Housing and the City

lol

I happened to come across an opinion piece published in the Business Day, titled ‘People do not want houses, they want Habitats’ by Ricardo Hausmann. Ricardo Hausmann is the director of Harvard’s Centre for International Development and professor of the practice of Economic Development at the Kennedy School of Government. He has also served as Minister of Planning in Venezuela.

It has put into great analytical perspective, for me, the link between Housing (the area in which I currently work) and town planning (my academic qualification). The piece is an analysis of low income housing in developing countries, and the impact of the way it is defined, measured and delivered.

This piece paints a clear picture of what the role of planning and policy making should be in the creation of cities. Hausmann argues that a house is just an object and it is habitats that people seek. A Habitat being, “a node in a multiplicity of overlapping networks: physical, economic, and social”. In other words, a habitat is a place where people live, work and play. The clear message is this: housing or rather habitats, are the heartbeat of the City and the way they are planned and delivered affects the health of the city.

That being said, I have to note that the link between housing and the life of the city has up until recent years, been largely undermined in South African Cities. In South Africa, the government provides a standard 40m2 house, commonly known as an RDP house, for qualifying beneficiaries: households with a monthly income less than R3500. Numerous reports have revealed that these houses are often long distances away from economic opportunities and educational institutions that it is common for the beneficiaries to move closer to economic opportunities, while renting the houses out to others. This reinforces the idea that they are just houses and not habitats, which is what the Breaking New Ground Policy addresses Breaking New Ground Policy guidelines.

It means there was some misalignment in the housing process and planning; and based on my understanding housing has a huge impact on City form and the economy of the city for it not to be given careful consideration in planning. Of course it is much more complicated than this, there are various factors at play: politics, the cost and availability of well-located land, the cost of infrastructure provision and so forth, and all these have an impact on low income housing provision.

In these cases, it seems that the role of the Town Planner takes the back seat, the policy dictates and developers implement by finding the cheapest land (considering the cost of the house and profits to be made) and building the houses. Urban Planning certainly has a bigger role to play in the improved implementation of housing policies.

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One response to “Housing and the City

  1. this is great – because it’s not unique to South Africa. What role should government, particularly at the national level, have in housing construction?
    While the housing market plays a vital role in most economies and therefore of particular interest to governments, are they housing experts and how well do they understand local needs?
    Constructing a house is not the same as building a home. Constructing many homes is not the same as creating a community.
    Local planners have the unique task of facilitating the development of homes and communities for all, through implementing policies (that for affordable housing ought to have some funding attached to it!) and working together with community members and developers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

One response to “Housing and the City

  1. this is great – because it’s not unique to South Africa. What role should government, particularly at the national level, have in housing construction?
    While the housing market plays a vital role in most economies and therefore of particular interest to governments, are they housing experts and how well do they understand local needs?
    Constructing a house is not the same as building a home. Constructing many homes is not the same as creating a community.
    Local planners have the unique task of facilitating the development of homes and communities for all, through implementing policies (that for affordable housing ought to have some funding attached to it!) and working together with community members and developers.

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