Slum Upgradation Strategies from around the world


Today, 330 million people in the world live in sub-standard housing. In Brazil, 11.4 million of the 190 million people resided in areas of irregular occupation. But, policy responses to deal with these settlements have evolved in Brazil in the last 30 years from evictions under the military dictatorship to Progama de Aceleração do Crescimento(PAC), an investment program aimed to develop basic amenities in these settlements. Peru in Latin America was a pioneer in using tenure regularization as a tool for dealing with urban informality. World Bank studies show that the provision of basic services along with secure land tenure leads to substantial private investment in home construction – on average, each $1 invested in infrastructure generates $7 of household investment. But, in cities as dynamic as Rio, these programs need to be complemented by redevelopment strategies to build the city for future. Morar Carioca is a similar redevelopment program which aims to upgrade the settlements where tenure security is high and ameneties are provided for, but aims to resettle other favela residents into housing provided by Morar Carioca.

Looking for model slum redevelopment projects around the world show that an effective scalable solution comprises of attractive incentives for primary stakeholders, incorporates affordability in provision of services and takes into account the dynamic growth of the city. Here are some of the examples from around the world which demonstrate some of these aspects of successful slum revitalization.

In Dharavi, state government conceptualized a unique program called Slum Redevelopment Scheme (SRS) which aimed at in-situ redevelopment to create better ameneties, as the conventional wisdom of property titles found few takers. Hence. It aimed to use strategic densification to accommodate not only existing slum dwellers but also shelter incoming flux of migrants. This approach differed from earlier projects which only provided for existing residents. Private entities were provided incentives for investment through a mix of subsidies and through a profit sharing arrangement. They were given selling rights for additional dwellings, that remained after existing migrants were accommodated. Ensuring that redevelopment projects are treated as financially viable projects instead of as welfare project, has ensured its long term sustainability. Also, in-situ redevelopment ensured that livelihoods are not lost. Earlier redevelopment projects had resulted in displacement of existing communities to city peripheries and had built suspicion among residents. The involvement of neighborhood association in planning and the prospect of higher land value were used to attract skeptical residents

In Villa El Salvador, Lima unused and mis-used public spaces were reclaimed to provide amenities to slum residents. The Alameda de los Jardines project envisages building a water treatment plant to treat household grey water from the slum households in a land which was previously used a dumping site. Its vertical location is strategic as the semi-treated water from that plant could be used for horticulture purposes and is aimed to be used for a park located just below it. Such strategies not only reduce the cost of pumps to transfer the water and watering the park, but also give vibrancy to a squatter community.

With the recent scandal implicating construction industry, low cost methods to rejuvenate the city of Rio can prove very useful for Rio ahead of Olympics 2016.

Sneha Rao


Rio’s Attempt to Upgrade Favelas


Though not all favelas are alike, nearly all are characterized by winding narrow passages, the under-provision of basic services and often domination by gangs. Residents of these neighborhoods face constant danger due to insecure infrastructure that perpetuates poverty and creates many public health problems. Most favelas residences are built with inferior materials into steep hills and thus face the constant threat of collapse. The sporadic and unplanned growth also contributes to the lack of basic sewage systems, problems with waste management, the absence of paved roads or footpaths and a near-unmanageable electricity grid. The city government has tried a variety of different programs since the military dictatorship (1964 – 1985) to improve conditions in favelas with little success. Yet with the coming mega-sporting events and a mayor with a mandate for building a better, smarter Rio, the city government unveiled a new program, Morar Carioca, in 2010.

Morar Carioca, unlike many of its predecessor programs, was designed to upgrade favelas rather than replace them and ostensibly to have the extensive input of favela residents. Building upon previous programs to improve favelas, but which suffered from under-funding, Morar Carioca was used in Rio’s bid for the Olympics as evidence of the lasting positive impact of the games. The program has plenty of funding with $8.5 billion USD committed from the city budget, the federal government and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), for the program which runs through 2020 and aims to upgrade all of Rio’s slums.

As part of the program, Rio authorities have finally begun the long process of legally recognizing favela resident property claims, with a variety of regularization processes. This legal recognition is expected to give residents the incentive to help fund improvements in their neighborhoods and to protect them from displacement. So far Morar Carioca has helped to improve just over 40 favelas and 150,000 favela residents. The program works with 40 Rio architecture firms and originally solicited the help of iBase, a local NGO that specializes in participatory methods for development. These firms are expected to consult with favela residents to assess their needs and desires and from there, develop sustainable, green solutions.

