CH 2: Outside In: The Lives of the New City


Nithya V. Raman is an urban planner who has been working in India for more than a decade. Her research and writing has focused on urban governance, slums and access to land and services, and transparency and accountability. In 2010, she founded Transparent Chennai, which creates maps and information about neglected civic issues to support advocacy by and for the urban poor. Transparent Chennai’s research is cited widely, and has informed public discourse and decision making on urban policies in India.​

Nithya V. Raman on Arrival City Chapter 2: Outside In: The Lives of the New City

The second chapter of Arrival City begins with a description of Sanjay Solkar returning to his village in Ratnagiri from Mumbai. Two other migrants from Sanjay’s village, Archana and Anant, also work in the city: Archana is a domestic worker whose employers pay her nothing, but promise to pay a sizable dowry when she gets married, and her brother Anant, works as a trainee in a lab. The chapter continues with a description of a man who provides cable connections to homes in a large slum in Dhaka, a couple looking for housing in Shenzen, a woman-headed family in Kibera in Nairobi, and a young boy in Santa Marta on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil who becomes a beneficiary of Lula’s progressive and resource-intensive favela improvement programs.

Just going through the list of stories told in this one chapter gives you a sense of why reading this book is exhilarating. Having spent many years in India and a lot of time in low-income neighborhoods in Delhi and Chennai, Saunders’ rich descriptions of similar communities in other cities is fascinating – how did they get started? What do people do for work in them? What are the ways in which residents have coped with the lack of services? What are the strategies they have used to improve their incomes? How do they compare to the neighborhoods that I know?

Saunders seems to be describing these neighborhoods because they are all “arrival cities,” but unfortunately not all of them meet the definition of arrival cities that he sets out in earlier chapters. The arrival city, according to Saunders, is a place where networks are maintained between village and city, and which serves as an entry point into urban areas from the village, and a place where people can establish themselves. But many of the neighborhoods that Saunders encounters (and many neighborhoods that I have seen in my work in India) never offer their residents a “path to enter the middle class,” the fourth criterion of an arrival city and perhaps the most important. Take the example of Sanjay, the first migrant discussed in this chapter. He is 20 years old and sleeps on the floor of a tea-shop next to a train station in northern Mumbai, and returns home to his village in Ratnagiri every year in June for the wedding season. Saunders then tells us that his grandfather did the same, working for a grocery store and sharing a room with his sister who was a domestic worker. Here, Mumbai is an entry point into urban India for the Solkar family, but its opportunities do not help to propel the family into a new socioeconomic class.

Perhaps, then, an “arrival city” is not so much a description, but rather what such places should be aspiring towards. Saunders’ descriptions of neighborhood after neighborhood may be somewhat overwhelming, but they also convey the incredible energy that such migrants must have in order to survive and thrive in their new homes. If these are truly to become arrival cities, then government policies need to better support their residents’ efforts to move from rural poverty into the urban middle-class.

What might such policies look like? So far, Saunders’ book has not offered easy answers. This chapter presented two government programs for improvement of such areas, neither of which seemed promising. In Nairobi, with the support of UN-Habitat, the government of Kenya was building high-rise settlements to which residents of Kibera were supposed to be moved. However, Saunders notes that most residents will not get apartments allocated to them, and the lucky few that do are likely to sell such a large asset off and move back into the slum. He also points out that such high-rises do not permit the informal economic activities that sustain many low-income families, such as small industrial units or petty shops. This means that the movement into a high-rise also could prevent these residents earning their livelihoods. Saunders also describes a program in Rio de Janeiro where some favelas were selected for improvements that included the formalization of property rights and the provision of birth certificates for all residents. But such programs are extremely expensive, and this is not a feasible approach for addressing all favelas or slums.

Saunders’ focus on a geographic space – the arrival city – suggests that improvements in the arrival city are the best ways to improve conditions for their residents. But is this really true? Despite being an urban planner, I am skeptical that improvements in slums are actually the most efficient way to address poverty and to move residents into the middle class. Might not the money spent on large-scale slum improvement programs be better spent on improving public education or creating more stable manufacturing jobs?

