Pineapple Studios: SDI at 2012 AAPS All Schools Conference in Nairobi


By Skye Dobson, SDI Uganda & Secretariat 

There were a number of comments from professors at the AAPS Conference in Nairobi (October 16-18) about the name that should be given to Urban Studios. Should they be called practical planning studios? Reality studios? How can they be distinguished from the studios to which planners are accustomed? For SDI, as one programme officer pointed out, “they could be called pineapples for all we care, as long as they do the work and have productive outcomes.”

This reality check was, in many ways, the reason SDI was invited to this gathering of planning professors from across Africa. A partnership between AAPS and SDI is working to make planning more responsive to the realities of life in developing cities by bringing planning students into partnership with slum dweller federations in SDI’s network.

Sheela Patel, one of the founders of SDI and chair of the organization’s board, gave the keynote address, which undoubtedly ruffled the feathers of a few professors who questioned the focus on slums, informality, and even the urban sector.

Sheela didn’t sugar coat her relationship to planners either. “I used to love to hate planners”, she said. As the years passed, however, she came to realize it is necessary to examine the reasons why planners were not serving the needs of the urban poor and work to change it.  She said her blood would boil as a young professional when she would be forced to sit across from a planner who ordered eviction after eviction, but she focused on finding the cracks and the loopholes, that would enable a critical mass of urban residents to generate solutions. For the critical mass, finding solutions was easy. The city could not plan for what it did not know.

She urged participants to work toward disconnecting planning from 19th century principles and recognize that planning is deeply political. Despite endless platitudes to the urban poor, she argued, the judiciary continues to uphold deeply exclusionary urban planning systems. This, she warned, could have terrible consequences for the cities of the developing world where she doubts young, impatient, and aspirational populations will not be prepared to wait for years for their cities to recognize them. She said the time has come for African planners to move away from Eurocentric models and generate their own.

AAPS is deeply cognizant of this need and the conference highlighted the urban pineapples conducted by SDI affiliates and AAPS member schools. The studios highlighted were conducted in Uganda and Malawi and the Kenya federation shared its experience working with students. The presentations highlighted the benefit to students and communities through such partnerships. The sense that the university is an ivory tower with little to no relevance to the urban poor was turned on its head. Each studio aimed to infuse Africa’s future planners with the knowledge that planning developing cities simply cannot ignore the reality of life in the informal settlements where the bulk of the urban population resides. As student Sam Nuwagira, a studio participant from Uganda, remarked, “As planners we are taught that we are gods. The studio helped me to see that the gods are the community as they have the knowledge about their areas.”

This point was reinforced by federation member and “community professor” Katana Goretti, “In communities we know the number of settlements, services and origins of the people. We know how they spend their money and how they would like to develop their areas. You cannot plan from the office but if you go to the ground and speak to people and learn from them it can help you plan better.” As part of the urban studio in Uganda, Katana delivered lectures at Makerere University, took students on transect walks through Uganda’s slums, and helped student planners understand the necessity of planning with communities. 

Critically, the studio work will need to impact upon the planning curriculum. There was much discussion about how this might be possible and also much concern about the bureaucratic barriers within universities. This discussion will continue within the AAPS community. Many professors present expressed interest in conducting similar studio to the ones conducted with SDI and countries such as Nigeria, Mozambique, and Rwanda expressed interest in starting SDI affiliate federations.

For SDI the vision is to see organized communities become the drivers of pragmatic and inclusive urban planning. Building partnerships with actors typically charged with urban planning – such as municipal and city councils, urban ministries, and academic institutions – is seen as the most viable strategy for incrementally generating systemic changes to the practice of urban planning. Critically, partnerships – like pineapples – can look good from the outside, but be brown, mushy, and useless at the center. True partnerships involve negotiation and engagement between equals. Community professors still face challenges being perceived as such, but SDI believes it’s headed in the right direction.


Harare Mayor Celebrates UN Habitat Award with Slum Dwellers

Mayor of Harare

By the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation & Dialogue on Shelter

Unlike the previous global urban meetings, WUF6 will be remembered with a difference by the Zimbabweans. At this year’s World Urban Forum, the Mayor of Harare was awarded the UN Habitat Scroll of Honour – a prestigious global recognition given to an individual or organization for outstanding contribution to human settlements. The award is an acknowledgement of the role that Mayor Masunda has played in the local government sphere in general. In particular, the award recognizes the work done in partnership with the alliance of the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation and its technical partner Dialogue on Shelter under the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded Harare Slum Upgrading Project.

