Thinking about Slums: ‘Garbage’ is to ‘slums’ as ‘recycling’ is to…

The world is becoming more urban. And with this migration to the cities, will come the growth of ‘slums’.

Why do I put ‘slums’ in quotations? Because I think we need to rethink the idea of a slum, just like we have rethought the notion of garbage.

Our perception of garbage has changed alot since when I was a kid. Back then, in the town I lived in, you could take your garbage to the ocean and toss it in! Now that would be seen as worse than a crime. These days, most of the material thrown out of my house gets diverted into recyclables or compost. Less and less is ‘trash’, and eventually I would like to get that down to zero.

Likewise for ‘slums’. To change the nature of ‘slums’ and the way we think about them, we need to better understand them and recycle the good from them. This article, the world’s slums are overcrowded, unhealthy – and increasingly seen as resourceful communities that can offer lessons to modern cities, in The Boston Globe shows just some of those benefits.

And some cities are taking different approaches to these places, too (though not all). For instance:

“In Kenya, about a million people live in Kibera, outside the city center of Nairobi. Its huts are built of mud and corrugated metal, trash is everywhere underfoot, and “flying toilets” – plastic bags used for defecation and then tossed – substitute for a sanitation system. In Istanbul, by contrast, where the city government has been more sympathetic, some squatter areas have water piped into every home.”

I don’t want to romanticize slums. I wouldn’t want to live in one, and I would bet that people living in them would likely prefer to live somewhere better. (I also wouldn’t have wanted to live in parts of London during the 19th century either.) But fixating on them as something that has to be disposed of is avoiding the problems they pose. Thinking about accentuating what is good about them and eliminating what is bad about them is a more constructive approach to dealing with something that will be with us long into the 21st century and beyond.

I recommend you read the article in the Boston Globe by to Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow. It is filled with lots of good ideas and examples.

(The wonderful photo above is from godwin d’s photostream at It is a series of photos taken of slums in India during Diwali. During Diwali, Hindu households hang a colourful lantern outside their door. I highly recommend you see the rest of the photostream.)


One response to “Thinking about Slums: ‘Garbage’ is to ‘slums’ as ‘recycling’ is to…

  1. great article! short, but just what i was looking for. 🙂