Innovative design could transform urban planning in developing countries

A new housing design which promises a brighter future for millions of the world’s poorest urban citizens was detailed in a study launched during the Fifth World Urban Forum in March 2010. The study was funded by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

A new housing design which promises a brighter future for millions of the world’s poorest urban citizens was detailed in a study launched during the Fifth World Urban Forum in March 2010. The study was funded by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

With urban populations growing rapidly and land prices rising, governments in many countries have looked to house poor communities in high-rise apartments and away from prime land they may be occupying. However, it is not always a practical solution for the poor. "A motor mechanic cannot run a business from a fifth floor apartment, nor can a fishmonger," says Arif Hasan, lead author of the study. "If that is where their skills and experience are, their livelihood is suddenly no longer viable".

Hasan, an architect, proposed the idea of incremental housing as an alternative to unplanned informal settlements or relocation. It allows the benefits of high density living in a way that communities can easily control. His research indicates that if incremental growth is planned and managed aesthetically and sustainably, instead of being an ad hoc process, then the result would be not only the necessary high densities but also better social and physical environments.

A basic requirement of the proposed incremental housing design is that the houses need foundations that can withstand future building of additional floors. Perhaps the best news about the new design is that the required stronger foundations only increase the initial cost of a housing unit by 15 per cent. "Communities need support, including design advice and the financial and technical means to plan for upwards expansion as their families grow," said Hasan.

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