In Focus: Exclusion & Informality


Living above the sea, Manila, Philippines 

By Ariana K. MacPherson, SDI Secretariat 

We talk a lot about exclusion and inclusion. The urban poor are excluded from the city. Therefore, we are trying to build inclusive cities – cities where the urban poor are at the center of their own development process, and that of the city as a whole. In South Africa, the Informal Settlement Network is spearheading a “Right to the City” campaign, bringing a new approach to improving the ties betweeen socio-spatial justice and citizenship on the one hand, and improved living conditions on the other. They are doing this by advancing the people-centred, community-driven approach known so well across the SDI network, and by taking that to scale through concrete, continued engagements with city government. 

We talk about these things a lot. We write a lot about them. I have read and written about urban poverty, informality and exculsion for years. But that is not what made me decide to study urban planning or to relocate from my home in New York City back to Cape Town. And that is not what keeps me coming back to my desk every day, to read and write more about these issues. In fact, I had never really thought about these issues until I saw them. Perhaps this is why learning exchanges, where a group of slum dwellers and city officials leaves their hometown to meet their counterparts on the other side of the province, country or planet, are some of the most significant of SDI’s social technologies. It is not until we humans see and speak to each other that we begin to make real these abstract theories and ideas. It is only then that we begin to feel the gravity of the situation, and of working towards a solution. 

We talk a lot about slums, about urban poverty and exclusion, about living in a one-room shack with your entire extended family without clean water or electricity or a toilet. We talk about these things. But do we ever see them? 

Sierra Leone

Childhood, Freetown, Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone

Collecting water, and paying a price, Free Town, Sierra Leone

Accra, Ghana.

Finding a place to call home, Old Fadama, Accra, Ghana

Accra, Ghana

“If they demolish my house, I have no where to go.” | Old Fadama, Accra, Ghana

Nairobi, Kenya

Walking home with water, Nairobi, Kenya


The pavement dwellers of Byculla, with modern high-rises in the background, Mumbai, India


Playground, Dharavi, Mumbai, India 

Cape Town, South Africa

Afternoon in Burundi, Cape Town, South Africa 


A room to call home, Old Fadama, Accra, Ghana

Mumbai, India

Along the canal, Dharavi, Mumbai, India