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Global South’s Rising Megacities Challenge Idea of Urban Living

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The world crossed the threshold from being a majority rural world to a majority urban one at the end of the first decade of the 21st century. The reason for this is the fast-growing urban areas of the global South. And this is having a profound affect on how the world’s people live.

Across the global South, there are many examples of unchecked growth leading to squalor and poor housing conditions, and in turn to poor health and high rates of crime and disorder. Yet, the urbanization happening today across the global South is unprecedented for both its speed and its scale.

And, unlike previous surges in urbanization, it is this quality that is far more challenging for governments and policymakers.

Many countries and regions are experiencing highly stressed environmental conditions, with poor access to water and rising air pollution damaging human health, for example. But on the other side, there is also unprecedented change in technology and communications taking place. Every year, more and more of the world’s population gain access to 21st century communications such as smart phones and the Internet or ‘apps’ (applications), allowing the exchange of solutions and ideas at a rapid pace.

Many are weighing up the benefits and downsides of such an urban, dense world. Denser cities make it easier and more efficient to deliver services, and proponents see a rapid rise in living standards in these megacities. Others see wide-scale poverty and vicious fights over resources in crime-ridden, unhealthy packed megacities. These pessimists point to current conditions in many megacities across the global South.

No matter what perspective, many agree there has to be a cultural change in how people live and behave to make the megacities work.

The contrasting approaches taken by two giants of the global South – India and China – provides lessons and ideas.

The first big push from rural to urban took place in Europe in the 19th century. In 1800, just three per cent of the world’s population lived in cities. All the cities now seen as cosmopolitan hubs of economic and creative energy were just shadows of themselves prior to the 19th-century industrial revolution.

Lessons were learned from hard experience and one of the most important lessons was this: if a city is to grow – and grow quickly – then it must plan for this growth and put the well-being of people at the centre of this plan. This is critical to ensure public health is improved and that the transition to more dense living conditions improves human well-being, rather than making it worse.

A megacity is a city with a population greater than 10 million people (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megacity). The number of such cities will double over the next 10 to 20 years and many of these cities are in south and east Asia. By 2025, seven of the world’s top 10 megacities will be in Asia. Whole new cities are rising up that most people across the world have never heard about – yet.

One of the most rapidly urbanizing countries in the world is China. At the beginning of 2012, Chinese authorities announced the country was now a majority urban place, with most citizens living in cities. This population of 690.79 million people outpaced the rural population of 656.56 million people.

China is exploring a variety of solutions to making high-density city living work. Some of these solutions include creating multiplexes containing modern shopping, leisure, recreational and housing in one location. One example of this is The New Century Global Centre (http://cd.qq.com/a/20101018/000099.htm) in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan. It is being called the world’s largest standalone complex. Chengdu is now a city of 14 million people and projected to be heading to 20 million people.

It includes design by noted Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid (zaha-hadid.com).

There are 1.5 million square metres of floor plans, two 1,000-room five-star hotels, an ice-skating rink, a 20,000 capacity marine park with 400 meters of artificial coastline and 5,000 square metres of artificial beach, including hot springs.

In contrast, the more chaotic and unplanned approach taken in India – also a country experiencing rapid growth in its cities – has come under intense criticism. Dr Rumi Aijaz of the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation (observerindia.com) told The Guardian that Indian infrastructure improvements will be difficult to achieve: “Our urban areas are in a raw form.

All the basics are at a very low level. And the Indian state has been trying for a very long time to address this but a lack of capacity and endemic corruption has meant not much success.”

In 2001, India had 290 million people living in cities. By 2008, this reached 340 million. It is predicted this will reach 590 million people – 40 per cent of the population – by 2030. McKinsey and Company (mckinsey.com) believe by 2030 India will have 68 cities of more than one million people, 13 will have four million people and six megacities will be greater than 10 million people.

India faces an urban infrastructure crisis of epic proportions, McKinsey believes. Many millions will not have access to clean drinking water, adequate sewage, and will have to cope with poor transport.

