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Stages of improving neglected communities’ lives

by Diana Mitlin, David Satterthwaite

In brief

Improved slum in Kolkata.

Improved slum in Kolkata.

There are many dimensions to upgrading an informal settlement. Improvement programmes thus operate at several levels, ranging from rearranging dwellings and providing legal title to building extensive new infrastructure.

At a most basic level, upgrading typically involves providing residents a secure right to stay where they are. Through titles issued by government and/or private land-owners, residents can be freed of the spectre of forced eviction. This step is often very effective. People are more likely to invest in their homes once they are sure they will be allowed to stay.

The next level up involves making basic improvements to services, such as installing public toilets, providing piped water or building pathways through the settlement. How ambitious such measures are varies. Water may be piped to each home or only to public standpipes. Roads may be paved or simply graded. Decisions should depend on what is considered normal in the given agglomeration. On the other hand, very expensive infrastructure – a drainage system, for example – is unlikely to be provided at this point. More­over, there typically is no provision for infrastructure maintenance.

Further up the scale is providing a more complete range of infrastructure and services, including drainage, street lighting and solid waste collection. Households may also get private toilets and access to electricity.

Finally, particularly in middle-income countries, governments and community groups may build simple modern dwellings consisting of one or two rooms. In high-density areas, walk-up apartment blocks may be provided, with full services for each household. In low-density, low-income countries, however, households are likely to remain in shacks, with some residents making self-funded incremental improvements.