Slums have long been a characteristic part of the landscapes of large cities in the less-developed world, and they have proliferated in recent decades. This research project will examine slums, but instead of placing the usual focus on slums as problematic places to live in, the investigators will concentrate on the role of slums as sites of economic production. The investigators will systematically study the nature of economic activity in slums, how that activity is rooted in the slum, and its connections to the wider urban economy. What kind of economic activity takes place in slums, and how important is it to slum communities? Why does it take place in that particular slum location, and what is the nature and extent of spatial concentration? What are the external linkages, and how is this activity connected to the wider urban economy? The project us expected to breaks new ground in three ways. First, it will combine different geographical and thematic literatures, such as writings on slums that often disregard economic dimensions and writings on the "new economic geography" that lack attention to slum milieus. Second, the project will develop a theoretical argument as to why slums can be important sites of economic activity. Explanations include the immediate presence of labor, the absence of zoning policies, and strong social networks. Finally, the project will place major emphasis on primary data collection on labor and firms in two large and well-known slums, Dharavi in Mumbai (India) and Klipspruit Valley in Johannesburg (South Africa). The investigators will combine large scale surveying of slum households and slum firms, statistical analysis, interviews, and mapping. The project will reveal the nature and significance of economic production in the two study areas and will contribute to general theory development on the spatial organization of urban economies and on the nature of slums.

About one billion people currently live in slums world-wide, and if current trends continue, the number will double by 2030. It is critical to better understand the economic logic of slums not just as "labor reservoirs" but also as sites or zones of specialized economic production. Without such understanding, one cannot fully understand the overall urban economy of these cities. Urban economic development strategies must take into account the economic role of slums, particularly in regard to popular efforts to stimulate local enterprise development. Furthermore, policies dealing with slums thus far have systematically ignored their economic functions, but slum eradication, rehabilitation, and relocation may have important economic consequences. The project therefore will be relevant to academic, social, and policy concerns.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Thomas J. Baerwald
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University of Miami
Coral Gables
United States
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