By Nithya V. Raman

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Austin says:

    Within this chapter there seems to be a lot description and focus on showing what the arrival city really is. By taking a look at several cities with several different inhabitants, we can see that what an arrival city is can most definitely vary. We learn that there is no single template for an arrival city.

    What I find especially interesting in this chapter is the revelation of what happens around arrival cities. Arrival cities are fascinating in and of themselves but the impact they have on both rural and urban lifestyles of those involved on either side is more large than I initially thought. The thing that caught my attention most in this chapter was how Saunders described the urban cities’ ultimate need for arrival cities. He explained that, not only did rural emigration keep the urban city fresh with new ideas and new people, but also that the process from arrival city to urban life was one that acted as a filter. Only the strongest and most tenacious would succeed in moving from rural life – to arrival city – to urban city life, and this ensured that only robust and hard working people would enter from that pathway. Saunders says that the slums of cities should be paid attention to. In the chapter’s case of Brazil, there was initially no chance for an arrival city because the slums were neglected. As a result, there grew an abundance of violence and substance abuse. Eventually this proved to be a problem for the urban environment.

    By the end of the chapter we see an arrival city, not only as a link between urban and rural life, but as a stage and proving ground for its inhabitants.

  2. Adam says:

    After reading ahead in Saunders’ book, I have to say I always end up referring back to Chapter 2 as a template for defining and illustrating the key attributes of the arrival city and shanty towns that are too often overlooked in cities worldwide.
    Exploring the arrival cities of Kolhewadi, Dhaka, Shenzhen, Kibera and Santa Marta Saunders shows it is true that there is no single route to successful arrival, however that there are profound similarities and lessons to be learned from each one that make understanding the importance of shantytowns and new arrival cities so essential. Before this chapter, never did I fully realize the true social and economic value that arrival cities offer, as well as the power that government wields in determining where such cities end up. The key takeaway for me is that as global governments continue to attempt to ‘restore’ or ‘fix’ shanty villages and arrival cities, they are instead actually overlooking the fact that economic growth relies on urbanization and that if urban density could be coupled with suitable government infrastructure investments, poverty could be alleviated. Slums are the heart of city regeneration, and need to be interpreted from a micro, bottom up social level instead of as a top down project in need of redevelopment. By contrasting the success and values of places like Santa Marta against the postponed arrival of Kibera with their UN projects, Saunders shows that so long as the government provides the most basic of services, the arrival city will take care of itself. In no way are slums or arrival cities in need of intervention, as they truly are the location of upward mobility within a country’s population, and are the drivers of social and economic prosperity. If perceptions of this, particularly at the governmental level, were to change the benefits for arrival cities, their citizens, and the entire country would be plentiful. I don’t believe Saunders’ is advocating for full scale slum improvement but rather just basic necessities that facilitate arrival growth. By no means does the arrival city even have to become middle class, but it can serve as a launching pad for individual upward mobility, and as a safe and positive destination for the next wave of arrivals.
    This so far for me has been the greatest takeaway from Saunders’ book, and is something I keep reflecting on as I probe deeper into his writing.

  3. Jimohal Francis says:

    Doug Saunders did an excellent job in making chapter three very stimulating. This chapter made me view immigration in the terms of economics. Saunders discusses greatly about how migration can transform unwanted places into desirable places for living and business. He does a great job in explaining how the migration of Latino people changed Los Angeles after the Rodney King Riots. For the African American community living in Los Angeles before and after the riots, their communities was not striving economically and socially, but because of poverty, they did not have the financial means to move out like white people did. Poverty can disable one’s ability to move.

    This can keep one in the same position.
    Saunders brings up how immigration policies are contradictory especially when governments try to restrict immigration. When countries like Canada or America, need an increase in population growth or people to fill up certain jobs, they are willing to forget their policies and take advantage of immigrants for their own benefits. In this semester I am taking a course called “Race and Ethnicity in Canada”, we learned about how highly educated individuals leave their home country for the West in hopes of gaining prosperity but the harsh reality is that this does not end out well for them as Canada reject their degrees. I always found this to be discriminatory and a waste of time for both the country and immigrant. I liked the fact that Saunders talked about this chapter because he is giving us another side to immigration that gets ignored by society. I believe immigrants play a crucial part in the development of a city.