China, on the other hand, has invested seven times more in urban infrastructure than India. And one example of how this investment pays off is Chengdu.

The fast-growing city of Chengdu’s mayor is trying to manage growth directly through the city’s policies. This involves managing the push and pull incentives driving people to cities and lifting the standard of living in the surrounding countryside.

Chengdu’s mayor Ge Honglin told The Guardian: “The first thing I did was to improve the conditions – schools, shops, garbage collection, the sewage system. We had to cut the gap between rural and urban areas. If people could have a brighter future in the countryside, they’d stay there. So we’re not seeing people swarm into the city= Instead there are people in the city considering moving to the country.”

“Chengdu is the only super-large central city that has narrowed the urbanrural income gap alongside rapid economic growth in China,” Ge said.

Hundreds of schools have been built surrounding Chengdu and partnerships made between rural and urban schools to help raise standards.

Chengdu is also pioneering new ways to address urban squalor with new information technologies. Patrols use mobile phones and cameras to document broken infrastructure and health and safety problems, and to locate and assist the homeless.

“You can barely see a begger in Chengdu,” said Gu. “We have a special system for monitoring them, and it works. Beggars are taken to the assistance centre, where they are given food and shelter and money to take them back to their home. If I say there are no more than 10 beggars on the street you will think there’s some sort of tyranny, but there isn’t. We’re trying to solve their problems.”

Resources

1) Endless City and Living in the Endless City: LSE Cities is an international centre at the London School of Economics and Political Science that carries out research, education and outreach activities in London and abroad. Its mission is to study how people and cities interact in a rapidly urbanizing world, focussing on how the design of cities impacts on society, culture and the environment. Website: http://lsecities.net/publications/books/the-endless-city/

2) Planet of Slums by Mike Davis: According to the United Nations, more than one billion people now live in the slums of the cities of the South. Mike Davis explores the future of a radically unequal and explosively unstable urban world. Website: http://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Planet_Of_Slums.html?id=FToaDLPB2jAC

3) An infographic from The Guardian newspaper showing the rise of the megacity in world history. Website: http://image.guardian.co.uk/sysimages/Observer/Pix/pictures/2012/01/21/urban2.jpg

4) Arrival City by Doug Saunders: A third of humanity is on the move. History’s largest migration is creating new urban spaces that are this century’s focal points of conflict and change — unseen districts of rapid transformation and febrile activity that will reshape our cities and reconfigure our economies.Website: http://arrivalcity.net/

5) Global Urbanist: The Global Urbanist is an online magazine reviewing urban affairs and urban development issues in cities throughout the developed and developing world. Website: http://globalurbanist.com/

6) The Spirit of Cities: Why the Identity of a City Matters in a Global Age by Daniel A. Bell and Avner de-Shalit. Website: amazon.com

7) Rise of the Asian Megacity: Website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/worldasia-pacific-13800944

8) Capitals of the Connected World: Mapping the New Global Power Structure. Website: http://www.theatlantic.com/special-report/capitalsconnected-world/

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Housing Solution for World’s Growing Urban Population

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Across the South, cities are expanding and urban populations growing at a phenomenal rate — the cities of Africa and Asia are growing by a million people a week. Megacities and sprawling slums will be the hallmarks of this majority urban world. In sub-Saharan Africa, 72 percent of the population already lives in slum conditions.

How people will be housed is an urgent problem. There are many ways to build a dwelling, from scavenged materials, to labour-intensive and expensive custom-built construction, yet affordable and safe construction techniques for the poor are sorely needed.

The danger of building unsafe housing can be seen in the recent devastating earthquake in Haiti, where many buildings collapsed, killing an estimated 212,000 people. If the rapid growth in urban populations is to be safe and sustainable, then new dwellings will need to be built that meet high standards of durability.

In South Africa, one company believes it has the right technology for an age of rapid urban population growth and the need for quick and safe housing construction.

