Typically, slums are found on land that is less suitable for building than where the planned city goes. Favelas in South America are often found on steep slopes. Dharavi is built on marshlands. The word ´slum´ actually has its origin in the problematic location of housing. According to The Making of the English Landscape (Hoskins 1977) the etymology of the word ‘slum’ goes back to the 1820s and refers to the geology of the land on which the upcoming large scale industries in England were built. Since steam-power was not yet available for trains in the early Industrial Revolution, most of raw materials and finished products were transported by canal-barges. Industries therefore were located near canals, often on grounds that lacked sufficient drainage. In those days, the local term for these marshy lands was 'slump,' meaning wet mire. The same word also occurs in Saxon and Scandinavian languages. Most of the accommodation for the working class developed near the factories and consequently the ´slums´ were the housing that often suffered from drainage problems.
Nowadays the word slum raises debate as it is often used to express a negative sentiment about areas and to derogate the people who live there. At the same time, slum dwellers don't mind so much or even take pride in using the word. Certain academics claim it is politically correct to avoid the s-word and stick to 'informal settlement' whereas the UN and many other organizations keep it simple; they call the spade a spade and thus call the slum a slum. Since this blog promotes an open attitude towards slums, we deliberately use the word slum in order to counterbalance the negative connotation.
Hoskins, William George. 1977. The Making of the English Landscape. Repr. London: Hodder and Stoughton.