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Research & Poverty Mapping (city slum profiles)

One of the main obstacles of effective urban planning in India is the lack of up-to-date, comprehensive and detailed information. Municipalities fail to include informal settlements in city-wide planning and urban development. Major projects tend to skirt around these areas, which are often seen as chaotic masses rather than understood as neighbourhoods in their own right. When these settlements are not ignored altogether, planning approaches rarely treat them as integral parts of the city.

Shelter Associates has been working to promote inclusive urban planning since early 2000. We have collaborated with Baandhani in Pune, Sangli and Khuldabad to introduce slum surveys and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) as tools for integrating low-income settlements into urban planning and development.

We use our research directly in our own field projects, and also to help inform local government policies. Connecting research with needs-based interventions leads to better solutions and the possibility of large-scale projects.

An important part of our work with Baandhani comprises studies of poor people in urban settings. This is not academic research, but the study of existing situations carried out by the poor themselves, and is in keeping with our joint philosophy of validating the existence of the poor living in cities.

Baandhani is recording daily life through photo-stories and documents in Marathi, the native language of Maharashtra. Our own research and documentation ranges from film documentaries, photographs and one-page flyers, to in-depth analysis and documentation of settlements, including physical land use and socio-economic factors. Extensive primary research and accessible reporting heightens awareness about slum areas and their residents, and this, in turn, improves levels of participation and the sustainability of projects. All our study material directly feeds into our work, and the information is also made available to stakeholders for planning projects and impacting policy.

The Sangli Sanitation Project is one example of how our research and development work influences outcomes in the field. Another is the Thane Poverty-Mapping and Redevelopment Project, which shows how research can be used to increase outreach to communities and create a comprehensive list of policies for stakeholders to choose from. Governments, NGO-CBOs, and communities can then consider the options jointly and weigh possible outcomes.