Including Slums in Inclusive Cities: What ADB Got Right

While slums are often not thought of when people talk about cities, they are growing in size and population especially as more and more populations move from rural to urban environments. Some slum populations in India have grown so large that they can influence elections. Sustainable Development Goal 11 focuses on “Making cities inclusive, resilient, safe, and sustainable” and if we are to implement goal 11, then slums must be included and thought of as well. Including slums in sustainable development is often met with many barriers. Local governments do not want to acknowledge slums or provide them with services because they want the slums to disappear and think providing benefits such as water and sanitation will encourage the slum-dwellers to stay. Slums are also illegal settlements so there are other barriers to providing them with services such as schools and health clinics because they are technically not supposed to exist.

The habitat III conference’s new urban agenda commits itself to trying to end stigma surrounding slum-dwellers, making informal settlements more resilient, and upgradings slums. This is certainly a step in the right direction but I was more impressed with the concrete examples of slum rehabilitation the Asian Development Bank described in their document Inclusive Cities. Slum rehabilitation often doesn’t work out as planned because the project leaders don’t ask the residents what their needs are and don’t understand the attachment residents have to their homes, or interrupt their livelihoods. The phrase “Nothing about us without us” is credited to the disabled community but the ADB took that mindset to heart when constructing their slum rehabilitation programs. The ADB provided surveys and asked residents what their needs were. These surveys informed project developers what residents wanted and with this information they were able to provide some low cost sanitation, women’s support groups, schools, and clinics. The ADB was able to work with local governments and encourage them to recognize the slums and see them as a boon for the local economy. The reason ADB’s programs were successful was that they took into consideration what the residents wanted and the systemic problems that were preventing them from achieving their needs.

Including slum-dwellers in the conversation about inclusive cities is a concrete way of advancing SDG 11 because they are able to offer a more direct perspective of what would make their settlements inclusive, sustainable, and equitable.