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By counting themselves, they count

New findings show that residents of slums are untapped resource for data.
February 20, 2018

New report shows the power to be found in collecting poverty data on slums by the residents themselves

In Mumbai, India, 55 percent of the city’s population lives in slums that only cover about 6 to 8 percent of the city’s land.

Khayelitsha, a slum in Cape Town, South Africa, has a population of around 400,000. Residents walk more than 300 feet to public water fountains to get water for drinking, cooking and bathing. There are six toilets in the settlement.

Places like these, without sewers, running water, electricity, schools or police stations are unimaginable to most Americans. To much of the rest of the world, they are the reality.

Almost all worldwide growth in urban populations, from 4 billion people in 2015 to more than 6 billion by 2050, is expected to happen in low- and middle-income countries. Cities that face serious issues with land, shelter and services will need to increase their total urban population by 75 percent, according to a report presented at the World Urban Forum earlier this month.

Professor José Lobo, senior sustainability scientist in Arizona State University's Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, was one of the report’s authors. Lobo studies the origins and drivers of urbanization and the role of cities in socioeconomic development.

The report corrected several flawed assumptions about slums, providing these facts instead: Slums are poverty traps, not steppingstones to upward mobility. Access to health care in urban areas can be more difficult than in rural areas. Non-governmental organizations cannot always sweep in and provide solutions; those solutions have to come from within.

If cities in developing nations don’t address their burgeoning slums, Lobo said, poverty will increase, political instability will heighten and human misery will continue. And as extreme-weather events become more common with climate change, poorer populations will bear the brunt of them.

The report detailed efforts of Know Your City, an initiative started by Slum Dwellers International, a network of community-based organizations of urban poor in 33 countries. Know Your City organized slum dwellers and local governments in 103 cities across Africa, Asia and Latin America, covering 1,238 settlements to partner in community-led slum profiling, enumeration and mapping.

Slums have been intensely studied and measured in the past, but it hasn’t been enough, Lobo said.

“The efforts to date are insufficient given the scale of the many problems to be addressed,” said Lobo. “If we wait for government statistical offices to conduct population censuses of slums — neighborhoods which in many cases the authorities are reluctant to even acknowledge that they exist — we will be waiting for a long time. What is novel is the concept, and practice, that communities can be active participants in collecting data about themselves and using such data collection efforts to claim a space in the discussions about urban planning.”

And, simply put, no one knows what’s needed more than the people who live there.

“Data collection is the key to community improvement — if we know how to create partnerships and negotiate with our information,” said one volunteer quoted anonymously in the report. “With our data, we were able to form partnerships and negotiate for the construction of two biogas toilets, four water kiosks and the renovation of four public toilets.”

Poor communities know what they lack, and residents have many ideas as to what acceptable or inadequate solutions are, Lobo said.

“The central premise of community data collection is that the data collected becomes an instrument to foster a dialogue among the many different parties (communities, public agencies, governments, NGOs, international funding agencies) about the design and implementation of effective solutions,” he said.

However, many city governments don’t have the data necessary for inclusive city planning. Slums are viewed as a burden to the city, a problem to be controlled and regulated. The Know Your City data on informal settlements fills this gap and enables informed dialogue on inclusive policy and practice. Starting with mapping and census counts, the data has the potential to change dysfunctional urban planning and management.

“Slums are not undifferentiated seas of poverty and misery, nor are they ‘problems’ to be fixed,” Lobo said. “There is a lot of knowledge within poor communities everywhere, and even financial resources to be tapped into (think of savings associations) if the residents are allowed to be involved in the design and implementation of solutions.”

Top photo: Slum in India. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


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Sun Devils strengthen communities with Woodside Community Action Grants

#SunDevilsServe: We profile some of the most recent Woodside Grant recipients.
Spring application approaches for grants to make our communities stronger.
February 20, 2018

How would you change the world with $1,500? The Woodside Community Action Grant wants to know.

Now in its fourth year, the program that distributes grant money to Arizona State University students is going strong.

With the intent of funding student-led service projects throughout the Phoenix area and the entire state of Arizona, the Woodside Grant has facilitated an impressive amount of success stemming from the work of ASU students who are looking to give back and lend an extra voice to their community.

Last year, the grant was given to nine groups. ASU Now checked in on a couple of the recipients.

Putting a voice on criminal justice reform

Grace Hamm is studying tourism development and management at ASU, but one of her main passions is social and criminal justice reform.

Hamm’s grant funded a project called Devils for Justice. Members learn practical elements of leadership and cross-sector collaboration and work on social justice issues while pursuing their own social missions.

“Right now we are working on the issue of criminal justice reform and raising the profile of mass incarceration as an important social issue for the state of Arizona,” said Hamm. “Devils for Justice has allowed me to work on a real-world issue that has an impact on people. The work we are doing with the help of the Woodside Grant will help us continue to stimulate challenging but necessary conversations.”

Those conversations are now taking place at events hosted by Devils for Justice. The last one was held on-campus at ASU and featured a panel of mass-incarceration experts, whose aim was to humanize the talk so it didn’t devolve into a conversation about statistics and numbers.

More than 200 students were in attendance, and similar crowds are expected for future conversations about wrongful convictions and juvenile justice that will be held at different universities around the state.

“We are holding events at U of A, NAU and GCU in an attempt to broaden the discussion and make new partnerships,” Hamm said. “They will ultimately culminate with a roundtable between policymakers and community leaders, hopefully putting those (who) can make a change in touch with people who have recognized the need for it.”  

Working with and protecting indigenous peoples

Indigerise is an organization of members who are familiar with working with indigenous people.

The group is headed by graduate student and American Indian Studies major Laura Medina, who is tasked with bringing in resources and strengthening the indigenous network for the Southwestern United States. Their ultimate goal is to amplify indigenous knowledge as a way to shape strong communities that can overcome the many and various challenges they face on a regular basis.

“It is important because we have to prioritize both indigenous knowledge and their ways of life,” said Medina. “It’s something that colonization and the American system has worked very hard to take from us.”

Medina and company are using their Woodside Grant to try to preserve those ways of life.

Indigerise is implementing a convergence plan that uses customized activities for Native organizers while also holding events that envision the future of their land. Through these annual events and the grant money provided, they continue to provide a space the Native American community can count on.

“For the past three years we have held an Indigenous Peoples Day, which is based on the idea that we must celebrate our survival to genocide,” Medina said. “We want to keep providing a space that fulfills the needs and requests of our community.”

Next deadline approaching soon

The Woodside Community Action Grant is awarded twice a year, and the spring application deadline is quickly approaching.

Those ASU students who would like to apply for the seed-funding competition have until Feb. 25 to submit their proposal. Grant winners have until fall 2018 to implement their projects. Find application information here.

Connor Pelton

Communications Writer , ASU Now