The Moladi building system (http://moladi.com/) (http://www.moladi.net/default.aspx?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1) developed in 1986 by South African injection mold maker Hennie Botes consists of molded plastic panels, looking like the panels found in children’s construction toys that are screwed together and assembled as a frame for the building. With the frame in place, a concrete mortar mix is poured in and left to dry: depending on local conditions, taking between 12 and 15 hours. When dry, the plastic mold is removed and a fully built house is the result. Because of the use of molds, the home’s walls are smooth and even and the resulting home is tidy to look at.

Moladi doesn’t require professional builders to assemble the frames, and the technique has been tested for strength and for resistance to earthquakes and hurricanes. Since it was developed specifically for the poor, this building method draws on what is called ‘sweat equity’: often the only asset a poor person has to contribute to the cost of building a home is their free labour.

Because the dimensions of the home have already been established when the plastic frames were molded, common on-site mistakes are avoided.

Moladi benefits from South Africa’s Black Economic Empowerment programme (http://www.southafrica.info/business/trends/empowerment/bee.htm) and is certified for its quality with the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) (https://www.sabs.co.za/). Moladi contractors and developers are working in 15 countries and the technique is distributed in a further seven countries.

The Moladi construction technique was born of frustration with the traditional approach of laying one brick on top of another. This traditional construction method, dating back thousands of years, just doesn’t match the needs of our times. It is slow and requires highly skilled bricklayers to be done right. Across the developing world, it is possible to see poorly constructed brick dwellings – often built unevenly with poor quality mortar holding the bricks together – that are unsafe in an earthquake.

Training in the Moladi technique takes from one to two weeks for unskilled workers depending on the size of the home. Moladi provides handbooks and all the necessary resources to complete the project. Each project has its own custom-built plastic frames made based on the home’s design.

“There is no flat fee for on-site training; the client is only responsible for covering the travel and living expenses for the Moladi representative or training foreman,” said Hennie Botes.

The ideal size for a project is 15 homes. By building a large number of homes, the individual cost comes down and savings increase.

The system “can be reused 50 times, which means that the more Moladi houses you build, the more economical it becomes,” Botes said. “Compared with the exorbitant cost of traditional construction methods and when current market values are considered, the cost savings of building with the Moladi technology are achieved from the first application.”

As the world’s cities grow, and slums become larger and more prevalent, the urgent need for affordable and decent housing will go hand-in-hand with a need for jobs — particularly jobs for unskilled workers. There just won’t be enough skilled workers to go around to build the homes. Even in developed countries, this has become a problem.

“The recent earthquake disaster in Haiti could benefit from the Moladi system,” Botes said. “Job creation for Haitians is desperately needed and Moladi can immediately facilitate an income for family groups, as over 95 percent of the construction team consists of unskilled labourers. There is no requirement for heavy machinery, or even electricity, and remote areas can be easily accessed; Moladi also allows for the utilisation of building rubble resulting from the earthquake in the construction of new buildings.”

The essence of the Moladi system is breaking down the construction process into simple, replicable steps. It is inspired by the American pioneer of mass production, car maker Henry Ford (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Ford), who achieved efficiency and low costs in production by simplifying production into standardized and modulated steps.

“The Moladi construction process should be viewed as a workflow process similar to that of a vehicle assembly line,” Botes said. “Through the simplification, standardization, modularization, and industrialization of the construction process, efficiency and cost savings are achieved and maintained by managing the continuous flow process on site.

“Contractors must make sure that they have planned their project roll-out and budget well and have clearly defined goals as to what they want to achieve. It is very important to have all team players and professionals on the same page with regards to their roles and responsibilities.”

In the beginning, Botes encountered resistance to his innovative production methods. “I was highly motivated and really believed in my idea, but when I presented it to investors, they’d shoot holes in it. … It’s been a 22-year journey, but I always kept the goal in mind. Moses spent 40 years in the desert … I’m quite happy my desert experience was only 20-odd years, though,” he told Men’s Health magazine.

South Africa is facing a population growth rate of 1.73 percent a year (UNICEF). It also has 61 percent of the urban population trying to live on four percent of the land, according to Botes. This urban population grows at 2.7 percent a year, yet existing housing needs are not being met. There is already a backlog of 2.2 million homes needed to be built, and this grows by 180,000 every year, according to the Banking Association of South Africa (http://www.banking.org.za/default.aspx).

