Resilient and inclusive

Table of Contents

  1. Major Urban Challenges
  2. Why planning fails to meet urban challenges
  3. Resilient? Resilient and inclusive!
  4. Families of responses
  5. Characteristics of Resilient and inclusive responses

Major urban challenges

People on the move
Erratic housing prices
Segregation and conflict
Public services under pressure
Dealing with uncertainty

Why planning fails to meet urban challenges

An ideal world
Silo thinking

Resilient? Resilient and inclusive!

Families of responses

The power of data
Cooperative development
Sustainability as a matter of survival

Characteristics of Resilient and inclusive responses

Major Urban Challenges

We kick off with five major urban challenges faced by cities today. They are all global in scope and have a big impact on the everyday lives of citizens. We’ll start with People on the move, followed by Erratic housing prices, Segregation and conflict and Public services under pressure. We’ll end with Dealing with uncertainty, a hot-button topic in a fast changing urban reality.

People on the move

The world is shrinking. There are now an estimated 258 million people living in a country other than their country of birth, which is an increase of 49% since 2000 (UN DESA 2017). Although some of these migrants have fled war and uncertainty, most have moved because of a personal drive deeply embedded in humankind: to reach higher.

What’s often overlooked is that most migration occurs within continents. By far the largest migratory movements take place within Africa; from rural to urban, from inland to coast and from one country to another. In fact, only 1.3% of Africans – 16 million people – live outside the continent (UN DESA 2017). Many African countries are on the way up. Economies are growing, education is improving and stability is increasing. This attracts investors who create jobs and further increase overall prosperity. That process is paradoxically translating into increased international migration. This can already be seen in the more developed African countries like Morocco, Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia, where an average of more than 5.5% of the population lives outside their country (World Bank 2010). These citizens are not only leaving for mayor cities in Europe or the U.S., but increasingly for work opportunities in urban regions in the Gulf States and Eastern Asia. And so far, improved higher education in these developing countries has simply increased the ambition level of young citizens, with the result that many well-qualified graduates are drawn to migrate. Just like their peers in developed countries, these youth want a chance to study, find a good job and discover the world.

The city has grown and we are a part of the city, although I still need to take public transport to commute to my work. But now i have an address, ownership, 24hrs water supply and electricity.”

“My husband passed away in 2008 due to a drug overdose. To support my family, of one son and two daughters, I started to work extra as a house maid. Soon we had to move out from our house in the slum into one of the housing developments by the government, that provided water supply and electricity. We had to pay a deposit of 5000 rupees (70USD).

The new housing was 3-storey high in an isolated location in the outskirts of the city. In the beginning, due to lack of security, theft became a common problem. Especially window frames from the apartments were stolen on a regular basis. I remember we used foil paper or sometimes hang bedcovers to protect us from the cold. Soon the government replaced them with permanent window frames. Now things have changed. The city has grown and we are a part of the city, although I still need to take public transport to commute to my work. But now i have an address, ownership, 24hrs water supply and electricity.”

Kolkata, India

Migration is usually the combination of push and pull factors. Let’s illustrate this on an historic example. The French Huguenots as well as the Spanish-Portuguese Jews were harassed in the 17th century and had to leave. In principle they could go anywhere, but it was The Dutch Republic and mainly Amsterdam where they chose to settle. Why did so many religious refugees of the 17th century saw Amsterdam as the most attractive city for exile? Amsterdam was a liberal city with intense economic prospects and cultural life which represented consequently a pull factor for a majority of refugees. Another historic example of matching push and pull factors is England’s Industrial revolution in the 19th century. Due to mechanisation in agriculture farm workers got unemployed. Fortunately they could start working in the textile factories in cities like Manchester. Their living conditions were from far from ideal but anyway better than on the country side.

What has changed is that people today are people are moving to cities even without any promise of work. That means that migration is mainly due to push factors like bad living conditions on the country side. This is different than in the past, when urban migration was primarily work-related. At the peak of European industrialisation in the 19th century, people from the countryside moved in droves to cities for factory jobs. In the 1960s, workers from Italy were invited to Germany due to the lack of sufficient local work force. Nowadays, people move to cities even if there is no work, affordable housing is lacking and amenities are expensive. The promise of the city is just more enticing than their current life. That is certainly true for the African continent, where migration is mainly characterized by push factors, most importantly the mechanisation of agriculture and in lesser extent hunger and war, while the pull factors are by no means clear.

