Friday, 19 August 2016

The Complexities of Building Cities without Slums

By Esther Awotwe, 1st year MDP student

“Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”- Sustainable Development Goal 11

Who speaks for the urban poor? Who advocates their needs? How do policy makers incorporate their ideas and experiences in policy formulation to create an enabling environment? What are the practicalities of the SDGs in the everyday life of the slum dweller? These and many questions were the ones that went through my mind when I engaged with the urban poor.

My field placement was at People’s Dialogue and Human Settlement Ghana. Through the partnership of People’s Dialogue, Cities Alliance and Ghana Federation of the Urban Poor, creative and innovative platforms have been built to strengthen the capacity of the slum dweller and echo their concerns to policy makers. I realized that their worries were not really to drive the fancy cars, or live in exotic sky rise buildings or mansions but to make a decent living, have access to affordable housing and all the social amenities that is required to make life worthwhile in the city. They want to be recognized as belonging to the populace of urban dwellers who also have the right to enjoy the social infrastructure in the cities.

My engagement with the Ghana Federation of the Urban Poor gave me further insight into the gender specificity of building an inclusive city as women form various networks of savings groups all over the capital. The Savings groups form a core sustainable component of the Federation of the Urban Poor.  It creates a unified front and enable members enjoy services that hitherto could not be available to them by conventional banks.  These women have risen to the challenge of empowering themselves through their groups by learning from each other, and taking up roles and positions that traditionally belong to men. It is quite humbling when they express the challenges of living in the slum and yet how they are still encouraged to belong to savings groups in order to access loans to improve their livelihood and standard of living.

Esther (R) with Madam Janet Adu, President of the Ghana Federation of the Urban Poor (centre) and Barbara, Secretary at People's Dialogue (L)

The spirit and letter behind Goal 11 formed a great piece of my learning experience. The intricacies of urban planning and slum management involves rigorous, complex and sometimes not too pleasant processes that requires commitment on the part of policy makers and citizens to achieve sustainable cities. The urban poor is often burdened with the need for affordable housing units, improved social infrastructure, sustainable livelihoods and land tenure security. Equitable distribution of resources can be best effected when there is adequate data of formal and informal settlements. Effective collaboration is needed between all stakeholders of urban planning including creating that space where the voice of the urban poor is heard. Failure by policy makers to effectively engage will continually create that deficit in resource allocation and rob them of their rights to a decent living.

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