“Even though the need for housing has always been a fundamental requirement to sustain one’s health and welfare, the advances in this area have been seriously lacking,” said Botes. “The brick and mortar method of construction was recorded as early as 1458 B.C, which means that very little has changed in terms of building structures over a period of almost 3.5 millennia.

“We cannot expect to resolve the housing crisis in our age with a technique developed for the requirements of society 3468 years ago.”

With the success of the Moladi building system, Hennie is working on “producing windows, doors, toilet seats, window frames, sinks and washbasins. If I can include these as part of my product, I’ll reduce the total unit cost of the house.”

Resources

1) Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things: This radical concept is about how products, can be used, recycled, and used again without losing any material quality—in cradle to cradle cycles. Website:http://www.mcdonough.com/cradle_to_cradle.htm

2) Builders Without Borders: Is an international network of ecological builders who advocate the use of straw, earth and other local, affordable materials in construction. Website:http://builderswithoutborders.org/

3) World Hands Project: An NGO specialising in simple building techniques for the poor. Website:http://www.worldhandsproject.org

4) CIDEM and Ecosur specialise in building low-cost community housing using eco-materials. They have projects around the world and are based in Cuba. Website:http://www.ecosur.org

5) The Rural Development Institute focuses on land rights for the poor and has a series of articles on China’s land reforms. Website: http://www.rdiland.org

6) More Urban, Less Poor: The first textbook to explore urban development and management and challenge the notion unplanned shanty towns without basic services are the inevitable consequence of urbanization. Website:http://www.earthscan.co.uk/

7) Building and Social Housing Foundation: The Building and Social Housing Foundation (BSHF) is an independent research organisation that promotes sustainable development and innovation in housing through collaborative research and knowledge transfer. Website: http://www.bshf.org/

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Filipino Architect wants to Transform Slum with New Plan

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

A clash is occurring across the global South over the future of urban planning and the ever-growing slums of the world’s megacities. This will be a decisive clash of visions: should cities flatten slums and relocate their residents, or work with slum dwellers, acknowledge the role they play in city economies and improve their lives with better dwellings?

As the world turned into a majority urban place in the 2000s, cities grew at a phenomenal rate. The cities of Africa and Asia are growing by a million people a week, according to some estimates. Megacities and sprawling slums will be the hallmarks of this new urban world, it seems. In sub-Saharan Africa, 72 percent of the population already lives in slum conditions.

The danger of building unsafe or makeshift homes can be seen in 2010’s devastating earthquake in Haiti, where many buildings collapsed, killing thousands.

One of the Philippines’ leading architects and urban planners,
Felino A. Palafox Jr. of Palafox Associates (www.palafoxassociates.com), is passionate about re-making the slums in his country’s capital, Manila. The city is prone to devastating and sometimes deadly flooding. Palafox believes the vulnerability of slum dwellings and poor urban planning are placing lives at risk.

“We can’t wait for another tragedy,” Palafox told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 2010. “We have seen how an unprecedented volume of rainfall like what (storm) Ondoy had brought could prove too much for Metro Manila’s river and drainage system. We have also seen what a massive earthquake could do to an unprepared city like Haiti.

“While there is nothing that we could do to control the destructive power of these natural phenomena, there are steps that we could take to limit the amount of damage.”

If the rapid growth in urban populations is to be safe and sustainable, then new dwellings will need to be built that meet high standards of durability.

The UN Challenge of Slums report from 2003 (www.unhabitat.org/pmss/listItemDetails.aspx?publicationID=1156) broke with past orthodoxy that slums must be cleared, arguing that slums should be seen as positive economic forces, incubators for budding entrepreneurs that offer a gateway to better things for new migrants.

Muhammad Khadim of UN-Habitat summed up the new thinking:

“Ten years ago, we used to dream that cities would become slum-free,” he said. But “the approach has changed. People see the positives. The approach now is not to clear them but to improve them gradually (and) regularise land tenure.”

