How Can This be Changed?

Foreign capital (and local liquidity) has its benefits and must be encouraged. However, it has to fit into a larger development plan based on development principles so that an inclusive and an environmentally-friendly urban environment can be created. These principles could be: i) planning should respect the ecology of the areas in which the urban centres are located; ii) landuse should be determined on the basis of social and environmental considerations and not on the basis of land value or potential land value alone; iii) planning should give priority to the needs of the majority population which in the case of Asia are low and lower-middle income communities, hawkers, informal businesses, pedestrians and commuters; and iv) planning must respect and promote the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of the communities that live in the city. Zoning byelaws should be developed on the basis of these principles so that they are pedestrian and street friendly, pro-dissolved space and pro-mixed landuse.

If South-Asian cities are to be taken as examples, then what is required is: i) a heavy non-utilisation fee on land so as to bring horded land into the market; ii) a cut-off date for the regularisation of informal settlements and an end to evictions (where relocation is required, market rate compensation should be paid); iii) planned squatting for five years during which programmes for closing the demand-supply gap for low income housing takes place; iv) initiation of programmes for built units and plots which successfully solve the issues related to targeting and speculation1; v) development of rules, regulations and procedures to guarantee that the natural, entertainment and recreational assets of the city will not be in the exclusive use of the elite or the middle classes; vi) a regime for privatisation backed by institutional arrangements that guarantees provision of sustainable employment and development; and vii) an understanding that all programmes and projects will be advertised at their conceptual stage, subject to public hearings before finalisation, supervised by a steering committee of interest groups, have their accounts published regularly, and overseen by one government official from the beginning to the end.

The major question is how can the above agenda be achieved in an age where social and political evolution is in a flux and the economy is controlled globally by undemocratic international organisations?2 Can local “civil society” organisations (funded by bilateral agencies and international NGOs) do this by coming together as a large network? Or can this be achieved more successfully through the national political process or by an international movement seeking to modify the current paradigm in the interests of the poorer sections of the population?

All over the developing world there is a large demand-supply gap in housing. In cities and towns where land control and regulatory frameworks are weak, informal land development takes place and unserviced and insecure low income settlements are established. Over time some of them, if regulations permit acquire security of tenure and some level of basic amenities. Where land control and regulatory frameworks are strong and access to the land and housing market is unaffordable, there is excessive overcrowding in the low income formal settlements or people are forced to sleep on the streets, under bridges, on landfill sites and along railway tracks.

Low income settlements have regularly been bulldozed over the last four to five decades. However in Asia, there has been a huge increase in evictions over the last five years. Studies of eight Asian cities by the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR) has identified that one of the major reasons for the increase in evictions is because of globalization, its culture and the WTO regime. This has resulted in the development of a more aggressive business sector (national and international), increased tourism, building of elite townships with foreign investments, gentrification of the historic core of many cities and a rapid increase in the middle classes. Consequently, there is a demand for strategically located land for industrial, commercial, tourism and middle class residential purposes. As a result, poor communities are being evicted from land that they occupy in or near the city centres, often without compensation, or are being relocated formally or informally to land on the city fringes far away from their places of work, education, recreation and from better health facilities3. This process has also meant an increase in land prices due to which the lower middle income groups have also been adversely affected and can no longer afford to purchase or rent a house in the formal land and housing market.

Due to relocation, transport costs and travel time to and from work has increased considerably. This has resulted in economic stress and social disintegration as earning members have less time to interact with the family. Incomes have been adversely affected since women can no longer find work in the relocation areas and children can no longer go to school4. In addition, due to an absence of alternatives for housing, old informal settlements have densified and as such living conditions in them have deteriorated in spite of the fact that many of them have acquired water supply and road paving and have better social indicators such as higher literacy and better infant mortality rates5.

Local governments in all the research cities have evolved an “image” for their cities. This image is all about catering to the automobile, high-rise construction and gentrification of poor areas. For this they are seeking foreign investment for building automobile related infrastructure and elite townships. Much of this is being implemented through the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) process which is two to three times more expensive than the normal local process of implementation. Foreign investment has also introduced foreign fast food outlets, stores for household provisions, and expensive theme parks and golf courses. Much of this development has pushed small businesses out of elite and middle income areas and occupied public parks and natural assets of these cities for elite and middle-middle class entertainment and recreation at the expense of poor and lower middle income communities.