Today, the Harare Mayor invited the slum dwellers to his official residence in Harare to join him in celebrating this prestigious award. Mayor Masunda noted how the relationship with the alliance of the Federation and Dialogue has assisted the City of Harare to accomplish work that ordinarily would have been impossible without this partnership arrangement. The Federation’s power to organize and engage on critical developmental issues was one asset that the City had benefited from in dealing with the alliance. The Mayor explained how the partnership with the alliance, through the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), has managed to create opportunities for leveraging resources to support slum upgrading. The slum upgrading project in Dzivarasekwa Extension was pointed out as a unique pilot that has put Harare on the global human settlements map. In particular, new innovations around achieving densification, affordability and the testing of alternative infrastructure technologies under the project were cited as the key aspects of the project that have helped to build a strong case for Harare as a model.

Through slum upgrading, the Mayor of Harare and indeed the entire City of Harare was demonstrating that engaging the urban poor through meaningful partnerships remains a sustainable solution to informality instead of confronting slums using bulldozers. It is thus through championing these new shifts in urban development practice that work by Mayor Masunda has not only put Harare on the map but also Zimbabwe in general. It is a reflection of the fact that the slum agenda has now become the city agenda. For Harare, therefore the slum issue is no longer an imaginary problem that the city can insulate itself from but rather a challenge that should be acknowledged and addressed through constructive engagement with the urban poor.



Sheela Patel attends IMF AGM in Tokyo


Sheela Patel at the Annual General Meeting of the International Monetary Fund, held in Tokyo last week. 

Pictured: Far Right, Sheela Patel (Chair of SDI). Next to her Jim Yong Kim (President of the World Bank) and second from left Christine Legarde (President of the International Monetary Fund).  

 At a related event, Sheela Patel spoke about the role of the urban poor in building our urban future: 

“I come to this session with a very confused sense of identity. Everyone has a different idea of what a civil society actor is, so perhaps it will be easier to say why we do what we do, and how we seek to influence.

My organization in India, and the international network of organizations that I represent, Shack Dwellers International, represents people who have found that global investment in cities, infrastructure, and other capital investment, have found these processes produce exponential increases in eviction. As a citizen, the right to be provided services, and so on, cities do not plan to accommodate the poor. Most people that work in human rights in this field, will know that the law upholds the development plan of the city. By giving you a notice, the city has the right to evict, without a responsibility to give you anything in return. The inability of having the right to reside, of citizenship, means the civil society movements emerge form people who feel they do not have the rights that they are entitled to.

Why a global network? Because many of the aspects driving these processes including the thinking, are globalised. All finance ministers control the purse strings, most in the South have rural constituencies, and see the city as simply a place to manufacture and produce.

Our architecture is from grassroots up to local. Secondly that the processes to provide voice, has not yet succeeded. Hence our community leaders who have fought evictions and others, eventually we aspire to have them instead of me and professional advocates sitting here, I and others are seat-warmers.

My colleagues are not enabled to speak in these forums, so if you are in the business of development, learn the language of development, rather than force them to learn the language of these places.

My most important lesson is that most instances the government does not know what the poor want, nor how it could be delivered. Treating poor people as consumers of development is a mistake. The poor survive despite development, and can participate in providing new solutions that go to scale if they are part of the process, its execution and design.

Fourth, the whole issue of engendering development – most of our partners were mainly men who used to fight eviction and development. The issue of habitat, creating safe neighborhoods, the responsibility of doing so is also women’s. So what agency are we giving to them? We promote new generation of women’s leaders.

Note, everything that poor people want in cities is ‘illegal or inappropriate’. We produce our efforts to challenge development norms. We have examples of interaction with the WB, and in many instances WB projects involve eviction – termed ‘involuntary resettlement’. We have shown again and again, that involving poor people in design and execution of projects, you succeed in far more successful projects.

Local economies and processes can hugely benefit form participating in this process. Our work is challenging processes, from local to global. We seek a voice, not by saying ‘we have a right to be there’ but by demonstrating that we can succeed by taking different approaches.

We as development actors require new strategies of interaction – one of the biggest challenges is that the world is becoming more urban. Most people in cities will be working and living informally, so how are these exclusionary practices going to impact that, and what does it mean to be this intermediary in institutions or with individuals who seek development.”

