The debate was coordinated by Emmanuelle Bastide, journalist at RFI. The speakers were Agnès Deboulet, Professor of Urban Sociology at Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis University and member of the Habitat Research Center: Lavue Laboratory, specialist in precarious neighborhoods; Amandine Dukhan, Urban Development and Local Authorities Project Manager at Agence Française de Développement; Fethi Mansouri, Director of Cabinet, Tunisian Ministry for Infrastructure, Land Planning and Sustainable Development; Virginie Rachmuhl, Head of Urban Programs at GRET and Mouh Rejdali, MP and Municipal Councilor, former Mayor of the City of Temara, Morocco.
With increasing global urbanization, clearing precarious housing areas poses a major challenge for cities. It is impossible to consider a single response to the phenomenon, as situations differ enormously. GRET and AFD “give priority to in situ rehabilitation”, but do not oppose the two approaches. While there are many conditions for the success of these operations, two appear to be particularly important: the participation of residents throughout the process and a political will to include these communities and neighborhoods in the rest of the city.
Urban challenges posed by precarious housing
The visible precarious housing areas are “symptomatic of a two-speed development of cities in the South” (Amandine Dukhan). Their residents face various forms of exclusion or insecurity: land tenure insecurity, related to the illegal and informal nature of constructions and occupation; territorial inequalities, which deprive part of the population of basic facilities and public services, and thereby hamper their mobility; finally, socioeconomic exclusion, as these neighborhoods concentrate the poorest communities and a majority of informal employment.
Consequently, it is necessary to “recognise that [these neighborhoods] participate in the urban fabric” (Amandine Dukhan). This is for reasons of equity: “A majority of communities in precarious neighborhoods receives a tiny minority of public resources” (Agnès Deboulet). But also for reasons of pragmatism: indeed, “there will be two billion slumdwellers by 2030” (Virginie Rachmuhl). There is an urgent need to integrate these communities, with a view to a balanced development of urban centers. Furthermore, it is a “question of territorial justice and wealth distribution” (Agnès Deboulet).
Diagnostic needs to be established on a case-by-case basis
The essential prerequisite for effective and coherent urban planning and management already involves making the existence of precarious housing areas visible on maps: for example, “in Kenya, in Eldoret, the city’s Master Plan did not show the precarious neighborhoods” (Amandine Dukhan).
Subsequently, as “there is no common magic solution” (Moh Rejdali), defining redevelopment projects for these neighborhoods requires identifying their specificities. “Contrary to the tendency to standardize [and] the orthodoxy of the orthogonal city” (Agnès Deboulet), a fundamental prerequisite is to recognize the historical, cultural and geographical heritage… that is specific to each area. For example, from one country in the Maghreb region to another, specific characteristics can be seen: “Unlike the other countries in the region, precarious neighborhoods in Tunisia are not slums”. These legacies in particular explain the “diversity of rental statuses and hybrid statuses of land tenure” (Agnès Deboulet): recognizing this allows the land tenure issue to be understood in all its complexity.
Finally, the only way to move towards sustainable and appropriate solutions is to take the views of those who are most concerned into account: the participation of the residents of these neighborhoods makes it possible to “rely on local dynamics” (Virginie Rachmuhl).
Consider multiple approaches
What concrete solutions are available to the actors involved? From “rehousing to rehabilitation, including land-sharing practices that are typical of countries with Anglo-Saxon traditions, there are a whole host of urban planning approaches to be taken into account” (Agnès Deboulet).
The redevelopment of a neighborhood comprises several components:
- Land tenure security is sometimes a prerequisite in order to reassure communities;
- It is subsequently necessary to restructure the neighborhood and connect it to the urban center, both physically and symbolically;
- The implementation of an “organized social diversity” (Fethi Mansouri): in Temara, it is established “by the presence of promotional land plots for the middle class” and commercial premises that bring life to the new urban area (Moh Rejdali);
- Finally, as expertise in urban planning, local public policy and social support is often lacking in Southern countries, emphasis should be placed on training.
Ambitious and comprehensive contracting authority
“Nothing is possible without a real political will and a contracting authority that leads the project over the long term” (Amandine Dukhan). The latter must include several aspects.
It requires reflection on the spatial scale of the operation: in Morocco, for example, “precarious neighborhoods must be treated on the basis of a regional and not local design” (Moh Rejdali). It must also be conducted over the long term, based on careful planning: “Cities are usually planned and then built; cities in the South are built and the planning is conducted through a catching-up process” (Virginie Rachmuhl).
Finally, “the real challenge is prevention so that only the ancient and historical centers need to be rehabilitated” (Fethi Mansouri).