of construction and almost negligible maintenance has resulted in substantial system clogging (Davis, 2006; Roy, 2004). In addition, this emphasis on physical improvements without addressing the underlying structural issues which cause poverty is superficial when compared to the much-needed upgrading of livelihoods, wages and political capacities (Roy, 2004).
Mukhija (2001) further identifies three flaws regarding the security of tenure policy. First, in low-income housing, the perception of security is shown as more important than the legal status of the housing; that is, the important concern is the occupants’ perception of the probability of eviction. Second, tenure itself is not sufficient to lead to higher investments, since housing finance is usually not available; and, finally, tenure legalization can hurt the most vulnerable, namely poor tenants due to increases in the cost of property and rent.
Writing in 1993, the International Labor Organization’s A. Oberoi concluded that World Bank slum-upgrading and sites-and-services projects had largely failed to have a visible impact on the housing crisis in the Third World. Other critics pointed to the programmatic disassociation of housing provision from employment creation, and the inevitable tendency for sites-and-services schemes to be located in peripheries poorly served by public transport (Davis, 2006).



Das, A. K. (2008). Lofty ideal, hefty deal: Empowerment through par-ticipatory slum upgrading in India and Indonesia. PhD Dissertation, Los Angeles: University of California.

Davis, M. (2006). Planet of slums. London: Verson

Mukhija, V. (2003). Squatters as developers? Slum redevelopment in Mumbai. Burlington: Ashgate Publishing Company.

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.

Roy, A. (2004). Transnational trespassings. In A. Roy, & N. AlSayyad (Eds.), Urban Informality: Transnational Perspectives from the Mid-dle East, Latin America, and South Asia (pp. 289-319). New York: Lexington Books.

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


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