Slum Development: Physical Attributes and Urban Crime

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Updated: Jan 17, 2019
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Slum Development: Physical Attributes and Urban Crime essay


The urban setup can be viewed as a successful mix of both the physical and social aspects within a society. The two aspects determine the functionality of the urban landscape by integrating the urban landscape with the social life. Urban planning, the discipline behind the creation of functional urban landscapes highlights several components as some of the fundamental components of comprehensive plans. These include, infrastructure and public services, urban design, housing, land use, transportation, recreation and open spaces (Yin & Farmer, 2013, pp. 35-42). However, with the ever rising demographics in the urban areas and an increasing gap between the rich and the poor, planning within the urban areas becomes a daunting task. For instance, most cities in the world face acute housing shortage resulting to spontaneous development of poorly planned settlements which later morph into slums. Slums on the other hand expose the cities to a myriad of physical and social shortcomings.

Urban slums and the physical environments

Based on the studies conducted in different cities across the globe, there is no definite definition of a slum, thanks to the different factors that influence slum development. In some cities, slum development is as a result of political inertia and the consequent incapacity of institutions to provide well-planned and designed housing for the low-income earners within a city. In some instances, poor policy formulation results into spontaneous development of poor housing units lacking basic services and amenities (Programme., 2012, pp. 5-12). However, under the urban planning context, slum types can be distinguished into shanties, spontaneous urban or development and housing, based on their physical location, zoning regulations, conditions of the built structures, and land invasion. For instance, in the movie, the building typologies depict the conditions of the settlement.

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The buildings, mostly consisting of compacted shanties can be termed as slum developments, thanks to their poor architectural design, building conditions and the irregular grid outlines. Urban design principles and elements such as public spaces, landscape, streets, and infrastructure aid in the planning and designing of functional urban spaces. An urban design structure outlines the urban and building forms taking into consideration the demographic nature of the urban area. Due to the limited space in slum developments, spatial elements such as streets, alleys, boulevards and pedestrian sidewalks receive little attention. Most slum developments are characterized by narrow streetscapes with no distinctive pedestrian sidewalks. The physical landscape in the movie does not take into consideration any of the urban design principles and elements.

Urban settlements are usually aligned to the street patterns to enhance access. Most planning theories in use today advocate for development of settlements usually consisting of pararell and transversal streets in almost uniform dimensions forming a gridlock pattern. However, Cidade de Deus, the location where the movie was filmed, has relatively irregular and narrow streets lacking vital spatial considerations hence giving little or no room for pedestrian sidewalks. The poor street designs limit the provision of vital amenities such as drainage and sewerage systems, consequently affecting the way of life for the slum residents (Programme, 2012, pp. 15-25). Traditional grid patterns were used extensively in slum upgrading in Latin America. However, in the event of an upgrading program to enhance functional streetscapes, major disruptions and demolitions are imminent, hence making it difficult for the authorities to implement major upgrading programs (Rosa, 2011, pp. 5-22.)

Urban crime and youth gangs Slum development comes along with a myriad of health and social seatbacks. Economists and sociologists have attributed the consequences to the changes in commercial and industrial development which often lead to lowered economic status within cities consequently leading to an increased disparity in the economic strata within the urban setup. The reduced economic status within the city triggers an urban sprawl ” the mushrooming of poorly planned housing units characterized by overcrowding and unsanitary living conditions (Rathor, 2003, p. 14). Such conditions provide ideal spots for crime and other anti-social behavior. Sociologists posit that 80% of crimes within the urban area occur in slums, thanks to the underlying socio-economic issues.

The high concentration of economic and social deprivations in the urban slums coupled by high population density, high unemployment rates and social exclusion have been identified as the primary causes of crime and violence (Programme., 2012, p. 75). Youth violence and crime is prevalent within communities with relatively high concentrations of criminogenic commodities. Hailey Chantal (2013) argues that the deprivation of social services within the slum setups is a recipe for criminal activity (Chantal, 2013). However, despite the provision of a public space within the slum, teenagers still engage in criminal activity. The blame therefore does not solely lie on the deprivation of vital social provisions, rather it can be attributed to a number of factors.

According to the “broken window” theory of communities, crime causation is prevalent in neighborhoods where both the people and buildings appear to be disorderly. The premonition that the community is out of control plays a major role in attracting criminal activity (Programme., 2012, p. 76). For instance, the narrow streets and alleys in the movie are crime hotspots where criminal gangs operate. Policing in the slums is difficult since some of the areas within the slums are rendered impassable by the narrow passages.

Moreover, the criminal gangs can maneuver across the streets and alleys with ease hence escaping arrest. As Seketu Mehta argues, developing countries should embark on empowering their poorest citizens as a remedy for crime. The Brazilian authorities introduced the “Bolsa Familia” (family allowance) program in 2003 which involves paying a small amount of money to the poorest families as a way of alleviating poverty hence reducing poverty. However, the benefits of the program are pegged to certain conditions such as ensuring that the recipients must take their children to school (Mehta, 2013). This is a noble idea in that it helps in empowering the poor while compelling them to educate their children who will later bring in change in the slums.

Work Cited:

Chantal, H. (2013, March 14). The Devastating Impact of Persistent Crime on Teens. Retrieved from Citylab:

Mehta, S. (2013, August 15). In the Violent Favelas of Brazil. Retrieved from The New York Review of Books:

Programme, U. N. (2012). Streets as Tools for Urban Transformation in Slums: a street-led approach to citywide slum upgrading. Nairobi: United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat).

Programme., U. N. (2012). The Challenge of Slums : Global Report on Human Settlements 2003. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.

Rathor, A. (2003). Slum dwellers, curse on development. New Delhi: Print Book.

Rosa, F. F. (2011). Physical and Spatial Characteristics of Slum Territories Vulnerable to Natural Disasters. Les Cahiers de Afrique de Est, 5-22.

Yin, J., & Farmer, P. W. (2013). Urban planning for dummies. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.

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Slum Development: Physical Attributes and Urban Crime. (2019, Jan 17). Retrieved from