Are architects and planners obstacles to slum upgrading?
This publication is a result of a seminar arranged in Barcelona on the 18th of April 2008, arranged by three cooperating organisations, namely
- ARC●PEACE International Architects Designers Planners for Social Responsibility;
- Arquitectos Sin Fronteiras-España, and
- Architecture Sans Frontières-Sweden (ASF-Sweden).
The seminar was held in connection with the bi-annual meeting of ARC●PEACE, and with the General Assembly meeting of Architecture Sans Frontières-International (ASF-Int). It attracted about 50 participants from 15 countries.
One of the goals of ARC●PEACE is “to exercise our professional expertise in helping to design, improve and preserve a socially responsible built environment”. With this goal as a basis several of the member organisations work with local communities to improve living conditions in slum areas. It is important for ARC●PEACE to promote professional commitment to enabling housing strategies. The seminar is a reflection of these ambitions.
One of the main aims of ASF-Int is to work “for fair and sustainable development initiatives in active collaboration with disadvantaged people or communities”. Another important aim is to “foster the socially responsible role of built environment professionals by stimulating social modes of practice before speculative economic profitability”. For these reasons it is critical for this new international network to focus on a deeper understanding of what is required from architects and planners with respect to the improvement of housing conditions of the poor, especially in low-income countries. Thus it was logical to choose a theme such as the present one for the seminar.
Nowadays the United Nations Habitat organisation, the World Bank and other international bodies concerned with human settlement issues, agree to a large extent that past housing policies, following the top-down provider model, have to be replaced by what is frequently called the Enabling Strategy, in order to address the problem of expanding slums in low-income countries. This policy usually includes active community participation, gradual slum upgrading (instead of slum-clearance), self-help construction techniques, relaxed space standards, and formalisation of informal settlements.
While the enabling strategy is advocated in public speeches and official documents, little is done to implement the new policies. Sadly enough architects and planners are often among those that are most reluctant to understand and implement enabling strategies. Our professions belong to the élite in soci-ety, and the élite often detaches itself from the poor.
If one lives under affluent conditions it is hard to understand what it means to live from $ 1 or 2 a day. This is what the majority of slum dwellers do. With such low incomes survival strategies become necessary. Food and distance to job opportunities become priorities, while infrastructural services and housing rank second or third. Affordability is more important than minimum standards.
Enabling strategies imply that local communities play the major role in improving their own living conditions. This does not mean, however, that professional guidance is not required. On the contrary, creative engineering, design and planning efforts are needed in order to find new affordable solutions. For professionals to work with local communities new talents are required, talents such as educational skills, respect for women, and flexibility with respect to land tenure, plot sizes and space standards. Housing must be seen as a continuous incremental process, and not as a physical artefact designed and built at one moment in time.
This is what this publication is about. It is hoped that the book will reach many professionals and other decision-makers, and that it will contribute to a better understanding of what is required to improve the living conditions of the poor. The publication will be available for downloading through the websites of our three organisations. We hope that our network will make a difference, even if our organisations are small.Stockholm October 2008 Dick Urban Vestbro Prof.Emer. at the Department of Urban Planning and Environment The Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm Secretary of ARC●PEACE and of ASF-International, and member of the Board of ASF-Sweden Editor: Dick Urban Vestbro The Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in collaboration with Arquitectos Sin Fronteiras-España, ASF-Sweden, and ARC●PEACE - International Architects Designers Planners for Social Responsibility Printed by: Universitetsservice US AB, Stockholm 2008
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