Many cities in middle-income countries are witnessing significant expansions in the production of state-subsidised housing, at a scale that is relocating millions of people. Their promise is to deliver housing, infrastructure and services that meet universal standards of decency and sustainable human settlements and, at the same time, to replace informal tenure arrangements, services, and governance with legible and governable urban environments. The danger is that delayed or partial implementation of this promise can itself contribute to the marginalisation of low-income city dwellers. The move to formal housing, much of which is being developed on the edges of cities, can also differentially expose residents to new financial risks, spatial dislocation, and the disruption of jobs and livelihoods. We argue here that (im)mobility is central to how this risk is experienced, with relocation potentially locking them into places that are peripheral to and marginalised from the rest of the city.
This paper builds on previous work highlighting the tensions low-income groups experience as they transition into formal settlements. Our central question is How does the relocation of low-income households to urban peripheries reshape the links between their physical and socio-economic mobility, and how does this impact on their ability to build secure urban futures? The linkages between physical and socio-economic mobility are particularly important for low-income urban households. Physical access to work and key services that are tied to particular locations is crucial to sustaining livelihoods, for example by allowing households to stitch together marginal jobs that require their physical presence. This access is underpinned by physical mobility, spanning from small-scale movement to much larger forms of travel. Relocation to peripheral housing significantly alters the physical mobility demands on low income households, and can increase travel costs and times to critical everyday locations such as workplaces and schools, and potentially fracture existing socio-spatial networks. As a result, physical mobility is centrally and intimately constitutive of people’s experience of place, and where relocation disrupts this, it risks significantly constraining their longer-term socio-economic mobility. By evidencing low-income households’ experiences of relocation through a three-city study (Ahmedabad, Chennai, Johannesburg), the wider contribution of this paper is to use residents’ (im)mobility to raise critical questions about the long-term socio-economic impacts of their rehousing.