Environment & Urbanization

World leading environmental and urban studies journal

Housing in Developing Cities: Experiences and Lessons

Patrick Wakely




This book draws on the author’s 40 years of research, consultancy and teaching on how best to tackle housing problems in the global South. It begins with a foreword by John F C Turner that emphasizes how – given adequate access to land, basic resources, and freedom to control key local development decisions – people and their organizations can and often do build and maintain attractive places serving the wide range of individual priorities in community-building ways. The book addresses this in its support for incremental development.

In reviewing housing policies, it considers both the informal housing procurement processes (Chapter 1) and formal government housing policies intended for low-income groups, including public housing, aided self-help and resettlement (Chapter 2). These chapters include many photos and stories of informal settlements and case studies of two–three pages. They also trace the shift from housing being seen as a minor activity of government (and most of this in regulation) to a more active engagement that initially focused on public housing and housing finance. When this proved ineffective, interest grew in unconventional housing strategies, including upgrading informal settlements and sites and services (Chapter 3). This chapter includes case studies that show both the successes and the limits of self-help. Chapter 4 describes three examples of sustained government support for “enabling” approaches: the urban sub-programme of the Million Houses programme in Sri Lanka, the Favela Bairro upgrading in Rio de Janeiro, and the Oshakati improvement programme in Namibia. It also highlights their strengths and weaknesses.

Chapter 5 reports on the return to large, conventional public housing provision and incentives to private sector developers. Chapter 6 asks what comes next. Lessons from experience suggest this should not be an exclusive focus on conventional public housing or on government support for unconventional self-help approaches or private-sector housing. They also highlight the need to add socially controlled rental housing (managed by community organizations of residents) and to ensure that urban governments have the power and resources to take a key role. Chapter 6 has short sections on how housing policies interact with, for instance, city development strategies, cultural integration and cosmopolitan development, gender needs and assets, climate change and environmental sustainability.

Chapter 7, on partnerships for the 21st century, presents the case for government support for incremental approaches – based on the scale of the problem, finance, urban management and development, governance, and social and economic development. It includes examples of how external support for these generate far more local resources; for a serviced site scheme in Dakar, every dollar from the external funder led to US$ 8.20 invested by households.

Chapter 8 is on the components of support for incremental development. It includes short sections on land and location (good locations being critical to success), land acquisition, tenure and title, finance (how credit needs of incremental housing are different from those of conventional housing), infrastructure and services, beneficiary selection, site planning and building control. There are also sections on key stakeholders: community organizations and the private sector (with strong examples from Mexico, Paraguay and El Salvador of private companies supporting incremental development at scale).

The final chapter draws some conclusions, focusing on capacity building, human resource development, organizational and institutional development, and priorities to help move forward.


Book note prepared by David Satterthwaite

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