Studying Slums and Slum Types in Bangalore, India: Satellite Images and Combining Methods of Investigation


Urban poverty is increasing across large parts of the developing world, and slums of different types are expanding rapidly, a product in part of the incentives generated by globalization. Knowledge about slums remains patchy and preliminary, however. There are large gaps in information. Slums have been around for decades, especially in many larger cities; there are newer and older slum settlements, some with basic and flimsy housing and others with more permanent structures. The people who live in different types of slums have diverse policy needs, but distinguishing between types of slums and their disparate conditions is a task that has only just begun. Even more basic information is frequently missing. How many slums exist and how many people live in slums is all too often determined by drawing upon approximate and outdated data, and the geographic boundaries of slum settlements are only vaguely known. Slum policy becomes a blunt instrument in this information-poor world.

Using a combination of methods, including satellite image analysis, we are working to fill these information gaps in Bangalore. We discuss these methods and their relative worth in some detail. They have so far helped identify five separate types of slums. We identified types and locations initially by analyzing satellite pictures taken over a ten-year period. Neighborhood surveys and detailed interviews with more than 2,000 households in two types of slums – the best and the worst in terms of living conditions – helped confirm that there are clear differences between types. Migration patterns, length of residence in Bangalore, asset holdings, occupation types, investments in education and health care, and prospects for the future vary widely. Higher and lower degrees of informality are associated with different slum types. These results were further confirmed and given a clearer human face with the help of ethnographic inquires and photo-narratives.

Different circumstances and diverse institutional frameworks should result in varied political behaviors, it is hypothesized. Follow-on investigations are being designed to examine the diversity of social networks and political affiliations, which are expected to be similar within and different across slum types. Slums that have progressed across the typology, experiencing significantly better living conditions over time, are being identified separately with the help of satellite images, and the factors associated with improvement are being studied with the help of household surveys, neighborhood focus groups, and key informant interviews.