This article HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE ON THE SLUM is a study of ancient Roman ruins indicates the presence of slums in ancient times. In medieval times cities were so crowded that destitute people though small in number were kept out of the city. The Jewish ghetto was a unique type of medieval urban slum. The origin of the British slum during the 19th century as explained by Lewis Mumford is related to the industrial modern city and the factory system. Frederick Engels in his study of slum conditions in Manchester in the first manufacturing city of the world stated that the recent origin of slums belongs to the industrial epoch. This article HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE ON THE SLUM is a part of its parent article “Slums and Deprivation in Urban Areas”.


Characteristics of slums

Sociologically it is a way of life, a sub culture with a set of norms and values which is reflected in poor sanitation and health practices. Deviant behavior and attributes of apathy and social isolations. People who live in slums are isolated from the general power structure and regarded as inferiors. Slum dwellers in their harbor, suspicions of the outside world. Some of the features of slums are:

Lack of basic services

Lack of basic services is one of the most frequently mentioned characteristics of slum definitions worldwide. Lack of access to sanitation facilities and safe water sources is the most important feature, sometimes supplemented by absence of waste collection systems, electricity supply, surfaced roads and footpaths, street lighting and rainwater drainage.

Substandard housing or illegal and inadequate building structures

Many cities have building standards that set minimum requirements for residential buildings. Slum areas are associated with a high number of substandard housing structures, often built with non-permanent materials unsuitable for housing given local conditions of climate and location. Factors contributing to a structure being considered substandard are, for example, earthen floors, mud-and-wattle walls or straw roofs. Various space and dwelling placement bylaws may also be extensively violated.

Overcrowding and high density

Overcrowding is associated with a low space per person, high occupancy rates, cohabitation by different families and a high number of single-room units. Many slum dwelling units are overcrowded, with five and more persons sharing a one-room unit used for cooking, sleeping and living. Density does not always result in unfortunate social consequence; the issue is primarily one of overcrowding. Congestion is again a judgment about the physical condition of the building in terms of high density per block, acre or square mile. William F. Whyte in his well known sociological study, Street Corner Society situated in Boston’s north end, stressed upon the importance of overcrowding as a criterion for measuring slum conditions. Some slums area like Delhi, have 40, 00,000 people per square mile. Similarly Bangkok requires at least 15 dwelling units per 1600 square meters.

Unhealthy living conditions and hazardous locations

Unhealthy living conditions are the result of a lack of basic services, with visible, open sewers, lack of pathways, uncontrolled dumping of waste, polluted environments, etc. Houses may be built on hazardous locations or land unsuitable for settlement, such as floodplains, in proximity to industrial plants with toxic emissions or waste disposal sites, and on areas subject to landslip. he layout of the settlement may be hazardous because of a lack of access ways and high densities of dilapidated structures.

Insecure tenure; irregular or informal settlements

A number of definitions consider lack of security of tenure as a central characteristic of slums, and regard lack of any formal document entitling the occupant to occupy the land or structure as prima facie evidence of illegality and slum occupation. Informal or unplanned settlements are often regarded as synonymous with slums. Many definitions emphasize both informality of occupation and the non- compliance of settlements with land-use plans. The main factors contributing to non-compliance are settlements built on land reserved for non-residentia purposes, or which are invasions of non-urban land.

Poverty and social exclusion

Income or capability poverty is considered, with some exceptions, as a central characteristic of slum areas. It is not seen as an inherent characteristic of slums, but as a cause (and, to a large extent, a consequence) of slum conditions. Slum conditions are physical and statutory manifestations that create barriers to human and social development. Furthermore, slums are areas of social exclusion that are often perceived to have high levels of crime and other measures of social dislocation. In some definitions, such areas are associated with certain vulnerable groups of population, such as recent immigrants, internally displaced persons or ethnic minorities.

Also every residential area within the modern city tends to be socially isolated from others, partly by choice and partly by location. The slum is especially inhabited by people of lower status i.e., lower income groups. The chief link with rest of the community is there identification with labour market, but there may be an additional links through politics. A slum has an image in the eyes of the larger community. There is a societal reaction to slum dwellers. The non-slum dwellers often associates the physical appearance and difficult living conditions of the slums with belief in the “Natural Inferiority” of those who live in slums. This reaction has important consequences in the social isolation of slum dwellers and their exclusion from power and participation in urban society. The slum dwellers often lack an effective means of communication with the outside world. Because of apathy, lack of experience in communicating with outsiders and their own powerlessness to make their voice heard. William F. Whyte stated that although the north end slum studied in his work on street corner society was a mysterious, dangerous and depressing place to an outsider, it provided an organized and familiar environment for those who lived in it.

Minimum settlement size

Many slum definitions also require some minimum settlement size for an area to be considered a slum, so that the slum constitutes a distinct precinct and is not a single dwelling. Examples are the municipal slum definition of Kolkata that requires a minimum of 700 square meters to be occupied by huts, or the Indian census definition, which requires at least 300 people or 60 households living in a settlement cluster.

The experience of ‘living in a slum’, according to slum dwellers, consists of a combination of these multiple dimensions, not only one. Many slum areas may show only a few of these negative attributes, while the worst may have them all. The ‘worst type of slum household’ is prone to all of the above disadvantages, which, to an extent, also constitute some of the main obstacles that have to be overcome in realizing the right to adequate housing: one that has no services, has poor-quality housing on fragile land, does not have secure tenure, and where the occupants are poor, marginalized and belong to a vulnerable group. Less badly affected households may carry one or more of these burdens.

Deviant Behavior

A high incidence of the deviant behavior – crime, juvenile delinquency, prostitution, drunkness, drugs usage, mental disorder, suicide, ill legitimacy and family maladjustment have long been associated with slum living. It is a fact that vice may be found in slums but is by no means confined only to slums. Due to lack of money and power often slum dwellers indulge in crimes which are bestowed by upper classes. It is a vicious cycle for the slum dwellers.

The culture of the slum – A way of life

Slums differ widely with respect to the social organization of its Inhabitants. They range from slums in which inhabitants are strangers to one another, to the family slums in which there is a wide acquaintance between the inhabitants. Slums inhabited by immigrants groups may have a firm social organization. Culture might be defined as system, symbols or meanings for the normative conduct of standard, having three distinct properties. It is transmittable, it is learned and it is shared. The slum has a culture of its own and this culture is the way of life. This way of life is passed from generation to generation with its own rationale, structure ad defence mechanism, which provides the means to continue in spite of difficulties and deprivation. It is the habits, customs and behaviour pattern people have learned and which they hold that move them to act in a particular way. Although, these cultural patterns are typical of the slum, from ethnic groups, from own society to society to another.

Read Complete Article here: Slums and Deprivation in Urban Areas


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