Creating World Class Cities: A sense of Deja’vu

By Deepika Andavarapu

Slums have been part of the urban eco system since the Victorian era. While slums remain resilient to both man made and natural disasters the policy narrative on slums has continuously shifted. We can broadly classify the policy narrative on slums in to four genres or schools of thought: In the ‘slums as a problem’ genre, slums were seen as the dens of all societal evils and slum removal was considered the only solution. It took several decades of research to shift the policy narrative to  ‘slums as a solution’. In the last decade, two new genres have emerged, ‘enablement’ and ‘world-class cities’. The ‘enablement’ genre refers to policies where the slum residents are embraced as partners in redevelopment efforts. The ‘world-class cities’ genre of slum redevelopment policies refers to the ambition to be part of the newly emerging global pattern. The policy narrative in the ‘world class cities’ is reminiscent of the ‘slums as a problem’ genre.

Are we unlearning the lessons we learned?

Four Genres of Slum Redevelopment Policy

The ‘slums as a problem’ genre was the dominant school of thought during 1950s thru 1970s. In this genre, theories such as the culture of poverty and marginality portrayed slums as problematic dens of violence and prostitution; the only solution was seen as demolishing the slums and relocating the residents to public housing projects. Scholars such as Gans (1962), Jacobs (1961), Castells (1983), Perlman (1976) , Turner (1977) and others, conducted extensive studies in these so called slums both in the US and Mexico. Their research shifted the policy narrative from slum removal to slum redevelopment (‘slums as solution’). These scholars showed that slums had a unique ecology and a close-knit social fabric, they argued for policies such as tenure security and access to basic services for slum dwellers .


In the ‘enablement,’ genre there is an emphasis on globalization from below or what Appadurai (2001) calls ‘Deep Democracy’ (Weinstein, 2009; Appadurai, 2001; Neuwirth, 2005). Grass root organizations and NGO’s such as SPARC, Shack & Slum Dwellers international have become global forces and shifting the policy narrative towards partnership with the urban poor.

The ‘world-class city,’ genre in contrast is based on the vision of becoming a world-class city. Skylines of New York and Shanghai fuel the imaginations of the policy makers as well as the general public .


A sense of Deja’vu: Similarities between ‘Slums as a Problem’ and ‘World-class City’


Slums as a Problem

World Class City

Vision Rational Scientific City World Class City
Physical Improvement High rise apartment

(Constructor built)

3-4 story apartments

(Constructor built)

Finances Federal/ central government  Public-private partnership

The vision to create a rational scientific city such as Haussmann’s Paris or Burnham’s White City in Chicago was the driving force behind the ‘slums as a problem’ genre. Planners of this genre were drawn towards the rational scientific city discourse. The unsanitary and disorderly slums were not part of the rational scientific city. Therefore the dominant slum redevelopment policy of this genre, was to demolish slums and replace them with public housing (Pugh, 1995).

Similar to the vision of the ‘slums as a problem’ era, there is a ‘complete seduction’ to be part of the newly emergent global pattern, or be recognized as a world-class city (Mehrotra, 2012). Slums/ slum dwellers are not part of this ‘world class city’ vision and nation wide slum redevelopment policies such as India’s ‘Rajiv Awas Yojana’ envision slum free cities (Mehrotra, 2012).

Second rhetoric common among these genres, is the emphasis on apartment style high-rise buildings for slum dwellers. The high-rise living does not allow for, street level interactions and access to open space, which are critical aspects of social life in slums. As seen during the, ‘slums as a problem’ pursuit of physical upgrading at the cost of social upgrading does not improve the overall quality of life of the urban poor.

The third rhetoric is that of finances, during the ‘slums as a problem’ era, public housing was considered solely the state’s responsibility, which meant huge investments from the central government. The model therefore had limited applicability in the developing world. However, a new financial model of urban development, the public private partnership (PPP) model allows governments to fund large-scale urban renewal programs with little to no investment upfront (Goldman, 2011).

Lessons learned and unlearned

As the rhetoric of the slum free cities is returning to the mainstream policy discourse, it is imperative to revisit and relearn the lessons from the ‘slums as a problem’ genre. In ‘Myth of marginality’ Perlman (1976), documents the economic, social, political and physical impacts of a slum demolition.  Residents of Catacumba slum in Rio were forcibly evicted in 1970’s and placed in public housing at the edge of the city.

One of the positive aspects of the move was improved access to water and sanitation. Which resulted in dramatic health improvements for the residents, especially children. However, the poor quality construction led to leaks and cracks, causing long term maintenance issues for the residents. Economically, the move resulted in a net loss of household income: due to increased cost of transportation, and new expenses such as mortgage, electric, water and other utilities. Social networks of the community were disrupted, resulting in an increased distrust and crime within in the community. After their forcible eviction, the slum dwellers no longer saw the system as benign and lost their political will to participate.

Many of the issues that Perlman reported in 1970’s, such as poor quality construction, lack of public input, ignoring social and cultural values were noticed in the recent slum redevelopment efforts in India (Patel, 2013). Transformation of urban areas is imminent, however previous experiences with slum redevelopment has shown that healthy and inclusive cities can be created only when urban poor are partners in the process of transformation.


Appadurai, A. (2001). Deep Democracy: Urban Governmentality and the Horizon of Politics. Environment and Urbanization , 13 (23), 23-43.

Castells, M. (1983). The city and the grassroots. Cambridge, UK: Blackwell

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

Gans, H. J. (1962). The urban villagers: group and class in the life of italian-americans. New york, ny: the free press.

Goldman, M. (2011). Speculating on the next world city. In a. Roy, & a. Ong, worlding cities: asian experiments and the art of being global (pp. 229-250). West sussex: blackwell publishing limited.

Mehrotra, R. (2012) Post-Planning Mumbai In Mostafavi, M, In the life of Cities (333-345) London:Springer.

Neuwirth, R. (2005). Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World. New York: Routledge

Patel, S. (2013). Upgrade, Rehouse or Resettle: An Assessment of the Indian Government’s Basic Services for the Urban Poor Programme (BSUP). Environment and Urbanization.

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, Housing the Urban Poor: Policy and Practice in Developing Countries (pp. 34-93). London: Zed Books.

Turner, J. F. (1977). Housing by people: towards autonomy in building environments. New york: pantheon books.

Un-habitat. (2010). State of the world’s cities 2010/2011: bridging the urban divide. Earthscan/james & james.

Weinstein, L. (2009). Redeveloping Dharavi: Toward a Political Economy of Slums and Slum Redevelopment in Globalizing Mumbai, PhD Dissertation, University of Chicago.

About the author: Deepika is a PhD student at University of Cincinnati, School of Planning. Her  dissertation research is titled, ‘Resilient Slums: Role of social capital and institutions’ the research is based on field work in slums in  Visakhapatnam, India. She can be contacted 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: