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What Are the Main Problems Caused by Rapid Urbanisation and How Can They Be Overcome?

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What are the main problems caused by rapid urbanisation and how can they be overcome?

For the first time in history, the majority of the human population lives in cities (New Internationalist 2006). This is related to a number of possibilities, but also risks. On the one hand, cities can generate jobs and income, and facilitate access to education, health care and other services due to their advantages of scale and proximity. On the other hand, urban explosion, especially in the developing world, comes along with several social and environmental problems, especially when it proceeds very fast and is poorly managed. Today, this is mainly a problem of urban areas in the developing world, which have high concentrations of poor residents. As 19 of the 23 cities expected to reach a population of more than 10 million by 2015 will be in the global South (New Internationalist 2006), addressing these problems is a major task for local governments and organisations concerned with urban development planning.

This essay will discuss two interconnected major problems caused by rapid urbanisation in Less Developed Countries (LDCs), namely slums and crime, and will deal with the question which strategies are best to resolve these problems. Although the urban challenges of slums and crime are interconnected, as they both relate to the so-called urban poor, and to vast social and economic inequalities within urban populations, they will be discussed separately in the course of this essay. Firstly, there will be a description of the specific problem and its connection to urbanisation, followed by the presentation and discussion of different approaches to solve it. The essay will particularly refer to the Brazilian city São Paulo in order to exemplify the discussed problems of urbanisation. Finally, it will try to find some common patterns for successful urban development policies.

One problem related to the rapid urbanisation in LDCs is the emergence of so-called shanty towns, slums, or, in the case of Brazil, favelas. These develop due to the fact that many new migrants to cities cannot afford housing and hence build improvised accommodations in informal settlements. The United Nations Human Settlements Programme's (UN-HABITAT) definition of a slum household is:

(...) a group of individuals living under the same roof in an urban area who lack one or more of the following indicators: 1. Durable housing of a permanent nature that protects against extreme climate conditions. 2. Sufficient living space which means not more than three people sharing the same room. 3. Easy access to safe water in sufficient amounts at an affordable price. 4. Access to adequate sanitation in the form of a private or public toilet shared by a reasonable number of people. 5. Security of tenure that prevents forced evictions (UN-HABITAT 2006: 21).

In 2005, 1 billion people worldwide were living in slums, a number that corresponds to about a third of the world's total urban population (New Internationalist 2006).

For a long time, demolitions and forced evictions - often connected with human rights violations - were the main response to slums in the urban areas of the developing world. As an estimated 30-50% of city dwellers in the developing world do not have legal documents to prove tenure security, this seems to be an easy way for governments to address the problem of informal settlements. According to a global survey in 60 countries, 6.7 million people were forcibly evicted from their homes between 2000 and 2002 (UN-HABITAT 2006). Jean du Plessis, coordinator for the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) points out that there is also a 'growing tendency to undertake and justify forced evictions for "development" purposes' (New Internationalist 2006b). However, clearances of shanty towns and forced evictions are no solution of the housing problem in cities of the developing world, as they further the dislocation of poor communities instead of integrating them into society, and finally only lead to the construction of new shanty towns.

The more future-oriented and humane alternative for facing the challenge of slums in urban areas of the developing world is called upgrading. This includes the regularisation of land and housing rights as well as infrastructure improvements, for instance regarding water supply and sewerage, sanitation, and electricity. Typical upgrading projects also provide footpaths, street lighting, drainage, roads, and solid waste collection. The construction of new homes is usually not a part of slum upgrading policies, as the residents are expected to do this themselves. Instead, building materials and optional loans for home improvements are often provided as a part of so-called self-help schemes. Moreover, the slum residents often receive tenure rights and hence protection from future forced evictions (UN-HABITAT 2006). Upgrading as a way to deal with the urban phenomenon of shanty towns has significant advantages. Firstly, it is a much cheaper alternative to clearance and relocation, costing up to ten times less than these methods. Furthermore, it minimizes the disturbance to the social and economic life of the community and can even strengthen the community spirit as local people work together to improve their homes. Altogether, the results of upgrading form an immediate, significant and sustainable difference in the quality of life of the urban poor. In the light of these advantages, Mawuse Anyidoho, coordinator of COHRE's Africa programme, stressed that "leaders must have the political will to address the issues that lead to the proliferation of slums, rather than just bulldozing them when they become an eyesore" (New Internationalist 2006b).

However, experts also suggest that, in dealing with the phenomenon of slums, policies should focus stronger on the livelihood of slum residents and the challenge of urban poverty in general. They argue that slums are to a large part manifestations of urban poverty, wherefore slum policies should be seen as part of "broader, people-focused urban poverty reduction policies that deal with the varied aspects of poverty, including employment and incomes, shelter, food, health, education and access to basic urban infrastructure and services"(UN-HABITAT 2007: 2), instead of just focusing on either the eradication or the physical upgrading of slums.

In the case of São Paulo, more than one third of its population of 11.253.503 lives in poor housing conditions, 11% in favelas. To tackle this phenomenon, the municipality has recently been working on an inclusive and pro-poor housing policy, which is a clear shift of direction compared to earlier efforts to exclude, ignore or simply remove informal and illegal settlements. The responsible



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