Informal settlement upgrading and safety

Brown-Luthango, M., Reyes, E., & Gubevu, M. (2016). Informal settlement upgrading and safety: experiences from Cape Town, South Africa. Journal of Housing and the Built Environment, 32(3), 471–493. doi:10.1007/s10901-016-9523-4

Cape Town
Publication type
Scientific article (peer-reviewed)
Mercy Brown-Luthango Elena Reyes Mntungwa Gubevu
informal settlements Housing upgrading



Informal settlement dwellers are disproportionately affected by ill health, violence
and many other socio-economic challenges. These are largely connected to the
unhealthy and unsafe physical conditions within which they live. Interventions in the built
form through the provision of physical infrastructure have been proposed as a strategy to
improve economic, social and health outcomes for informal settlement dwellers and are
also suggested as tools to address violence and insecurity, which have reached unprecedented
levels in many cities of the South. Whereas there is a clear case for improving the
living conditions of people in slums, there is still much debate and uncertainty about what
exactly constitutes upgrading, the most appropriate methods and approaches to upgrading,
and what the objectives and desired outcomes of upgrading interventions ought to be. This
paper tries to shed light on the complexity of upgrading interventions through a comparison
of three upgrading projects, each utilising a particular method and approach, and their
impact on the perception of safety of their beneficiaries. The research findings show that
physical improvements and a full package of basic services are absolutely crucial to
improve the living conditions, reduce vulnerabilities and improve the safety of informal
settlement dwellers. But these need to be supported by social and economic programmes in
order to bring about tangible improvements in people’s life circumstances. Research across
the three sites, however, suggests that in a context marked by high unemployment, poor
education and limited opportunities to break the cycle of poverty, the long-term impact and
sustainability of upgrading interventions is limited in the absence of targeted programmes aimed at addressing the structural factors which drive and sustain high levels of violence
and crime.

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