When there’s growth in one place, there’s shrinkage somewhere else – whether that’s in rural areas in the same country, or in an entirely other country. In this way the world is constantly changing its equilibrium. And while hundreds of youth still leave their country every month because they do not see a future – including illegally travelling to Europe via the deadly route through the desert, Libya and the Mediterranean – 2% of children of immigrants return to Africa (United Nations 2017) due to the numerous entrepreneurial opportunities, rapidly expanding African economies and the end of many African civil conflicts. During 2016, over 550,000 refugees returned to their countries of origin (International Organization for Migration 2017). One of them is Abdihakim Mohamed (30) who grew up In Netherlands and moved back to his place of birth to supply Somaliland with solar energy. Conventional electricity is 20 times more expensive than in Europe (Volkskrant 2017).

One of the major enabling factors of migration is the huge increase in access to digital information. Today, for example, smartphones are as common in South Africa and Nigeria as they are in the United States (Pew Research Center 2015). The huge boom in social media has changed the world, made it smaller. With access to the world’s information at everyone’s fingertips, it’s never been so easy to see what you can buy elsewhere, make new contacts and find out where are the best opportunities are. That makes the step to leave smaller. Also because if someone has arrived in Paris for example the contact with the home front can remain intact. In other words, you can build a new social network without losing the old one. The diaspora inadvertently helps drive this. We’re flooded with (digital) success stories of immigrants who began with nothing and became successful entrepreneurs. If you’re young, why remain in Spain or Somalia, where youth unemployment rates are as high as 67% (UN DP 2012). It’s not poverty pushing many of these young people towards big cities in their own country or abroad, but the lack of perspective in their surroundings.

Erratic housing prices

We as human beings are finding it increasingly difficult to understand what ‘scarcity’ is. The power of data and information is almost endless and usually free of charge, the choice of products is enormous, the central banks print digital money when they see reason to do so, and there is overcapacity in green energy etc. And then suddenly you come to the issue of land as a scarce resource. Of course men can try to use land efficiently (stacking, densification, brownfield cleanups etc.), but basically it remains a scarce commodity and therefore susceptible to speculation: why should a land owner develop a piece of land now, when it is certain that the day after tomorrow it is worth much more! This puts a brake on housing production, which – in combination with a stream of newcomers – causes house prices to explode.

And that’s where the problem begins. As more people move to cities, competition for scarce land increases. The result is sky rocketing housing prices. Pressure on existing housing stocks increases, such that renting and buying becomes unaffordable for low and middle-income households. McKinsey Global Institute estimates that 1.6 billion people (one-fifth of the world’s population) cannot secure a minimum acceptable housing unit for 30% of their income – the maximum amount that economically-balanced household should spend (Kabali 2014). In very expensive cities, some residents have to spend up to 70% of their income on housing. Finally, housing competes with other critical urban land uses like factories, offices and retail.

The housing challenge is most acute in expanding cities, where there are usually not enough affordable homes being constructed to meet demand. And in addition to being too costly, these homes are also often poorly-located and of low-quality. Homelessness may be the most visible symptoms of London’s housing shortage, but it also results in households sharing accommodation. The recorded number of rooms per person in London fell between 2001 and 2011, the first time this has happened in at least a century. The recent rise in average household size and the continuing phenomenon of two or more households sharing a home indicate that household growth would be higher still if more housing was available. London’s average household size is larger than that of any other region in the UK. Around 8% of households in London are estimated to be overcrowded. The overall overcrowding rate has risen since the 1990s due to growing overcrowding in private and social rented housing (Greater London Authority 2017). The ability of younger adults to form separate households continues to fall and has dropped by nearly 40 per cent
in London since the early 1990s (The homelessness monitor: England 2018. The severity of overcrowding and the shortfall of supply are clearly significant factors in the much sharper rise in London house prices compared to the rest of the UK. House prices in London have risen sharply since 2007, where they were 63 per cent higher by 2016.

