An article in the Economist led me to a paper in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, arguing that that slums can trap people in poverty. This is not exactly fresh – the description of slums as “poverty traps” (p.190) can be found in Charles Booth’s studies of London in the 1880s.
Who thought differently? The crucial arguments were made by Turner and Perlman in the 60s and 70s: they argued that squatting was in many places a normal form of tenure, which allowed people first to form a ‘bridgehead’ and then to consolidate over time. This article has data from five cities in Kenya, Bangladesh and India. They all had a system of landholding imposed by the British Empire, and squatting has a limited role in all of them. The article confirms that when people living in slums have to pay rent, they may not be able to afford to do more. That’s not new, but it doesn’t get to grips with the main point of the argument.