Economics · Management · Public Policy · Society

Providing the right ecosystem

I have read a lot of definitions and researched about the origin of the word slum. It became famous and considered a slang after Charles Dickens used it in 1840 writing “I mean to take a great, London, back-slum kind walk tonight” (Blount). But the definition that seems most encompassing in its usage is that a slum is a residential area where dwelling is unfit for human habitation because of dilapidation, overcrowding, lack of ventilation, water, light and sanitation.

The definition seems to give a picture which is so true about every other slum that is out there in the world. Now the purpose of a slum is to provide shelter and that in its most primitive sense is what we call a home. Without doing a data analysis, I can still say for a fact that no one imagines their house to be what defines a slum and yet 65 million people in India and around 651 million allover the globe reside in slums according to UN-Habitat (Global Health Observatory Data, 2014).

The above fact is enough to put housing needs as one of the most pressing social issue in front of the human society and is also one of the biggest obstacle in achieving even one of the 8 Millennium development goals to its full extent. It’s not a rocket science to realize that it’s not practical to imagine providing 650 million people better shelter than the one they currently reside in, in a year or so. But the first step towards it is to make housing affordable. We need to rethink slum settlements.

As necessity is the mother of all invention, the need is to rethink housing in an innovative, sustainable and affordable manner.

The following talking points can help developing a road map to redesign our scope and mindset about how to provide affordable housing to more people in less time.

1. Quality of life- A study done by Ashoka Foundation found out that when surveyed slum residents overwhelmingly cited water and sewage services as crucial priorities when asked about their aspirations and need for better housing. We need to keep in mind that to improve the social infrastructure of any country minimum necessary services like clean drinking water and toilets are a necessary (Foundation, 2006).

2. Community engagement- Here I would like to talk about design thinking (Lawson). Unlike analytical thinking where we break down things into simpler parts and then analyze them. Design thinking is about bringing things together with few or no limits. The basic rule of design thinking is that all design solutions are centered around humans as all problems are ultimately social in nature.

Same logic applies to the problem of housing needs. The center of all solutions should be the community that ends up residing in those houses. For instance, self-construction practices can bring down construction cost significantly. But then safety standards need to be in place to make sure there is no causality during construction.

3. Creation of jobs to pay and maintain a house- A lot of times workers that migrate to urban areas give up their homes and start living in slums because they cannot afford to maintain a house with all services and its rent as well. The idea behind affordable housing should not just stop at the price tag of the house built but also how to make sure that the owner of the house is able to maintain it. It’s a common practice in any country or community that people tend to polarize into groups and live in close communities of their likewise. This situation can act as an impediment to growth of people at the lower rung of the ladder. Contractors and builders should buy land and promote mixed settlements. This way the people renting or buying the houses are also able to improve their living conditions.

4. Long transport to work is a critical issue for a resident, preventing them from integrating with the rest of the city. The extra travel leads to extra cost and impacts one’s income security and ultimately a person is forced to rent out their home and live in shabby quarters for proximity to work place. Thus building houses at outskirts is actually undesirable in long run though it definitely brings the cost down and give short term relief to the owner of the house.

Ultimately the boundaries of every city and country is under transformation as every one wants a piece of the city where there is opportunity of exponential growth as compared to residing in a village. From business point of view, no sector has a bigger market than housing and from social point of view unless we provide every citizen of our country a place that is equipped with all basic services, we cannot achieve our goal of being a super power.

A nation derives its strength from its citizen, and its citizen from having a quality of life that gives them a sense of security, safety and infuse in them a spirit to transition into more productive assets for their country.

By: Shriti Pandey

Shriti is an alumna of New York University, she holds a Masters degree in Construction Management.


Blount, T. (n.d.). “Dickens’s Slum Satire in Bleak House.” pp. 60.3 (1965): 340-51.

Foundation, A. (2006). Housing solutions serving low income populations.

Global Health Observatory Data. WHO (2014). 

Lawson, B. (n.d.). How designers think.

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