For a full report of the event, click here


Announcing the SDI 2011/12 Annual Report

SDI is happy to annouce our 2011/12 Annual Report, a reflection of where SDI has grown to over the past 25 years. This includes a discussion of SDI’s practices for change, a report on the SDI Secretariat, the building of internal reporting and documentation systems, and SDI’s international advocacy and increasing presence on the global stage. The report concludes with a discussion of SDI’s approach to key urban issues affecting the lives of the urban poor across the developing south, including water and sanitation, climate change, natural disasters, incremental habitat, enumerations and mapping of slum settlements, and financing slum upgrading.  

For the complete document, click here.

In Tanzania, Reaching the Wider Community Through Improved Sanitation


By the Tanzanian Urban Poor Federation with the support of the Center for Community Initiatives (CCI)

Dar es Salaam is the largest city in Tanzania with an estimated population of 4 million people. 80% of its population is estimated to be living in informal settlements where people are living with inadequate access to services such as water, sanitation and poor housing. Due to extensive use of pit latrines associated with inadequate supply of clean and safe water and unhygienic pit emptying practices, informal settlements dwellers largely live in high risk of contracting diseases including cholera and diarrhea.

In their efforts to improve sanitation in Tanzania, particularly in Dar es Salaam city, the Tanzanian Urban Poor Federation initiated sanitation projects by providing micro loans for latrine improvement to its members. In 2011, federation members from Dar- es-Salaam organized an exchange visit to Malawi aimed at acquiring the knowledge from fellow federations on how they are managing loans. While in Malawi federation members learned that the Malawi federation is giving loans to both federation and non-federation members with the aim of making intervention at a wider scale to enable poor communities to improve their sanitation situation. In July 2011 initial loans were given to 10 non-federation members. It was based on an understanding that the majority of federation members are tenants who are not able to apply for toilet loans due to their land tenure status and furthermore sanitation problems affect entire communities regardless of their land tenure status and whether they are federation members or not.

Before issuing the loans to the initial 10 borrowers the process of loan provision started with the training of twelve technicians of whom two were men and ten women and strengthening the relationship with the local administration at Mtaa (settlement) level. The loans given to non-federation members are managed at two levels; the saving scheme (which identified the borrowers) and Mtaa leaders. These two parties are working in collaboration. The Mtaa leaders are the guarantors of loans and make follow-ups with non-federation members while the saving scheme, based at the same locality, ensures that the loan follow-ups are made and the repayment is done according to schedule.

The loan provision to non-federation members started as a pilot project and so far it has been very successful, as all the initial ten borrowers have finished repaying their loans before the agreed time. This success has led to the implementation of a second phase where another loan has been extended to 10 people in August 2012. In total 20 toilets have been constructed which serve 120 households and 250 people respectively.

Amongst the second phase of beneficiaries of the loans was Mr. Khatib Athuman, 60 years old who did not manage to hide his deep appreciation for accessing the loan for improving his toilet. Since 1996 Mr. Khatib who has a family of 7 people has been using a simple pit latrine constructed with lined old car tires and dilapidated iron sheets which did not offer privacy, had bad smell and the pit was overflowing. This exposed him and other family members to high health risks and embarrassment due to poor means of emptying which was done using tins by Mr. Khatib’s son. Because of limited space it was very hard for Mr. Khatib to access a place for digging a big pit for diverting the waste, as an alternative he was digging a small pit for emptying little waste just to make the room available for toilets use for another three to four days. During the rainy season the situation becomes worse and emptying occured more than three times per week. Mr. Khatib’s wife added that the situation of their toilet was very bad to the extent that it has affected the relationship with her grandchildren as they usually wish to come and spend days with them but because of the lack of a proper toilet they could not allow them to come with the fear of risking their health.

“My grand children could not visit us because of a bad latrine, even this coming Eid holiday they asked if they could come but we did not agree with them because of the latrine” -Asha, Mr. Khatib’s wife

Speaking during the handing over of toilet construction materials to 10 non-federation members at Keko Machungwa settlement, the representative of Temeke Municipal Health Officer Mrs. Rehema Sadick said, “lack of adequate sanitation has been one of the major challenge contributing to eruption of diseases such as cholera and diarrhea which leads to a loss of lives as well as income.” She insisted that the community should use this opportunity by accessing loans for improving their toilets and although the Municipal Council has limited financial resources they are ready to work with the federation through provision of technical support and mobilizing communities.


