Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Legalizing Squatters in Tanzania

IRIN Africa reports on the legacy of Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, who will retire after today's elections. Among this socialist's programs: to legalize squatters so they can get loans from the country's well-off banks and capital markets.

It's a wonderful goal, expressed compellingly by Hernando de Soto in his book, The Mystery of Capital. But studies in de Soto's homeland, Peru, have shown that title deeds have negligible value when it comes to getting access to credit. Despite being legalized, the former squatters still find that private sector interests are loathe to invest in low income communities. They've simply gone from total exclusion to redlining.

Legalization is one strategy for empowering these communities--but it is a convenient myth to think that the title deed solves anything.


cluster said...

I'm a college student and for my geography class we had to (had the opportunity to) read your book. You emphasize the similarities of existence in the four cities, but what would you say are the important differences between each community, and what would you say seems to account for those differences? Do the differences at all result from the geography of the cities, or just their government's approach to the "squatter problem"?

rn said...

There are lots of differences, physical, cultural, environmental. My idea is that the overarching reason why some squatter communities develop and others stagnate has to do with the amount of control the residents are able to exercise over their neighborhoods. Where squatters feel like they have operational control over their communities, they build and develop and prosper.

Does geography play a role? Sure. Different communities develop differently. Mata Machado, a small favela high up in the Parque da Tijuca in Rio de Janeiro, has a different feel than Rocinha, which is not too far away but much more highly urbanized. Perhaps this is because Rocinha is sandwiched between two highly urbanized legal neighborhoods.

Mata Machado is built more on the single-family city model, and the streets serve as linear plazas, where public life is played out. Rocinha is much more dense, built as a city of townhouses and apartment buildings. Rocinha started out much more like Mata Machado, but its development veered away as it became more dense. It actually has plazas and play spaces built into the urban fabric.

Gecekondu communities in Turkey tend to ape a particular developmental model: stores tend to be on wide shopping streets while the side streets tend to be purely residential. Rocinha is different, as people cut kiosks into their buildings wherever they are. In Kenya, also, a mud hut on a forlorn stretch of path will turn out to be a small-scale grocery store. The squatter areas of India, though, are more like Istanbul, with stores clustered on wider pathways.

Why these patterns? I'm not sure. I was going to say that they mimic development in the city around them. But that doesn't account for everything. Kenya, for instance, is highly organized. Housing isn't supposed to belong in what's called the 'industrial area' and stores aren't supposed to be allowed in what are called the 'estates.' But there's a tremendous amount of informality, and little kiosks crop up everywhere, even in legal neighborhoods.

Why? Because people need a place to run out and buy a loaf of bread or some milk, and some entrepreneur figures out that it's worth the risk of erecting an illegal kiosk if there's enough business.

Please follow up, Cluster. It's an interesting question.

cluster said...

Thank you so much for your help with my questions! I really didn't know if you would respond or not so I was very excited when I woke up this morning to find that you had. My questions to you were directed towards my final paper in geography and I was having a very difficult time with what the differences were in each city and what caused the variations. My thesis for the paper was as follows:

The geographic differences significant to the residents of the cities featured in Robert Neuwirth’s Shadow Cities are those that dictate whether or not the communities are currently progressing and if they have the potential for change in the future.

Your comments significantly helped me finish the paper. I'll leave a link to it later.

Thank you again! I really appreciate your insight.