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Article

Michael Humphrey and Shahadat Hossain

Slums have generated renewed interest among scholars in the wake of rapid urbanization in the South and the growing incidence of urban poverty worldwide. This gave rise to the expression “expanding urban slums,” which refers to a phenomenon occurring in the Global South associated with “hyper-urbanization”— rapid urbanization beyond the capacity of the state or city to plan for, to provide services and housing for, to regulate urban environments or regulate the poor. The UN Challenge of Slums report describes two kinds of slums: “slums of hope” and “slums of despair.” Slums of hope are “progressing” settlements, characterized by new, normally self-built structures, usually illegal (e.g. squatters) that are in, or have recently been through, a process of development, consolidation and improvement. Slums of despair refer to “declining” neighborhoods, in which environmental conditions and domestic services are undergoing a process of degeneration. Earlier studies of slums differ from contemporary research in terms of the extent to which megaslums are emerging as a permanent feature of megacities. Contemporary studies of the “expanding slum” can be conceptualized as about different aspects of informalization of urban social, economic, and political processes. The literature on urban informality and informalization indicates that slums are not excluded spaces but integrated on different terms. Scholars must begin to develop more nuanced theories of urbanism in a globalizing world, and they can use the “gray zones” of Latin American cities as a starting point.

Article

Street-level bureaucrats (SLBs) interact directly with users and play a key role in providing services. In the Global South, and specifically in India, the work practices of frontline public workers—technical staff, field engineers, desk officers, and social workers—reflect their understanding of urban water reforms. The introduction of technology-driven solutions and new public management instruments, such as benchmarking, e-governance, and evaluation procedures, has transformed the nature of frontline staff’s responsibilities but has not solved the structural constraints they face. In regard to implementing solutions to improve access in poor neighborhoods, SLBs continue to play a key role in the making of formal and informal provision. Their daily practices are ambivalent. They can be both predatory and benevolent, which explains the contingent impacts on service improvement and the difficulty in generalizing reform experiments. Nevertheless, the discretionary power of SLBs can be a source of flexibility and adaptation to complex social settings.

Article

Jacqueline M. Klopp and Jeffrey W. Paller

Africa’s growing slums are complex, diverse neighborhoods with their own histories. Currently, these places, characterized by spatially concentrated poverty and human rights abuses, are where large proportions and, in many cases, the majority of Africa’s growing urban populations live. These slums often have a politics characterized by clientelism and repression, but also cooperation, accountability, and political mobilization. Importantly, they must be understood within a wider political context as products of larger historical processes that generate severe inequalities in standards of living, rights, and service provision. Varied approaches (modernization vs. more critical historical and political economy approaches) attempt to explain the emergence, dynamics, and persistence of slums and the politics that often produces, characterizes, and shapes them in Africa. While raising important questions about the link between urbanization and democracy, modernization theories, which are typically ahistorical, do not fully explain the persistence and actual growth of slums in African cities. More historically grounded political economy approaches better explain the formation and dynamics of slums in African cities, including the complex, uneven, and inadequate service delivery to these areas. Whether the conditions of Africa’s slums and the social injustice that undergirds them will give birth to greater democratization in Africa, which, in turn, will deliver radical improvements to the majority, is a critical unanswered question. Will social movements, populist opposition parties, and stronger citizenship claims for the poor ultimately emerge from slum—and wider city—politics? If so, will they address the political problem of inequality that the slum represents? A focus on cities, slums, and their politics is thus a core part of growing concern for the future of African cities and democratic politics on the continent.

Article

This entry explores key definitions, causes, and characteristics of slums in the global arena, along with the types of social work practice and general community development approaches being used to catalyze action to decrease the prevalence of slums. Core strategies include using planning efforts that prioritize input from people who live in slums, creating affordable housing, and otherwise transitioning urban slums into vibrant communities. Concluding thoughts and further considerations for social work practice are offered.

Article

Larraine M. Edwards

Jacob August Riis (1848–1914) came to America in 1870 from Denmark and worked as a police reporter in New York City for 22 years. In addition to his realistic descriptions of slum conditions, Riis recommended health, educational, and environmental reform.

Article

Christopher Klemek

Urban renewal refers to an interlocking set of national and local policies, programs, and projects, implemented in the vast majority of American cities between 1949 and 1973. These typically entailed major redevelopment of existing urban areas with a view to the modernization of housing, highway infrastructure, commercial and business districts, as well as other large-scale constructions. Reformers from the Progressive Era through the Great Society strove to ameliorate the conditions of poverty and inequality in American cities by focusing primarily on physical transformation of the urban built environment. Citing antecedents such as the reconstruction of Second Empire Paris, imported via the City Beautiful movement, and then updated with midcentury modernism, US urban planners envisioned a radical reorganization of city life. In practice, federal programs and local public authorities targeted the eradication of areas deemed slums or blighted—often as much to socially sanitize neighborhoods inhabited by racial minorities and other marginalized groups as to address deteriorating physical conditions. And while federal funding became available for public works projects in declining central cities under the auspices of improving living conditions for the poor—including providing public housing—urban renewal programs consistently destroyed more affordable housing than they created, over more than three decades. By the end of the 1960s, urban residents and policymakers across the political spectrum concluded that such programs were usually doing more harm than good, and most ended during the Nixon administration. Yet large-scale reminders of urban renewal can still be found in most large US communities, whether in the form of mid-20th-century public housing blocks, transportation projects, stadiums, convention centers, university and hospital expansions, or a variety of public-private redevelopment initiatives. But perhaps the most fundamental legacies of all were the institutionalization of the comprehensive zoning and master planning process in cities nationwide, on the one hand, and the countervailing mobilization of defensively oriented (NIMBY) neighborhood politics, on the other.