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Building more affordable and disaster-resilient housing in Latin America and the Caribbean: a few policy ideas

Julian Palma's picture
Photo by C64-92 via Flicker Creative Commons

Between 2010 and 2017, Chile was struck by 10 major natural hazard events. These disasters affected as many as 340,583 houses and cost $3.6 billion in reconstruction (Ministry of Housing and Urbanism of Chile). Post-disaster assessments point to housing as one of the most affected sectors in the wake of climate-related and other natural hazards—most commonly floods, earthquakes, landslides, and fires. In a 22-year period between 1990 and 2011, minimum losses in the housing sector for 16 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) amounted to $53 billion.

In the LAC region, one quarter of the population lives in slums, characterized by the prevalence of substandard housing quality as well as incremental and self-construction of homes. Families living in these informal settlements are at greatest risk to natural hazard impacts. Programs providing new housing do not always reach families in the lowest quintiles; and without access to affordable and well-located housing alternatives, households have no other option than to build informally, and in areas most prone to natural disasters.

Campaign Art: Block by block for inclusive public spaces

Darejani Markozashvili's picture
People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

Public spaces have been a place of social interaction from the very early beginnings of the human civilization. Taksim Square in Istanbul, Tahrir Square in Cairo, Maidan Square in Kiev, Tiananmen Square in Beijing, and Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires are among just a few common places around the world that have witnessed the most iconic events of the recent history.

If public spaces are so important to everyday life of citizens, whose responsibility is it to create and maintain them? Should citizens have a say in how they are designed?

UN-Habitat, a United Nations programme working towards a better urban future, partnered up with Mojang, a Swedish video game developer, and Microsoft to involve people— especially youth, women and slum dwellers— in urban design by using the videogame Minecraft. The innovative partnership, known as Block by Block, was set up in 2012 to support the UN-Habitat’s work with public spaces. Take a look at the video below to learn more about this innovative approach.

Block by Block

When cities forget about pedestrians, big data and technology can serve as a friendly reminder

Bianca Bianchi Alves's picture
Photo: Lazyllama/Shutterstock
Paraisópolis, a nationally famous slum area in São Paulo, Brazil, is one of those bustling communities where everything happens. Despite being located in the middle of the city, it managed, unlike other poor slum areas, not to be reallocated to make room for more expensive housing or public infrastructure. The area boasts vibrant community life, with more than 40 active NGOs covering issues that range from waste management and health to ballet and cooking. Recently, the area also benefited from several community upgrading programs. In particular, investments in local roads have facilitated truck access to the community, bringing in large and small retailers, and generating lively economic activity along with job opportunities for local residents.

As we continue our efforts to increase awareness around on-foot mobility (see previous blog), today, I would like to highlight a project we developed for Paraisópolis.

While most of the community has access to basic services and there are opportunities for professional enhancement and cultural activities, mobility and access to jobs remains a challenge. The current inequitable distribution of public space in the community prioritizes private cars versus transit and non-motorized transport. This contributes to severe congestion and reduced transit travel speed; buses had to be reallocated to neighboring streets because they were always stuck in traffic. Pedestrians are always at danger of being hit by a vehicle or falling on the barely-existent sidewalks, and emergency vehicles have no chance of getting into the community if needed. For example, in the last year there were three fire events—a common hazard in such communities—affecting hundreds of homes, yet the emergency trucks could not come in to respond on time because of cars blocking the passage.

Eight stubborn facts about housing policies

Luis Triveno's picture
A low-income residential neighborhood in Mumbai, India. Photo: Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank
As John Adams famously warned, “facts are stubborn things” that we cannot wish away. Governments in the developing world are finally facing up to the increasing need for affordable housing: today 1.2 billion people live in substandard housing; by 2030, 3 billion will need new housing. While challenges may vary by country, I believe there are at least eight “stubborn facts” about housing policy that should not be ignored.

Success when we deemed it failure? Revisiting sites and services 20 years later

Sumila Gulyani's picture
Between 1977 and 1997, the World Bank supported “sites and services” projects in 27 cities across India
A freshly-minted architect stood staring at a sea of toilets. Row after row of them, on small “housing plots” meant for low-income families who would build their house incrementally as their incomes and savings grew. The neighborhood was “planned” and provided with services—under a World Bank-supported “sites and services” project—to serve as the anti-thesis of and an antidote to the slums that were, at the time, increasingly becoming the only housing option for low-income families.

It was 1980 and the architect, Barjor Mehta, was deeply disappointed. There were no houses, no people and no chance that they would ever come, given the seemingly god-forsaken location—in an area called Arrumbakkam—so far from the city center in Madras (now Chennai). Having just completed his thesis on housing, he wrote a scathing news article in the Times of India denouncing the sites and services approach. Barjor wasn’t alone in his critique, and by the mid-1990s the World Bank had almost entirely abandoned such projects.

In October 2015, Barjor, now Lead Urban Specialist at the Bank, invited me to revisit Arumbakkam and other neighborhoods developed, between 1977 and 1997, under four Bank-supported sites and services projects: With my colleagues Kate Owens and Andrea Rizvi, I visited 15 of the 28 sites developed in Chennai and Mumbai. We also reviewed archival material, analyzed satellite images, and recently presented our preliminary findings. Now, Barjor and I agree that previous assessments of failure may have been both premature and erroneous. Why?

