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Last week, Global leaders, corporate titans and aid workers gathered in Brazil for the UN Sustainable Development Conference (Rio+20). The discussion centered on jobs, energy, cities, food, water, oceans and disasters. While it’s heartening to know that within each of these categories some attention was given to substandard housing, the issue clearly deserved greater room at the table, given its profound impact on many of these areas on the agenda. Tackling substandard housing helps to make all those things possible.

Shelter is acknowledged as a basic human right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and is a fundamental catalyst in breaking the cycle of poverty. Living in a decent home means improved health for the entire family; children doing better at school and increased livelihood opportunities for parents. At Habitat for Humanity, we are witness to this transformational impact on families and individuals on daily basis.

An example of this “social sustainability”, and how Habitat for Humanity is successfully involved in the process, is the Varjada Project in Brazil.  By involving Varjada community leaders in decision-making, Habitat learned that, despite other suggested priorities, potable water was the most urgent communal need. The community as a whole understood the connection; water was significant not only for individual quality of life, but also for the women who invested many hours of their day gathering water from long distances—and therefore, vital to the sustainability of the entire community. 

Why the connection? Once the water issue was addressed, the women began to invest more time in other activities, such as the production and sale of handmade crafts. This, in turn, allowed families to increase their income and improve the quality of their housing, develop professionally, invest more in their children’s education and experience a higher level of self-esteem. Furthermore, through the marketing of their handmade goods, the women in the community organized into an association, through which they continue to push the overall improvement and development of the community.
 
This shows how housing-related solutions—potable water, safer structures, healthier bathrooms, and more—contributes to the long-term sustainability of communities  if human and social dynamics are taken into account. Similar stories relate to increasing employment opportunities and improving health. Addressing social needs, of which adequate housing is one, leads to greater health. This is as true in developed countries as it is in developing nations. A recent survey of physicians in the U.S. showed that 43 percent wished they could write prescriptions for housing assistance, as this would lead to improved health.

We can only begin to contemplate a sustainable future if the issue of substandard housing is elevated and given its due recognition – it’s the lynchpin on which so much else rests.

The relatively simple act of building a safe and decent home increases life chances. To tackle poverty housing on its massive scale takes bringing governments, the private sector and civil society together to find solutions. Rio+20 is one platform where this can happen, but with limited attention devoted to housing, it’s an opportunity missed.

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Republished with permission from COHRE.

16 August 2010 – It is estimated that in most countries in Latin America, between 30 and 60 percent of women have been victims of domestic violence at some point in their lives. The real figure is likely to be much higher, as many women don’t report these crimes.

The latest edition of the Centre on Housing Rights and Forced Evictions’ (COHRE’s) popular Bulletin on Housing Rights and the Right to the City in Latin America explores this crisis through the experiences of some of the activists working on this issue in Latin America, and details the main challenges and possible solutions for those women for whom the home has become a prison.

In her article, Elba Núñez, researcher at the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defence of Women’s Rights (CLADEM Paraguay), presents some of the obstacles to the achievement of the right of women to adequate housing.

Patricia Guerrero, founder of the League of Displaced Women in Colombia, raises some of the solutions that have been proposed by local human rights organizations to the housing problems faced by women. In her article, Guerrero details the construction of the City of Women, a unique housing experience in the region developed by and for women.

As Victoria Ricciardi, author of a recent COHRE report on women and housing rights in Argentina, Brazil and Colombia explains in her article, the number of shelters for women victims of domestic violence in the countries she studied is extremely limited, and with possible periods of stay limited to less than six months, long-term solutions are almost non-existent.

To read the latest Bulletin on Housing Rights and the Right to the City in Latin America, please click here (also available in Spanish and Portuguese).

To see the full COHRE report on housing rights for women victims of domestic violence, published on 16 July 2010, please click here.

