Living in Slums



Every neighborhood has its pros and cons. What is an advantage to a person in a neighborhood could be a disadvantage to another elsewhere, and vice versa. However, there are basic living standards, that make some neighborhoods better than others, which must be met to make a place livable, for humans.

Different neighborhoods have different problems:

  • Remote or rural neighborhoods may lack transport, security, services, entertainment, etc.
  • Touristic or commercial neighborhoods may have problems with noise, traffic, parking, etc.
  • Even rich neighborhoods need high maintenance: more work and workers, extra security, high technology, etc.

And so with slums.

The lack of pre-designed towns, neighborhoods, streets, housing, services, and distribution of resources and population types, along with the lack of law enforcement and regular supervision of living conditions there ... all lead to difficulty/risk working, visiting, driving, walking, or living in slums.




  • Unsafe for occupants/passersby: too old they may collapse; having poor/unfinished construction work without cover/warning, dangerous objects unnoticed by passersby, serious humidity problems, dangerous objects/people/activities inside; or built in unsafe sites.
  • Over-Crowded buildings increase problems of parking, traffic, construction work, drainage, or any shared property, among people (occupants/visitors/pedestrians/drivers/commuters).
  • Disorganized: Disproportionately high, medium and low buildings are put closely together, hiding and harming each other and the people inside them. Tall buildings block daylight, horizon, view, oxygen, breeze ... Close buildings have less privacy & space, and more social problems. They multiply damage & casualties when a disaster strikes.
  • Offensive: Ugly (unshapely/shapeless; unpainted/badly painted/long-ago painted). Noisy. Smelly.


  • Occupied by objects (occupied car lanes & sidewalks, if any): construction work, workshops, stones, broken/open sewers, dangerous holes, parked cars, exposed goods, seats ...
  • Occupied by people: shopkeepers, customers, peddlers, beggars, homeless people ...
  • Unpaved: Harming feet/footwear/tires/auto-parts/loads, slowing movement.
  • Unclean: Ugly, distracting, spreading germs. Muddy: slippery, spreading dirt, slowing movement if not causing accidents.
  • "Unknown": No light/signs. Narrow & winding.


  • Arbitrary: The lack of police & law-enforcement leads to the law of the jungle and higher crime rates among people, as they become more arbitrary, subjective and tribal: more thuggery, assault, rape, etc. Poor services generally lead to more insecurity for quarreling over such services.
  • Disorganized: wasting effort, time, harmony and other benefits of organization.
  • Ignorant: abusing women, children, minorities ... and environment.
  • Poor & sick: more disease, malnutrition, homeless people, beggars, psychopaths.


  • Air: polluted by factories' fumes, burning plants/garbage, lack of plants.
  • Water: unclean/insufficient/non-existent.
  • Less space: missing privacy; missing the relaxing pleasure of wider space; having intrusive smells, sounds and sights.
  • Less sunlight: having more insects and other sneaky/nocturnal/swampy creatures; lacking vitamin D and other health benefits; missing the relaxing pleasure of sunlight.
  • Less plant: lack of shade during daylight; higher dust/noise/carbon levels; missing plants' mood-boosting effect.
  • More harmful animals: more garbage leads to more germs, insects, stray animals.


  • Food: Polluted by pesticides, growth hormones or industrial wastes. Insufficient. Lacking supervision (manufacturing conditions, ingredients, etc.).
  • Electricity: Frequent outage; expensive/unsafe alternatives.
  • Fuel: Short or lacked, thus causing problems with heating, cooking, transport, and industry.
  • Health & Education: Lacking, poor, or overcrowded hospitals & schools.
  • Work: Unemployment. Informal economy (less known/organized/improved/protected).
  • Other: transport, communication, commodities ...  are poor/lacking.



Finding solutions to the problems of slums is basically the responsibility of government, that hadn't planned these areas in the first place before they grew randomly out of control. Individuals cannot make long-term, large-scale changes arbitrarily or alone. The best they can do is to live elsewhere whenever they have a chance. However, some are responsible for the problem too, as they refuse to move, merely because of emotional attachment.

