Slums – Past, Present and Future – Eugenie Birch, University of Pennsylvania

By on 03/31/2014

mp3 icon Slums – Past, Present and Future – Eugenie Birch

Eugenie Birch


Eugenie L. Birch, Nussdorf Professor of Urban Research, Department of City and Regional Planning, School of Design, University of Pennsylvania; co-Director, Penn Institute for Urban Research, has written extensively on issues of planning history, housing reform and global urbanization. Most recently, she was a co-convenor, along with the Economist Intelligence Unit and the Forum for the Future of the Transforming the Future of Cities Seminar, Bellagio Center, August 2013 funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. 


In this lecture Eugenie Birch demonstrates the growth of slums and associated solutions over time, explaining the reasons for their formation and the various approaches employed to improve substandard conditions.

She argues that, as shown by history, comprehensive planning that includes attention to providing sufficient land and services is essential for improved living conditions. Ameliorating slum conditions (i.e. what we call slum upgrading today) is an essential but not the sole component of addressing the problems caused by rapid urbanization overtime.

In conclusion Birch suggest that constructive approaches that include enhancing the supply of land and housing, dealing with land transactions and creating a standard regulatory environment have been and will be key elements of successful urban policy of the past and hold promise for addressing issues of the present and future.

The lecture draws heavily on history to illustrate the location, pace, trajectory, documentation and varied solutions of historic slum conditions in Western Europe and North America; tracking contemporary slum development in Latin America, Asia and Africa, and outlines the commonalities and differences with past experience. Birch places the slum development in stages that correspond to the urbanization rates/peak growth of slums” of the places in question, and discusses adaptations, their benefits and costs.


Wikipedia: Eugenie Birch

Paper on Housing and Urban Communities 

Paper on the Housing and Slum Clearance Act and its Effects on the Urban Planning Profession 

Books by Eugenie Birch on Amazon 

Penn IUR website


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