    I can relate to this chapter because I live in a neighbourhood where immigrants work very hard to participate in the society and they don’t get enough credit for that unless it is about money.

  4. Eric L says:

    Thanks for your interesting take on Saunders’ second chapter. As i haven’t spent time in the developing world nor any arrival city mentioned in this chapter, I can’t speak to his description of them. With respect to Saunders’ first tale of Sanjay (and Indian slums in general), I would agree with your point that he suggests a general momentum upward in social mobility which isn’t necessarily present. In fact, in almost seems that arrival cities serve less as entry points to poverty reproduction rather than upward social mobility. That is to say that not only is there no coherent (and certainly state sponsored) path to upward mobility within the arrival city, but one can expect prolonged impoverished existence.
    Arrival cities also seem to reproduce social hierarchies rather than break them down. Saunders’ tale of Sanjay’s grandfather is a perfect example of this. This man’s grandfather shared a room with his sister who worked as a domestic servant for a family who would compensated her with a promise to pay her dowery. In addition to qualifying as slavery (which Saunders notes) this arrangement will see her married off and sent back to the village rather than provide her with a stepping stone for new opportunities. This is a perfect example of the state of purgatory arrival cities have become. While we certainly can’t deny their existence or the fact that they’re growing, we can question (as you’ve pointed out) whether they actually serve as nests for positive human development; on the surface it appease that in many cases, one experience of abject poverty is being traded for another.

  5. N. Ashti Lakhan says:

    Chapter two of Doug Saunders Arrival City exhilaratingly expands on his definition of what he refers to as an “Arrival City.” He defines an “Arrival City” as upcoming great economic and cultural booming cities that serve as entry points of migration. These cities host maintained networks where people from the suburbs and outlying villages can establish themselves. These “Arrival Cities” are meant to offer residents an entranceway into higher economic classes. However, this is an ideal “Arrival City” for many of the cities reviews by Saunders do not meet the outlined expectations.

    This overwhelming chapter describes a serious of city experiences encompassing cities such as Mumbai in India, Kibera in Nairobi and Santa Marta in Brazil. The stories of residents in these cities move from the outskirts of the “Arrival City” to the city in hopes of earning money to provide for their families while moving up the ladder of success. The pull factors to these “Arrival Cities” are the hopes of employment and growth into urban middle class. However, this is the ideal and residents evidently go through great lengths for the sakes of possible movement. The drive is there amongst residents, yet the room to grow is limited. For example, 20 year old Sanjay Solkar of Ratnagiri moved to Mumbai with hopes of employment. He works and sleeps on the floor of a tea-shop near a train station in order to provide for his family back home in the village.

    In order for true progress to be made, government assistance is needed. However, government assistance is sometimes less helpful than intended. For example, Saunders tells us of Nairobi’s UN-Habitat support to the government which is building high-rise settlements to house residents of Kibera. These settlements are counter-productive as they only provide housing to a portion of the residents and do not permit small industrial units that provide livelihoods. In addition to those limitations, most of the residents that are chosen to receive housing often sell their apartments for money and move back to the slums.

    It’s quite interesting to observe the improvements to situations and how impossible they seem. This chapter focused on the outskirts of the large cities that we see on a worldwide scale. These large cities are often taken for granted because tourists and citizens of the world hardly see only romanticized images of said cities. It is also important to note the implications of migration and how it affects the world both negatively and positively.

  6. Sumaya Almajdoub says:

    Thank you for your contribution Ms. Nithya. I think your post raises important questions about whether the “slum-upgrading” solution Saunders presents is an optimal policy option.
    I found your concluding paragraph quite profound:
    “I am skeptical that improvements in slums are actually the most efficient way to address poverty and to move residents into the middle class. Might not the money spent on large-scale slum improvement programs be better spent on improving public education or creating more stable manufacturing jobs?”

    • A policy-maker is often faced with this dilemma, should limited government funds go towards a short-term solution with quick results? Or should funding go towards a long-term solution that will have no immediate impact, but will create better outcomes 20,30 or 50 years down the line ?
    It’s important to note that policy-makers are not the only actors here, stake-holders and community advocates are integral to the process of setting priorities and strategies. Further, just because a goal will take longer to achieve doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start taking steps towards it. In fact, this might provide a bigger incentive to start as soon as possible.