When urbanization is messy, students fall through the cracks

Mabruk Kabir's picture
Student in Urban Slum Learning Center
A student at an Urban Slum Learning Center
in Dhaka. Photo: Mabruk Kabir/World Bank

On a foggy winter morning in Dhaka, 41-year-old Jahid was sipping tea by a roadside stall.

“Life was very peaceful back in my village,” he reminisced, “but there was no work, so I moved to Dhaka. Even if I live in a slum, my children are better off here.”

Jahid is one of the 500,000 people that move to Dhaka city each year. Driven by the promise of economic opportunity as well as poverty in rural and coastal areas, it is estimated that half the population of Bangladesh will migrate to urban areas by 2030. 

The Rocky Road to Urbanization

Urbanization can be catalyst for growth. Density – the clustering of firms and workers – can drive productivity, innovation and job creation. It is the benefits of agglomeration that once drew the country’s most important industry – the ready-made garments sector to Dhaka city.

However, it is the costs from congestion that are now pushing factories away, mainly to peri-urban areas. Why are factory owners leaving?


For starters, the tide of new migrants has overwhelmed urban infrastructure, basic services, as well as the stock of affordable housing – eroding the both the livability and competitiveness of Dhaka city. A recent World Bank report described South Asia’s urbanization trajectory as “messy and hidden” – reflected in the large-scale proliferation of slums and urban sprawl.

The "starchitect" of the poor: the keys to Alejandro Aravena's work

Luis Triveno's picture

Pritzker Prize winner Alejandro Aravena’s Elemental firm designed the “half a good house”, which includes gaps between the houses for residents to fill according to their own needs.
Cities are the world’s factories of progress and prosperity. Eighty-percent of all production takes place in our urban areas; it’s where most economic opportunities are. People know it, and this is why five million people migrate to cities all over the world. Every month.
 
The problem is that most cities are not prepared to absorb these numbers. The tragic result is chaos, inequality and environmental damage. One clear manifestation of the mismatch between people’s demand for opportunities to prosper and the inability of cities to maximize the benefits of agglomeration while minimizing the costs of congestion is the omnipresence of slums throughout the world. Today, one billion people live in slums; worse still, many of those settlements are in areas highly vulnerable to natural disasters. By 2030, this figure is expected to double.
 
To absorb this ever-increasing demand for affordable urban housing, would require creating, in effect, a new city capable of housing 1 million people – every week during the next 15 years. Governments are already overwhelmed. The private solution of reducing the size of dwellings and relocating them to the peripheries of cities has produced economic and social segregation, which has become a ticking bomb for unrest.
 
During the past 12 years, the Chilean architect, Alejandro Aravena, 48, has offered solutions to the global housing crisis that are so creative, speedy, budget-conscious and scalable that he has been awarded the 2016 Pritzker Prize, considered the Nobel for architecture. His work—and the prize—challenge architects to envision innovative buildings not just for businesses and other wealthy clients but for all the people.

In the Midst of the Slums, a Pool of Talent Waiting to be Tapped

Liviane Urquiza's picture

Transforming the slums from within
Children from the Mukuru Talent Development center showcasing their creativity in the Lunga Lunga slum in Kenya.

From Bombay to Manila to the favelas in Rio, more than one billion people are estimated to be currently living in slums. According to the United Nations, this figure is expected to surpass the two billion mark by 2030.

With no roof or solid walls and no access to clean water or toilets, living conditions in the slums are unhygienic and hazardous. Considering that approximately 70% of slum dwellers are under 30, the future of the slums rests in the hands of the young generations. What do these youth need to reverse the trend and improve the daily lives of slum dwellers? 

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

NPR
In Kenya, Using Tech To Put An 'Invisible' Slum On The Map

"If you were to do a search for the Nairobi city slum of Mathare on Google Maps, you'd find little more than gray spaces between unmarked roads. Slums by nature are unplanned, primordial cities, the opposite of well-ordered city grids. Squatters rights rule, and woe to the visitor who ventures in without permission. But last year, a group of activist cartographers called the Spatial Collective started walking around Mathare typing landmarks into hand-held GPS devices." READ MORE

Poverty Matters Blog
Telling countries they're the worst in the world doesn't really help them
 
"The west seems to be obsessed with ranking things. Whether it's Mark Owen's top 20 hits, the Forbes rich list or the 100 greatest Britons, success is apparently relative rather than absolute. But the urge to order things does not stop with pop culture and celebrities. In development, it extends to ranking countries, and not usually by their successes but by their failings. The human development index, the global peace index, the failed states index; time and again mainly northern-based organisations feel at liberty to opine about the progress of nations. The countries with the worst rankings in these indices undoubtedly have serious challenges they need to confront. The pseudo-scientific concoctions that underpin many development indices contain elements of truth, and the countries ranked as most failed have every reason to take a long hard look at themselves."  READ MORE

How to Upgrade Housing in Informal Settlements?

Parul Agarwala's picture

According to recent estimates, South Asia is facing a shortage of 38 million housing units, largely affecting low and middle-income households. It comes as no surprise that informal settlements, slums and squatters are growing in all major urban centers across Asia to supplement the demand from urban poor. India alone has 52,000 slums inhabited by 14 percent of its total urban population. Almost, 50 percent of total population in Karachi, i.e. 7.6 million persons, lives in Katchi-Abadis. Bangladesh has 2,100 slums and more than 2 million slum dwellers in Dhaka. Even in Afghanistan, 80 percent of residents in capital city, Kabul, live in informal settlements.


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