At its most basic level, urban upgrading involves improving the physical environment of slums. This includes improving and/or installing basic infrastructure like water, sanitation, waste collection, access roads and footpaths, storm drainage, lighting, public telephones, etc. Upgrading also deals with regularizing security of land tenure and housing improvements, as well as improving access to social support programs (e.g., health, education) and municipal services (e.g., water, sanitation, waste collection, storm drainage, street lighting, paved footpaths, roads for emergency access).
The World Bank has been involved in a large number of urban upgrading projects over the last 25 years, demonstrating that basic services to slums can be provided at a realistic cost if done right. Our experiences have shown that upgrading can be affordable, that low income residents are willing to pay, that the poor can be good clients, that political commitment is key, and that fully involving the community in the process is essential.
Slums are the products of failed policies, bad governance, corruption, inappropriate regulation, dysfunctional land markets, unresponsive financial systems, and a fundamental lack of political will. Upgrading of existing slum and squatter settlements addresses the backlog of urban neglect, but many cities, especially in Africa and Asia, will face an onslaught of new urban residents over the next several decades, many of whom will be poor. Without significant improvements in the legal, regulatory, and financial systems, the problem of current slum and squatter settlements is only a glimpse of the future.