This paper reappraises a specific slum improvement programme in Nigeria that received financial backing from the World Bank. Utilising a large body of bespoke quantitative and qualitative primary research material, rarely available for slum settlements, critical attention is directed towards the mismatch between official project goals and the needs of inhabitants. The findings suggest that considerable funds have been misdirected and, arguably, wasted. It is contended that participation is not only important to identify the most crucial needs and potentialities of slum dwellers and communities – it is a major requirement for the ongoing maintenance and sustainability of urban change, which is the crux of place-based strategies. The proposition developed from this research is that considerably smaller sums of support could be channelled towards particular contexts, in a variety of place-based manners that account for spatial particularity, reflecting the specific needs and opportunities of particular communities. Of broader significance, this paper contributes to a reappraisal of slum improvement programmes, challenges some perceived wisdoms and suggests alternative approaches to the way that the issues raised could be tackled.