The arguments behind embracing slums come from the economic changes across developing countries since the 1970s. Growing informal economies combined with fewer social provisions and the shift to urban from rural communities have all contributed to the explosion in slums and informal housing.

Manila is a city of stark and startling contrasts: there are glitzy shopping malls and high-rise office buildings, but also large slums and hungry people begging and selling trinkets on the city’s roads.

It’s a place where the slum clearance-vs-renovation debate is hot and current. The Philippines is currently in the midst of a campaign to clear slums in Manila and move people back to the countryside.

“Many of our people are no longer interested in agriculture, so we need to give them incentives to go back,” Cecilia Alba, head of the national Housing and Urban Development Co-ordinating Council, told the New Statesman magazine. “If we had to rehouse the slum-dwellers inside Manila in medium-rise housing, it would cost a third of the national budget.”

Palafox has a different vision – rebuilding a slum community from top to bottom.

An architect, environmental planner, urban planner and development consultant, Palafox runs one of the top architecture firms in the Philippines, employing more than 100 staff and consultants.

Usually occupied with office buildings in the go-go new business centres of the Middle East and Asia, Palafox has turned his attention to Estero de San Miguel, a Manila slum that is home to some 1,200 families, or 6,000 people.

Families are packed into tiny rooms in a labyrinthine slum complex beside a canal. The rooms are made of wood and floored with linoleum and have to be accessed through a narrow tunnel and tight connecting corridors.

Palafox’s plan is to work with the residents and rebuild it in its current location. In place of makeshift shacks will come modular homes, 10 square metres in size with space for shops and bicycle parking.

The design has the homes extend above a walkway, imitating the way the original slum structures were built.

Palafox is applying innovative thinking to the problem: taking his design direction from the dwellings slum residents build:  “The slum-dwellers,” he explained to the New Statesman, “are experts at live-work space design. They spontaneously do mixed-use! We just have to learn from them.”

Re-housing the residents on site means they can continue to play their role in the city’s economy, and do not have to make a long commute to jobs and opportunities.

Palafox also rebuts complaints about the cost of his plan, arguing the scale of corruption in the Philippines costs just as much.

“OK, the total cost of rehousing slum-dwellers in situ is 30 per cent of GDP (but) I calculate we lose about 30 per cent of the country’s wealth through corruption. If we didn’t have corruption, we wouldn’t need to tolerate slums.”

Another passionate advocate of working with slum dwellers is Father Norberto Carcellar from the Homeless People’s Federation (http://sdinet.org/countries/philippines.htm).

“We have to recognize the value of slum-dwellers to the city,” he said. “These are the ones who drive your car, clean your house and run your store. If these people were cleared from the city, the city would die. Slum-dwellers add social, political and economic value to the city.”

Even in its current form, Estero de San Miguel is a vibrant place, with an Internet café and a volunteer police force.

A BBC report found it lively and economically viable because it has educational and communication technologies that improve living conditions. The residents make their living working as cheap labour for the city.

Oliver Baldera, a carpenter, lives with his wife and four children:

“We’ve been here more than 10 years,” he told the New Statesman. “There’s no choice.

“It’s easier to get a job here and I can earn 400 pesos a day. I can send the kids to school and they eat three times a day – but it’s not enough. I need more space.”