In total the amount of loans given to non-federation members is TZS 8,780,000 Tshs (USD$ 5487.5) in Dar es Salaam. More community members are expected to be reached with the federation through this initiative not only in Dar es Salaam but as well as in other regions where they have already started implementing sanitation initiatives.

The Keko Machungwa settlement has set a good example of community led initiatives in improving water and sanitation services by constructing 1 public toilet at the market, constructing 30 households toilet and drilling one borehole connected to three water points. The federation has also initiated toilet-emptying programmes using Gulper technology and the training of Hygiene promotion teams (PHAST teams) for community mobilization on improving hygiene practices.

The federation has also managed to convince some land lords to adopt eco-san technology in order to get rid of the challenges involved in emptying pit latrines including the issue of space for digging another pit as well as unhealthy manual emptying practices and the lack of road access.

These initiatives focus to bring the government down to the settlement level to provide resources and work with communities to scale up sanitation improvements in informal settlements and improving living conditions in general.

Waterborne | Water & Sanitation in Slovo Park, South Africa

Waterborne from Pretoria Picture Company Inc. on Vimeo.

**Cross posted from SA SDI Alliance Blog** 


Watch this documentary film by the Pretoria Picture Company Inc. on the changing dynamics and identities of Slovo Park settlement south of Soweto. Slovo Park is also aligned to the Informal Settlement Network, and in collaboration with universities and other stakeholders, design solutions have been tabled in partnership meetings. The documentary surfaces some of the finely granulated nuances in building sustainable human settlements. According to the film makers,

Slovo Park is situated in a politically and socially sensitive stretch of land south of Soweto. The community has been known by national government as Nancefield, by local council as Olifantsvlei and in the last five years as Slovo Park – named in honour of South Africa’s first minister of housing and former Umkhonto we Sizwe General, Joe Slovo.

This forced changing of identity reflects an on-going struggle faced by the leadership of Slovo Park to gain recognition as a legitimate settlement to access governmental support. This battle has been fought through constant shifts in governmental policy, power and promises for the community of Slovo Park. Amidst the struggle, stories of sinister land dealings have emerged, outlining a possible truth that the ground beneath Slovo Park could have been sold from under the community’s feet. These allegations surface as the leadership of Slovo Park prepares itself to take action.

This video illustrates how incremental upgrading releases the imagination of communities in engaging local governments. The communities intimate understanding of infrastructure grinds and networks makes service delivery, development and ultimately sustainable human settlements possible. Buck’s, one of the community leaders, deliberations on the nature of service delivery is particularly insightful:

Because already we have got sewerage pipes that are running as far as Soweto. The one alongside the boundary road is running from as far as Leratong, and imagine we don’t have sewerage here but we can transport other people’s stuff from as “Die Kloof”. We have the dams adjacent to us; it is not even 100m to walk to the dam, and still we cant get pipes to there. But still the engineers are saying that it is impossible to have sewerage in the area. But already there are pipes running in the area and so you ask yourself, “Why is it so diffent and difficult if we must get, but the previous engineers, the previous government, installed the sewerage pipes that are running through the informal settlement that we are in”. So you ask yourself, “is it different from this year’s engineers to yesteryear’s engineers”. I don’t know how to call it, but that is what they say!

If government can’t come to us, let us do it for ourselves. We have started with a hall, which we want to expand into a multi-purpose centre for the community. We don’t have playggrounds, we don’t have parks, we don’t have a hall, which makes it difficult for kids to concentrate on their lives. So the multipurpose will help to bring them together and giving them something to do. At the same time, as the community, we will have a space to have our meetings for our offices (because we have many forums in the community, such as the business forum). My wish is to have a proper toilet, just like everyone else. Just like the premier Nomvula Mokonyane, just like our president Jacob Zuma’s toilet, that’s my wish. That has been my wish since I was a kid, and I am already 44 years old. My family has accepted this is how we will live in the meantime.


Relocation & Rehabilitation in Mumbai

MUTP Relocation Project, Mumbai

**Cross-posted from SPARC’s CityWatchINDIA blog**

What is Relocation and Rehabilitation (R&R)?