In Kambi Moto (Kenya, Nairobi), slum dwellers took their destiny in their own hands. With the help of the local Slum Dwellers Association the community started a daily saving scheme on each member’s individual ability. Each member was required to save at least 10% of the initial cost of constructing a ground floor, a called starter house on a plot size of 16m2. The Nairobi City Council who owned the land committed itself to transfer the land occupied by the informal settlement to the community, in accordance with a community land tenure system. The project benefits 270 families who are now living in improved homes with a basic communal infrastructure.

In spite of great progress in improving slums and preventing their formation – represented by a decrease from 39 per cent to 30 per cent of urban population living in slums in developing countries between 2000 and 2014 – absolute numbers continue to grow. Today, one in eight people live in slums, translating into around a billion people in total. Despite the popular belief that there are no slums in China ninety per cent – or 195.7 million people – of Eastern Asia’s slum dwellers live in China. Chinese slum dwellers account for 20 per cent of the world’s total. Next to the fact that the total population of China constitutes one fifth of the world’s population reasons for the high number of ‘invisible’ slum dwellers is that slum prevention policies are long-term investments which need time to have impact on the ground. Furthermore, housing efforts focus mainly on the poor with urban household registration, while millions of poor rural migrants are still not the policy’s target. With the discriminatory Household Registration System, or hukou system, migrants are not considered “legal” residents despite their living and working in cities long term, and they are not entitled to welfare benefits such as subsidised housing and therefore invisible in the national statistics. However, since 1990, China has been held up as a success in increasing the scale of low-cost housing schemes, thus preventing slums before they even form. China’s urban population living in slums fell from 38 percent in 2000 to 28.2 percent 2010.

Bogotá, Colombia

“We try to build more with local and natural materials, we reuse and manage rainwater, we protect our territory, but most important, educate our children to keep on these sustainable practices for the future. “

“I live in an informal neighbourhood located in the biggest natural reservoirs of the city: the eastern mountains. Despite of the pressure we had from the government to leave the area because of risk conditions and protection of the forest, I made the decision of not leaving my home. So, about ten years ago, I started to lead a project called eco-neighbourhoods, a community-lead initiative where we, as inhabitants of the mountain, will work to its preservation and protection, through a more sustainable model of living. This was part of the plan me and my neighbours had, in order to “fight” the government, putting on the table an alternative to stay and keep our houses. We have our own urban agriculture parcel, our own compost, we try to build more with local and natural materials, we reuse and manage rainwater, we protect our territory, but most important, educate our children to keep on these sustainable practices for the future.”

Land prices in booming cities have risen quite dramatically suggesting that barriers to entry in real estate development are causing prices to rise faster than other measures of local well-being. In developing countries, the lack of affordable housing forces many people into slums. Such neighbourhoods often comprise poor-quality homes, few or no services and unhygienic and unsafe conditions. And despite popular belief, the prices of living can be sky high supposing the slum is well-located in the city. Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, is is one of the most overcrowded cities in the world, with an overwhelming population of 17 million from whom 3.5 million live in slums. Due to the lack of affordable housing and rising land prices, slum residents pay more per square metre than people living in upscale neighbourhood as Gulshan, but are deprived of access to basic civic amenities like water, electricity, sanitation and gas (Architexturez 2017). Citizens with low income compete with many and there are no alternatives. For a balcony transformed into a room low-income groups pay per square meter more than an high-income person pays for a 100 sqm apartment.

Housing concerns every human on earth. However, the urban agenda of many cities too often focuses on the problems and activities of privileged citizens who actually have the luxury of choice. For example, take cities that focus on housing their high-tech workforce while ignoring low-income families. Or cities that spend billions of Euros to develop transit as an alternative for drivers, but not for those who can’t afford a car (Zagow 2015). The challenge of slums remains a crucial factor in the continuation of global poverty, excluding citizens from the benefits of urbanisation and from fair and equal opportunities to attain progress and prosperity (UN-Habitat 2015).

Why planning fails to meet urban challenges

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Resilient? Resilient and inclusive!

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Families of responses

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Characteristics of Resilient and inclusive responses

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