The word “slum” usually evokes images of filth, crime, chaos, and deprivation. People typically perceive slums as places to avoid or escape from, places where nothing good ever happens. As many people who live and work in slums know, however, the stereotypes fail to tell the whole story. A publication by the United Nations Settlements Programme, U.N. Habitat, helps to separate myth from fact.
Myth: “Slums serve no purpose.”
Fact: Slums often provide low-cost housing and services to urban populations. They also offer networks of much-needed social support to people migrating from rural to urban areas.
Myth: “All slum dwellers are poor.”
Fact: While it is true that poverty in slums is extremely visible, many people who are not the poorest of society choose to live in or near slums because they run businesses located in the same area.
Myth: “Slum dwellers are a burden on the economy.”
Fact: In many global cities, as much as 60% of employment lies in the ‘informal’ sector of the economy. Research in developed and developing countries proves that by providing opportunities for small-scale entrepreneurship, slums often serve as vital “incubators” for upward social and economic mobility.
Myth: “Slums are the fault of slum dwellers who do not want to help themselves.”
Fact: Failed, inadequate, or non-existent housing policies and laws are more to blame for the presence of slums than the people who inhabit them. In fact, most people move to slums from rural villages because they wish to find work and improve their lives.
Myth: “The poor contribute nothing to society and nothing good ever came out of slums.”
Fact: The largest producers of shelter in today’s global cities are poor people. Slums have also been vital contributors to culture by providing spaces to nurture art including music genres reggae, jazz, hip-hop, and funk.
– Délice Williams