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Home page > Research Teams > The SLUM Team - Public policies regarding urban poverty: the "treatment" of the slum problem, a comparison between Delhi, Sao Paulo, Rio and Mumbai > Problem


Megacities faced with the problem of fast-spreading slums

Slums and favelas have not developed in the same context or under the same constraints. A preliminary objective of the research will be to examine the factors, socio-economic as well as political, that favour their emergence. Whether it is the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, which appeared towards the end of the 19th century or the slums of Delhi born in the 1950s, the first issue was to admit that they constituted a major “urban problem” and should be the object of policies and judicial action. Favelas are home today to about 12% of Sao Paulo’s population, 18% of Rio’s population while slums shelter 30 to 40 % of the population of Delhi and Mumbai. In spite of earlier policies of resettlement and social housing, these areas continued to expand while their social structure has become more complex and difficult to manage due to the development of an informal real estate market and the concentration (especially in Brazil) of drug-trafficking in these areas.

Taking into consideration the process of emergence and development of the slums allows us to avoid treating very diverse spaces in a uniform manner and to simplify their complex modes of organisation. This will enable us to question the elements of definition, namely legal (illegality), hygienist (unsanitary conditions) and cultural (marginality) criteria. We will thus treat slums not so much as a given factor but as a real and symbolic process of socio-spatial segregation peculiar to the urbanisation of Indian and Brazilian megacities.

The responses of public policies: evaluation and ideology

Our principal aim will be to analyse the responses of the respective public actors to the spread of slums. For a long time, these responses have been determined by circumstances. In both the national contexts, the policies of eradication and resettlement soon revealed their limitations. Hence the authorities drew up the so-called in situ rehabilitation programmes in India and urbanisation (urbanização) programmes in Brazil. These new policies are more favourable to the inclusion of precarious areas in the urban fabric. Some are innovative: thus the city of Rio de Janeiro was gradually accepted in the 1980s as a laboratory of urban policies favouring rehabilitation and financing of infrastructure and initiating projects of land regularisation for the development of the Mutirão projects. The present Sao Paolo version, Programa Bairro Legal, introduced in 2002, are a continuation of these projects. Some actions are thus aimed at integrating the slum dwellers with the official city by including the space occupied by the poor in its land development strategy.

In these rehabilitation projects public authorities are now trying to define actions oriented towards the recognition and development of the material and symbolic heritage associated with these spaces, namely the presence of traditional artists and craftsmen in India and the descendents of slaves and repositories of Afro-Brazilian culture partly associated with the samba and religious rites in Brazil. We will compare Brazilian programmes already in an advanced stage with new initiatives observed in some Indian slums in Delhi (Kathputli-Artists’ Colony) and in Mumbai (Dharavi).

On the other hand, some policies seem to be clearly more intolerant and coercive like the urban development project known as the “Shanghai-Mumbai Plan” (2004) which aims to change Mumbai into a "world-class city" and justifies a large-scale destruction of slums. The interests of real estate speculators and rich residents are opposed to those of poor people, while political strategies (slums as vote-banks) also interfere in addition to more ethical considerations. It is therefore important to analyse the reactions and forms of mobilisation adopted by civil society: participation, opposition and resistance, alternative strategies, etc.

New instruments also are being introduced such as microfinance which, while providing access to saving and lending services, is supposed to enable the poorest sections to self-finance their housing. Comparable programmes in India and Brazil make it possible to question the effectiveness of the partnership between public authorities /NGOs/banks, and particularly the effective “participation” of “communities” and the benefits they gain. In this context, the analysis of policies and, in each case, the discourse underlying them, are crucial to understand the tensions peculiar to favelas and slums.

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Social Exclusion, Territories and Urban Policies
A Comparison Between India and Brazil

A Research Programme funded by ANR
Website kindly hosted by Centre de Sciences Humaines, New Delhi

Last Update :  Tuesday 22 December 2009

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