The expansive program aims to improve favelas not only by providing better basic services such as sewage treatment, paved roads and footpaths and waste disposal, but also by building homes, schools and shopping centers made from recycled material. Rio’s mayor, Edward Paes, had made a name for himself internationally by promoting sustainable, green development and the need for cities to modernize to reduce their climate impact. Unsurprisingly, Morar Carioca features a heavy dose of green infrastructure. Upgrades focus on educating favela residents about the importance of the environment and climate change, of limiting favela growth in order to preserve green areas in the hills surrounding Rio and for getting favela residents to be more sustainable. Despite these lofty goals there has been ample criticism from favela residents.

The promise of Morar Carioca has not been realized in many of the neighborhoods originally guaranteed funding, with long, unexplained delays upsetting residents. Favela residents complain that the program was solely designed to lure the Olympics and World Cup to Rio, without the neighborhoods actually seeing any of the promised improvements. IBase, the NGO responsible for engaging communities in the development process has also been cut out from the program, begging the question of how much input favela residents now have. The program has also been linked to police efforts at pacification which have a mixed reputation as to effectiveness. There is no denying that implementation of a program of Morar Carioca’s breadth and depth would greatly improve life in the favelas, as always though the question is whether the government will actually deliver.

Rory Pulvino
JD/MPP ’16

Please consider making a tax-exempt donation to help fund IEDP’s trip to Brazil. Your gift is indispensable and will help defray critical program costs. To make a secure donation through the University of Michigan, follow this link, enter the amount of your donation, and type “for IEDP” as a comment on the next screen.

Favela Tours: A Shift towards Sustainable Tourism?

Favelas, the informal settlements that sprawl into the hills of Rio de Janeiro and other urban areas in Brazil, are known for their lack of public infrastructure, their high crime and their high poverty rates. Nevertheless, their popularity has grown both as places to volunteer and places for tourists to visit. Every year in Rio de Janeiro, about 42,000 tourists visit the favelas.[1] With the World Cup and the upcoming Olympics, this number will probably continue to rise. Commonly termed “slum tourism,” this has become increasingly popular and controversial.

One common form of slum tourism specific to Brazil is the favela tour. These tours take various forms, but usually include a guided tour through a slum community. One tour company, Hands Up Holidays, offers favela tours and their website describes a sample itinerary. Tourists stay in a “luxury boutique hotel” and will “step off the beaten track and experience some of Brazil’s hidden treasures including her favela (slum) communities.”[2] While visiting favelas might help tourists see and experience some of the challenges facing Brazil, critics have questioned the ethics of this form of tourism as those wealthy enough can come in, look at the poverty, and then return to their luxury hotel while claiming they saw the “real Brazil.”

Theresa Williamson, the director of the NGO Catalytic Communities working in the favelas, stated, “It’s one thing to go gawk at poverty, another thing is to go see a fascinating community where people are battling it out to better their lives. Residents can feel the difference.”[3] While favelas are integral to understanding the challenges facing Brazilian cities, it would be difficult to understand the social and economic complexities and challenges facing favela residents from just a half-day tour. While some see favela tours as a way for tour companies to profit from poverty, there are promising efforts underway to bring more benefits to the communities themselves.

Recent trends have shown tour companies emphasizing “sustainable favela tours” which include a more direct link to the communities they are visiting, and this sustainability component manifests itself in a variety of ways. Some tour guides encourage the tourists to spend more money in the communities, while others have a direct link to a charity or organization working in the community. For example, is one organization run completely by residents of the Rocinha favela, and 25% of their profits support a DJ (Disc Jockey) School and leadership program.[4] The tour company Exotic Tours runs favela tours that are led by community members and their profits support training of local guides and school projects within their community.[5] Other tours take tourists to see the Samba Schools, social clubs organized by neighborhood, that are practicing for Carnival competitions. Their rehearsal nights are open to the general public and turn into large night-clubs where tourists can experience the Samba music, dance, costumes and culture that is central to Brazil.[6]

Along with the sustainability component of these programs, raising awareness is another potential benefit. The more people who visit favelas, the more people who will have an understanding of life in favelas and the more people who could potentially work to advocate for or donate to efforts that will improve life and services in these communities. These recent efforts towards more sustainable and less exploitative forms of tourism are promising.

While favela tours remain controversial, they probably will not go away. The Brazilian Ministry of Tourism endorsed favela tours in 2013, and with the Olympics approaching, many tourists will want to see a more “realistic” version of life in Brazil. I hope that with the new emphasis on “sustainable favela tours,” tourists who come for the Olympics will be able to glimpse life in the favelas while contributing towards organizations working on the ground to improve lives of those living there.

Corey Ackerman
MPP  ’16








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Land Use and Participatory Programs

On November 7, Professor Pimentel Walker gave a presentation on three distinct participatory government initiatives, their origins and their outcomes on communities.