In the last decade, an increase in the number of automobiles in Asian cities has created severe traffic problems and this in turn increases time taken in travel, stress and environment related diseases. Much of the financing of automobiles is being done by loans from banks and leasing companies6. New transport systems (such as light rail) that have been or are being implemented do not serve the vast majority of the commuting public and in most cases are far too expensive for the poor to afford7.

As a result of the culture of globalisation and structural adjustment conditionalities, there are proposals for the privatisation of public sector utilities and land assets. In some cities the process has already taken place. There are indications that this process is detrimental to the interests of the poor and disadvantaged groups and there is civil society pressure to prevent privatisation and to reverse it where it has taken place8. An important issue that has surfaced is as to how the interests of the poor can be protected in the implementation of the privatisation process.

However, the most serious repercussions of the new policies dictated by international capital and IFI conditionalities are related to the removal or curtailing of government subsidies for the social sectors. This has directly affected poor communities who have to pay more for education and health. In addition, the private sector in education, both at school and university levels, has expanded creating two systems of education, one for the rich and the other for the poor. This is a major change from the pre-1990s era and is having serious political and social consequences as it is further fragmenting society into rich and poor sections.

As a result of the changes described above, there has been an enormous increase in real estate development. This has led to the strengthening of the nexus between politicians-bureaucrats and developers due to which building bye laws and zoning regulations have become easier to violate and due to which the natural and cultural heritage assets of Asian cities are in danger or in the process of being wiped out.

Thus, the improvement of low income settlements is no longer the major issue as in the previous century. What is important today is that urban planning has to take into consideration the interests of the lower income communities.

  1. There are various ways of doing this that have been successful as pilot projects, but the land hunger of a powerful nexus of developers, bureaucrats and politicians is the biggest hurdle in implementation.
  2. The UN is controlled by five members who won the Second World War. The IMF and World Bank function on the principle of one dollar one vote. The WTO was created out of the green room negotiations that produced GATT.
  3. ACHR Monitoring of Evictions in seven Asian countries (Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines) shows that evictions are increasing dramatically. Between January to June 2004, 334,593 people were evicted in the urban areas of these countries. In January to June 2005, 2,084,388 people were evicted. The major reason for these evictions was the beautification of the city. In the majority of cases, people did not receive any compensation for the losses they incurred and where resettlement did take place it was 25 to 60 kilometres from the city centre. (Ken Fernandes; Some Trends in Evictions in Asia; ACHR, March 2006)
  4. In Karachi, due to the relocation of over 14,000 households for the building of the Lyari Expressway, the schooling of more than 26,000 children have been disrupted. (Lyari Expressway: Citizens’ Concerns and Community Opposition; Urban Resource Centre, Karachi, 2005.) In the Philippines, they have decided that evictions will only take place after the final exams have taken place in schools.
  5. In Pune (India), in the settlements surveyed for the report, densities in the last 25 years have increased by over 300 percent without any major improvement in infrastructure and housing resulting in massive environmental degradation and deterioration in living conditions.
  6. For example, 502 vehicles have been added to Karachi per day during the last financial year. It is estimated that about 50 percent of these have been financed through loans from banks and leasing companies who have never had as much liquidity as they have today. This means that loans worth US$ 1.8 billion were issued for this investment which could easily has been utilised for improving public transport systems
  7. Cities such as Bangkok, Manila, Calcutta have made major investments in light rail and metro systems. Other Asian cities are following their example. However, these systems are far too expensive to be developed on a large enough scale to make a difference. Manila’s light rail caters to only 8 percent of trips and Bangkok’s sky train and metro to only 3 percent of trips and Calcutta’s metro to even less. The light rail and metro fares are 3 to 4 times more expensive than bus fares. As a result, the vast majority of commuters travel by run down bus system (for details, see Geetam Tiwari; Urban Transport for Growing Cities; Macmillan India Ltd., 2002 and Arif Hasan; Understanding Karachi’s Traffic Problems; Daily Dawn, January 29, 2004.)
  8. The privatisation of Manila’s Water Supply System has benefited the rich and upper middle income areas and has had an adverse effect on lower middle income and lower income areas. The privatisation of Karachi Electric Supply Corporation has created immense problems of power distribution and there is now public pressure to de-privatise it.

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