Geoff returned to Ulaanbaatar in October and November 2017 as the international land expert on the DAI project being undertaken for the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). The project seeks to understand how urban planning, urban expansion and urban land policy can support the water investment by MCC.
Open Mundus Urbano has just released their interview with Geoff about his view on urban development and land management as part of Mundus Urbano Interview series. You can see it on their website.
One of the greatest rewards of working on housing issues in rapidly urbanising countries is the opportunity to see how resourceful people are when it comes to obtaining land and housing, even when they have extremely limited resources. The World Habitat Awards, organised and funded by BSHF, provide a wealth of examples of such innovation and I was grateful to be invited by the Director, David Ireland, to visit the 2016-17 World Habitat Awards winning project in Senegal.
‘A Roof, A Skill, A Market’ was the inspiration of a French mason visiting Burkina Faso in 1998. He saw the vast potential of earth architecture in the arid rural areas of the Sahel and proposed that the Nubian form of mudbrick vaulting be revived as a form of building that would be more comfortable, affordable and environmentally sustainable than conventional reinforced concrete structures. Its unique structural advantage is that by building the arches so that they lean against the end wall, later bricks can lean against earlier arches, making it unnecessary to use wooden formwork until the arch is complete. This means that the system can create vaults of any length and does not need to use increasingly scarce and expensive timber during the construction process.
The program started in Burkina Faso in 2000 with support from the French government and a small team of committed professionals. The Nubian Vault Association has now completed more than 2,000 houses in Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal varying in size and area from modest single storey structures to luxury two storey villas.
With a maximum span of 3.25 metres, buildings provide congenial and calming spaces and can either link to adjoining vaults to create different layouts, or include reinforced concrete beams so that large open spaces can be created. In this way, the structural system can be adapted to meet different uses and the program has already inspired local groups to build school buildings, community centres, mosques and maternity centres.
What makes ‘A Roof, A Skill, A Market’ so special is not, however, just the buildings, great though they are. The greatest achievement is that the team promoting it see the approach as increasing employment opportunities for people of different skill levels in a context where population growth has exceeded economic growth, leading to mass migration out of the region. It is also based closely on market costs in order to demonstrate its economic viability compared to expensive and less environmentally efficient imported materials. Being 100 percent carbon free, it has also been accepted by the governments of Burkina Faso and Senegal as part of their national policies in meeting the global Sustainable Development Goals Sustainable Development Goals.
During a short, but extremely productive and enjoyable visit, the project team of Cecilia Rinaudo and Emmanuelle showed us impressive projects in the rural areas near Dakar, the World Heritage town of St Louis and Podor, on the border with Mauritania. A community managing an environmental reserve told us, “we can manage the reserve better now we have a place to manage it from”, while a school that had previously been reporting low examination results became the top performer the year after the new vaulted building was completed because the improved thermal comfort helped students to concentrate. A local entrepreneur told us his neighbors had expected his house to be washed away when the first rains came and were amazed when it not only withstood the rains but coped just as well when he added a second floor! Finally, a medical doctor said he was happy to spend extra hours at work because the clinic where he worked was more comfortable than his own home!
The program has been expanding at 30 percent a year and has ambitious plans to maintain momentum so that the system is accepted as appropriate for different building types as well as housing and can operate without external financial support.
While most buildings using the system are in rural areas where the majority of the population lives, there is considerable potential for urban and particularly peri-urban areas where population pressure is increasing the demand for affordable housing and where labour intensive methods are ideal. The Nubian Vault Association team hope to apply the approach throughout the whole Sahel region from the Atlantic to the Red Sea and from Algeria in the north to Nigeria in the south. They even plan to reintroduce it in the Nubian desert of Sudan where the tradition first started centuries ago, a great example of learning from the past to meet the challenges of the present and future.
The program and the dynamic team managing it are a deserving winner of this year’s World Habitat Awards!
This article is published in BSHF webpage
In late 2016, Geoff was invited by ICF Consultants to join their proposal to undertake a major review of urban land supply and affordable housing in Ethiopia. The proposal was successful and Geoff has been appointed as the lead consultant in the review of urban land production and lease transfer, while Dr. Graham Tipple has been appointed the international lead in reviewing affordable housing. The project will involve detailed studies in three cities, Addis Ababa, Adama, and Mekelle. Geoff will be working in collaboration with the local land expert Dr. Wondimu Abeje and Graham will be working together with Dr. Elias Yitbarek. The project will include a range of quantitative and qualitative research methods including extensive household surveys, semi-structured in-depth case studies, key informant interviews, focus group discussions and a review of the extensive literature on the subject.
The project will be undertaken over an eighteen month period and will include presentations on findings with key stakeholders in Ethiopia and discussions on policy and regulatory options for improving access to affordable, secure and reasonably located land for all those in need and means of strengthening the capability of central, provincial and municipal authorities in urban land management and administration.
Geoff undertook the first of several missions in March, during which he met key officials in Addis Ababa and Mekelle and visited a range of residential, commercial and industrial developments. A second mission is planned for early May to initiate the key informant interviews.
Geoff has been invited to become a member of the International Committee of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). Although Geoff missed the meeting in March due to travel commitments, he hopes to contribute actively on issues relating to urban planning in the Global South, where the challenges facing the planning profession are particularly daunting. Among the major issues are how can low and very low-income groups gain access to affordable and secure land and housing in locations where competition is greatest and where prices are therefore high? What powers do planners have to influence investment decisions by investors? How can the public sector capture a reasonable proportion of the added value from urban land development? What roles can be enhanced by the participation of citizens in the urban planning process?
For those interested in working as planners internationally, the RTPI has produced an excellent guide to getting started. Click here to access a copy.
Finally, the RTPI is supporting World Town Planning Day on 08 November 2017.
To manage the growth of a town or city requires an assessment of how much land will need to be urbanised over a five or ten year period. Of course, there are many external factors which will influence the area of land required.
For further information and an example on how to undertake a land budget for individual cities click here.
The Living City: Towards a Sustainable Future
The options and probabilities for the future of cities are issues of outstanding contemporary importance, both in the developed and developing worlds. The living city draws together both current main steams ideas on their futures and various alternative views to enliven the debate and put forward an agenda for sustainable urban development, emphasizing ideas that questions the economic imperatives of that development. Certain aspects of city life – the economy of the city, city-countryside relationships, the city as a cultural centre – are selected for study, as the book looks at the historical past and the current experiences to speculate on the likely condition of cities in the future. In addition, the book investigates whether the Third World experience of city life is a separate experience or whether there are lessons to be learnt relating to all cities. The book will appeal to professionals in the surveying, planning and architectural fields, as well as students and academics in Planning, Geography, Economics, Architecture, Developments Studies and Sociology, and anyone interested in current issues concerning the city and the environment.