Improving Slums



  • Framework
  • Solutions


Slums constitute the most part of many towns, regions and even countries, that it's impossible to immediately clear or replace them and move inhabitants elsewhere. Thus a temporary solution is needed. Improving slums helps inhabitants cope with life, until new urban communities are built for them. Coping with life in slums had helped many nations move forward while having large portions of their populations living in slums, by "managing the crisis" if not solving it. Gradually, they could grow into highly developed nations with less or zero slums, freeing space, time and energy, for inhabitants to achieve and enjoy other things in life.



Solutions to slum problems depend on the tools available:

Past Tools: It's not surprising that some slum problems have centuries-old solutions, because living in slums resembles living in the past. Most present slum problems were common part of everyday life, for the average person, at earlier stages of civilization. There was less knowledge and planning, that slums weren't considered a serious problem then, nor living conditions there as sub-standard. People accepted, coped with, and even loved their life there because they had no alternative.

Applying old survival strategies, however, needs prudence as it may not always work because some past tools could be no longer or less available. For instance, in the past, people had more of the following:

  • Social solidarity.
  • Physical skills & crafts.
  • Interaction with nature.
  • Space, air, plants, wild life, etc.
  • Simplicity, perseverance, imagination.

Modern Tools: Many present technologies were lacking in the past, that the average person now has most of, while slum dwellers only have some of. The government can make most such tools, or alternatives to, available. Examples:

  • electricity; private/public transportation; internet, phone, satellite.
  • vaccines/medicine/tests; ambulances/drainage systems/water supply; deep digging/earth-scanning/water-purifying technology.
  • modern building materials, fast demolition/restoration.
  • free/cheap education/pension/subsidies/privileges; banks, mega stores, fast shipping/delivery, diverse/free market.
  • media outreach, NGO's/government attention/representation.

Innovated Tools: One cannot solve slum problems by merely "copying" the past, nor going with present trends and mimicking other people. Slum dwellers are more challenged because they belong to the past while living in the present, without having the means most people have. Thus they need unique, innovative, unusual, or even shocking solutions to their problems:

  • Optimal use of space.
  • Advanced recycling techniques.
  • Wireless & digital communication.
  • Slum tourism, trades & related professions.
  • Specifying legal privileges to slum dwellers.
  • Using technology for faster social grouping, "mobilization" and bringing slums into media spotlight. Slum conditions are worsened by being left without discussion, as most slum dwellers can't "express" their problems, like privileged inhabitants of upscale neighborhoods can, in media or otherwise.

Preparation: The state and people can both use their power to implement pre-emptive procedures to CONTROL THE PROBLEM of random urban sprawl, to end or limit it. There are many rules, building codes & zoning laws for the urban planning of old residential areas, e.g. slums, to prevent future problems.

  • Mapping and classifying all areas in a slum.
  • Enacting and enforcing clearly-stated laws organizing the relationship between inhabitants and state, and between inhabitants together, who usually get into social and legal problems mostly due to the small space they are crammed into.
  • Regulation of any new structure in slum areas, or preferably banning it altogether as it usually adds to the existing problems. Examples:
    • Limiting building height.
    • Keeping enough street width (with sufficient space for pedestrians, parking, driving, and green areas); this is usually impossible until all randomly-built houses are cleared first.
    • Keeping enough distance between adjacent buildings (to avoid multiplying the damage spreading to more than one building by fire, collapse, infection, etc.).
    • Banning changes in a building's structure/facilities/appearance harming its inhabitants/neighbors, e.g. structures jutted out from a building against its allowed height/width.
    • Banning all non-housing activities in residential areas, and moving them elsewhere: shops, workshops, warehouses, offices, or any disturbing/unsafe activity.
    • Allocating areas for basic living necessities (hospitals, police stations, banks, government offices, etc.): accessible & secured.
  • Banning movement or migration to already congested slummy districts. Some governments even ban migration to entire cities.
  • Encouraging and giving incentives to people to move to well-planned new urban communities.



