TREATING PEOPLE AND COMMUNITIES AS ASSETS
A HOME IN THE CITY: UN MILLENNIUM PROJECT REPORT ON IMPROVING THE LIVES
OF SLUM DWELLERS
Pietro Garau, Elliott
D. Sclar, and Gabriella Y. Carolini
Why Urban is
There are important
reasons for sharpening the focus on the plight of the urban poor:
1. We share a common
urban future. Within the next few years, the world’s population
will be predominantly urban for the first time in human history. UN
projections suggest that over the next 30 years virtually all of the
world’s population growth will occur in the urban areas of low- and
middle-income countries. Increasing numbers of the world’s poor will be
2. The world’s slum
population is huge. According to the most recent international
estimates, more than 900 million people can be classified as slum
dwellers, most living under life- and health-threatening circumstances,
often lacking several of the following conditions: access to adequate
clean water, access to improved sanitation facilities, sufficient living
space, dwellings of sufficient durability and structural quality, and
security of tenure. Almost one out of three urban dwellers (one out of
every six people worldwide) already lives in a slum.
3. Urban poverty is
severe, pervasive, and largely unacknowledged. Many countries do
not welcome urbanization, and urban poverty remains largely unaddressed.
This despite the fact that, according to the latest Global Report on
Human Settlements, 43 percent of the urban population in developing
regions (taken as a whole) live in slums. In the least developed
countries, this percentage rises to about 78 percent.
4. There is a high
degree of exclusion in cities. Slum dwellers are excluded from many
of the attributes of urban life that are critical to full citizenship
but that remain a monopoly of a privileged minority: political voice,
secure and good quality housing, safety and the rule of law, good
education, affordable health services, decent transport, adequate
incomes, and access to economic activity and credit.
5. Urban poverty is
often underestimated. While the majority of the poor in many low-
and middle-income countries continue to live in rural areas, official
statistics tend to systematically underreport urban poverty due to lack
of cost-of-living adjustments in income poverty estimates, lack of
disaggregation within urban areas, and inadequate definitions of access
to water supply and sanitation, adequate shelter, or other
6. The urban
economy’s benefits reach beyond city boundaries. Rural and urban
development are closely interlinked. For example, remittances from
urban workers are often reinvested in rural communities. In addition,
various phenomena associated with urban growth can play a part in
reducing rural poverty.
7. Recognizing the
urban context is critical to meeting all the Millennium Development
Goals. If the urban context of poverty is not directly addressed,
it will be impossible to achieve the Goals. By improving the lives of
slum dwellers, we are also combating HIV/AIDS, improving environmental
sustainability, reducing gender inequality, and addressing all the Goals
in the most efficient manner. In other words, as the world becomes more
urban, the integration and synergies emerging from the potential of
comprehensively addressing the Goals in a specific, dense location are
best achieved in the very settlements where slum dwellers live.
These issues have not
been given the attention they deserve, and without significant urgent
action and reforms, the situation will worsen. Indeed, inaction may
exacerbate social instability, urban violence, and crime. At the same
time, by neglecting these issues, we lose the opportunity to benefit
from urban growth and wealth creation.
This urban challenge
dictates a much broader and more ambitious approach than the improvement
of a portion of the world’s estimated slum dwellers summarized in target
11 and subsumed under Goal 7. Slum upgrading, improved urban planning
and design, and the provision of adequate alternatives to new slum
formation must become core business for local and national governments
alike and supported by international development agencies.
Ample evidence over the
past 20 years shows that the urban poor themselves can provide the
central impetus for change toward good governance. Governments,
especially local governments, have also demonstrated that they can
develop the capacity to use their mandates and resources for sound and
participatory urban development policy, if such policies are rooted in a
political leadership that is committed to a democratic and equitable
vision of civil society in all spheres of government.
What is needed is the
vision, the commitment, and the resources to bring all actors together
and to do the sensible things that are the tasks of well governed cities
— providing political and economic opportunity, improving services and
the quality of public space, planning for future needs, expanding local
sources of revenue, attracting investment — in active cooperation and
dialogue with all citizens, especially slum dwellers, both women and
men. This is why this task force proposes a new formulation of target
11 of the Goals.
Defining and Reaching the Target
In the process of extracting target 11 from the Millennium
Declaration and the UN Secretary-General’s (2000) report, We the
Peoples, the explicit reference to the Cities without Slums target,
which calls for preventing the formation of new slums after 2006, was
dropped. The task force proposes the following formulation of target
By 2020, improving
substantially the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, while
providing adequate alternatives to new slum formation.
This is a twofold
challenge: improving the lives of existing slum dwellers and planning
adequate alternatives for future urban growth. Meeting this challenge
requires a plan for security of tenure, affordable access to land, basic
services, and housing finance. This target is daunting but attainable.