For more information please contact:
Eliane Drakopoulos | Director of Communications | COHRE – Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions | 83, rue de Montbrillant | 1202 Geneva, Switzerland | T +41 (0)22 734 1028 | M +41 (0)789 106 745 | eliane@cohre.org | www.cohre.org

“The way to address Haiti’s particular set of problems is with less architectural magic and more garden-variety diligence.”

For Build Change, Habitat for Humanity and others, low-tech, locally-driven solutions are the best way forward in Haiti.

Excerpt below from Rebuilding Haiti: Local people, using local materials, may be the best solution for the ravaged country. Read the full article by Karrie Jacobs at METROPOLISMAG.COM.

Every day brings another bright idea. The Bay Area architect Joseph Bellomo thinks a tube-shaped, steel-framed modular building he’d originally dreamed up as a studio for a client in Hawaii could be adapted for Haitian needs. The Orlando, Florida, hotelier Harris Rosen wants to send cute little steel-framed prefabricated sheds to Haiti. And Andrés Duany is promoting a modular, flat-pack, fiber-composite bunkhouse, a transitional shelter that can be expanded into a permanent home. (InnoVida Holdings, a Miami-based company, plans to donate a thousand of them.) There is no end to the innovative solutions that could, in theory, help relieve the suffering of the million-plus homeless Haitians, many of whom are currently making do with rudimentary shelter, often little more than plastic sheeting draped over sticks.

In a recent online debate that asked, “Is it OK to run architectural competitions for Haiti?” Cameron Sinclair, of all people, said no. Sinclair, you’ll recall, put Architecture for Humanity on the map by sponsoring ideas competitions in response to catastrophes, and has been a standard bearer for the appealing notion that the world’s worst problems have architectural solutions. But maybe not now. “At a time when needs are of an immediate nature,” Sinclair wrote on Building Design’s Web site, “unproven concepts can be inappropriate and a distraction to the task at hand.”

He might have a point. As you may recall from New Orleans, the bright ideas, though exciting and inspirational, didn’t wind up housing more than a handful of people. Brad Pitt’s Make It Right, for example, boasts about a dozen completed houses so far. The situation in Haiti is, of course, far worse. Even before the earthquake, 80 percent of the population was living in dire poverty, often on less than two dollars a day, in concrete houses that were intended, through sheer bulk, to be hurricane resistant. Sadly, unreinforced concrete is not what engineers call “ductile,” and in earthquakes it crumbles. “One of the things that really killed a lot of people were these very thick, heavy concrete slabs that they use as roofing,” Mario Flores, a civil engineer and the director of disaster response for Habitat for Humanity’s field operations, says a few days after his return from the stricken country.

An initial reconnaissance report on the disaster, written by the Bay Area engineers Eduardo Fierro and Cynthia Perry, notes, “The most striking aspect of the Haitian earthquake is the complete absence of seismic detailing in Haitian construction, from informal housing to recent multi-story buildings in downtown Port-au-Prince.” But although much of the death toll can be pinned on badly built masonry structures, Fierro and Perry conclude that a type of low-cost construction called “confined masonry” is also the solution. “Seismic resistant” structures, they maintain, “can be built utilizing the same concrete, steel, and concrete block used in Haiti.”

The way to address Haiti’s particular set of problems is with less architectural magic and more garden-variety diligence. And that diligence can be taught. At least that’s the underlying premise of Build Change, a nonprofit that worked in the Indonesian provinces of Aceh after the 2004 tsunami, in Sumatra after the 2007 earthquake, and in China after the 2008 earthquake. Careful seismic engineering can be broken down into simple rules that can be followed at relatively low cost. The organization, founded by the UC Berkeley–educated engineer Elizabeth Hausler, comes up with a seismically engineered house plan based on the local architectural vernacular. “People are already using materials and techniques that can be earthquake resistant, but there are some small changes that need to be made in order to make a house so that it’s not going to collapse,” says Hausler, who visited Haiti in late February.

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By: Mario Andrés Ojeda Casanova, Architect.
Masters candidate in Habitat, National University of Colombia, Bogota.

