A Quantum Leap: Meeting a New Scenario for Shelter
| Governments should strengthen their capacities to respond to the pressures caused by rapid urbanization . . . . Particular attention should be paid to land management in order to ensure economical land use, protect fragile ecosystems and facilitate the access of the poor to land in both urban and rural areas.(18)
How can national and international institutions help to create a liveable urban future for the masses of urban poor, as the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) recommended? Here it is necessary to distinguish between approaches aimed at meeting the needs of the urban poor currently living in cities and those aimed at relieving the pressures caused by large future growth.
Ongoing discussions focus primarily on the current situation of existing slums, their internal organization, their struggles to resist eviction and to improve urban services. The role of local organizations in the improvement of urban living conditions for the poor is being increasingly recognized. OUPs have been responsible
for local empowerment, and for changes in the decision-making processes that will have a lasting impact on urban planning and governance.(19)
However, current shelter needs are, in the face of coming growth, merely the tip of the iceberg in many countries. It is expected that Africa and Asia alone will add 1.7 billion new urban dwellers between 2000 and 2030. Many of these new urban dwellers, whether migrants or natives, are poor (see Box 15).
The proportion of the growing urban population in developing countries that is poor or very poor varies greatly and cannot be easily measured. Nevertheless, even rough simulations suggest that this proportion is high.
The three components of urban growth are migration, natural increase and reclassification of rural areas as urban. Natural increase is universally higher among poor people, whether they are migrants or natives. The poverty levels of migrants are generally intermediate between those of urban and rural areas. People living in rural areas that are reclassified as urban can also be assumed to have poverty levels that are somewhere between rural and urban levels.
In the case of Brazil, it has been estimated that 69 per cent of migrants to urban areas and of rural people reclassified as urban (between 1999 and 2004) can be categorized as “poor”. In the same period, 48 per cent of urban natural increase can be attributable to poor people.In this case, it can thus be safely assumed that poor people would, at a very conservative estimate, make up more than half of all new urbanites. Countries with higher levels of poverty would logically have even higher proportions of their new urbanites made up of poor people.
Planning for future rapid expansion of shelter needs in towns and cities, while at the same time addressing the accumulated demand of the past, calls for a critical change in the approach of municipal and national governments. They will have to mobilize their technical and political resources for, rather than against, the land, housing and service requirements of the urban poor. They will also need to consult and utilize the experience and local knowledge of OUPs, many of which are part of currently successful approaches.
Dealing with the rapid doubling of the urban population in developing countries requires vision and a more effective approach. To have a chance to improve their lives, the poor need access to affordable and serviced land on which to build their homes and reach other services. With that as the cornerstone, they can start to build the rest of their lives. Thus, a critical initiative for the medium and long term is to provide access to shelter through proactive policies with regard to land ownership, regulations, financing and service delivery.
One strategy would be to focus on providing access to serviced land for the growing millions. Hard realism must permeate this vision. Governments of rapidly urbanizing countries are simply unable to provide housing and desirable urban services for most of their current urban poor. They will hardly be able to cater to the needs of a rapidly growing number of additional urbanites. It is even more unrealistic to imagine that these new urbanites will be able to compete successfully in what are sure to be aggressive real estate markets.
Under these conditions, providing minimally serviced land goes to the heart of the matter. The object would be to offer poor people a piece of land accessible by wheeled transport (from buses to bicycles) with easily-made connections to, at least, water, sanitation, waste disposal and electricity.
This first lodging will often be a simple shack, made of whatever scraps are available. But it will probably improve: The history of informal settlements teaches us that, if poor people feel secure about their tenure, and have reasonable access to livelihoods and services, they will improve their own dwellings over time.
Investing in their own homes is a means for families to build up their most valuable asset—one that can be drawn on in emergencies. With the help of neighbours and the support of government and non-governmental organizations, they can improve basic services.
Providing poor people with minimally serviced land is not an easy solution: Given the voracity of the economic interests involved, the murkiness of titles in many developing cities, and the uncanny ability of informal land markets to turn a profit by exploiting the poor, dealing in land use is always fraught with difficulties. Not only the intended beneficiaries, but local and national governments generally have very limited resources. Moreover, governments generally have little appetite for the tough political decisions that the issue requires.
Although it is much less ambitious than the traditional but inevitably doomed approach of providing built-up and fully serviced housing, making minimally serviced land available still presents technical and political difficulties. It requires a radical change in approaches to urban land planning and a revolution in the mindset of politicians and planners.