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Press release: new report - the seven myths of ‘slums’

08 December 2010

The increasing rate of slum growth in the Global South is the direct result of an international development paradigm that fails to prioritise the basic needs of the poor. A world without urban poverty cannot be realised without a redistribution of power and resources on the national and global level, argues a new report by Share The World’s Resources.

Link to full report: The Seven Myths of 'Slums' - Challenging Popular Prejudices About the World's Urban Poor

Much may be written about informal settlements in academic books and journals, but the depiction of slums in popular movies and literature often serves to reinforce a number of long-held prejudices against the urban poor. This report sets out to unravel some of these core ‘myths’, and aims to give a general perspective on a range of key issues related to slums – including the impact of economic globalisation, the role of national governments, the significance of the informal sector of employment, the question of international aid, and the (little mentioned) controversy surrounding global slum data and development targets.

Owing to a general lack of public awareness about the seriousness of slum formation in developing countries, the report aims to help promote a wider interest in the challenge of slums and urban poverty. The main subject of critique concerns the economic priorities that lead governments to turn their cities into an attractive base for financial capital, at the expense of redistributive strategies that would directly benefit the excluded poor. Throughout the seven ‘myths’, the report describes how the resurgence of a non-interventionist ideology in recent decades has weakened the role of national governments, and de-prioritised the importance of the state in planning for a more equitable distribution of resources in cities.

After several decades of relying on the market as a cure-all for the ills of the twenty-first century, the increasing number of urban residents living in slums is cited as sufficient evidence that the ‘growth-first’ strategy for development isn’t sustainable. So long as policymakers prioritise economic growth ahead of the basic human needs of the weakest members of society, the prevalence of slums will inevitably worsen across the Global South, as the different chapters set out to explain.

The report argues that the first step towards realising a ‘world without slums’ lies in supporting the resourcefulness, capacity and organisational ability of the people who actually live inside these settlements – a fact that is long recognised by development practitioners, but still ignored by many governments who continue to displace the urban poor from their places of living and livelihood. The report finds that most official development assistance agencies have failed to develop relationships with slum residents and their representative organisations, and rarely assign any role to urban poor groups in the design and implementation of aid programmes. Furthermore, the report argues that the current priorities of aid agencies and development banks are unlikely to favour the kind of redistributive policies that are central for giving the poor local control over the housing process.

In its overall message, the report says that a world without slums and poverty cannot be realised without a transformation of our existing political, economic and social structures. If urbanisation trends and cities are to become socially inclusive and sustainable, the report concludes that our only choice is to consider alternative goals and more holistic models for development that prioritise social objectives ahead of corporate profit and international competitiveness, with a fairer sharing of resources on the national and global level.

A summary of the seven myths:

Myth 1: There are too many people
Myth 2: The poor are to blame
Myth 3: Slums are places of crime, violence and social degradation
Myth 4: Slums are an inevitable stage of development
Myth 5: The free market can end slums
Myth 6: International aid is the answer
Myth 7: There will always be slums

Further resources:

Link to the full report on this website 

Link to a summary article of The Seven Myths of 'Slums'

‘Megaslumming’ microsite

The Future of Urban Shantytowns: talk given at Amnesty International in London - 24th February 2010

Do We Care About Urban Poverty? - 1st April 2010