SOCIAL HABITAT – THE SEARCH FOR INTEGRATED INTERVENTIONS.

“…José Arcadio Buendía, who was one of the most enterprising men ever known in the village, had positioned the houses in such a way, that from any one of them a person could reach the river with an equal amount of energy and arranged the streets with such good sense that no house would receive more sun than another during the hottest hour of the day…”

-Gabriel García Márquez
100 Years of Solitude.1

Habitat can be defined as the combined physical, natural, spatial, social, cultural and economical characteristics that make up the experiential context of a community.2

The particular interest of this brief synthesis of a more extensive conceptual work is to identify the process of appointing the term “informality”3 to the socio-spatial configuration present in the formation of the city within a context such as ours, with a special focus on the construction of habitat.

Within an understanding of the dynamics of city growth, are the differences that mark the diverse surroundings, customs and traditions of each territorial space, reflected in the production and generation of housing and the manner in which these are lived in by their occupants. Medium-sized cities with a high potential for population growth are highly susceptible to the diverse relationships in the region and the alternative contexts different from its own particular manner of development.

Self-built, informal communities knit their territory into an ever more complex design; in which large sectors of the population take part. This construction is a reflection of the city that, in great part, is the common denominator in urban Colombia and Latin America. Its physical expression is clearly manifested in the economic, social and political situation, in the conception of imagination and culture as a framework for intangible expressions that become apparent in the social construction of habitat by these individuals, and the form of collectively inhabiting this space.

Rather than chaotic or improvised, this form of city development has its own logic, coherent with the necessities and possibilities of its inhabitants. They shape the space within particular methods of social interaction – alternative to those within the formal housing system, and thus create a connection to “normalized” society, making possible Manual Castell’s conclusion, “the shape of the space is a result of social relationships.” 

To inhabit, is the art of expression of a particular group (such as a community) in its process of construction of a territory with the self-taught, experiential abilities of its people. It is the art of the evolution of its “habitational” niche, forged by experience, trial and error, with the intent of creating individual and family shelter and to weave links among society.

The constitution of habitat, its appropriation and the manner of living within it, as a social community system.

Habitat: physical support /
Inhabit: relationships and processes

The human being, in the construction of his territory, mixes and superimposes time and space, reproduces elements and images that project his vision of the future with the grounding of his past. The construction of his habitat is a social exercise, identifying the existence of a memory and its expression within a social framework in the context of culture and identity.

Habitat implies living in a place, to inhabit is to affirm the presence of life on the land.4

In the development of major cities, particularly the production of habitat, the practices parallel to the proposed solution are characterized by the order of government and legal logic used by the predominant conception of the ideal urban complex. In the outskirts and within the city itself, an alternate city exists—built and modified day after day; produced outside the margins of public policies, real estate products and assistance from private initiatives.

This “other” city, framed by the formal city, is created with tremendous physical, economic, human and social effort. Families and the communities within this characteristic environment have produced a great variety of settlements. In each they generate their own housing solutions, and thus contribute to the supply of housing needed to overcome the housing deficit and, above all, doing this according to their economic condition (typically characterized as low-income).

This nearly anonymous process, often hidden from view, creates the “informal city.” It is spontaneous and dynamic, and due to these characteristics presents signs that indicate a condition of emergency.  What stands out most is that its conformation is unfinished, and for this reason progressive—little by little managing to expand the house, expand the neighborhood, and in consequence develope the community as a whole.

Thus, in the search for a production of social habitat, there is a lack of understanding and comprehension of the complexity of the social processes involved in the construction of spaces framed by this condition. The phenomenon and the magnitude of informal human settlements prove, without a doubt, the efforts of a population that is facing the need for a place to live—and the impossibility of acquiring that place within the market for adequate housing as related to their particular purchasing power—have resulted in a self-built solution, constructed over time with diverse models, methods and combinations of these.