    • Saunders explains that “ the meaning of a ‘job’ has changed dramatically in places like Mumbai”, “ the informal, self-employed economy, even though it is more chaotic and often untaxed, is providing better livelihoods for rural migrants than the old lifetime-job economy. Self-employment, the starting point of the arrival city, has become the global norm. “(Saunders, 2010, p.41)
    • The entrepreneurial spirit of Sanjay and his grandfather is to be commended, but if the informal sector is not incorporated within the formal one, it may only provide limited gains. This means that the formal economy itself would have to be restructured, and this is no easy task.
    I think a good question to ask here is how can temporary solutions be complemented with long-term strategies that will help arrival city residents become economically resilient? Archana and Sanjay have creatively pursued the opportunities they could take to improve their livelihoods. The question becomes, what opportunities will the Archana and Sanjay of 2045 have? Will they have better access to education and professional training? Will that training be matched with the needs of an efficient and equitable economy?

    • Furthermore, chapter 2, and the book in general sheds light on this question: if the global movement to urbanisation is inevitable, then what shape will it take?
    This is an open question. Saunders asserts that the stakes are high, but so are the possible gains. The future of arrival cities can be “where the next great economic and cultural boom will be born or where the next great explosion of violence will occur” (Saunders, 2010, p.3).
    Saunders narrates the story of a favela, Santa Marta in Brazil, which underwent a ‘slum upgrading’ to illustrate a success story. The upgrading can be seen as more nuanced than previous attempts. It did not destroy the favela and relocate its residents to a remote location. Rather, the slum was given two things: 1) infrastructure such as new houses street lights, a railway and a training college, and 2) legitimacy through giving street addresses, birth certificates, and land titles.
    Saunders explains that the slum upgrading meant an acknowledgement from the government of the legitimate existence of the favela, an inclusion of Santa Marta residents into the political system.
    If we agree that the causes of poverty are rooted in political and socio-economic systems, then the ‘slum upgrading’ process has the potential to serve two purposes at the same time. First, it can help directly improve the material conditions of the slum dwellers [this is a short term result]. Second, the very process that the slum upgrading is done can positively influence governmental institutions [long-term process].
    How can this long-term process unfold? First, these governmental efforts can re-orient government perceptions about ‘arrival cities’ and the ways in which the government systematically responds. Second, if the slum-dwellers are part and parcel of the pre/post- upgrading process, they can enable them to become civically engaged. An institution such as the ‘community council’ can become a space for collective representation and accountability. However, In Santa Marta’s case, I find the fact that the upgrading started by a violent police-raid and random arrests quit alarming.

  7. Kaitlynn says:

    The second chapter of Arrival City continues to sick out in my mind through the course of the text. While I’ve learned theories surrounding slums in development classes, the specific stories outlined in this chapter provide a deeper insight into the lives for those who live in the slums. Responses from individuals such as Nithya provide perspective, a sense of transparency, and skepticism. Different perspectives are imperative from those who have seen slums; however, it does not necessarily warrant recommendations on how they ought to live but should focus on what rights they should have to basic necessities in the least.

    Saunders suggests that “arrival cities” need to fit a certain criteria, however, I do not think this is a simple answer as urban environments are diverse. Saunders suggests that the shift from rural to urban living showcases theory similar to Darwin in which those who are “fit” would survive in urban areas. I do agree with Nithya, that an “arrival city” should perhaps then mean that such places should be striving towards a path to a better economic security without undermining those who live there.

    What is particularly striking about these stories is that they provide a sense of clarity in the sense that slums are efficient to a degree and essential to how individuals live their lives. There is an assumption that building high-rise settlements supported by government and UN-Habitat is beneficial, but only for few. As the chapter suggests, this idea is notable in theory but in practice those few would seize temporary collateral by selling off their assets, which seems counter intuitive. Specifically, this is of concern since Saunders suggests that this is a cycle that would force individuals to return to the slums. If this is indeed true, then I agree with the idea that perhaps in lieu of funding settlements, funding should be shifted to resource implementation such as education and stable work.

    Reading the text and the blog provide a sense of different viewpoints, which I respect. These perspectives really showcase the difficulty of improving living conditions without taking away from the individual.

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