Slum buildings can be removed, improved, or totally transformed into shopping, working, sporting, parking, cultural ... centers, esp. when they have a strategic location inside big cities. However, it's difficult to relocate/compensate inhabitants, physically and emotionally, and to demolish, redesign and rebuild whole neighborhoods. Thus, the government should flexibly negotiate with inhabitants to follow a long-tem plan to achieve the above goals, for improving their living conditions there or moving them elsewhere. Alternative housing for inhabitants can be temporary or permanent. If the latter, alternative jobs and services MUST be available too.

* * *

Meanwhile, the government can help inhabitants temporarily cope with their life in the slums. For a start, it should improve

  • the main streets, to ease traffic;
  • the busiest & most visited spots (markets/hospitals/schools/government buildings ...), esp. those owned/subsidized by the state, and supervise those owned by individuals;
  • the most inhabited parts in the slum, that usually have the most problems too.

As for individuals, they can apply the following simple strategies, that the government should facilitate too.

To cope with life in slums:

1. Focus on prevention & precaution, more than treatment and confrontation, since you have less control over the latter. Many people living in upscale neighborhoods watch neither prevention nor precaution, as they grow dependent on government and other people to do so for them. So start with yourself. Lacking something makes one value it more, even more than those who have it.

  • Health: Develop hygienic habits. Learn first aids. Buy healthy food whenever, wherever possible. Have your own air-filter, water-filter, and wire screen against bugs/rats.
  • Security: Avoid dangerous situations, places & people. Protect yourself properly against theft, fire, accidents, predators, nature anger, etc. Have an alarm system, iron grid, fire-extinguisher, rope, ladder, handy weapon, easy escape/hideout, and available contacts.
  • Economy: Have alternative/self-sufficient energy sources, home-made/grown/stored food. Use "recycling" in almost every aspect of life. Don't possess things you never use & treat what you use with care to live longest. Save money for future mishaps.
  • Privacy: Use curtains & reflexive glass for more privacy, sunlight and view.

2. Have a network of useful people, to make up for the lack of security, services, etc. Most slums exist in tribal societies where tribe (or family) is the unit of society, not individual as in civilized societies where individuals' rights are protected by law and government. It's better when you live in a household with a family or close people, than when you live alone. However, if you live alone, make sure to "mobilize" your tribe members (relatives/friends/acquaintances) fast, by technology and otherwise, in case of emergencies. Still, every place has a level of law enforcement, however backward it is (else we'd be living in a jungle!). So resort to law when personal/social solutions don't work.

With other people, you don't have to be very sociable; just be mutually useful and respectful, which will help you develop "basic" social skills. Socialize with people who have different experiences, either because of their career (doctors, policemen, lawyers, bankers, and other professionals), or their age, IQ, income, social background, views, tastes, and personality (extrovert, introvert, humorous, serious, intellectual, practical, etc.). 

3. Think more! Although this may temporarily lower the quality of your life (leaving little time to think of anything but problems), it gradually makes you solve problems faster, freeing more pace in your brain and developing useful brain skills enabling you to do and enjoy other things in life, that even those who have less problems can't do or enjoy. It's the mind of the beholder that matters, not his eyes; so work on your mind, attitude and inside, since you can't change the outside. You will find it so rewarding and worth your effort.

4. Learn more! Benefit from the available TECHNOLOGY & KNOWLEDGE, that are usually cheap to find wherever you live, to connect you with other neighborhoods, towns, countries, and the entire world, and the people living in them, since you don't have the means to connect with them physically. Mental connection is more important than the physical. Find the most available teaching tools & techniques, and develop basic "self-help" knowledge to solve your daily problems with.

5. Exercise calmness, self-control and simple living. Cherish and practice these virtues, which are useful for living in slums or elsewhere. Learn how to turn a deaf ear to noise, blind eye to ugliness, and to ignore bad smells, bad people, etc. Don't confuse useless mindless obsessions with real necessities.

