By Charles Dadu Karisa

Picture the slum next to the affluent urban residential area and this nearness of slums to the ‘Karens’, ‘Lavingtons’, ‘Loreshos’ and ‘Rundas’ is a baffling phenomenon that seems prevalent in developing countries.

There are two perspectives on this: the “half-empty glass” category will see the dichotomy as a contrast and contradiction while the “half-full glass” canon will consider it a direct expression of urban complementarity, inclusiveness and symbiosis.

This is a debate we cannot exhaust and I will only highlight some inherent features of this phenomenon. Two basic questions — first, between the ‘Kibagare’ and the ‘Loresho’ who finds the other? Then, whose prime land are these slums occupying?

It is undisputed that in almost all situations, the slums attach themselves to the established neighbourhoods. Affluent neighbourhoods pose incentives to development of the informal settlements in form of demand for casual work such as gardening, housekeeping and security, hence function as magnets.

But others argue that the motivation lies in the “vacuums” in form of public land set aside for facilities but pending development, as well as reserves of various nature — riparian, utility services and the like.

There is also the aspect of land privately held in speculation by “absentee landlords” that is perceived as idle and ripe for occupation by squatters.

What is important to note is that the establishment of these slum settlements is often accompanied by acts of invasion.

It is also alleged that politics has a hand in it and that smart politicians go prospecting for these pockets of land where they can pump in slums to inflate their constituencies.

So what are the pros and cons of this adjacency? On the positives, affluent residents can access cheap services in exchange for minimal pay. Politically, the slums add to the urban population statistics that is often used as a rationale for allocation of resources where numbers matter, well at least on paper!

The slums also benefit parasitically from the services supplied to these affluent neighbourhoods.

There is high prevalence of illegal connections.

On the flipside, the affluent residents have to cope with the inconvenience of excessive pressure on utilities and services, especially water and power.

The constant siphoning and illegal connections in some cases divert upto 40 per cent of services meant for planned neighbourhoods.

The issue of safety has always raised anxiety in these areas, and there is always this unspoken suspicion between these neighbours of convenience.

The loss of aesthetics that the juxtaposition of slums to affluent neighbourhoods leads to loss of property value in such areas.

So after all is said, what is the solution? As an urban planner, I am against exclusionary planning, which only served to polarise the city and espouse the urban divide.

If the right to the city is not strongly driven in implementation of the new Constitution, it will be an opportunity lost for another whole generation.

First, let us appreciate the multiple land uses as opposed to exclusive zoning. If we have a predominant land use in a given area, let this land be structured in consistency with the other smaller uses in a systemic way.

All residential areas can be remodeled on this basis, so that we have adequate housing that is appropriately located.

There is need for more efficiency and precision management of urban land.

It will pay to appreciate the land rights provided for in the new Constitution. We should expand and safeguard the urban land bank and reserves to curb speculative land invasion.

We should put as much effort in avoiding slum formation as we do in slum upgrading.

Lastly, let us reinforce the social component in development by having minimum standards for the inclusion of low-income housing in every residential area.

Proper regulation will be necessary to avoid gentrification, where houses meant for slum upgrading are occupied by middle income earners and not the targeted beneficiaries. Same old story?

The writer is an urban plannerand an architect.

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