Source for the image above: Bangkok’s canals;  Alex Berger/Flickr

slum redevelopment

Over the past few months, I have blogged about the evolution of slum redevelopment policy (Phase 1, Phase 2, and Phase 3), this blog is the last in this series.


Phase 4 (2000-2014)—National Slum Upgrading Programs, the Cities Alliance

The Cities Alliance, a global partnership to create cities without slums, provides resources to governments across the world for slum improvement strategies. Cities Alliance’s signature program is National Slum Upgrading Policy, which calls for countries or cities to adopt national level or city level comprehensive slum policies (Cities Alliance, 1999). It is a global partnership for urban poverty reduction and the promotion of the role of cities in sustainable development. Its first act after being established in 1999 was to produce the Cities without Slums Action Plan, which proposed a target of improving the lives of 100 million slum dwellers by the year 2020 —the first time such a measurable target had been set in the international development arena. This target was subsequently incorporated into the United Nations Millennium Declaration in 2000 as Target 11 of the Millennium Development Goals (Cities Alliance: Cities without Slums, 2011).
The Cities Alliance Country Programs (CPs) can be defined as, “longer-term programmatic support to selected countries, at a multiple city/national scale”. Working with multiple Alliance members and national institutions constitutes the foundation for progress and partnership within CPs. Early evidence suggests that the CPs have the potential to provide a new level of coherence amongst Cities Alliance members, and to ensure that the focus is not on competing mandates, but rather on providing support to local and national partners struggling to cope with rapidly changing demographic trends, and on promoting a national growth agenda centered on sustainable, inclusive cities.
Two national-level programs that are supported through the Cities Alliance partnership are discussed below. The first is the Baan Makong Program of Thailand, and the second is India’s Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY).

Case Study: Thailand’s Baan Makong Program

In January 2003, the Thai government announced two new programs for the urban poor, the first is Baan Mankong (Secure Housing) and the second is Baan Ua Arthorn (We Care). The Baan Mankong Program provides infrastructure subsidies and housing loans directly to poor communities to improve their housing and basic services. This program is implemented through the Community Organizations Development Institute (CODI). Under the second program (Baan Ua Arthorn), the National Housing Authority designs, constructs and sells ready to occupy flats and houses at subsidized rates to lower-income households who can afford “rent-to-own” payments of US $25 – $37 per month (Boonyabancha, 2005).
One of the key innovations of the Baan Mankong Program is its reliance on communities of the urban poor and their networks as stakeholders to design a program to meet their needs (Boonyabancha, 2005). The urban poor community organizations and their networks are the key actors, and they control the funding management. Boonyabancha (2005) argues that the process of designing and managing their own physical improvements stimulates deeper but less tangible, changes in social structure, managerial systems and confidence among poor communities. It also changes their relationships with local government and other key actors.
In his 2005 article, Boonyabancha describes six pilot projects where the squatters developed a cooperative and used a variety of mechanisms, such as long-term leases or land purchases, and, using funds from CODI, built housing on the land. Each of the projects used innovative methods, such as long-term land leases or land sharing, relocating to another land nearby, and, in one case, combining two projects to create a larger development. The individual unit cost of the houses is relatively low as the squatters themselves construct the houses, as well as negotiate for the (lower) cost for land.
The decentralized system of the Baan Makong Program allows the low-income households and their community organizations to do the upgrading. This enhances their status within the city as important partners in solving city-wide problems. Thus, the Baan Mankong Program provides an example of the city-wide upgrading of slums where the communities and community networks have the freedom to design and build their own housing and infrastructure based on their individual needs and allows them to keep their social networks intact. This strengthens community bonds since the community works on the project together.

Case Study: India’s Rajiv Awas Yojana

By 2050, India is projected to be more urban than rural, more than 875 million people will live in cities, compared to 379 million in 2010 (Nandi & Gamkhar, 2013). India’s urban infrastructure does not have the capacity to address the needs of the population influx.

To address this increasing urbanization, the Government of India launched several initiatives to improve urban infrastructure. Starting with the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), several slum improvement projects were taken up under that program. In 2009, the Government created a new initiative, Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY), to separate slum improvement programs from JNNURM. This program envisages a “Slum-Free India” with inclusive and equitable cities in which every citizen has access to basic civic and social services and decent shelter. It aims to achieve this vision through a multi-pronged approach focusing on:

  • Bringing all existing slums within the formal system and enabling them to have the same level of basic amenities as the rest of the city;
  • Redressing the failures of the formal system that lies behind the creation of slums, and
  • Addressing the shortages of urban land and housing that keep shelter out of reach of the urban poor and force them to resort to extra-legal solutions in a bid to retain their sources of livelihood and employment (Kundu, 2012).

The RAY program is visionary since it requires the cities to tackle the issue of slums from a holistic perspective. One of the central features of RAY is the creation of a Slum-Free Plan of Action (POA). The states and cities have to prepare and adopt such a plan, which describes how they plan to remove all their city slums within five years and the steps that they are taking to avoid the creation of new slums. Emphasis is also given to data collection and use of technology. Cities are required to create a GIS database of all the slums and collect household surveys, as well as involve households during all the stages of the project (i.e., in the planning, implementation, and post-implementation).
RAY emphasizes in-situ development. However, it gives cities the ability to identify hazardous and objectionable slums. While hazardous slums are defined in terms of environmental problems and health risks, objectionable slums violate legal or master plan norms. Researchers such as Kundu (2012) argue that lack of clear criteria to identify “untenable” and “hazardous” slums might result in ambiguity causing local conflicts. However, technological solutions are available to address sanitation and drainage issues in hazardous/objectionable sites in slums and make then tenable.
It is too early to determine whether the program is a success or a failure, but as Om Prakash Mathur (2012) suggests, Rajiv Awas Yojana and the Slum Free City are an interesting collection of promises awaiting performance. If the program has even limited success in achieving its multiple objectives, it can be considered a major departure from past practice and can, therefore, be heralded as a policy innovation. Despite the lack of data on its success, the funding for the program was increased from Rs. 1.5 billion ($25.2 million) in 2009-2010 to Rs. 12.7 billion ($2.3 million) for the 2010-2011 period.

Lessons Learned

Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI) Sheela Patel’s recent review of the Rajiv Awas Yojana Program (2013) showed that these units were poorly built and, therefore, might be difficult to maintain in the long run. It is an important shortcoming of the new program, and measures should be taken to maintain the quality of construction in order to reduce the long-term maintenance burden on the residents, which could force them to quit their houses.


This is a striking similarity to the public housing problems observed in the first phase.

Patel (2013) comments further that although the Rajiv Awas Yojana Program calls for community involvement, the lack of capacity to conduct meaningful dialogue at the municipal level results in the creation of government-funded, constructor-built, poor quality, public housing style projects. As earlier experience with public housing projects has shown, there are long-term social costs of these projects, which often only come to light several years after the project is occupied. These early warnings about the program should be taken seriously, and measures should be taken to improve the quality of construction of these projects.

In contrast, one of the key lessons learned from Baan Ma- kong is that the slum redevelopment process needs to embrace the culture of collectivity in poor communities.

This objective is far more important than the physical upgrading. Upgrading then becomes a process through which a group of people changes because they begin to believe in their own power and see that they are no different than the other citizens in the city. A slum upgrading policy needs to achieve this sense of social upgrading in addition to the physical upgrading (Boonyabancha, 2005).


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