The phenomenon that take place in informal settlements has concrete expressions and manifestations in economic terms. It is necessary to know, gauge and contextualize these processes, in order to “formulate hypothesis oriented towards the establishment of disciplines and incentives through public policy and economic market forces that drive a settlement to overcome the limitations of social production in terms of quality productivity and urban sustainability.”5

In other words, what is coined “the social production of housing,” has to be specified, quantified and analyzed in economic terms in order to understand its magnitude and its processes, and to democratically elucidate the best options for public policy and incentivation tools that will strengthen and improve the capacity and quality of social production in a symbiotic manner and with the joint responsibility of society, State, city and citizen.6

This potential rule as a concept of quantification of the quality of life does not begin to describe the relationship between the management of informality and spatiality to the social phenomenon under which it is developed. It only describes the economic, financial and physical aspect, when the added-value of these settlements is the social cultural richness based in cooperation, interpersonal relationships and social construction—characteristics fundamentally present all the way through to the process of consolidation. Security and coexistence are included within these virtues in the first phases of growth—factors that are unfortunately lost when maturity is achieved, thanks to these same virtues—but through which the same abandonment by the public class, the distancing of urban articulation, the localization of the settlement and the need of a few in control of the territory in any way possible stand out.

The final objective should be to provide elements that allow another lesson to be learned from this phenomenon. From a critical perspective, but yet concrete in effectiveness that begins with a recognition of the efforts and tangible and intangible contributions of inhabitants as a vital resource to be oriented and utilized as efficiently as possible for the benefit of low-income settlements and from societal partnership.

Diverse imaginations, customs and habits combine to create a diversity shared among the people that build their daily existence. The informal city responds to no more than the percentage needed for the development of the people who inhabit it. This type of housing production is closest to being equitable in terms of the physical distribution of construction, however often lacks in open green and public spaces that are present in formal urbanizations. Informal settlements live and interact by taking ownership of the street and other spaces as part of the living space of the home, integrating them into the neighborhood as an integral system of  habitability.

For this reason, self-generated development methods have been closest to the demand and housing needs of the groups that produce them. The families themselves have carried out the work, according to their ability, capacity and needs. These settlements present the best conditions of habitability, sustainability and, due to their gradual construction process, generate social cohesions different from those present in the formal city. They create a sense of “membership” with the space and a relationship to place (topofilia).

Thus, the examination that should be given to habitat as such, understands it as a complex system where diverse factors unite and affect, condition and delineate the optimal functionality of this system—where habitat is not only understood has a housing problem-solution (which is a very important and prime part among other factors). Programs should be applied that re-enforce this basic system of generation and provision of shelter at which inclusion into the city is at the center (both as a physical action and society as a socio-cultural complement).

In relation to this, the notion of habitat should be integral, and applied not only to the treatment of housing (in all of the ways that it is developed, being informal, formal, emergency, relocation, etc.).  Habitat is the combination of systems—housing, education, public space—with social logic within the framework of systematic development that includes economic commitment of each actor (employment opportunities and social security), for the integral growth of urban actors. For this reason, the sole treatment of housing as the final solution is not enough—even less in the context of medium-sized cities with limited resources, an expectation of growth and great potential for a population in a state of informality.

In conclusion, plans, programs and projects should be integral in the sense that the practices of housing generation and relocation geared towards this sector of the population should be inclusive, with constant follow-up in terms of pedagogy and cultural development. The capacity and social value of the men and women who day after day build an alternative community should be praised. These spatial and urban projects make up this physical and social link, where urbanization generates urbanity and is the platform of integration with these housing satellites—the outskirts and marginality—in the real search for SOCIAL HABITAT.

What are the interventions that should be taken, and what is the best method? This will not be discussed in this brief introductory reflection on the housing “problem,” the proposals of which are, for example, the expression of life in informality, should be created with collective participation and not just by technicians and professionals. They should instead be facilitated by government and the same inhabitants that model and live day to day in our cities, where respect for social richness and the order expressed in informal settlements is not ignored. They should attempt to use these virtues as a bridge for equality and understanding based in the diversity of official options as popular options to resolve the problem of a qualitative housing deficit.

