Panel 3 Details

Reforming the Informal Settlement


Benjamin Gianni, Carleton University, Canada

Allan Cain, Development Workshop, Angola

Informal settlements (a.k.a., VICs, slums, shantytowns, bidonvilles, etc.) are among the most challenging phenomena facing rapidly urbanizing areas.  Africa has inherited colonial segregated planning traditions that are socio-economically exclusive, resulting in cement cities and slums. African cities present many notable differences from those in China. By far the most visible is the presence of slums: indicators of informality and thus a lack of planning control. The urban poor are obliged to occupy such settlements that are built in areas prone to flooding, landslides and other natural disasters — increasing the vulnerability of economically precarious residents.  On the flip side, as cities expand and peripheral lands become increasingly central, residents of established informal settlements face displacement due to rising land values and development pressures.   Rapid Chinese urban expansion was mainly the result of the movement of labour from rural to urban areas that followed the shift from agriculture to industry and services. African urbanization has also happened quickly, but with little industrialization and job creation. The informality of Africa’s cities is an indication of insufficient investment in infrastructure. With no formal viable alternative, poor households often remake the city from below through ‘informal’ means. The informal economy provides livelihoods for many African urban dwellers and the social production by communities themselves delivers most of the housing. The New Urban Agenda (UN Habitat 2016) obliges Governments to integrate and upgrade informal settlements into the city to improved levels of accessibility, safety, quality, inclusively and affordability. The approaches taken to heading off, retrofitting, integrating and/or redeveloping informal settlements have profound, long-term effects on the social, political, economic and public health of cities. This topic area invites presentations addressing the different contexts, strategies and best practices for the prevention, abatement, rehabilitation, and redevelopment of informal settlements.  Among the issues at play are politics, financing, the accommodation of informal economic activity, access to services and infrastructure, flexibility and adaptability over time, the regularization of land tenure and title, enumeration and the formal identification of residents, and the use of housing as an economic instrument to pull people out of poverty.


Sub-Questions (but are not limited to):

  • What might cities in Africa learn from China’s approach to controlling informal settlements?
  • Given the volatile nature of public financing, how can private sector and owner-builder’s own investment be leveraged to address slum renewal and redevelopment? What are the advantages and pitfalls?
  • Upgrading projects often benefit slum landlords, increases property values, while pricing out the urban poor. How can slum upgrading be made inclusive and affordable to the poor?
  • How is slum redevelopment related to the larger challenge of providing stable, affordable housing?
  • Should governments be encouraging/providing “transitional” housing? If so, what forms should it take and under what terms of reference should it be expected to operate?
  • What can rapidly developing countries learn from the great social housing complexes of post-WWII Europe and North America?
  • What role do informal settlements play in integrating rural-to-urban migrants into the economic and social life of cites?