Oct 18, 2011

Acknowledging the need of Flexible Norms and Innovation Support for short-to-medium term housing needs of Urban Poor and Underprivileged segment

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Cities and towns of India are living in a perpetual dilemma of “need to provide decent housing to urban poor as per standard norms” Vs “apparent inability to provide even a minimum standard living in growing squatter settlements or slums”. This phenomenon seems inevitable and city authorities seem to be helpless in dealing with this issue, blaming to financial resource constraints, unless they understand the need to review the standard housing norm and make it more flexible to find out whether there is any intermediate solution to fill the gap of this vast disparity even between poor (Lower / lowest Income Group) and poor (Slum dweller, beggars etc.). 


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There is an urgent need to discuss definition of what we call “Standard” in terms of housing or dwelling needs, and the significance and validity of this “standard norms” if we have always failed to provide even a minimum need of safe and respectable shelter to a major segment of urban poor living in slum. We are caught in the illusion of utopia that we will fulfill the housing needs of all as per standards fixed by governments and planners, and fail to see and admit that the fact that under such acute resource constraint, and ever-growing influx of population from rural to urban areas, poor people are finding their own ways to fulfill their housing needs, constructing houses out of junk materials- tin, plastic sheets, cardboards, thermocol, any object or material they find rejected by the city, living in an unsafe and unhygienic conditions. Do planners feel responsible to them, at all? There are buzz words “Slum Networking” “integrated slum” etc., but those are for streamlining existing slums and squatter settlements, what about the slum being built today, what about tomorrow?

City administration will have to increasingly play a role of facilitator and inventor rather than just provider to fulfill short to medium term housing needs, they have the resources and skill sets, thsy have the talented architect and planners and financial brains, to provide a better shelter; they can help and facilitate those poorest of poor people to build their own home with those same materials which is considered junk, providing much decent homes which are structurally sound, planned with proper infrastructure. Some R&D is urgently needed on the similar line of thought.


Following is the abstract from pib.nic.in - (along with comments)

"There are various reasons for creation of slums of which the most important are as follows
(i)    Increased urbanization leading to pressure on the available land and infrastructure, especially for the poor.
(ii) Natural increase in the population of urban poor and migration from rural areas and small towns to larger 
     cities. 
(iii) Inappropriate system of urban planning which does not provide adequate space for the urban poor in the       City Master Plans. (This is what planners and policy makers need to acknowledge. City Master planning has to be an inclusive process, and adequate provisions have to be made for urban poor for a sustainable city plan)
(iv) Sky-rocketing land prices due to increasing demand for land and constraints on supply of land.
(v) Absence of programmes of affordable housing for the urban poor in most States. (The definition of affordable housing itself has to be changed..innovative construction techniques, new materials, check on wastage of material during construction, mass production, low cost housing techniques are some of the key ingredients which might change the definition and cost of affordable housing)
(vi)  Lack of availability of credit for low income housing. (Finance has to be generated partially from Government & Aid and rest from the financial resources mobilised from the community itself, no matter how poor is the individual or a family, collectively a poor community can mobilise a considerable amount of resources in terms of finance and labor)
(vii)  Increasing cost of construction."  (This is where innovation comes into picture, housing with innovative use and reuse of materials, pool of bright talented architects and planners should come forward with innovative ideas for the same, in the guidance of Govt.)


Anoop Jha is an Architect Planner with specialization in Urban and Regional Planning
You can follow me on Twitter here
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