Resources

1) More Urban, Less Poor: The first textbook to explore urban development and management and challenge the notion unplanned shanty towns without basic services are the inevitable consequence of urbanization. Website:http://www.earthscan.co.uk/?tabid=649
2) Slum Populations in the Developing World: See a breakdown of the urban/slum population in developing nations. Website: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/5078654.stm
3) Architecture for Humanity: An NGO to promote architectural and design solutions to global, social and humanitarian crises. Website:http://architectureforhumanity.org/
5) Building and Social Housing Foundation: The Building and Social Housing Foundation (BSHF) is an independent research organisation that promotes sustainable development and innovation in housing through collaborative research and knowledge transfer. Website:http://www.bshf.org
6) NGO called Map Kibera began work on an ambitious project to digitally map Africa’s largest slum, Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya. Website: http://www.mapkibera.org
7) ArrivalCity: The Final Migration and Our Next World by Doug Saunders. Website: http://www.arrivalcity.net
8) Slum TV: Based deep inside Nairobi’s largest slum, Mathare, they have been seeking out the stories of hope where international media only see violence and gloom. Website: http://www.slum-tv.org
9) A Kenyan eco-village is helping slum dwellers to start new lives and increase their wealth. The community, Kaputei, is being built by former slum residents – some of whom used to beg to survive – and is providing new homes with electricity, running water and services like schools and parks. By building their own homes, with the help of affordable mortgage loans, the residents are able to make a big upgrade to their quality of life while acquiring real wealth. Website: http://www.jamiibora.org
8) Cities for All shows how the world’s poor are building ties across the global South. Website:http://globalurbanist.com/2010/08/24/cities-for-all-shows-how-the-worlds-poor-are-building-ties-across-the-global-south.aspx

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Safety At Stake

By David South

Annex Gleaner (Toronto, Canada), February 1997

Toronto’s innovative crime-fighting and crime-prevention experiments face elimination if and when the city is swallowed up by the monolithic megacity. And the Annex’s status as one of Toronto’s safest neighbourhoods could be destroyed by the resulting tax increases.

Since the late 1980s, thinking about crime in Toronto has focused on public safety rather than just cops in cars. Taking what can be called a holistic approach, the city has poured millions into public health programs, street lighting, safety audits and social services, and it has led the region in putting cops back on foot patrol.

Carolyn Whitzman, coordinator of the Safe City Committee – founded in 1989 and a symbol of that attitude change – worries many of the services will find their funds cut or their street-level approach altered.

“I don’t know if people in Toronto realize how privileged they are,” she says. “All these programs have led us to be one of the safest cities in the world. There is nothing like the Safe City Committee in surrounding municipalities. There is nothing like it at Metro – though they do fund safety initiatives.”

The Safe City Committee was the first of its kind in North America and subsequently has been copied by other cities. Initiatives funded by the committee include pamphlets on ending sibling violence, self-defense tips for volunteer workers, a youth drop-in centre at Dufferin Mall an community safety audits.

Whitzman also worries the new meagcity will follow the advice of government consultants KPMG, who recommended replacing some police duties with volunteer labour.

“They recommended store fronts (community police booths) and reporting of accidents be run by volunteers. What if you want a police officer?”

Whitzman also doesn’t like plans to encourage police to spend more time in their cars filing reports on laptop computers. She would rather see them out on the beat.

She also fears school safety programs, like extra lighting, will be jettisoned as school boards chase savings. This also applies to the TTC and public housing. (Whitzman says some housing projects have already cut security due to provincial funding reductions.)

Another factor could jeopardize the Annex’s status as one of the safest neighbourhoods in the city. Higher taxes may chase out homeowners, and the Annex many once again become a haven for transient populations living in rooming houses, as it was in the 1960s and 1970s.

According to Joe Page, a crime analyst at 52 Division for the past quarter century, the Annex had the dubious reputation in the late 1970s of being the busiest neighbourhood in Toronto for police.

It’s a different story today. For example, in the portion of the Annex between Avenue Road and Spadina Road from Dupont south to Bloor, there was one murder in 1995 and none in 1996, and major assaults were down from nine in 1995 to five in 1996. There was one murder in the Little Italy area west of Bathurst in 1996.

If there is a good side to rising crime rates in the surrounding municipalities, it’s that councillors there can no longer ignore public safety issues. This could mean greater sympathy for Toronto’s plight from once-smug suburban councillors.

Whitzman sees hypocrisy in the attitudes of many of the satellite cities. “Scarborough has a bad reputation and other municipalities are not immune to safety issues.”

Other stories from the Annex Gleaner

An Abuse of Privilege?

Artists Fear Indifference from Megacity 

Will the Megacity Mean Mega-Privatization? 

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