Over billion people live in areas that are often labelled as slums, or pandillas, or barrios in cities
The biggest single challenge that many cities are going to face, particularly in Africa and South America and Asia, over the next several decades is how to how to ensure quality of living in those areas so that people can really realize their full potential.
The informal city will be the dominant form of urbanization in most developing countries, and its magnitude will have major social, economic and environmental implications.
Informal settlements are self-constructed areas that may start as a small group occupies lots to erect their homes and neighborhoods, growing into larger concentrations, as they evolve quickly and faster than any planned cities.
Informal settlements are the consequence of the inability of government to provide land, shelter, infrastructure and services for the urban poor.
How can we better deal with informal settlements? There have been important initiatives dealing with the improvement of informal settlements in the last decades, particularly in Latin America, which have radically improved living conditions of informal settlements.
Successful case study/example: Colombian city of Medellin, which has experienced some of the most outstanding urban transformations of any contemporary city when it comes to elevating the quality of life of informal areas.
In many developing countries issues of land tenure are front and center of the debates over city design and development.
Majority of people living in slums do not own the land they occupy, and the stability of the city will depend on whether they are granted some form of land tenure.
Why and how does land tenure matter?
Property lines are the hidden designers of cities, and granting occupants ownership provides the security for them to invest and improve. The process of defining and distributing land lays the groundwork for the upgrading of informal settlements throughout much of the world.
Another key issue in designing rapidly urbanizing cities is is about finding ways to aggregate land so that a functioning system of streets with sewers, and water, electricity, and gas lines can be planned and provided to the occupants of the area.
The process that is emerged is that of a land pooling or land adjustment, where all owners pool their lands, either voluntarily or by government decree, and the land is re-plotted with sites reserved for streets and land for essential services, like parks and schools.
The remaining land is redistributed to the previous owners based on the proportion of the overall site that they previously owned. They can sell their lots, or build on them, and while they end up with less land, they now have services and a well-planned neighborhood.
What can a designer reasonably do to combat poverty and urban deterioration?
First he/she has to realise that people are poor for a reason, such as the changing economy of a city.
So it is important to start by being clear about why a city has poor prospects, what is holding it back, and what is the prospect for change?
Case studies of “The Badlands” of North Philadephia; North Adams, Massachusetts; Bilbao, Spain; 798 in Beijing, China; Ciqikou in Chongqing, China; Wooloomooloo in Sydney, Australia; and Dallas, Texas.
To reverse poverty and stop urban deterioration, a clearly design can make a difference in economic development, expanding institutions and business, re-use of lands, new jobs, recreation and better living conditions. But we must also be careful not to displace the poor and end up benefitting land owners and institutions.