Cornerstone Course – Day 3: Urbanisation II

This entry will deal with urbanisation is from the view of UN Habitat and all numbers come from them.

4 billion people (54% of people) live in urban areas. Of those 1 billion live in Informal Settlements (or slums) where basic services and tenure security are lacking. However, cities account for 80% of GDP. Urbanisation is related to economic development, but also to inequality and exclusion which drive safety and security concerns. Additionally, city account for 70% of the CO2 emissions and therefore can be considered a main cause of climate change.

Sustainable urbanisation

Previous/current urbanisation has been unsustainable in terms of environment, society and economy.

  • Environmentally, suburbanisation sprawls over land and destroy ecosystems
  • Socially, inequality, exclusion, and deprivation form spatial inequality and divided cities
  • Economically, unemployment , low-paying jobs and informal income cause hardship and poor quality of life

To reach sustainability the following issues must be tackled:

  • Continuous growth of slums: Caused by a lack of housing policies. Slums are vulnerable to natural and man-made disasters. Often slum dwellers are semi-legal have no (government) services and lack utilities (water, electricity and waste disposal). Lack of tenure security creates a state of temporary accommodation
  • Provision of urban services: Includes transport, water, sanitation, electricity health, education, maintenance of public space, lighting, cemeteries, etc.
  • Climate change: Climate events could damage urban areas , but also drive people from endangered areas to urban areas (rural-urban migration)
  • Inequality and exclusion: The gab between the rich and the poor is increasing, this in turn leads to increased crime, gated communities, privatisation and segmentation of urban space, segregation
  • Upsurge in involuntary migration: Forced migration is changing urbanisation, people are displaced into neighbouring countries, requires innovative housing solutions, often stay after cause for migration is resolved, can be a breeding ground for frustration and radicalisation
  • Rising insecurity and urban risks: Terrorism, urban warfare, disease and pandemics are major risks, but also fear of crime and violence. This may cause brain-drain and hinder economic development

Urban Stories

A preview of the course Urban Design I given at D-ARCH at ETH.

Apartheid is not only South African, but a general construction pattern in cities used to keep cheap labour close to Middle- and Upper-class housing. It can be seen in São Paulo, Caracas and Johannesburg.

Urban terror has replace rural terror (e.g. how it happened in Colombia) from revolutionaries to extremists to criminals.

Natural catastrophes haunt urban environment and are often unaccounted for because they mostly hit the informal settlements.

Social housing plans like 23s de Enero in Caracas provided infrastructure that would later help barrios (slums) to grow in the in-between spaces creating a functioning environments (compared to other social housing plans that failed horribly).

Transportation systems are often unique and transplanting them is difficult. The important part is to be able to describe the essential units of the system and find places where such a system could be of advantage. An example are cable-cars in the mountainous slums of Latin America (Caracas, La Paz, etc.). The cable-car stations where used as bases to create additional services (post services, ATMs, etc) in a secured area. Cable-car masts can be used to host wind farms (not a 3-rotor design).

Skyscrapers are an interesting environment. Elevators are a reason why skyscrapers are not interconnected on higher levels. Elevators are stopping at each floor though through design elevators could only stop at every few floors with ramps connecting the intermediate floors.

More can be found in the Urban Toolbox.

“There is not an ideal world, but we can improve upon the current state.” – Hubert Klump

Latent challenges

Latent challenges are often ignored like air pollution in cities (in South Asia and elsewhere), no drinking water from the tab (like Manilla in the Philippines) or homicides per day (in Caracas more people are murdered per year than die in the Syrian civil war without mentioning). Latent problems are so permanent that often they are overlooked.

Some definitions

Tenure: The process of acquiring land to live on.

In the developed word generally, lad is bought, its development is planed, it is build upon and then people move in.

In many parts of the developing world tenure is not existent. Therefore people squat land. If they are not forced out they start building. The building is slowly and iteratively extended as there is no security for the ownership of the building.


Cornerstone Course – Day 3: Urbanisation I

There is a claim that more 50% of humankind live in cities. This claim, however, is wrong. The reason is that a city and an urban environment is not the same and the correct description would be that more than 50% live in urban environments.

This differentiation has a huge impact, Caracas, Mexico City and Jakarta have a continuous urban area that goes beyond the official city borders of each and result in abrupt policy changes along the administrative borders. For instance, Caracas has 5 different mayors and police forces and the mayor of Mexico City only covers 38% of the urban territory and Jakarta grew into most of its neighbouring towns and cities.

Cities in the tropical zone expand into the arable land and risk the food supply. The overlap of urban expansion with food production is a policy challenge. Changing agricultural land to real estate gives a short-term economic boost (to owners), but permanently damages the ground for agricultural purposes.

Urban discussions put forth by Yona Friedmann in the 60s already pointed out future migrations due to insufficient urbanisation. The collapse of urban environments due to (civil) war and bad economic circumstances have causes a large flow of migrants towards Europe that is remnant of Friedmann’s predictions. Migration challenges our consolidated models of cities. For instance, the Calais Jungle in France is a 30’000 people town with no formal infrastructure that epitomizes the challenge.

Shenzhen did not exist 30 years ago and now is the fourth-biggest city in China. It was a top-down decision by the Chinese Government to urbanize 250 million people and Shenzhen is one of the resulting cities. The urbanisation constitutes a migratory move.

Blue print cities have shown not to work properly, so the focus has moved to an iterative model that starts out with existing slums. The slums than get improved infrastructure until they are a functional city. In Latin America people have been brought into the vicinity of the city, creating slums. The slums are slowly transformed by introducing infrastructure. However, this poses many difficulties.

What is needed to create those cities is scale-less handling of the problem from a block in a quarter to the intercity areas. Hierarchical ordering of the problem is not sufficient to solve the problems (as shown by the past).

A provocative claim to close the introduction is that China is urbanising beyond their territory (in Africa, South-East-Asia and more).