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Luanda's vertical slums

Shanta Devarajan's picture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This building, across from my hotel in Angola's capital, is a squatter settlement.

People occupied individual units after the building was damaged during the civil war (the top floor has bullet holes).  They use their own generators and water tanks (hauling water to the top floor is a business). 

The city is choking with congestion. Schoolchildren spend five hours a day traveling to and from school.

The government is trying to improve urban services, not just in Luanda but in other cities.  Over half the population lives in urban areas.  If they improve urban services, even more people will move to the cities.  A conundrum or basic development economics?

Comments

Submitted by Anonymous on
Thanks for the photo, helps get the impact across. But no conundrum here; the fact that improving urban services will encourage more urban migration is in large part because the quality of life in rural areas is so low. Migrants aren't irrational. So its hardly a reason to not support urban development.

Submitted by annabelleshipley on
Shanta, It's basic development economics, but painful to witness. We worked quite a lot on urbanization in deeveloping countries when we wrote the 2009 World Development Report on Economic Geography. Here are three facts about cities, and they are essentially uncontested. First, urbanization’s speed has precedents. Urbanization has always happened early in development, when countries have low levels of income and institutional capacity. This was the experience of early developers such as Britain and France. It happened the same way in South Korea as it grew from low to high income. And this is the situation in developing countries like Angola today. The changes are related to shifts in production from agriculture to industry to services. Without these sectoral transformations, nations do not develop. Without urbanization, these transformations are impossible. Second, urbanization’s pattern is not unprecedented. Today Mumbai has the horizontal equivalent of Luanda's slums, Mexico City is believed to be too big and too poorly managed, and Bangkok grotesquely large for midsized Thailand. But rapid growth of large cities at early stages of development is not new, and urban primacy is a common—and often healthy—phenomenon. Another fact: urbanization has always been messy. No country has urbanized without slums. Not so long ago, half of all Singaporeans lived in slums. There were vertical slums in Chicago just two decades ago. Paris got rid of its last slums just two decades ago. Melbourne, Seoul, or Chicago, Paris, Shanghai or New York, today’s world class cities were littered with slums. No country has grown to high income without growing its cities. To avoid big cities is to reject development. But what’s the best way for countries like Angola to urbanize? This is the question we tried to answer in the 2009 World Development Report. For the full story, read Chapters 1, 4 and 7 at www.worldbank.org/wdr2009 . The short answer is: be realistic, stay inclusive, and prioritize. Recognize these facts: (a) A large part of urbanization is generally over by the time a country reaches upper middle-income, viz., income levels of about $4,000 per capita (China is close to this level now, India is at about third of it); (b) the relationship between countries’ income levels and urbanization rates is not different for early and later developers; and (c) urban settlement patterns are similar between countries at different stages of development, and are stable over time. Ground the strategy in economic analysis. The analysis tells us this: (a) Towns enable firms and farms to exploit economies of scale; (b) cities allow firms in similar industries to localize and become efficient; and (c) metropolises encourage learning and innovation that comes from urban diversity. For all except the smallest countries, all three types of urban settlements are necessary. Prioritize, so that governments in poorer countries can actually implement the strategy: (a) during early urbanization, provide basic social services everywhere, and ensure functional land and labor markets in both rural and urban areas; (b) at intermediate stages of urbanization, start focusing on connective infrastructure as well; while (c) advanced urbanization also requires, in addition to these two sets of actions, targeted interventions such as slum development programs. What is most important about urban settlements is their function, not their size. And besides being functional, growing places have to be flexible. The same bits of land have to house everything from fishing huts and palaces to big factories and skyscrapers. Land use has to be flexible for places to do well. That vertical slum you saw from your hotel is not likely to be around for long if Angola does well. But Angola probably won't do well unless Luanda does better. The experience of successful urbanizers such as Britain, Denmark, Australia, Japan, and South Korea provides the clues to making cities of all sizes work well and be welcoming to new settlers. Their experience suggests that, broadly, policies have to be sequenced to be successful. First, basic institutions. Then, connective infrastructure as well. Finally, in addition to these two, well-timed interventions. If history is any guide, better policies do not mean that developing economies like Angola will urbanize without messy cities like Luanda. But with better institutions and infrastructure, so many people would not have to live in slums, at least not for very long. table cuisson

Submitted by Robin Rajack on
Shanta People are voting with their feet and making those tradeoffs despite the failures of public policy especially in relation to land markets. We would do well to understand the dynamics and instrumentalities of the informal land and housing markets as we seek to figure out what the next public policy steps should be. In the next month the Urban Anchor and AFTUW will finish a piece of AAA that has been probing these issues. Would really value your feedback on the drafts if you have the time. thanks Robin