Whenever people are being continuously evicted from their land by the government or some other national or corporate authority, families must relocate.  Often this happens when the government decides to undertake infrastructure expansion projects like road-widening, flyover construction, rail expansion, etc. and these project plans encroach on families living in public places like slums, railways, and power lines.  In these situations the government often tries to uproot these families and move them to remote locations.  This process of shifting communities away from public land in demand is called relocation.  Rehabilitation involves helping to situate and establish communities in their new homes post-relocation.

In this process of relocating and rehabilitating, SPARC and the Alliance help organize communities and encourage them to be active in planning and executing all relocation activities in partnership with the local government. Initiating dialogue with the families, assisting in the shift, helping with registrations and paperwork, and smoothing the social transition from one neighborhood to another are all part of SPARC’s relocation and rehabilitation program.

Concerns Surrounding R&R

While R&R often serves the wider interest of the city, it leads to hardship for the individuals who are forced to move. For this reason SPARC feels that relocation should be minimized to the extent possible, and when R&R is unavoidable the relocation site should be as close to the original communities as possible.  Throughout the R&R process, outside individuals and organizations should be as respectful of the needs and demands of the relocated communities.

SPARC R & R Philosophy and Involvement

SPARC supports communities in the relocation process by giving them the tools to conduct surveys and enumerations in their current settlements and future settlements, establishing savings and credit programs so that families have enough money for the shift, and arranging for inspections of the new locations provided by the government to make sure they have legal utilities available and enough space for all in the new relocation site.  SPARC also assists with rehabilitation activities like transferring ration cards and election ID to the new relocation site, updating tax paperwork, arranging for government BEST buses to make new stops at relocation sites, identifying good schools in the new neighborhoods for the relocated children and fighting for affordable tuition for these children, and seeking employment opportunities close to the relocation site for relocated community members.  In addition to these activities, SPARC also requires that grievance redressal mechanisms exist at the community, federation, and government levels so that people know where they can go to express concerns.

SPARC believes that communities subjected to R&R must be well-organized and deeply involved in the relocation process from the beginning.  Throughout the relocation the state contracting institution and relocating communities must communicate and develop a mutually acceptable arrangement for relocation. SPARC can help facilitate this communication since the organization’s role is respected by both parties.

 SPARC’s History of R & R

In 1995 pavement dwellers were included in the list of people entitled to government R&R and SPARC began helping pavement dwellers throughout India relocate onto freed government lands.  Also in 1995, SPARC helped design the R&R policy for the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP), which affected slum dwellers along the railway track.  Since then, SPARC has worked with Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) to relocate these households. In 2000, households from Rafique Nagar along the airport runway were relocated with the Government of Maharashtra’s department of housing facilitating this process. In 2008 SPARC also began working with Tata Power Company to relocate 2,000+ households away from electricity lines so that the company could expand and update its distribution network to provide more reliable power to households throughout Maharashtra.

MUTP Relocation Project, Mumbai

MUTP: An R & R Success Story 

In the 1990s people riding on the Mumbai railway system could reach their fingers out of the rail cars and touch the slums.  Slums encroached on the rail lines all up and down the tracks, with some people making their dwellings just a few feet from the trains whizzing by.  People living on the side of the railway needed to constantly cross the tracks for daily activities like visiting the markets, walking to school, defecating, or gathering water.  Day to day countless people were hit and crushed dead by the trains. Train drivers suffered psychological trauma from killing so many innocent people, even though they drove at only 15 km/hr to avoid as many killings as possible.

 One Mahila Milan member, Sulakshana Parab, explained how she lived on a small 6×13 plot on the side of the railway in Tata Nagar, Govandi, with no water, electricity, or toilet access.  She would spend her days in constant fear that trains might kill her husband, children, or neighbors while they were out of the house.

Something had to be done, and the Mumbai Urban Transportation Project (MUTP) was the response.  MUTP required that 10m of space be cleared and protected by high walls on either side of every rail line.  This would enable trains to run safely along the tracks at 45 km/hr, allowing three times as many trains to run through the city each day and one third of the prior commuting time for all those dependent on rail to get to work.  With nobody living along the rail lines, many fewer deaths-by-train would occur and train drivers could do their job without killing innocent civilians.

In order for the MUTP dream to become a reality, the city would have to relocate some 20,000 people away from the railroad track. But where could they move?  The World Bank agreed to fund the project on the condition that the people living on the side of the railways get relocated and rehabilitated to a safe and permanent location.