*Article based on the research project, HABITARTE: Study of the Appropriation of Housing and its Context in Processes of Neighborhood Formation, Expansion and Consolidation in Self-Produced Settlements in Ladera. Manizales 1990 _ 2005.

1 GARCIA MARQUEZ, Gabriel. Cien Años de Soledad. Editorial Oveja Negra. 1984.

2 Seminario de Investigación, Línea de Profundización en Arquitectura y Hábitat, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Sede Manizales. Documento Trabajo de Grado Posadas Nativas, Hábitat Transitorio de Ocio. Luís Eduardo Cerón Portilla. Mario Andrés Ojeda Casanova. 2005.

3 Informalidad esta referida a todas las actividades en desarrollo en forma paralela y/o alterna a las tradicionalmente
establecidas. Generalmente, estas están relacionadas al los aspecto económico en mayor medida, incluyendo para el caso el empleo, la educación y la vivienda.

4 Saldarriaga Roa, Alberto. Habitar como fundamento de la disciplina de la arquitectura. Revista al Hábitat. Universidad Nacional de Colombia. Febrero 2006. Pág. 4_5.

5 http://www.fedevivienda.org.co/psh/

6 ibíd.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

· BOLLNOW, Otto Friedrich. HOMBRE Y ESPACIO. Editorial Labor, S.A. 1969.

· CERÓN PORTILLA, Luís Eduardo. OJEDA CASANOVA, Mario Andrés. Seminario de Investigación, Línea de Profundización en Arquitectura y Hábitat, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Sede Manizales. Documento Trabajo de Grado Posadas Nativas, Hábitat Transitorio de Ocio. 2005.

· CLIFFORT, Geetva. LA INTERPRETACION DE LAS CULTURAS. Descripción densa: hacia una teoría interpretativa de la Cultura.

· DUHAU, Emilio. HÁBITAT POPULAR Y POLÍTICA URBANA. Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana. México 1998.

· HEIDEGGER. CONSTRUIR, MORAR, PENSAR. Ciencia y Técnica. Editorial Universidad Santiago de Chile. Santiago, 1993.

· PEYLOUBET, Paula. HABITAT POPULAR, MATERIALIZACION DE UN PAISAJE SOCIAL DIVERSO. CULTURA DE PLURALIDAD. Revista al Hábitat. Universidad Nacional de Colombia. Febrero 2006.

· ROMERO, Gustavo. LA PARTICIPACION EN EL DISEÑO URBANO Y ARQUITECTÓNICO EN LA PRODUCCIÓN SOCIAL DEL HÁBITAT. Red XIV “Tecnologías sociales y producción social del hábitat”: subprograma para viviendas de interés social HABYTED del programa iberoamericano de ciencia y tecnología para el desarrollo. CYTED México, 2004.

· SALDARRIAGA ROA, Alberto. Habitar como fundamento de la disciplina de la arquitectura. Revista al Hábitat. Universidad Nacional de Colombia. Febrero 2006.

· SANTOS, Milton. LA NATURALEZA DEL ESPACIO. Técnica y Tiempo, Razón y Emoción. Editorial Ariel S.A. Barcelona, 2000.

· TAPIA, Ricardo. Vivienda progresiva y procesos de participación. Conferencia proclamación II concurso de vivienda social CONVIVE II. Revista ESCALA, SOCIEDAD COLOMBIANA DE ARQUITECTOS. Bogotá, 2007.

· UN-HÁBITAT. HÁBITAT Y DESARROLLO HUMANO. Cuadernos PNUD. Investigaciones sobre desarrollo humano. CENAC, UN-HÁBITAT, PNUD Colombia.

· YORY, Carlos Mario. TOPOFILIA O LA DIMENSION POETICA DEL HABITAR. Editorial Pontificia Universidad Javeriana. Segunda edicion marzo 2007.

· www.fedevivienda.org.co

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