Many international agencies and NGOs are reluctant to invest or intervene in the urban areas of developing countries. Their reasons vary between assuming that the poorest groups live in rural areas and that urban areas are unable to continue absorbing more people. There is also a fear that to improve urban areas will only encourage more migrants. Geoff Payne addresses these concerns in a brief note arguing the case for agencies and NGOs to become more active in addressing the issues facing urban areas and enabling them to achieve the Millennium Development Goal Targets of Poverty Reduction and Environmental Improvement.
Why do so many people in the urban areas of developing countries live in housing which is classified as illegal? Is it because they are inherently defiant or delinquent? Are they intent on challenging the authority of the state and undermining respect for law and order? In Manila, you are currently encouraged to put a blue ribbon on you car aerial if you support the plans of the MMDA Director to remove illegal settlements and street traders and the campaign is winning considerable support. In Delhi and many other cities, similar campaigns are being launched by determined officials to “clean up” their cities and ensure the rule of law.
But what if you are too poor to afford a car to put a ribbon on? What if you cannot afford the cost of conforming to the numerous rules, regulations and administrative procedures required by many urban authorities before they will grant planning and building permission? If ten percent of the population do not conform to legal requirements, it might be reasonably assumed that they are at fault. However, if 90 percent of the population do not conform, is it not equally reasonable to assume that the law itself is at fault, – or more accurately those who framed the laws?
The fact is that urban planning regulations, standards and administrative procedures by which authorities seek to manage the processes of urban development, are not value free or politically neutral. They inevitable express the world view of political elites and professionals who seek a form of urban development conditioned by the world they are familiar with, or seek to emulate or aspire to. This puts them at odds with the mass of largely poor people already in the urban areas and those who join them daily from even less developed rural areas – people who want a better life for themselves and particularly their children, but do not have the wherewithal to satisfy the norms of a wealthy minority.
In most developing countries, the proportion of urban populations living in settlements considered illegal or unplanned is large and increasing. Efforts to stem migration from rural areas have proved futile as the funds needed to boost rural incomes are invariably generated from the urban areas where jobs – and therefore opportunities – are concentrated. Similarly, programmes to demolish illegal settlements simply move the problem somewhere else. Both approaches deal with symptoms rather than causes. The central cause is a fundamentally narrow economic base in which an urban elite has the lion’s share of what wealth exists and finds it impossible – or unacceptable – to adapt its norms to those of a poor majority. The situation is compounded by the increasing impact of market forces which increase the commercial value of land and accord rising prices to even marginal sites. As land loses its historically based use value, (as exemplified in the customary land tenure systems of sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world), and is regarded increasingly as an economic asset to be traded and exploited like any other, the cost of conforming to official norms becomes daily more unaffordable. The result is that the cost of getting on the bottom rung of the legal ladder has been raised too high – and is getting higher.
It is impractical to deny the penetration of market forces in land when they are permeating all other sectors of the global economy and being forced on developing countries by strictures from the IMF and WTO. Land and property prices are conditioned by the same demand and supply forces which condition all other transactions and the ever growing demand for land in growing urban areas is not being met by planned development. Increasing the supply of planned land would certainly help contain land price increases, though sites need to be developed in conjunction with employment opportunities and services to be effective.
If market forces cannot be stopped, what can be done to increase access to legal and officially acceptable shelter? One major option is to review the regulatory framework of planning standards, regulations and administrative procedures which together impose a range of access costs and to see where changes can be made.
In early 2001, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) approved funding for a regulatory review, or audit, of urban planning regulations, standards and administrative practices for new urban land and shelter developments in five countries in different parts of the world and at different levels of economic development and with different legal and political systems. Since then, a sixth country has been added to the project. The countries are Bolivia, India, Lesotho, South Africa, Tanzania and Turkey. The project is being directed by Geoffrey Payne and Associates in close collaboration with local professionals and is scheduled for completion by March 2004. The project is being carried out in conjunction with a parallel project being undertaken by a team at the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) which is reviewing regulatory frameworks for upgrading existing urban settlements.
The project is being carried out in three phases. Phase 1, which was carried out between September and December 2000, involved the collection of information on planning regulations, standards and administrative procedures in all selected countries except Bolivia which joined the project in mid 2002. Phase 2 started in January 2001 and involved a regulatory audit to assess the imputed costs of access to legal shelter and was completed in March 2002. Following this, work started in Phase 3 to negotiate options for initial implementation. This posting contains the executive summaries of each national audit and includes the work carried out in Phase 2.
Download executive summaries for;
These papers can be downloaded; however any reference to any part of these works must be properly acknowledged and the papers cannot under any circumstances be modified and then re-distributed.
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