At the present historical conjuncture, we face a new movement in slum governance pushing urban planners to reconcile with the dilemma of property, personhood and cycles of social inequality.
Before advancing, I borrow from Dr. Ananya Roy to explain the deliberate use of the word slum. While it is poor shorthand for the heterogeneity of urban habitation and the dense and barricaded economies of work and livelihood, it delineates an object of administration and a force of collective action.
The concept of ‘governing the slums‘ presents an interesting catch-22 at the interface of bureaucracies of poverty and poor people’s movements. Dr. Roy argues that these issues cannot be interpreted solely through the dominant framework of neoliberalization or property rights to the city, frameworks that dominate conceptual agenda in contemporary urban studies and planning. Today’s reinventions of development initiatives in the Global South are rooted in local governments to capitalize on the shadow economy on the poor. In simpler terms: by offering property rights to slum dwellers, local agencies expect that representation on paper will motivate the creation of informal entrepreneurs. This is what Dr. Roy coined as the “Propriety of Poverty”. What theorists like Hernando DeSoto fail to explore is that most slum dwellers are tenants whose property can never belong solely to them. Regardless of a paper granting them the right to live as tenants, the insecurity of safety and shelter continues to prevail.
Reflecting on the impact of the states attempts to frame practices as socially inclusive with the intention to extract capital from the poor, Dr. Roy provokes a more fundamental question: how are we responsible for reproducing inequality?
More specifically, can we trace an alternative history of development in the United States?
The mid 1960s, we all know to be a tumultuous time in the US. A growing anxiety about racialized violence in American cities conjoined with the fear of insurgency in many parts of the Global South. As the Vietnam War intensified, and so called ‘ghetto-rebellions’ exploded in American cities, we implemented a series of policies and programs yoking the problems of poverty and security and devised new strategies of social reform and pacification. These programs were inevitably concerned with the city and it’s spaces of poverty, understood as the ghetto or the slum. These programs further stratified groups and create patterns of inequality that continue to be repeated today. It is very interesting that this echoes precisely those strategies of reform and pacification in the police reforms announced recently by president Obama in the wake of Ferguson. Room for exploration remains, what can planners to end this cycle in the Global South and equally in our own backyards.