Even before relocation was announced, some rail-side communities had began forming into federations to protect women in the community who faced danger of rape and assault when were forced to defecate on the rail tracks because of a lack of proper sanitation facilities.  Upon hearing about a possible relocation for all rail-dwellers, federations rallied to organize themselves for the proposed move.  First they made plain table surveys and maps and numbered every house in their neighborhoods.  Then they assigned individuals in the community to represent every block of twenty households, and registered each of these households so that they could prove the existence of their rail-side homes to the governments.  Every Sunday for eight years members of the federation went out to survey lands throughout the city in hopes of finding suitable lands for relocation.

In addition to embarking on these many surveys and enumerations, federations initiated their own savings programs.  At first most families could not scrape together 100 rupees of savings, but after participating in well-structured and reliable savings programs implemented by the federation families reached the point of having 15,000-17,000 rupees each stored away in their individual housing savings: enough to construct a new home.  The savings programs also enabled people to take out loans in emergency situations or to start their own businesses.  With strong savings rail-dwellers became confident that they would be capable of building and funding their own homes if they could acquire a suitable plot of land.  Some communities hosted housing exhibitions with model homes made out of cardboard, saris, or cement and other real construction materials to introduce the community-at-large to the various designs that were being considered for the new homes.

Originally the government had planned to temporarily resettle the rail-dwellers in Mankhurd in northeastern Mumbai.  The government was not sure who owned the land in Mankhurd, but the federations knew that the land was available because of the extensive surveys they had carried out over eight years.  Families began to relocate to Mankhurd, and soon after they settled in there the World Bank adopted a policy that governments undertaking relocation had to provide new shelter for families before their current homes could be demolished.  Because the Indian government had not lived up to this demand, the once-temporary Mankhurd land was ruled to become a permanent relocation site for the rail-dwellers.

In total 20,000 people were relocated away from the rail-side under MUTP, and 17,000 of them were assisted in the relocation and rehabilitation process through the work of SPARC, NSDF, and Mahila Milan.  In the new Mankhurd relocation site, children are safer since they can play outside without the threat of speeding trains.  “Here the kids’ lives and our lives are saved,” Sulakshana Parab remarked.  She was relocated from the rail-side to a new apartment in Mankhurd Building 98 and speaks highly of her new home.

The federation in Mankhurd now takes the form of a “Central Committee” of 17 buildings, each of which has its own leader.  The Central Committee has done much work to clean the sewage connection and ensure that it stays functional, and they also work on improving the general cleanliness and garbage management of the Mankhurd neighborhood.

When people lived along the railway tracks the threat of trains was petrifying and nobody wanted their sons or daughters to marry into the rail community out of fear that eventual grandchildren would grow up in unsafe conditions.  Once the families moved to a permanent and safe location, this mentality changed.  Formal buildings made the rail-dwellers formal and acceptable citizens.

When instituted correctly relocation and rehabilitation can be a huge opportunity for families to uplift their living situation, safety, and employment.  The key is that communities themselves must provide the energy and momentum to move the relocation process forward, and they must drive the process from its inception.  The poor know what kind of solutions will actually address and overcome their problems, and they are capable of making these solutions come to life through proper organization and collaboration.

SDI at World Urban Forum 6: Making Space for the Urban Poor


By Ariana K. MacPherson, SDI Secretariat

In early September a large delegation from SDI attended the World Urban Forum in Naples, Italy. The weeklong event was attended by virtually all major players in the urban development field and was host to a wide variety of sessions focusing on everything from water and sanitation to evictions to optimized public transit and green spaces.

SDI’s presence at WUF6, whose overall theme was “The Urban Future”, was marked by a sharp realization during the planning phase that the future WUF6 proposed seemed remarkably devoid of the issues facing the millions of urban poor across the developing world, not to mention their participation in the construction of said future.

In response, SDI leadership decided to host a series of panels at the SDI exhibition stand in addition to participation in official WUF6 events, launching the first annual World Urban Poor Forum (WUPF).

During the WUPF launch in which slum dwellers from across Africa and Asia raised their voices in song across the exhibition area, Jockin Arputham, a slum dweller from Mumbai, India and president of SDI, spoke of the importance of bringing the voice of the urban poor to global events like WUF, and the reason for organizing a WUPF alongside the official WUF: “This is the World Urban Forum of the Poor, not the rich. This is the forum for the people who have nothing!” and, “We have to believe that change will come from the poor.”

