By Kingsley Adegboye
Access to improved housing through enabling conditions and slum upgrading, developed in an inclusive and integrated manner, will contribute to reducing social inequalities and strengthen drive towards sustainable urbanization in many developing economies.
It will also have a range of additional impacts such as strengthening security of tenure conditions for many, improved public space, livelihood generation, better basic services and urban safety.
Indeed, smart and productive urban centres of the future will be those in which slums or pockets of urban socio-economic exclusion are turned into vibrant neighbourhoods that are fully integrated into the city’s fabric and urban management systems, rather than remaining as vast islands of informality, social exclusion, poor housing and underdevelopment.
Physical upgrading of slums with street networks and improved access to municipal basic services through augmentation of physical infrastructure has proven to make formidable positive social and economic changes in many cities.
Socially, upgraded slums improve the physical living conditions, improve the general well-being of communities, strengthen local social and cultural capital networks, the livelihood generation opportunities, quality of life, and access to services and opportunities in towns and cities. In many instances, processes to improve security of tenure conditions are started.
Economically, upgraded slums trigger local economic development, improve urban mobility and connectivity and integrate an enormous economically productive sphere into the physical and socio-economic fabric of the wider city.
In sum, slum and informal settlement upgrading becomes part of a town or city’s broader urban vision to enact the right to adequate housing and living standards for all by focusing on the role of housing at the centre of quality of life and thus, policy action.
Cities and towns thus have the duty to mobilise action towards improving housing conditions in slums as a means of meeting a basic human need. To achieve this, local participation has proved to be pivotal in galvanizing partnerships that catapult communities to address immediate needs within their locale.
Participation can be turned into a powerful instrument to mobilise low income communities around the land challenges, urban planning, management and governance issues of their city neighbourhoods, provided that the participation is perceived to be meaningful to them, empowers them and improves their daily lives.
For this reason, participation is often most effective when initiated at the neighbourhood level through individual or community projects which are relatively limited in scale and developed progressively with outcomes which are achieved in the short, medium and long terms.
The search for solutions should be done by understanding security of tenure and land management arrangements, participatory housing design, with a specific focus on the dwelling needs and aspirations of the urban poor and vulnerable groups, including women-headed households.
Likewise, there is an urgent need to develop practical tools, knowledge resources and expertise in designing environmentally sustainable and affordable green building solutions.
Housing is an opportune and strategic setting through which achievement of mutually beneficial goals of climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as of sustainable urban development in general is feasible. The planning of residential areas, slum upgrading and urban renewal will help reduce the ecological and carbon footprint of cities and the greenhouse gases of the national building sector.