Cities without Shelter…

The maiden edition of UN Habitat’s World Cities Report (WCR 2016) reviews the changing face of urbanization in the last 20 years, covering the period when the global urban population hit the critical 50% mark, and our world was forever changed.

It identifies and discusses the following key issues or challenges before our cities, citizens and local and federal governments:

Emerging Issues in World City Report 2016

Of particular interest to countries like India is the section on Slums and Informal Settlements. UN-Habitat defines slums as “… a contiguous settlement that lacks one or more of the following five conditions: access to clean water, access to improved sanitation, sufficient living area that is not overcrowded, durable housing and secure tenure.” The WCR 2016 clearly avers that “…slums are the products of failed policies, poor governance, corruption, inappropriate regulation, dysfunctional land markets, unresponsive financial systems, and a lack of political will.”

And what is apparently true of the world, is true of India as well. In spades.

The WCR 2016 draws a dismal picture of government efforts to address the problem of informal settlements, across the world:

  • Over the last 20 years, housing has not been central to national and international development agendas, and urban land management and administration have suffered as a result
  • The housing policies put in place through the enabling approach have failed to promote adequate and affordable housing
  • Inequality, focus on homeownership, speculation and neglect of rental housing have gone on unchecked
  • Most involvement by governments has focused on helping the middle class to achieve home-ownership in a formal sector that only they can afford
  • The dependence on the private sector to provide housing has steadily increased across the world

The Report suggests the following policy initiatives at all tiers of government, to address the issue of adequate and affordable housing:

  • If the emerging future of cities is to be sustainable, a new approach that places housing at the centre of urban policies is required, to re-establish the important role of housing in achieving sustainable urbanization
  • At the national level, the goal is to integrate housing into national urban policies
  • At the local level, the importance of housing must be reinforced within appropriate regulatory frameworks, urban planning and finance, and as part of the development of cities and people.

Nobody in India is paying the least attention, as housing subsidies for the poor are rapidly replaced by ‘subsidized housing loans’ and initiatives like Smart Cities run into local resistance, because they are seen as a means of further enrichment of multinational IT firms, by raising local tariffs and taxes. RIP!

And as the Government of India jettisons all rights-based approaches in the social sector, the situation in the country’s slums will only get worse. Urban land transactions have bred land and construction mafias, which have totally penetrated and undermined local governments; engendered corruption on an unimaginable scale in State and Central Governments; and transferred huge tracts of public lands into private hands through the back door – in the name of the poor. Where else but in Mumbai can a rich man buy a 5 bedroom penthouse, signing 4 different contracts with the developer for 4 ‘lower income’ flats ‘merged’ into one while the government authorities conveniently looked the other way? And even the beleaguered and heavily indebted middle class must turn its hard earned ‘white’ money into ‘black’ to appease the property developer who demands part of the price of a house in this form, to avoid paying taxes. None of the successive governments of various ideological hues has done anything to address these woes, and none will, because the builders’ lobby is simply too strong and influential.

So it goes in various guises across the world, as the global housing shortage is expected to hit a billion by 2025…

 

Housing Dimension of Urban Poverty

UN Habitat estimates that 1.6 billion people today live in inadequate shelter around the world, and 1 billion of those live in informal settlements or slums. An additional 100 million people worldwide are homeless. It goes on to state that by 2030, an additional 3 billion people or 40% of the world’s population, will need access to housing. This translates into a demand for 96,150 new affordable units every day and 4,000 every hour. By 2050, 70% of the world’s population is projected to be living in urban areas, causing slums and unplanned settlements to swell. About one in four people on this planet, live in conditions that harm their health, safety, prosperity and opportunities. Estimates of homelessness in the richest country on earth, the United States, vary from 1.6 million to 3 million people. Most studies conclude that about one-third of the homeless are children.

In one of the most popular posts on this blog – Dimensions of Urban Poverty – it was pointed out that urban poverty had many dimensions such as income, education, health, housing and security and alleviation of urban poverty can only happen if all these dimensions are addressed synchronously. That has not happened. While globalization may have put more money in the pockets of the urban poor  (especially in the burgeoning and untaxed informal sector), the access of the urban poor to education and health remains questionable in both developed and developing economies, and of course, housing remains a major problem from Santiago to Shanghai.

