Urban Slums

24 نوفمبر

Urban slums are areas of self-developed residences at fringe areas of major urban cities. This means that basic infrastructure, such electricity or sewage, is improvised, stolen, or simply not present in these areas. Put eloquently by anthropologist Oscar Lewis, “the culture of poverty is both an adaptation and a reaction of the poor to their marginal position in a class-stratified, highly individualistic, capitalistic society.”

Despite their many obvious problems and often bottomless-pit nature, the thing that urban slums do right is provide housing to poor, itinerant people near the areas they may work or desire to work. Another result of this limited mobility is that individual slums themselves form distinct cultures of their own. This immediacy also provides faster opportunities for capital gain when successful, as well as quick proving grounds to weed out bad ideas for gain.

This lack of rigidity or plan allows them to negotiate the gaps between supply and demand, concept and production, production and availability, and even adaptation and replacement seemingly instantaneously. Additionally, the generalized understanding of slum nature also allows for the boundaries of privacy, permanence, definitiveness, and ownership to be blurred as slum populations fluctuate, interact, and adapt to challenges and opportunities that arise within their hectic frame of existence. Since immediacy is so embedded in the nature of these settlements, attempts to revitalize them into the city proper often fail because the rigid process of traditional development conflicts in a way that either stifles the thriving culture of the slum or results in the slum developing without regard to the effort. Those efforts that are most successful are those that offer minimal obstruction to the existing fabric of the slums and allow the slums to continue to develop accumulatively and organically using the intervention as a springboard for progress.

While they may be unsanitary, limited resources combined with the density of these settlements creates surprisingly eco-friendly dwelling sites. While this is obviously not a consciously achieved result, the fact that these spaces thrive on so little means a lot could be learned and applied from them. However, many of the conditions that allow this are probably cultural so it wouldn’t be all that easy.


Poverty vs. Capitalism: The main negotiation achieved by urban slums is that of providing poor, marginalized people with residences in urban areas. Because of their concentrated wealth, large cities often exclude or deter people of lower (let alone the lowest) socioeconomic status from living within them. Real estate works by attempting to make properties more desirable than others, and in urban areas that usually means the addition of both space and costly amenities beyond the economic reach of most itinerant citizen in developing countries. By using undesired or fringe areas to build bare-bones structures for themselves, inhabitants of urban slums find a solution to the disparity between supply and demand for affordable housing in urban areas. This results in both increased and decreased values of areas near slums: increase because of the economic opportunities awarded by immediate access to a large number of people in a concentrated area, but decreased because of the perception of slum areas as underdeveloped and dangerous.

Development Efficiency (planned vs. accumulative): Urban slums also bring up negotiations between the efficiency of itinerant spaces and planned spaces. Western society usually assumes that planning is the direct means to maximum efficiency and rewards, but urban slums challenge this perception by coping with problems of space and flexibility more accurately and expediently than any planned settlement does. Another problem with planning is that the people who are educated in planning more than likely come from privileged backgrounds so their ideas of efficient and successful planning often embedded with some preconception of open space as a requirement for comfort. While space is undeniably nice, sometimes supplying space does not coincide with the larger needs of the public. This dichotomy of intent is exemplified in this map comparing space occupancy of golf courses vs. informal settlements in Nairobi. Nairobi slum population: 200,000 to 1,000,000+. Nairobi golf course population: squirrels… and maybe some itinerant caddies.

“Fun” and expanded links for slums:

Google Maps:
Rocinha / Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro
Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong
Kibera, Nairobi
Dharavi, Mumbai

Mansheiet Naser, Cairo, Egypt

Favela Chic
Life in Rocinha
Epic Kowloon Walled City Thread
UN-HABITAT (tons of info)
How Slums Can Save The Planet
Oscar Lewis
The Slum Economy Revisited
Nairobi Land Use: Slums vs. Golf Courses
Mansheiet Nasser

6 تعليقات to Urban Slums


Blacki Li Rudi Migliozzi

ديسمبر 11th, 2010 at 11:06 م

I appreciate the care taken to compiling these links. Good job.



ديسمبر 13th, 2010 at 12:17 م

This is such a cool idea to do a case study on – organic communities that arise purely out of need. While they are not, perhaps, the most competitive pieces of real estate, but there’s something really fascinating about this idea of flexibility in a community, providing for needs via improvisation rather than careful planning. I wonder how these communities would stack up against planned sub-divisions in terms of efficiency and overall successfulness as a community. The links you provided are also very interesting.

Anna Skipper



ديسمبر 14th, 2010 at 11:01 م

I had never thought about just how much urban slums adapt to their needs. It is very interesting to think about how they grow from need and become a culture. The fact that their placement is not completely random makes sense. Your analysis is very informative an thought provoking. Could we learn something from these strictly need based societies?




ديسمبر 15th, 2010 at 3:53 م

The negotiations representing this article perfectly describe the slums. Slums may be thought of more like a living, growing being rather than a residual area of a modern city. Slums are in fact adaptive to its surroundings. Like traditional cities, slums lack the man made organization and make up for it with doctrinal laws of privacy and personal space, while still adhering to the fact that the slum may be growing in population without growing in space.




ديسمبر 15th, 2010 at 6:21 م

Urban slums are fascinating in of themselves, not only in their construction, but in the manner they quickly grow and become relative cities in of themselves. It is interesting to see how those living in poverty meet their needs in the expensive borders of the world’s urban centers by creating their own homes out of found materials and utilizing their resources to the fullest. However, it is unsanitary and we need to ask ourselves “Is it really safe for people to be living like this? Is it necessary?”. The existence of these urban slums raise a multitude of issues, especially when the inhabitants begin to use amenities such as electricity that those living in formal housing have to pay for for free. No matter how you look at it, there will always be a clear imbalance between urban slums and the cities they grow around.

– Jessie Hassett


dictator tots

ديسمبر 16th, 2010 at 2:14 م

Sophie Brooks
Urban slums- Wow, I really find these negations fascinating. As designers we can learn a lot from slums in that they are the most adaptive and low impact societies in the world. I find it interesting how the slums have become their own society and culture because the values of people living in these conditions do not meet western standards. The people break down the barriers of bureaucracy in that there is little to no “red tape” in implementing an idea. This makes slums, in some ways, and excellent breeding ground for innovation. I also find it interesting how slums successfully defy western culture. Throughout history this has been a notoriously difficult task and it is amazing how the most disempowered citizens of other nations have managed to accomplish this. It is true these areas have a stigma to westerners but also a mystique in that the residents of slums have a successful culture that functions independently of our own. Architecturally, I like how the author brought attention to the fact that slums develop in a more natural way than educated western developers would like for them to. I hate how pompous educated people always think they know what is best for the poor. Maybe the fact that slums do not develop in the western way can teach us that the western way is not the natural way to begin with.

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