A central platform to exchange best practices and ideas guiding the infrastructure and urban development industry in its transformation, and helping it to address its key challenges.

Creating an Inclusive and Affordable Infrastructure Ecosystem

Urban dwelling/favela next to multi-family home illustrating the need to create affordable housing and upgrade urban dwellings

Urbanization is rapidly increasing with the majority of growth in emerging economies.

Providing affordable housing alone will not solve the problem. Making daily living in cities affordable is a key necessity. Cities need to have an economic and social ecosystem for thier inhabitants. That diverse need should result in “intricate mixtures of building uses and scenes [that] are necessary for successful city districts.” In addition to affordable shelter, city dwellers will need jobs and access to affordable food, water, education, work, healthcare, technology, communications, transportation, culture, and recreation. Cities and communities with mixed-uses fostered by planning can “deliberately encourage spontaneous diversity by providing the conditions necessary to its growth”. Although individuals need safe, affordable homes, access to housing only fulfils a single facet of that individual’s life and leaves many other aspects unaccounted for. “Intricate mixtures of different uses in cities are not a form of chaos, on the contrary they represent a complex and highly developed form of order”.

Infrastructure – social and service

Physical development and growth of a city depend largely on its infrastructure. For cities to be affordable, infrastructure needs to be affordable. Transportation, energy and water infrastructure account for 32%, and institutional buildings (social infrastructure of hospitals, schools, and the like) account for 6% of the total projected construction costs. A combined 38%, these basic elements of urban infrastructure will have the same projected construction costs as will residential construction, which will need this infrastructure to support its existence. Therefore, building infrastructure affordably is critical. Planned capital spending for this year is planned to be 34% of this year’s budget.

Much of the housing stock built in the world is informally built, without regulations. “More than half the global population already lives in urban areas. Approximately one-quarter of these urban dwellers live in slums or informal settlements.” It is likely that providing affordable housing will never meet the demand in the near- or mid-term. One notion is to provide land and infrastructure to support healthier informal settlements. While this is counter to most agendas, it may be one way to start a process for creating affordable housing.

Many of the informal settlements in cities around the world have evolved into vibrant eco-systems. These settlements, initially based on a need for housing, also contain markets, employment opportunities, schools and other aspects of daily life that provide a sense of community. Many of the informal settlements are whole villages within the urban core. Most lack the provision of formal services for basic infrastructure: water, sewage, electricity or communications. But in most cases these services have been jerry rigged or hijacked in some method with an unregulated economic structure.

Innovation is a requirement for existence and is best described by the Hindi slang word, “jugaad”. Dharavi is one of Mumbai’s largest and most infamous slums of approximately 1 million people. “It is also a churning hive of workshops with an annual economic output estimated to be $600 million to more than a $1 billion.”11 Many of Mumbai’s service workers live in Dharavi or communities like it. Without this working class being able to live in Mumbai, the city would be without many office, factory and household employees. Dharavi and informal settlements are not models for healthy, high-density living. Providing proper infrastructure services would be a vast improvement even if not a sole solution.

When given opportunities to move to publicly built social housing, most Dharavi settlers either refuse or illegally sublet the social housing unit while continuing to live within their communities. There are likely many factors for this reluctance to move to “improved” housing. They should be studied so as to develop new affordable housing models that meet health and safety standards that are desirable. A few of the factors are clear:

  1. Mixed-use development which includes local shops, schools and services
  2. Open space within or nearby
  3. A sense of community
  4. Local employment and accessible, affordable transportation to commute to jobs that may be further away

These factors show the need to consider that the development of affordable cities needs to be mixed-use, not affordable or low-cost housing in isolation. To provide an urban home for working-class populations, housing needs to blend with the full component of daily living activities: shopping, education, transportation, technology, public open space, health care, entertainment and recreation. Affordable living in order to survive must be self-sustaining and mixed use supports cross-economic subsidization.

Redevelopment can be of concern to residents of Dharavi because part of the slum’s attraction is its affordability. Dharavi’s natural growth as an affordable place to live with more opportunity than that found in rural villages is partly thanks to the dismal and affordable conditions, despite their shortcomings. With reference to the Jane Jacobs quote, cities are not chaos, but contain a complex form of order, and Dharavi is an example of this.

Businesses in Dharavi should be supported and affordable infrastructure and housing added without disrupting thriving businesses. Without the ability to redevelop to include affordable housing in conjunction with affordable sewer systems and infrastructure upgrades, those that redevelopment aims to help are driven away. By developing a model whereby quality of life can be improved by developing more affordable housing, while at the same time supporting with affordable infrastructure the positive qualities of a slum, namely the economic productivity and urbanization, communities can be better supported without alienating their inhabitants.

“City areas with flourishing diversity sprout strange and unpredictable uses and peculiar scenes. But this is not a drawback of diversity. This is the point or part of it.” By working with the ever-changing nature of informal settlements and embracing their multi-use nature, we might be able to provide a more holistic approach to improved affordable housing.