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The 30 largest slums in the world. After Mike Davis , 2006
Slum in Mumbai
Slum in the Dominican Republic
Slum in Buenos Aires , Argentina
Dharavi is the largest slum in Asia

A slum [ slʌm ] ( borrowed from English for “ poor district ” or “ slum ”) is a densely populated district of the lower population groups with poor infrastructure. Colloquially today, overpopulated and neglected slums of cities, which are usually inhabited by very poor people, often urban immigrants, are referred to as slums, including the informal settlements , i.e. slums on the edge of the city.

Characteristic are a high population density, a randomly developed settlement structure without planning requirements with high proportions of temporary buildings that do not meet building standards and a missing or inadequate infrastructure (supply of water and electricity, sewerage, garbage disposal, connection by public transport, basic supply shops, medical supplies).

Definition and terms

As the origin of the word slum, the Irish phrase 'S lom é' with the meaning "dark and penniless place" (literally "it is bare.") Is assumed. The English word slum was first known in London around 1820 . Slum originally stood for “a low-standard apartment”. Slum described the poor housing of the workers close to the factories who lived in crowded, poorly supplied settlements; was then the name for neighborhoods with dirty back alleys.

Today, UN-HABITAT defines the term slum as “a settlement in which more than half of the inhabitants live in unreasonable accommodation without basic utilities”. Slum dwellers live “without property rights, access to clean water, access to sanitary facilities and without adequate housing”. Almost every sixth person lives in one of the world's slums, where poverty, disease and discrimination reign.

Even in supposedly wealthy countries around the world, slums form if the political and social conditions are in place.

As slums or informal settlements (imprecise slums) in Turkey the Gecekondu , in the Middle East the Compounds , in Argentina the Villa Miseria , in Brazil the Favelas or Invasões , in Ecuador the Invasiones or Guasmos , in Peru the Barriadas or Pueblos jóvenes , in Francophone Africa the Bidonvilles , in southern Africa the Shanty Towns (in Namibia the shipyards ) and in the Philippines the Tondos .

Occurrence and origin

According to a report by the United Nations , one in seven people lives in a slum. This means that there are around a billion people worldwide who live in the slums. Slums are mostly to be found in the big cities of the “Third World”, but also increasingly in countries that are considered to be “rich” such as the USA .

Slums are characterized by high rates of poverty and unemployment . Often social problems such as crime , substance abuse and alcoholism also become more pronounced. In many countries they promote disease due to poor sanitary conditions .

The emergence of slums is essentially promoted by two phenomena.

  • On the one hand, there is a strong influx (e.g. rural exodus ) into the metropolitan areas . The associated demographic change within a period of less than a generation makes it considerably more difficult to assimilate the new population into the city.
  • On the other hand, the residents of the cities remain in the city. Urban migration causes segregation into different neighborhoods.

These two phenomena do not in themselves justify the emergence of slums. In a first stage, they lead to the formation of districts with very different social structures and to ghettos (ghettoization). The settlement areas of the weaker population groups in this structure can turn into slums over time.

The role of inner-city traffic routes in this development is ambivalent , since their actual purpose to connect the city districts is also overlaid by their separation effect. This applies in particular to higher-ranking roads and highways, which residents are unable to cross.

Not all settlements that are outwardly interpreted as slums by an observer meet the criteria of a slum on closer inspection. City planners already attest some districts to have urban qualities. This includes functioning neighborhoods, short distances and a moderate mix of residential and commercial uses. The lack of material on the part of the residents means that buildings that go beyond the standard do not come into being. The high density of buildings is essential in these parts of the city. The lack of car traffic favors the otherwise unfavorable general quality of stay. In these slums there are - as in the city centers of Europe over 100 years ago - hygienic problems (e.g. lack of water supply, sewerage etc.).

Slums that arose from the rural exodus are socially and technically organized in a similar way to the village structures in the homeland of the rural refugees. Multi-central cities with small, self-organizing, but mixed neighborhoods are best suited to establishing and promoting mutual responsibility among the population and thus helping to ensure that poor urban districts do not become slums, but that standards are gradually improved. It is essential to raise the level of education of the population.

The slums of some large cities are not the result of rural exodus, but mostly result of the segregation of neighborhoods. The public infrastructure in these areas did not grow as the number of residents did. Here, too, an improvement in the situation can be achieved through social and technical measures - but with the advantage that the local population is in principle already urban.

Some governments are trying to solve the problem of the slums by tearing down the dilapidated old buildings and replacing them with modern, mostly densely populated housing estates with better sanitary facilities. Such attempts at solutions can only be successful, however, if the social problems of the population are also alleviated or eliminated.

Slum formation

Slum in Glasgow , 1871

According to Mike Davis ' Planet of Slums , to explain why the slums literally "exploded" in recent years, it should first explain why the cities in the "underdeveloped" countries grew comparatively slowly in the first half of the 20th century.

The reasons for the initially slow growth are complex. Davis sees an important reason in colonialism - especially in British - that denied the colonized city rights. In addition, the socialist states such as the People's Republic of China (until 1980) and the Soviet Union, with their planned economy, also contained excessive urban growth. In Latin America, such as Venezuela and Mexico City , politicians tried to keep the slums small with bulldozers.

With the end of colonialism, the “political city walls” fell and people seized the right to freedom of movement. They were forced to do this by famine and indebtedness , but even more so by civil wars and counterinsurgency policies . The introduction of the capitalist logic also ensured rapid urban growth in states like China and Russia, together with their satellite states . Social housing was usually confiscated by the middle classes and the military. According to Davis, the ultimate end to moderate urban growth and the containment of the slums was the structural adjustment program (SAP) introduced by the IMF , which since 1975 has accelerated the withdrawal of social measures from the neighborhoods of the poor.

The primary causes of slum formation are rural poverty and the lack of job opportunities in rural areas. Most people in cities expect better living conditions and hope for a higher income. Due to the onset of rural exodus, there is a shortage of housing in the cities, which leads to the establishment of informal settlements.


Web links

Commons : Slums  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Slum  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Daniel Cassidy: How the Irish invented slang. The secret language of the crossroads . CounterPunch Press, Petrolia, Calif. 2007, p. 267, ISBN 978-1-904859-60-4 .