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January 8, 2011

Raj Anand: On Converting a Slum to a Sustainable Community

Editor's note: Raj Anand is the President & CEO of Southern States LLC. He shares his thoughts on slum renewal with us >>

Almost all urban areas of the world have slum dwellers, developed countries have slums and developing countries have slums.  The common elements and operations of all such areas can be looked at from a systems science standpoint. 

Essentially in any slum or slum equivalent boundary, each resident is an open subsystem exchanging resources with the larger system at its boundary.  Each subsystem is driven to optimize its own resource exchange with the larger entity at its boundary with limited or no regard for other subsystems in the slum boundary.  This dynamic leads to the creation of a perpetual slum.  Once this dynamic is changed the slum can be transitioned to a sustainable perpetually improving community, with a developed infrastructure. 

The question is then: Change the dynamics to what?

Link the open subsystems of the slum into goal oriented closed slum system which trades resources at the limited interfaces at the boundary with the larger system in an organized way to the benefit of the slum system

How to bring about the change?


  • Map all the resource interchanges between the slum subsystems and the larger system.  This can be done by collecting data of revenue flow into the slum area and revenue outflow from the slum area.
  • Diverting a large part of the revenue flow going out of the slum area to circulate inside the slum area by setting up services needed by the subsystem by the residents of the system ( example if residents are getting al their food supplies outside the system, set up a small food supply business inside the system run by a resident)
What social/political/economic infrastructure is needed? How to develop the social /political/economic infrastructure?

This needs input from social political scientists, the key is to organize as a self directed, sustainable entity with controlled interface with the outside system to move the equilibrium point to higher standard of living.

What physical infrastructure is needed?

Housing, potable water, sewer system, sanitation, toilets, electricity, medical care, education, communications. Prioritize the physical infrastructure needs and find creative way to generate these, for example if the infrastructure element is at the end of the value chain where its value has been exhausted by the larger system it can be recycled into the slum system.

An example of this end of life planned value chain:

If a dual purpose shipping container is developed which maximizes the space usage of trailers, the slum system can provide a service for picking up discarded containers for a fee and recycle them inside the slum system as building blocks for houses.  The residents would actually build the houses.

The shipping containers could be developed and promoted by trucking companies for it would improve their hauling capacity utilization.  This would also save wood and diminish landfill space needed for discarded wood crates.

Each of the other Physical infrastructure needs could also be filled by creative value chain ideas.

Finally, once a self contained community is created it can be relocated as a whole self contained community to a better geographical location if physical improvements or land title is not possible at the current location.

How do we begin?

Let's bring together three coordinated Grad School  Teams to:

  1. Map the revenue flow of the slum & recommend changes for conservation of the value flow inside the slum
  2. Study the existing Social, political ecosystem and recommend changes to build a closed system with limited interfaces with the larger system
  3. Creative value chain ideas to provide physical infrastructure

I'm interested in hearing your feedback in the comments section below.

1 Comment

If any of the Grad School Teams would like to help our project develop along these suggested guidelines, let me know! We are a small group, just formed earlier this week, determined to improve the living conditions of the urban poor in our native Belize City, Belize. The communites we are targeting are mostly makeshift shacks on top of mosquito-infested swamps and garbage land fill. Most of these homes have no electricty or running water. Having just formed, we are doing all the research we can before we start designing a plan.
Check out our Google Group Page: http://groups.google.com/group/the-london-bridge-project