The following procedures should be followed simultaneously with making alternative housing elsewhere, that slum inhabitants will move to permanently, or (less commonly) temporarily live in until their old houses are replaced with new ones they can move back to. The state can improve slums by "focusing" on their basic problems first:


Improving buildings' conditions:

  • Supervising, restoring, evacuating, quarantining, or removing unsafe buildings. Conurbations in dangerous zones should be removed, even if they weren't slums.
  • Providing houses with drinking water and connecting them with drainage systems.
  • Solving power cut problems and providing safe, cheap, alternative energy sources (not causing fire/pollution, while benefiting still from natural sources: natural daylight/cooling/warming/food storage/etc.).
  • Making safety tools for houses available, if not compulsory: fire-extinguisher, safety rope/ladder, iron-grid, wire-screen, filter, etc.


Improving & securing streets:

  • Fixing and covering broken pipes/sewers/holes, freeing intersections/street entries, removing obstacles or any illegal occupation (by peddlers/parking/shop goods/restaurant seats/etc.), and banning parking & driving if necessary, esp. in congested vital areas.
  • Using "small" ambulances/fire engines/police cars for narrow streets.
  • Providing safe cheap transportation: bicycles, vans (for short trips), and enough bus/metro stops (for longer trips).
  • Paving, cleaning, lighting, charting, and signing streets.


• Giving free/cheap general medicine courses/programs for everyone to learn, on medical basics, emergency & first-aids. Training some inhabitants as volunteer medical assistants.

• Providing free/cheap basic services: vaccines, contraceptives, marriage counseling/checkups, victim treatment, etc.

• Improving hospitals: Supervising hospital conditions, regular training of doctors/nurses/etc., enabling medicine and medical equipments, and speeding up procedures (as time means saving/losing life). Better faster ambulances, and freeing access to hospitals and ambulance's path.

• Campaigning against unhygienic local habits and beliefs.

• Providing hygiene conditions/commodities/people: air/water filters, dumpsters, garbage collectors, gardeners, etc.


• Teaching lessons & "values" useful for living in slums, through different courses and programs: safety, simplicity, economy, self-help, self-sufficiency, cooperation, teamwork, and knowing one's environment and culture. Such courses help people recognize and deal with their problems properly, while growing more responsible toward their community.

• Providing good internet and phone service to houses and public/private places (connecting & informing inhabitants digitally, if not physically). The web can be used alongside/instead of schools with poor conditions, or those difficult for students to reach or pay for. Providing shops for digital, electronic & mechanical learning equipments.

• Encouraging or training literate or educated family members/neighbors to teach the illiterate/uneducated ones.

• Renting, co-owning or transforming some slum facilities to become libraries or educational centers, or using distant out-of-neighborhood ones if necessary.


• Creating and supporting JOBS for unemployed & misemployed slum dwellers:

  • Arranging useful jobs society really needs instead of the mostly consumerist, or even harmful, ones slum dwellers do. Useful jobs require training and assessment of individual's skills first. The government had better arrange jobs in/near the new urban communities inhabitants will move to eventually.
  • Supporting small projects, financially, legally and professionally, that help any country's economy alongside mega-projects and large-scale industries. They need state intervention for guidance, supervision, assessment, marketing assistance, and proper project selection (based on country's priorities, capabilities & coordination between different projects).
  • Improving traditional crafts and jobs residents already have. With some training, they can work in larger establishments, in commerce, tourism, industry, etc.
  • Organizing responsible slum tourism to benefit slum dwellers economically, bring slum problems into media spotlight, and have sympathy and support by outsiders: visitors, NGOs, politicians, etc.
  • Moving workshops, shops & services to special larger places out of residential areas.

• Providing markets with basic commodities inhabitants need: cheap/subsidized/second-hand self-help tools, electronics, home appliances, house requirements, etc. Building wholesale mega-stores in nearby safe sites. Allowing space and time for regular (e.g. weekly) flea markets for more shopping diversity and choices. 

• Collecting regular FUNDING or donations (money & otherwise), from inhabitants esp. the rich ones, collected and supervised by a locally chosen committee or government representatives (with all the necessary checks, bills and documents), to rationally spend on neighborhood improvement.


