UNFPA Offers New Building Vision

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The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in collaboration with the International Institute for Environment and Development has presented a new building vision for urban planning that would transform the way cities grow across the developing world in the 21st Century.

The new design which was detailed in a study and multimedia collection funded by the group, also coincided with the opening of the United Nations Fifth World Urban Forum in Rio de Janeiro where thousands of delegates from governments, academia and non-governmental organizations discussed solutions to the challenges of urbanisation.

Among other things, the vision involves a flexible building design that would allow residents to expand their homes upward by up to three floors, so as to afford accommodation as, and when their families grow. This strategy would create socially and economically successful communities that are as dense as, or even denser than buildings that are up to six floor high, among other things.

Major challenges in the discussion includes the question of how best to increase urban population densities as populations grow and land prices rise, especially when large informal settlements of the urban poor occupy prime centrally located land.

In many cities in Asia and other continents, governments are keen to force these poor communities into high-rise  apartments so that the land they currently occupy can be developed into condominium and iconic buildings to attract foreign investment.

Arif Hassan, an architect and visiting fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and lead author of the new study noted that in promoting such a vision of a modern world class city, international financial institutions and city planners are failing the poorest communities, and ensuring that those who are meant to gain the most have instead, become the biggest losers.

Experience also shows that population density in apartment blocks continues to grow, leading to uncomfortable crowding, as families grow, but have no extra speace to occupy. As former communities are divided and restructured, other social problems such as drug use and debt also emerge.

Hassan’s research shows that when poor urban communities are left to their own devices, they tend to grow their dwellings incrementally, according to their household needs and abilities to pay, but without proper planning and support, this growth is not as effective as it would be, as it could lead to congestion and a lack of space for future expansion.

To this end, Hassan explained further that houses need decent foundations that can withstand future building of additional floors, but these only increase the initial cost by 15 per cent.