It can be reached by ensuring that the urban poor are the main actors
(and not objects) of development, by improving governance, supporting
and enacting local pro-poor policies, mobilizing resources and
investments, empowering local action, and monitoring target attainment.
Practice-Based Operational Recommendations
The following sets of
recommendations emerge from ample evidence gathered through decades of
experience in ameliorating slum conditions.
1. Recognize that the
urban poor are active agents and not passive beneficiaries of
This requires a fundamental redefinition of the political
relationship between government and all citizens, particularly the urban
a. Work with local communities to upgrade slums.
b. Negotiate on planning decisions and the utilization of
A basic prerequisite is
for governments to acknowledge the organizations of the urban poor
wherever they exist and to work with their strategies. These
organizations are strategically crucial advocates for the needs of poor
women and men. Solutions are best found through negotiated agreements
between local governments and slum dwellers. Provincial and national
governments, as well as the private sector and domestic capital markets,
also have important roles in bringing these solutions to scale.
2. Improve governance
It is imperative that
good urban governance become globalized. This means promoting
subsidiarity, equity, efficiency, transparency and accountability, civic
engagement and citizenship, and security of individuals and their living
environments. Governments need to review their urban legislation and
commit to the application of these internationally recognized principles
of good urban governance. At the local level this means enabling the
organizations of the urban poor as equal partners in urban political and
economic life, including budgeting decisions, financing practices, and
participatory upgrading, planning, and design of basic public services.
a. Recognize the
“right to the city.” In every country of the world, significant
communities are excluded, whether by active policy or passive
acceptance, from fully belonging to the city, its life, and services.
The concept of the right to the city has been developed to counter this
structural process of exclusion. Increasingly, legislation in a number
of low- and middle-income countries recognizes the consolidated rights
of squatters and slum dwellers in settling urban land and creating
communities. These rights must be widely recognized and protected by
law for men and women alike. Barring exceptional circumstances, such as
those deriving from irreversible environmental hazards, informal
settlements must be protected from forced evictions and regularized with
the active consent and participation of the interested populations.
Future migrant populations must be enabled to find adequate shelter in
accordance with the principles and definition of adequate shelter
enshrined in the Habitat Agenda.
b. Plan for
development. Slum upgrading is a remedial measure made necessary by
the inaction of past governments and the failure to adopt or implement
adequate and efficient national and urban policies. Planning avoids the
high cost of slum upgrading in many cases. Cities need to apply the
principle of “planning before development,” with a central focus on the
future needs of low-income populations. The pervasiveness of precarious
and informal settlements in cities demands a comprehensive approach that
can be ensured only by citywide development strategies and participatory
c. Adopt local
strategies. Local strategies to improve the lives of slum dwellers
can address all Goals and should be built up into national poverty
reduction strategies. The local implementation of the Goals, a global
target, will be the result of myriad local actions. Achieving the Goals
in urban areas requires the close involvement of national and local
governments and communities. While global support is crucial to
sustaining this effort, taking the Goals to the local level means
developing participatory, homegrown solutions inspired by common ethical
and operational principles. For this reason a bottom-up approach must
be stressed in any strategic plan. Cities need to set “local” Goals
targets and adopt citywide strategies for achieving them.
3. Support and enact
local pro-poor policies
a. Enact legislation
against forced evictions and provide security of tenure. The forced
demolition of urban slums has never reduced poverty — it creates
poverty. Forced evictions have never reduced slums — they simply move
slum formation elsewhere. Provision of secure tenure in existing
informal settlements with the participation and contribution of existing
residents is crucial to the process of slum upgrading. It is important
to note that “security of tenure” describes a continuum of formal and
informal legal arrangements that are highly context specific. They
range from full land titling to local customary rights of tenure.
b. Take action on
land issues. Local authorities should provide secure tenure to
women and men in informal settlements in cooperation with national
governments and slum dwellers. All local authorities, supported by the
national government, need policies to ensure a supply of land to keep
down prices and ensure alternatives to slums for the present and future.
Two necessary first steps are to establish a system of effective land
regulation to ensure the future supply of well located land as cities
grow and to ensure that private transactions in the land market are
based on transparent information.
c. Provide adequate
and affordable infrastructure and services. Many basic services
(water supply, garbage collection, infrastructure maintenance) can be
provided at rates affordable to the poor through appropriate design and
innovative structures of tariffs and subsidies. Great savings and
improved access can be gained by involving the communities concerned in
infrastructure development for rehabilitation, upgrading, and
d. Enable community
contracts and partnerships. Whenever feasible, local improvement
projects must be open and accessible to low-income communities,
cooperatives, and slum dweller organizations as partners or contractors.