• Improving police presence, in quality and quantity — stations, personnel, service, vehicles, equipment, training, etc. — in streets and other public places for law enforcement, whose members must be properly protected in the areas they serve (e.g. from gangs), as well as supervised themselves by law to avoid "police corruption." Unfortunately, in lawless states, police and criminals can collude together against the rest of population.

If the police is competent and cooperative, inhabitants can learn and work with the police, and  report criminal activities, anonymously if needed. In a worst case scenario, people employ paid guards or be their own self-guards by forming vigilance committees, if there is total absence of police. This should be a last resort, as it opens the door for arbitrariness, bias or even thuggery by that very committee that may abuse power and apply its own laws, unless it's fairly (democratically) chosen to represent everyone.

• Penalizing dangerous activities and those committing them, harming buildings/inhabitants:

  • Social: drug-trafficking/random prostitution/crime organizations/religious extremism/dangerous cults/etc. The same individuals committing such acts may also use thuggery and bullying against inhabitants, harassing women, children and minorities, and even forcing curfew/tributes and stealing in broad daylight.
  • Physical: interior/exterior construction work risking buildings/street safety; over-crowdedness/over-weight more than floor/building capacity; harmful/disturbing noise.
  • Chemical: inflammable material; harmful gases/wastes/smells.
  • Biological: pandemics/infections, trash, sewage, stray animals, or domestic animals threatening inhabitants and environment.

• Supervision of all citizens without infringing their rights, to ensure law is enforced and rules properly followed.

  • By government: police personnel, inspectors, managers, assigned supervisors, etc. watching closely & remotely, paying regular & surprise visits, to check conditions there: in hospitals, schools, government authorities, NGO's, houses of worship, and cult headquarters (securing individual's freedom that doesn't cause society "real" harm, supporting moderate educated scholars/leaders/clerics/gurus, watching funds/donations ... to protect against superstition/extremism/violence/corruption).
  • By technology: surveillance cameras, hotline, web reporting, etc.
  • By citizens: recording, comparing and reporting data, to expose and pressure wrong-doers (citizens/officials): ensuring law is enforced, projects finished, plans followed, deadlines met, etc.


The government should use the POWER OF PEOPLE, as long as the government/state itself isn't strong enough. People can cooperate with doctors, teachers, police members, government clerks, and other neighbors and neighborhood residents. (That's how states evolved, from groups/tribes.)

  • Forming administrative committees selected from residents who regularly meet to discuss and coordinate efforts for solving slum problems.
  • Forming community groups with different roles—cleaning streets, planting trees, painting buildings, etc.—paid or volunteer.
  • There are esp. useful social groups to benefit from (young, jobless, childless, celibate, sociable, well-educated, needed specialists, etc.), who usually have more time, energy, desire, ideas, or experience to improve the community.
  • Rewarding hardworking inhabitants, financially and otherwise (receiving extra advantages).
  • Arranging meeting places for socializing, networking, discussing local problems and finding/implementing teamwork solutions. People can cooperate with the local government administration if any.
  • Digitalizing all government services to minimize bureaucracy's harmful effect on citizens' life.
  • Creating enough offices and branches of state services in provincial and remote slums.
  • Connecting slums with the rest of the country/world by proper transports, roads, and telecommunication: internet, computers, phones ...


• Creating parks & meditation centers, to ease inhabitants' stress and improve their sense of well-being, hence their motivation to work and create.

• Creating sport/art/culture centers to refine, redirect and focus people's energy.

• Improving neighborhood appearance and buildings.

  • Improving exterior design, by attractive painting/lighting/ornaments, providing trees to plant in streets, choosing locally-inspired designs for rooftops & other house sections.
  • Improving interior design: painting; lighting; pictures, nature views, mirrors, curtains and reflexive glass, plastic/shade/small plants, etc. that should be available and economical to buy and maintain.

• Organizing regular events: functions, contests, trips, and local festivities.


Living in Slums

Clearing Slums

Regional Planning