Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Land compensation for one of the world’s largest slums?

Mumbaimap   Here’s an interesting international land use story.  By the end of the century, demographers predict that the world’s largest metro area will be -– not New York, Tokyo, Shanghai, or Mexico City –- but Mumbai (formerly called Bombay), on India’s west coast.  But the city is built on a peninsula into the Indian Ocean that makes land values extraordinarily high, and bound to go higher.  One area of the central city is Dharavi, sometimes called “Asia’s largest slum.”  Because of its value as land, real estate developers want to buy the area, redevelop it for wealthier residents, and relocate the slum dwellers, with compensation.  NPR devoted a long and thoughtful segment to the issue this morning. Quick analogies to the ill-advised “slum removals” in U.S. cities in the 20th century fail when one hears about the unhealthy conditions in the slum.   

   It is easy to assert a Kelo-fueled anger at disturbing the rights of residents, and to assert that no one be forced to leave if they do not want to.  It is also sensible to be skeptical of plans for “compensation” that may turn out to be hollow and insufficient, especially if they are based on promises of future action.  But it should also be kept in mind that one of the best ways to help the world’s poor is to find a way that they can tap into the wealth of the market, as many poor Indians are doing by working for companies that export to the West, bringing in money that, ironically, helps drive up Mumbai’s land values.  Perhaps the one valuable thing that many residents of Dharavi hold is the right to valuable land.  If it is done correctly, a compensation system for buying this right (providing either cash or a new home or both) may enable many of the residents to live healthier and happier lives that they could otherwise could ever hope to enjoy.  Now, is there a good government to be a watchdog and make sure that the land use compensation is done properly?

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