The three WUPF events focused on themes central to SDI’s core methodologies, and to the lives of slum dwellers across the global south: community-driven sanitation, the importance of partnerships with government, and participatory slum upgrading.  Experiences from Uganda, South Africa and India were the focus, with slum dweller leaders and government officials speaking on their joint efforts towards people-driven processes in these three countries. The WUPF events were well attended by slum dwellers, government officials, donor partners, academics and civil society alike. 

In addition to these WUPF events, SDI participated in a number of official networking events, and organized a session on another critical issue for the urban future: developing alternatives to evictions. The session, held on the first day of WUF6, was incredibly well attended, with standing room only and people packed into the back of the room and spilling out the doorways. Slum dweller leaders and government officials from Cape Town, South Africa, Harare, Zimbabwe and Iloilo City, Philippines shared their experiences working together to develop locally appropriate alternatives to evictions.

Sonia Fadrigo, a slum dweller leader from the Philippines, spoke about evictions she experienced before the Philippines Homeless People’s Federation developed their relationship with local government, “The demolition team came. I had two kids, ages 10 and 12, they were trembling because they were scared of the bulldozer.”

It was only through developing a relationship with the local government, a relationship that the Mayor of Iloilo City, Mr. Jed Patrick Mabilog, described as being characterized by the policy of “No evictions without decent, affordable housing,” that Sonia and her community were able to rest their fears of evictions. As Sonia said, this was achieved through going to government offices – through demanding alternatives. 

Similarly, the Mayor of Harare, Mr. Muchadei Masunda, emphasized his commitment to working with the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation to prevent evictions in Harare. Davious Muvindi, leader of the Federation in Zimbabwe, confirmed this, beginning his commentary saying that the Federation and government in Zimbabwe had moved from “fights to engagement.”

Lastly, the South African SDI Alliance was joined by Ernest Sonnenberg from the local government of Cape Town to speak about their experiences in developing alternatives to evictions. This presentation was particularly poignant as Alina Mofokeng and Rose Molokoane, two slum dweller leaders from Gauteng province, spoke about the recent evictions in Johannesburg’s Marlboro Industrial Area. Since early August, over 300 families have been forcibly evicted, often in the middle of the night, from vacant factory buildings, which were then razed to the ground. Alina and Rose were able to utilize this space on the global stage to highlight their local struggles in the hopes that their government officials, seated in the audience, would feel responsible to rise to the occasion. 

Whether or not these global events impact local processes is an important question, for if they don’t – if they serve only as a platform for more empty promises – then what is their use? In the past, SDI has used spaces such as WUF to lay the foundation for successful and productive relationships with donor partners and governments. This year, meetings took place between numerous slum dweller federations and their government officials (i.e. Uganda, Zambia, Malawi, Namibia). Depending on what happens in the coming months, affiliates will be able to determine whether these meetings will bear meaningful fruit on the ground.

One of the key themes that emerged throughout the week was the lack of representation of the urban poor in the majority of WUF events. Indeed, SDI President Jockin Arputham was the only urban poor representative to participate in any of the official WUF Dialogue Events, where he challenged his fellow panelists saying that “Since 1975 when this discussion began…What have we all done since then to make what we discuss actualized in practice? We keep coming to these events, and we ask each other these questions, and then we go away only to ask the same questions again.” 

Jockin’s frustration with too much talk and not enough walk was felt by a number of people involved in fighting urban poverty. As David Satterthwaite wrote in his recent reflection on WUF6: “Why weren’t representatives of urban poor organizations, federations and network on the committees organizing this and previous World Urban Forums? Why are the powerful global institutions so reluctant to engage the urban poor directly?” Until these questions are answered through concrete actions towards the contrary (i.e. involving the urban poor directly), it seems these events will continue to do little to make louder the voice of the urban poor, without the unfortunate reality of developing a separate event for that voice. The reality is that, in our pursuit of “inclusive cities” – a phrase heard time and again both at WUF and in urban development circles – we should not be furthering the divide between the urban poor, the informal, and the formal urban development world. Instead, the issues, agenda, and voice of the urban poor should be prioritized at these events, as it is the voice of those whose urban future stands on the most uncertain ground.