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Upgrading an informal settlement : the role of tenure security in Mahaiyawa, Kandy, Sri Lanka Bhanjee, Tariq Nizar


The urban poor in many developing countries live in informal settlements which are becoming more congested due to the increasing population and urbanization. The infrastructure services and housing in these informal settlements is rapidly deteriorating and seriously affecting the health and well being of the inhabitants. Upgrading improves the living environment of these settlements. Tenure security is one, among many factors that influences upgrading. A sense of security is necessary for investment of time, resources and money to occur in upgrading. Once a sense of security is established, several other factors that may be independent of tenure security, influence upgrading. This study determines the factors that affect physical upgrading (housing and infrastructure services) in the low-income settlement of Mahaiyawa, in Kandy, Sri Lanka. Mahaiyawa is the largest low-income settlement in Kandy, which is extremely congested and in dire need of upgrading. The impact of tenure security, as well as the other factors that influence upgrading, is examined. A comprehensive literature review regarding tenure security and upgrading was conducted prior to the three-month field research. Through participant observation and a mapping exercise, the physical and social aspects of the settlement were assessed. The key methodology for the study was interviews. Questions for the interviews were based on the literature review and previous studies conducted in Mahaiyawa. Twenty-two key-informant interviews and eighteen community interviews were conducted. A questionnaire was used to cross-check the community interviews. Based on the analysis of the interviews, recommendations regarding upgrading were provided. The study revealed that the upgrading was taking place through the self-help approach, regardless of legal tenure. The prevalence of unauthorized units suggested that perceived security was critical for upgrading. No evictions, provision of urban services and identification cards, employment security and a sense of community established through a long residency, supported this sense of security. Access to financial resources dependent upon saving capacity, employment security and credit access, seemed to be the most critical factor affecting upgrading after a sense of security was established. Other factors such as ethnicity, community participation, skill levels and availability of building materials, institutional resources, and power dynamics and politics, also affected upgrading.

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