It is now acknowledged by all development agencies, that housing poverty (especially in the world’s metros) has little to do with a lack of income, and everything to do with lack of access to land. In former colonies like India, urban land remains inaccessible to the poor for a variety of reasons:

  1. Retrograde laws and practices inherited from the former colonial rulers
  2. A preference for low form urbanization (again, an inherited western bourgeois aesthetic)
  3. Extremely stringent and outdated development control rules which militate against traditional forms of construction
  4. Absence of a reliable land record system rooted in the local ethos
  5. An inherent disconnect between western educated urban planners and ground realities
  6. Failure to reign in the avarice of private developers
  7. Rampant corruption in the housing sector, from the grant of building permissions, to undervaluation, to issuance of completion certificates, to housing loans and subsidies, to transactions under the table to avoid high registration fees and stamp duty.

And this denial of access to urban land continues to divide Indian cities into the haves and have-nots, even when the differences in income, services and assets between the ‘slum-dweller’ and the average urbanite are dwindling away, as these statistics from Census India 2011 clearly indicate:

Slum assets Census India 2011

Clearly, inadequate housing is the problem. Not inadequate income.


Activists across the world have taken a ‘rights’ approach to housing, but unfortunately, such ‘leftist claptrap’ doesn’t sit well with the Government in Delhi… Perhaps housing in urban areas will get more attention from the present government if its economic benefits are pointed out, as UN-Habitat does:

  • Adequate shelter is a critical foundation for breaking the cycle of poverty
  • Adequate housing is vitally important to the health of the world’s economies, communities and populations.
  • Home ownership is a form of wealth accumulation through equity and forced savings from mortgage repayment.
  • Good housing attracts economic investment and development.

Not to mention that in an India increasingly riven by social unrest, insecurity and increasing violence against women, decent shelter makes for safe homes and neighborhoods that help to build social stability and security.

 

City Prosperity

The consensus among urban experts is that a ‘good’ city for the 21st century is one that is people-centred and capable of integrating the tangible and intangible aspects of prosperity, and shedding the inefficient, unsustainable forms and functionalities of the city of the previous century.

We have long been lamenting the growing disparity, inequity, poverty, deprivation and lack of choice and voice in cities across the developing world, which are largely a legacy of the post-colonial cities of former colonies, which simply did not have the capacity or resources to move away from the inherited British, Spanish, French or Portuguese forms of urban local governance.

As these problems seem to be overwhelming us, the UN-Habitat in its flagship publication, the State of the World’s Cities, took a refreshing new look at urban management in its 2012-13 Report, and came up with the idea of replacing the urban poverty paradigm with that of city prosperity.

According to this Report, “… prosperity implies success, wealth, thriving conditions, and well-being as well as confidence and opportunity. In general terms, a prosperous city offers a profusion of public goods and develops policies and actions for sustainable use, and allows equitable access to ‘commons’…

The Report conceptualises city prosperity along 5 parameters:

First, a prosperous city contributes to economic growth through productivity, generating the income and employment that afford adequate living standards for the whole population

Second, a prosperous city deploys the infrastructure, physical assets and amenities – adequate water, sanitation, power supply, road network, information and communications technology, etc. – required to sustain both the population and the economy

Third, prosperous cities provide the social services – education, health, recreation, safety and security, etc. – required for improved living standards, enabling the population to maximize individual potential and lead fulfilling lives

Fourth, a city is only prosperous to the extent that poverty and inequalities are minimal. No city can claim to be prosperous when large segments of the population live in abject poverty and deprivation. This involves reducing the incidence of slums and new forms of poverty

Fifth, the creation and (re)distribution of the benefits of prosperity do not destroy or degrade the environment; instead, the city’s natural assets are preserved for the sake of sustainable urbanization.

The 5 aspects are combined in the Wheel of Urban Prosperity, and their interconnectedness and interactivity is very apparent:

Prosperity Wheel

The Report then goes on to calculate the City Prosperity Index (CPI) of a number of large cities across the world, and its findings make for interesting reading.

Cities CPI

So there India, you have it: Both the national and financial capital make it only to Cities with moderate prosperity factors (0.600–0.699), characterised by:

  • Wider discrepancies among the 5 dimensions of prosperity
  • Institutional and structural failings
  • Less balanced development
  • Neat divide between rich and poor.

And remember, both New Delhi and Mumbai are the best-resourced cities in India – the first because the Central Government lavishes a lot upon its showcase capital; the second because it has the perhaps the highest ‘City to National GDP’ ratio of 4.0  (this is just 1.2 for Tokyo, 1.3 for Sydney, 1.6 for NYC). The smaller Indian cities are much worse off in terms of the City Prosperity Index.

In my next post, I hope to examine ways in which changes in policies and practices may actually make Indian cities more prosperous.

See you then…