Acumen Blog

Slums are the future of cities

This article in Forbes magazine makes a very important statement about cities as the future of the world and slums as the future of cities. It quotes a lot from the book Planet of Slums by Mike Davis, citing important aspects of rapid urbanization, such as:

  • By 2030, 5 billion of 8.1 billion people in the world will live in cities, of which 2 billion will be living in slums, mainly in Africa and Asia.
  • Slums do function, complete with social hierarchies, commerce, mini and micro enterprises and a form of home government
  • There is no free land available to urban squatters, and there is a price to be paid either to previous residents or corrupt politicians or local police.
  • Ignoring the massive urban influx, as governments have been doing for decades, keeps slum dwellers out of the legal systems and tax systems and gives them tenuous rights to land on which they live. This could spawn influential groups fighting for squatter rights, but it could and does spawn criminal gangs and militant movements as well.
  • The article mentions how Turkey has given legal and political rights to squatters that encourage them to invest in their homes and neighborhoods. This is a lone example but worth emulating.

The UN definition of a slum is one whose residents are missing at least some of the following: durable walls, a secure lease or title, adequate living space, access to safe drinking water and toilets. 20% of slums miss at least three of these requirements today.

Acumen Fund’s work toward funding enterprises that use market-based approaches to address critical needs of the poor is aligned with these needs of slum dwellers. For example, Acumen Fund has invested in urban squatter resettlement through loans for title to land and home improvement loans for incremental housing in Karachi. Acumen Fund is also exploring similar options for low-income housing finance in cities in India and Kenya, as well as business models for bringing sanitation services to slums. But the growing levels of poverty in cities demonstrate the need for more sustainable, scalable solutions that address the lack of critical goods and services among the poor.

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