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In Conversation on Urbanisation with Dr. Shlomo Angel

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Below post is cross-posted from our Financing Small Cities Blog.

In a three-part interview series Vishnu Prasad of IFMR Finance Foundation speaks with Dr. Shlomo (Solly) Angel, adjunct professor at NYU and senior research scholar at the NYU Stern Urbanization Project, about India’s urban housing crisis, urban governance challenges in India, the enduring legacy of the Oregon experiment, Making Room Paradigm and his personal experiences with participatory planning in Bangkok.


Q: One of the most visible manifestations of the land market distortion is the preponderance of slums in Indian cities. It is estimated that 20% of all households in urban India – and a larger share in the mega-cities (42% in Mumbai) – live in slums. How should countries like India formulate policy responses to this question?

A: I think that the solution to the problem of slums in India is very simple but that doesn’t mean that it will happen. The problem is really one of paternalism.

Namely, if you were to solve the Dharavi problem tomorrow, I would simply say that the land on which this slum is located now belongs to the slum-dwellers. The government gives up the authority on this land and the slum-dwellers are now shareholders in a great economic asset in the middle of one of the most important cities in the world.

The issue would then be one of how to derive the maximum benefit for the land-owners by developing this land appropriately. The land shouldn’t be given to developers who take advantage of the slum dwellers or to corrupt politicians who do land deals.

The land must belong to the people and in my mind, there is no doubt that if and when this happens, housing conditions in Dharavi will improve rapidly.

What the government has been doing for decades is to sustain the uncertainty about the future of the land and this dissuades people from investing in that land.The government should get rid of this uncertainty by allowing people to stay where they are and give them ownership and control over their territory.

In neighbouring Pakistan there are examples of this being done, either marginally or totally. If you compare Orangi (in Karachi) to Dharavi, there is a lot more development in the former since the government has given the right of the land to the people and eliminated uncertainty.

Indian bureaucrats have always insisted that these slums are temporary, or that they don’t exist, or that according to the law (in say Maharashtra) the land is shown as vacant land and is therefore, not inhabited. India is behind other countries in terms of these policies and bureaucrats have kept these slums in a state of limbo.

To read the full interview click here.

You can also listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below:

Also read on Cities Blog:

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth of Public Housing

Excerpt: The Pruitt-Igoe housing complex in St. Louis, USA has long served as an archetype for the failure of public housing and oftentimes for well-intentioned government policies in general. The Pruitt-Igoe Myth (2011), a documentary feature by Chad Freidrichs, attempts to systematically dispel this notion by bringing to light the often omitted explanatory factors at play in the decline of Pruitt-Igoe.

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