This may require that contracts be conceived in sizes that are
manageable by community-based contractors. Such arrangements will
create much needed income, improve skills, create a sense of ownership
and civic pride, internalize profit margins, and improve transparency in
the use of municipal resources.
e. Build and
maintain public transport systems and services. Transportation and
land use are intricately linked. Good systems of urban transportation
can expand the range of housing locations and livelihood options for the
urban poor. Facilitating nonmotorized modes of transport and giving
priority to public transportation helps reduce transport costs and
protects the urban environment. The accessibility needs and safety of
the poor should be given a high priority in urban transportation
f. Ensure that
water, sanitation, and health services reach poor urban dwellers.
Steep barriers to accessing good-quality water, sanitation, health
services, and emergency services, especially for slum dwellers, often
make it difficult for poor urban residents to prevent and treat
debilitating health problems. Policymakers should immediately work to
coordinate and focus the wide array of potential health service
providers to reach slum dwellers and the urban poor — and integrate them
with improved provision for environmental health.
g. Enact building
codes and regulations. Building codes and regulations should be
realistic, enforceable, and reflective of community lifestyles and
culture. In particular, they should reflect the special needs of the
urban poor with respect to minimum plot size, incremental construction,
affordable local building materials, and home-based economic activities.
h. Plan for adequate
alternatives to the formation of new slums. Managing the ongoing
process of urbanization to provide viable alternatives to the formation
of slums requires making available land and trunk infrastructure for the
construction of low-income housing as well as concerted strategies for
the provision of healthcare, education, access to employment
opportunities, and other social services in these areas. The
integration of residential and income-earning activities is essential in
the planning of new low-income neighborhoods.
i. Involve the
private sector. Cities have to develop the urban infrastructure
(roads, communications, power, transport services, water and sanitation,
serviced areas) that can attract and sustain productive investment. For
this to happen, cities also need to offer a regulatory and policy
environment that encourages private sector endeavors (from small through
large scale) and public-private partnerships.
j. Create jobs
citywide. In the final analysis, access to employment is in itself
a means toward inclusion and poverty reduction. It can also provide the
financial means to adequate housing and related essential services.
This requires access to sustainable sources of livelihood (through
formal, informal, or self-employment) as well as acknowledging the
importance of the informal economy. To facilitate slum dwellers to take
advantage of employment opportunities, cities need to eliminate
restrictions and unreasonable burdens to local enterprise development.
This includes reducing the costs and increasing the benefits of
formalization (by, among other means, enhancing security as well as
access to public procurement and relevant information on market
opportunities, and business development support). Finance, business
development services, education and skill-training are vital elements
for an enabling environment for adequate job creation and income levels.
4. Mobilize resources
Financial, human, and
land resources and investments are required to achieve the Goals:
resources. A considerable amount of the required investments for
achieving the Millennium Development Goals targets at the urban level
will have to be based primarily on domestic capital (including tax
revenues from property taxes, savings, and productive investments). The
more competent and transparent national, local, and community-level
institutions are, the more efficient and viable local financial markets
Numerous cases reveal
how extensive communities’ contributions are to their own housing. With
support and access to aggregated communal funds, communities can
leverage a variety of sources of domestic and international funding
channeled to facilitate community financing — with significant
sector borrowing in financial markets at both the national and
subnational levels and private sector banking systems for household
loans can prove useful investment instruments at both small and large
scales. Macroeconomic constraints and restrictions on public
expenditures for capital investments must also be alleviated to improve
the lives of slum dwellers and to achieve other Millennium Development
have a crucial role to play in supporting domestic efforts.
b. Land resources.
The availability of suitable and affordable land situated in well
served, centrally accessible locations for low-income households is
vital for improving the lives of slum dwellers and providing adequate
alternatives to new slum formation. This outcome needs to be ensured
through appropriate policies, planning, and legislation. In particular,
land use designation for low-income housing and related purposes will
often be necessary.
c. Human resources.
Building capacity in local government and community planning processes
is an essential component in creating better cities and improving the
lives of slum dwellers. This can be achieved through the incorporation
of community development processes into teaching programs for
professionals (such as planners, architects, engineers, and others) and
civil servants and converting these programs into training and
demonstration areas for all actors involved in urban development. In
addition, educational opportunities for slum dwellers should be pursued
nationally and internationally.
5. Empower local action
a. Develop and
strengthen networks. Local action and international knowledge can
be considerably strengthened by the support of networks of actors at all
levels (slum dwellers and their organizations, local governments and
their organizations, national governments and their regional
affiliations, international agencies and their coordinating mechanisms,
and the private sector).
b. Support local
poverty reduction strategies. International agencies should
encourage and support a locally driven process of developing national
urban poverty reduction strategies based on local poverty reduction
“Millennium cities.” Global, regional, and national networks of
local authorities, in partnership with the UN system and civil society
organizations, could assume leadership of a worldwide partnership of
“Millennium cities,” defined as cities, towns, and local authorities
committed to realization of the Millennium Development Goals through
local poverty reduction strategies.
