Global Health Equity Research in Translation brings academic research to broader audiences: decision makers, policy makers, advocacy groups, philanthropists, and journalists. The series draws on transdisciplinary health equity research completed with the support of the Community of Excellence in Global Health Equity at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York.
Strategies for Improving Informal Settlements, Issue 2 of Global Health Equity Research in Translation Series, explores how inequities in affordable shelter are propelling the prevalence of informal settlements. Drs. Korydon Smith and Tomà Berlanda's book Interpreting Kigali, Rwanda: Architectural Inquiries and Prospects for a Developing African City provide recommendations for the improvement of informal settlements. Issue 2 highlights five key takeaways to improve informal settlements.
A billion people—one-sixth of the world’s population—live in informal settlements.1 This number is forecast to double in the next decade, as increasing numbers of refugees from armed conflict and climate change seek safer environments, and as economic migrants continue to pursue opportunity in urbanizing areas. Though informal settlements offer at least some degree of promise to their residents, they also lack basic infrastructure to support health and wellness, including clean water, adequate sewage systems, durable housing, and public spaces for commerce and recreation. Additionally, informal settlements are frequently overcrowded and situated in political conflict zones, eco-sensitive environments, and locations vulnerable to extreme weather events (e.g., cyclones, hurricanes, and unusually-severe heat or cold) and natural disasters (e.g., earthquakes and flooding).
For decades, governments in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) have responded to informal settlements with a range of approaches, including denying their existence, reacting with benign indifference, evicting residents, and demolishing settlements in whole or in part. More recently, it has been understood that eviction and demolition do not address the cultural and material realities that drive the creation and expansion of informal settlements; this trend has prompted increasing interest in improving informal settlements and attempting to formalize land tenure for residents of these communities.
As a consequence, to ameliorate informal settlements, local governments in LMICs have commissioned remediation plans from architectural and urban planning firms, many of which are from high resource countries. Unfortunately, in developing plans and interventions, many such firms are not mindful of the economic limitations of LMICs, and also do not take into account the lived-experiences of people who reside in informal settlements. While geographically focused, Korydon Smith and Tomà Berlanda’s book Interpreting Kigali, Rwanda: Architectural Inquiries and Prospects for a Developing African City2 offers architects, planners, and policy makers strategies and principles—rather than prescriptions—to guide the improvement of informal settlements worldwide.
Smith and Berlanda affirm a number of principles for improving informal settlements from previous research. John Lupala3 has seven recommendations for neighborhood design in informal African cities: (1) contain city sprawl; (2) create tenure systems through land pooling and replotting; (3) effect participatory and incremental regularizing of “informal urban types” and properties; (4) implement localized planning and improved information management systems; (5) identify appropriate housing forms for the city’s future; (6) reduce plot sizes; and (7) regularize and improve exterior public spaces.
Additionally, Janice Perlman4 sets forth eight recommendations for the improvement of informal settlements: (1) provide a variety of housing options in regards to tenure and payment, such as short-term rental, long-term lease, cohousing, and financed purchase; (2) invest in education, healthcare, and social services for people, not just in infrastructure and buildings; (3) involve the community in planning and ongoing decisions; (4) provide a stronger government presence in informal settlements; (5) continue improving and integrating previous government-sponsored projects and fringe neighborhoods; (6) prevent rogue developers and landlords from conducting fraudulent property sales and housing rental practices; (7) secure land and housing in anticipation of future migration and population growth; and (8) foster expansion and increased density according to the long-term needs of the city and the best interests of the residents.
This brief is extracted from research originally published by the University of Arkansas Press.
Dr. Lisa Vahapoğlu
Vahapoğlu, Lisa. Strategies for Improving Informal Settlements. Global Health Equity Research in Translation. Eds. Frimpong Boamah, Kordas, and Raja. Community of Excellence in Global Health Equity, October 2019
Smith, Korydon H., and Tomà Berlanda. Interpreting Kigali, Rwanda: Architectural Inquiries and Prospects for a Developing African City. The University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville, 2018.
Dr. Emmanuel Frimpong Boamah, Dr. Katarzyna Kordas, and Dr. Samina Raja
Nicole Little and Jessica Scates