Submitted by Indermit Gill on
Shanta, It's basic development economics, but painful to witness. We worked quite a lot on urbanization in deeveloping countries when we wrote the 2009 World Development Report on Economic Geography. Here are three facts about cities, and they are essentially uncontested. First, urbanization’s speed has precedents. Urbanization has always happened early in development, when countries have low levels of income and institutional capacity. This was the experience of early developers such as Britain and France. It happened the same way in South Korea as it grew from low to high income. And this is the situation in developing countries like Angola today. The changes are related to shifts in production from agriculture to industry to services. Without these sectoral transformations, nations do not develop. Without urbanization, these transformations are impossible. Second, urbanization’s pattern is not unprecedented. Today Mumbai has the horizontal equivalent of Luanda's slums, Mexico City is believed to be too big and too poorly managed, and Bangkok grotesquely large for midsized Thailand. But rapid growth of large cities at early stages of development is not new, and urban primacy is a common—and often healthy—phenomenon. Another fact: urbanization has always been messy. No country has urbanized without slums. Not so long ago, half of all Singaporeans lived in slums. There were vertical slums in Chicago just two decades ago. Paris got rid of its last slums just two decades ago. Melbourne, Seoul, or Chicago, Paris, Shanghai or New York, today’s world class cities were littered with slums. No country has grown to high income without growing its cities. To avoid big cities is to reject development. But what’s the best way for countries like Angola to urbanize? This is the question we tried to answer in the 2009 World Development Report. For the full story, read Chapters 1, 4 and 7 at www.worldbank.org/wdr2009 . The short answer is: be realistic, stay inclusive, and prioritize. Recognize these facts: (a) A large part of urbanization is generally over by the time a country reaches upper middle-income, viz., income levels of about $4,000 per capita (China is close to this level now, India is at about third of it); (b) the relationship between countries’ income levels and urbanization rates is not different for early and later developers; and (c) urban settlement patterns are similar between countries at different stages of development, and are stable over time. Ground the strategy in economic analysis. The analysis tells us this: (a) Towns enable firms and farms to exploit economies of scale; (b) cities allow firms in similar industries to localize and become efficient; and (c) metropolises encourage learning and innovation that comes from urban diversity. For all except the smallest countries, all three types of urban settlements are necessary. Prioritize, so that governments in poorer countries can actually implement the strategy: (a) during early urbanization, provide basic social services everywhere, and ensure functional land and labor markets in both rural and urban areas; (b) at intermediate stages of urbanization, start focusing on connective infrastructure as well; while (c) advanced urbanization also requires, in addition to these two sets of actions, targeted interventions such as slum development programs. What is most important about urban settlements is their function, not their size. And besides being functional, growing places have to be flexible. The same bits of land have to house everything from fishing huts and palaces to big factories and skyscrapers. Land use has to be flexible for places to do well. That vertical slum you saw from your hotel is not likely to be around for long if Angola does well. But Angola probably won't do well unless Luanda does better. The experience of successful urbanizers such as Britain, Denmark, Australia, Japan, and South Korea provides the clues to making cities of all sizes work well and be welcoming to new settlers. Their experience suggests that, broadly, policies have to be sequenced to be successful. First, basic institutions. Then, connective infrastructure as well. Finally, in addition to these two, well-timed interventions. If history is any guide, better policies do not mean that developing economies like Angola will urbanize without messy cities like Luanda. But with better institutions and infrastructure, so many people would not have to live in slums, at least not for very long.

Submitted by Francisco Carneiro on
Dear Shanta, Having worked on Angola for a number of years, these facts of life in Luanda are familiar to me. There are several places like this there, and I remember a few years ago even a high-rising building without walls across a central square close to Hotel Tropico. The challenges for the country are many and sizable, as much of its infrastructure was destroyed by years of civil war. As the reconstruction efforts advance and remote parts of the country are reconnected with new roads and bridges, one should expect to see more factor mobility to the urban areas, and not less. A typical problem of development economics, and one that is inevitable. There is only one way of addressing this problem and this is through heavy investment on urban infrastructure and urban services, as it would be hard to imagine any form of middle-age type of prohibitions to urban migration these days in Angola or elsewhere in the world. If not only Luanda benefits from these investments, but other cities too, then maybe urban agglomeration in Angola might be more evenly spread across different urban centers throughout the country. Cheers, Chico.

Submitted by Manuel Barros on
This and other buildings of Luanda were occupied more or less at independence time, when the portuguese inhabitants run away. The bullets holes are probably from 1992, when UNITA lost the elections, and at this zone there were some fights. Fails of water and electricity supply is a burden all across Luanda, and many people have their own generators and for the water it must be hauled to the higher floors, as the pressure is not enough to haul it automatically. By the way this building is called the "Treme, Treme", that means "tremble, Tremble" or "shakes, shakes". People today believes that the name indicates that the building trembles due to bad construction. But the real story comes from pre-independence and at that time on the building lived many prostitutes and due to their business the building shaked at working hours, specially at evening.

Submitted by Pedro Albuquerque on
I've seen it too, and it's quite incredible. But Luanda has become a place where the distinction between public and private simply ceased existing. The entire social order can summarized as a pervasive tragedy of the commons.

Submitted by Raj Raina on
Hi Shanta, Apart from financial resources, what else is keeping governments from improving urban services at the same time improving rural services? And if they did both would the pull factor of the cities still be that great?

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