Simple living helps you enjoy life more. Unlike in rich neighborhoods, when accident happens there is little to lose: you won't suffer losing your expensive car (if you have one, which is difficult to park in a slum anyway), you won't suffer losing/damaging/cleaning/protecting your rare art collection or expensive carpets/furniture/home appliances, you won't offend your highly sensitive ear, eye, nose, etc.

6. Be creative: find alternative pleasures.

  • Public pleasures are intended to be for everyone: parks, museums, rivers, sky, sunlight, etc. The more civilized a country is, the more public services and pleasures are there for its citizens.
  • There are also personal pleasures that are easy to have alone: audiovisual and social media, digital games, web surfing, watching TV, exercising, etc.
  • Intellectual pleasures are more available, useful and interesting if you allow yourself time to think: meditating, reading, writing, painting, designing, etc. Your brain is the only organ others can't share with you, esp. those crammed with you in the slums.



In spite of its many disadvantages, living in slums still has some advantages. This doesn't mean to  purposely build slums, intentionally creating chaos. Rather, it helps us make the best of the situation until alternatives are found, as most slums' fate in civilized countries is removal.

Some slums have advantages for environment & economy, although not necessarily for their dwellers. In central & vertical slums:

  • People occupy less arable land.
  • They use less transport, causing less traffic, burning less fuel, and saving transportation time & cost.
  • People/governments spend less on making new infrastructure: roads, water-pipes, power cables, phone lines, etc.
  • They are forced to use recycling and live on minimum resources.

If it's a very old slum, it may have some historical value for the unique characteristics it still has from a past era: old structures, trades, or even lifestyles of inhabitants. Not just historic slums, but most slums have much in common with life in the past, which is interesting to historians, anthropologists, slum tourists/slummers, etc. (Responsible slum tourism is mutually useful to visitors and inhabitants.) However, although historic slums are inspiring and mind-provoking to visitors, to residents familiarity may kill some of such inspiration, unless residents learn about their history and environment. On the other hand, familiarity increases attachment to one's environment and the desire to help their part of the world, however backward it is. If people's suffering while visiting or living in a slum outweighs every other emotion, the advantages won't be felt, historical or not.

Slums have some social advantages:

  • People living in slums develop social skills many rich neighborhoods dwellers don't have. They are forced to be more sociable because of their closeness and constant daily problems.
  • Social bonds can replace some of the missing security by government and money. There are people to hear you when you cry for help.
  • One gets a special knowledge from watching other people's behavior closely, which is good if you are a sociologist, civil servant, etc. When you live in a slum you will sympathize more with the poor, which is useful for understanding THE LARGER PICTURE of the society you live in, esp. if you can help the people there directly through a political position, NGOs, media ... You get more credibility, popularity, and "votes." A good leader is a close one, with a good "vision."
  • If you are a sociable person, it's a pleasure to have people all around you, where you hardly feel alone. You enjoy others' "closeness" most when you appreciate the "space" each needs and understand their differences. You enjoy conversation most when you value silence and know when to be silent. (No need to act like chatterboxes, eavesdroppers ... or voyeurs!)

Living a rough life, in slums or anywhere, makes you grow wiser & stronger, as it compels you to think more and endure various physical & psychological challenges, becoming more patient, creative, and "flexible" to adjust to pressure & small space.

It's cheap to live in slums. You don't have to spend your life making money to spend on expensive pleasures, while missing the cheap ones, that, although cheap, are more diverse, meaningful and useful.

Wherever you live, even in a 2-yard-square underground room/cell, it's almost always possible to see, through a small hole or window, a "piece of the sky" that everyone lives and dies under, poor or rich, where you can throw away all your cares, to melt in its infinite space. You can always retire to your mind and travel the world without leaving your neighborhood. You sit on top of the world watching others from your vantage: moving, working, quarreling, loving, hating, dying ... desperate to have a peaceful moment with themselves, many fail to find, that you can have at no cost there.


Improving Slums

Clearing Slums

Living with Noise

Living on the Floor

Secular Asceticism