First, we learned about rural land development initiatives that Professor Pimentel Walker had researched in Porto Alegre. There, efforts to break up large single-owner farms, or latifundios, have taken place for many years. Early advocates of this program were the Landless Workers Movement (MST), as well as the many Brazilian clergymen influenced by Liberation Theology. Initial goals of the program were to expand agribusiness generally (since this was a region with few job opportunities), and increase production of sugarcane for ethanol (a major fuel source in Brazil). Communities are compactly built, so that electrical and other infrastructures are more efficiently provided. 70% of lands are collectively owned, and 30% are individual land titles. The major problem with this program is that, although Brazil’s constitution guarantees a husband and wife equal title on their land, only the 3 single women in Professor Pimentel Walker’s research sample of 70 homes had their names on the title. This had an enormous impact on their financial independence. Hence, Professor Pimentel Walker pushed reforms which would promote joint titling, as well as make access to micro-credit program easier for women. In a region with few economic options, these programs, combined with Bolsa Familia funds, are essential to their economic future.

Second, we learned about how land-use laws attempt to regulate urban areas. The Ministry of Cities is in charge of this task; it would not exist today without the consistent advocacy of groups such as MST. In 2001, the Ministry mandated that all cities with more than 20,000 residents create a Master Plan for land-use. This often includes regulation of the different types of informal housing we had previously learned about, as well as Adverse Possession clauses, whereby squatters who live on land for five years without objection from the owners can gain title to that land. There are also several federal initiatives underway, including Minha casa, Minha vida (My house, My life), and zoning for social housing (ZEIS). Seeking to emulate Bolsa Familia, implementation of Minha casa, Minha vida and other land-use initiatives are incentivized by providing extensive federal funding for projects that include low-income housing. While well received, it is still unclear how much affordable housing these programs will create.

Finally, we heard about participatory budgeting programs that are underway in 500 of Brazil’s 5,000 municipalities. Professor Pimentel Walker studied Porto Alegre’s program, and told us about some of its successes and challenges. Its focus on clear language and direct input from community members has been very well received. Residents of squatter settlements receive a great deal of infrastructure funding through these outlets. Afro-Brazilians also gain a great deal from these programs, though the history of Quilombos (settlements first founded by escaped slaves) means that they rarely present a unified agenda. However, political changes often cause inconsistent funding of the program. Leftist governments typically embrace the program, while conservatives often reject it, to the point of not seeking out guaranteed matching federal funds for projects funded through this process. Again, while this system has been successful in many places, its consistent application in Brazil is still not a reality.

Thank you to Professor Pimentel Walker for her time and insights!

Kyle Olsen
JD/MPP 2018

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Urban Housing in Brazil – all about inequality?

The Infamous Brazilian Paradox - favellas overlooking Copacabana beach

After images of Christ the Redeemer, Copacabana Beach, and carnival, Brazil is probably best recognized by images of the shantytowns that surround the country’s expanding cities. This past Wednesday, Joshua Shake, PhD candidate in Urban Planning, enlightened the IEDP group about Brazil’s housing policies and issues that surround accommodating growing populations in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, the country’s most populated municipalities.

One can clearly detect Brazil’s struggle with inequality via the country’s housing landscape. Three forms of informal housing settlements are most common in Brazil:

favelas: Irregular settlements built on public or private property (usually in the outskirts) which are illegally occupied by poor families. They are characterized by scant primary and secondary urbanization.

cortiços: Rented housing units mainly made up of a single room, obtained by the repeated  sub-division of houses, particularly in old buildings in the city center. They are characterized by overcrowding and problematic sanitary conditions.

loteamentos: Subdivisions of housing for which builders may not have documents allowing them to build on the lot. Units in these subdivisions are generally occupied by people with modest incomes, yet they don’t always have infrastructural needs.

In Brazil, most housing policies come from the federal level. However each of these informal settlements may be governed by a different level of government (federal, state, local), and the settlements themselves may also be located within each other (i.e. a favela may be found within a loteamento). This further complicates government and public service provider relationships.

The Brazilian government has attempted to address urban housing issues by prioritizing informal settlement areas that are deemed high importance via government criteria. Despite these efforts, the future of urban housing and tackling public housing issues remains a struggle between thoroughly addressing inequality and the country’s desire expand its influence.

Até logo,

PhD/MPP ’16


Please consider making a tax-exempt donation to help fund IEDP’s trip to Brazil. Your gift is indispensable and will help defray critical program costs. To make a secure donation through the University of Michigan, follow this link, enter the amount of your donation, and type “for IEDP” as a comment on the next screen.