6. Monitor target 11
There is a need to
strengthen the official monitoring system established by the UN system
and to involve target populations in defining the specific monitoring
goals and assessing progress at the local level.
Costing (investing in the slum target)
(2000) report We the Peoples provides a cost estimate of US$50
billion for upgrading the housing of 100 million slum dwellers. A more
recent estimate from UN-Habitat, prepared for the task force, is US$74
billion. These estimates include a full complement of services, some of
which may not be lacking for all current slum dwellers. The estimates
are on the high side.
As formulated in this
report, target 11 calls for costing the provision of adequate
alternatives to new slum growth. Evidence from actual projects suggests
that basic infrastructure costs in new settlements can be between
one-third to one-half lower than in comprehensive upgrading. The task
force adopted the conservative criterion of one half of upgrading costs
as the cost multiplier for providing alternatives to new slums. Both
upgrading and new construction costs will vary widely from country to
country and city to city and depend on a wide number of factors, such as
location, standards, design, construction choices, and contracting
methods. Growing evidence suggests that community-led interventions
designed and executed with the active participation and involvement of
low-income groups and their organizations can reduce costs considerably
and produce more sustainable outcomes.
Table 1, derived from
estimates presented in chapter 8, considers two components: improving
the lives of 100 million slum dwellers today through upgrading and
providing for adequate alternatives to slum formation for the projected
570 million people who would otherwise become slum dwellers by the year
2020. All of these estimates are net of beneficiary contributions. For
example, the costs of providing for adequate alternatives to slum
formation cover mainly infrastructure and assume that the shelter costs
are covered by the dwellers themselves.
Investment required to upgrade slums
and provide alternatives to slums by 2020
of investment (US$ billions)
Target population (millions)
Average cost per person
low-income urban residents
alternatives to slums
Numbers in table may not sum to totals due to rounding.
Task force estimates calculated based on data from
UN-HABITAT 2003a; Flood 2004; World Bank 2003a; FISE 2004.
These estimates suggest
that overall investment for achieving target 11 is roughly US$18 billion
a year over the next 16 years.
There is ample evidence
that the continuation of inadequate policies that exclude the urban poor
from development processes will result in severe social and economic
costs. In contrast, significantly improving the lives of at least 100
million slum dwellers by 2020 and introducing the measures needed to
ensure that there are alternatives to slums for all future urban
populations will secure great economic and social “savings” for people
directly affected and the community at large.
Nonetheless, as modeled
above, substantial funding for progressive projects and policies are
still required. Most resources will be domestic in origin.
However, all actors have a role to play in meeting these costs:
• Community groups need
to mobilize their own resources and contribute to the construction or
improvement of their own dwellings.
• National and local
governments need to budget for slum upgrading and new infrastructure
development while also providing enabling policy environments for public
and household financing instruments.
• Formal and informal
private service providers, developers, and domestic financial
institutions will be needed to reach scale.
• Donors (including the
many that currently provide little or no support for urban poverty
reduction) need to commit to allocating a larger share of resources to
leverage domestic resources. The need for assistance varies greatly by
context, but additional resources will be required. Donor resources,
and the development of new funding mechanisms, need to support the local
processes outlined in this summary and described in more detail in the
is Director of the Urban Studies Center for Developing Countries in the
Department of Territorial and Urban Planning at the University of Rome,
Italy. He recently served as a Coordinator of the UN Millennium Project
Task Force on Improving the Lives of Slum Dwellers, and as a Lead Author
of the final report,
A Home in the City.
Elliott D. Sclar is a Professor of Urban Planning and Public
Affairs and Director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at
Columbia University in New York City, and a member of the Advisory Board
of Global Urban Development. He recently served as a Coordinator of the
UN Millennium Project Task Force on Improving the Lives of Slum
Dwellers, and as a Lead Author of the final report, A Home in the
City. He recently received book awards from the International
Political Science Association and the National Academy of Public
Administration for his critical analysis of the privatization of public
services, You Don’t Always Get What Your Pay For. Dr. Sclar’s
other books include Access for All, Shaky Palaces, and
Amtrak Privatization. Gabriella Y. Carolini is a Ph.D.
Student in Urban Planning at Columbia University. She
recently served as a Senior Associate for the UN Millennium Project Task
Force on Improving the Lives of Slum Dwellers, and as a Lead Author of
the final report, A Home in the City. Their article, the
Executive Summary of A Home in the City, is reprinted by
permission of the UN Millennium Project.
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