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Opinion: When does improving quality of life in urban slums become gentrification?

By TruthOut at 1:54 PM 5/31/2020 (PDT)

The UN-Habitat is currently discussing a plan to ensure access to adequate housing in urban slums. Previous articles have outlined this plan in more detail, but it focuses on providing affordable housing, improving amenities and infrastructure in slums, helping heal weakened economies, and establishing an intergovernmental organization to ensure countries are enforcing policies.

Improving citywide amenities is important for improving the quality of life of impoverished people, but it seems like a difficult task for developing nations to tackle. Construction projects to update infrastructure don’t come cheap. The main source of income for these projects would most likely be funds loaned from developed nations, but that large sum needs to be paid back by developing nations. Unless the infrastructure projects really boost an area’s economy, that could be difficult to do in a reasonable window of time. It also indebts developing nations to developed ones, which could cause a power imbalance where developed nations try to mold a developing nation to support them.

The US wants to create a more sustainable form of development through methods like microfinance loans, which could help slum residents grow their area’s economies themselves, This is a more solid plan, however it doesn’t create as much revenue to build these large scale infrastructure projects. Additionally, there’s the question of if this falls within the topic the committee is discussing. Are all of these amenities related to “adequate housing?”

Another concern about these large scale constructions is their potential to impact a community’s culture. If these projects aren’t taken on with sensitivity, they could upset important facets of the community, such as different places and businesses that serve as important neighborhood spaces. If the money for these projects comes from developed nations, and those developed nations set certain standards for what can be built with their money, this could lead to the erasure of a community’s culture.

If new housing isn’t adequately subsidized it could displace the most impoverished residents. Essentially, it is vital to ensure these newly built spaces are there for the benefit of people who currently live in the slums, not a way to gentrify the slums and have higher class residents move in. Either way, many slums are very tightly packed, and building better, more spacious housing means not being able to house as many people. This could also lead to displacement, and the UN-Habitat’s plan needs to address those who can no longer live in the city as well.

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