World Urban Forum 10 Networking Event

Abu Dhabi

Participatory upgrading of slums and informal settlements – urban sustainability management has a key role

Networking Event 152 

FIDIC (International Federation of Consulting Engineers), Switzerland, and UN-Habitat

16:30 - 18:30; Tuesday, 11 Feb 2020 

Hall 3, Room 12

Organised by UN-Habitat and FIDIC in partnership with SDI, the Mansueto Institute, Shack/Slum Dwellers International, and Global Infrastructure Basel.

WUF10 Report



  • Moderator: Joshua Maviti/Kerstin Sommer, PSUP, UN-Habitat
  • Gianluca Crispi, UN-Habitat: "Slum Upgrading Legal Assessment Tool"
  • Anni Beukes, Mansueto Institute, Chicago University : "Million Neighbourhoods Initiative"
  • Ahmed Vawda, Deputy Director General, Human Settlements, Republic of South Africa
  • Nicera Wanjiru, SDI Kenya & Zilire Luka, SDI Malawi: "Know Your City", Shack/Slum Dwellers International
  • Jeshika Ramchund, FIDIC "Urban sustainablity management in informal communities" - presentation PDF
  • Peter Boswell, Global Infrastructure Basel: "Mainstreaming informal communities" - presentation PDF


There are many reasons why much of the world’s population lives in vast slums and informal settlements. Most have their roots in formal procedures to secure legal titles, build homes and comply with regulations on land use, buildings and services.

 Improvement in housing and basic services infrastructure is one of the most effective ways to upgrade unacceptable living conditions and to integrate cities more effectively and sustainably.

 It is therefore vital to understand how regulatory frameworks impact slum upgrading. UN Habitat’s Slum Upgrading Legal Assessment Tool provides a framework to understand how and to what extent regulatory and institutional frameworks support the participatory, city-wide upgrading of informal communities.

 This unique tool uses indicators not only for issues related to the “five deprivations” (land; urban planning; basic services; building codes; finance) but also for the functional effectiveness of the law (regulatory objectives; transparency processes; institutional responsibilities; implementation capacity).

 Preliminary testing highlighted strengths and major gaps in Kenya’s legal framework, and demonstrated how laws can both promote and undermine the integration of slums into a sustainable and inclusive city fabric. The Government of Iran subsequently requested UN-Habitat to help implement the tool in Tabriz, Kermanshah and Sanandaj in the context of a new slum upgrading policy.

 More generally, mainstreaming slum upgrading and empowering informal communities to act within formal frameworks calls for physical intervention at a scale that is difficult to comprehend. Ubiquitous throughout the urban environment are the necessary processes that deal with legal frameworks, data collection and analysis, planning, and procurement.

 They must be comprehensive, governed appropriately, integrated to avoid silo effects, and involve full participation. They must be mainstreamed into overarching urban management approaches based on international standards and frameworks that are being implemented worldwide at all scales across all types of communities.


The urban population of Iran has increased from 19.3 million in 1980 (49.7% of the total population) to 42.2 million in the year 2000 (64%) and 58.3 million in 2015 (73.4%). It is expected to reach 72.5 million in 2030 (79.4%). Statistics from the National Taskforce for Enabling Informal Settlements on 68 major Iranian cities indicate that informal settlements on average, constitute around 19.1% of urban areas, 88.7% of which are found within official municipal boundaries. The significant percentage of slums have made it imperative for the government to find ways of improving the quality and standard of living of informal settlers. 

The reason why so many people live in informal settlements is the high cost of ‘formal’ housing – including the cost of getting legal land title, receiving permission to develop buildings, and meeting rules and regulations on land-use, buildings and infrastructure and service provision. If laws and regulations are deeming illegal the homes and livelihoods of much of the city population, then it is their legitimacy that should questioned. 


The networking event is organised by partners representing built-environment industry sectors and organisations promoting and developing standards-based urban data analytics, urban management systems and urban infrastructure certification. They are supported by organisations and programmes actively involved in upgrading slums and informal communities.

The event aims to demonstrate the importance of holistic, integrated, lifecycle-based approaches for urban sustainability management which up to now have tended to focus on the formal built environment while principles, tools, methodologies and processes are being developed.

These processes and approaches that will be presented, illustrated by means of case studies. Discussions will seek to promote the local implementation in slums and informal settlements of tools, partnerships and procedures that mitigate, adapt to and resist the effects of climate change on the built environment and preserve heritage and cultural traditions while meeting the broader range of goals set by the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.

The partners see the event as the beginning of a commitment by the built-environment sectors, international programmes and other urban stakeholders to engage with informal communities to promote, develop and implement sustainable urban management tools, protocols, guides, and management systems that are adjusted wherever necessary for the upgrading of informal settlements and empowering slum communities.

Updated 20 January 2020

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