Bigger cities, more unequal cities

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57% of the world's population currently resides in cities, and this figure will only grow in the coming years. According to World Bank estimates, by 2050, seven out of 10 people will live in urban areas. But this rapid urbanization process poses several challenges, such as the need to face the accelerated demand for affordable housing, the development of adequate infrastructure and efficient transport systems, as well as guaranteeing basic services and a good quality of life for city dwellers. . In short, ensure the right to decent housing.

A right that is not guaranteed to the approximately one billion people who currently live in densely populated slums. In these neighborhoods, the buildings do not provide essential services, such as access to water and electricity or minimal hygiene and habitability conditions. According to recent data released by the United Nations urban development agency, this number is expected to triple as more people migrate to cities in search of opportunity, reaching 3 billion by 2050. UN Habitat It forecasts that 50% of this growth will be concentrated in eight countries: Nigeria, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Tanzania, India, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt and Pakistan.

In Hong Kong there are families who live in a single room, in cabins on the roofs, bunk beds or 'coffin houses'

Thanks to the great offer of work, megacities often attract population from within the country (or from abroad, in the case of more developed countries) who end up in low-skilled jobs, but at the same time they are home to large companies that offer jobs very well paid. The result is huge differences in income. Large cities are, in fact, more unequal than the average of the countries in which they are located, that is, whether in the United States, the United Kingdom, China or Brazil, the most unequal distribution of income is found the main cities of the respective countries.

That translates into a form of segregation. Urban areas with more income gaps tend to be physically segregated, creating visible divisions between communities, and poorer neighborhoods suffer from higher crime rates, lower life expectancy, and more severe health problems.

"In countries like Peru, more than 70% of people access housing informally, through self-construction"

To these conditions, we must add the climatic challenge. Eduard Cabré, an expert in urban planning and head of international relations at Barcelona City Council's Habitatge Management, explained to La Vanguardia during the International Festival of Social Housing that one of the main challenges of housing in the 21st century is to adapt cities to the climate emergency. But he assures that this is a problem that manifests itself differently for Western countries than for those of the global South. “In the European or Western context, the challenges we have in the context of climate change have to do above all with energy efficiency and emissions. But there are other regions of the world where the main problem will be the forced displacement of a large population that lives in flood-prone areas, and with the rise in sea level they will have to move; they will suffer droughts, floods...”, assures Cabré. "In developing countries, the challenges that arise are to relocate populations and provide decent housing solutions to this flow," he says.


“There is a ferocious extractivism of urban land, and the cities remain in the hands of a few”

While some cities grow in length, forming neighborhoods that are far from the center and difficult to access, others have no more room to grow. This is the case of Hong Kong, which is suffering one of the most serious housing crises in the world. For more than a decade, this Asian city has led the ranking of the least affordable housing market in the world. Between 2004 and 2021, the Hong Kong House and Apartment Price Index rose 239%, while wages only grew 7.1%.

High rents have forced the city's most vulnerable residents to live in substandard and often illegal housing, in unsanitary conditions. Agnes Yang, from the NGO Council of Social Services of Hong Kong (CSSHK), explains that there is a “housing subdivision effect”, and that there are families who live in the space of a single room, in cabins on the roofs. , and in bunk beds or even in what are known as "coffin houses", which can be the size of a closet, in which a bed can hardly fit.

50% of the boom is in eight countries: the DRC, Nigeria, the Philippines, India, Egypt, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Pakistan

According to data from this organization, 127,500 family units live in inadequate housing, that is, close to 5% of the population.

Being a city with such evident inequalities -with 125,100 millionaires and 1.6 million people living in poverty-, the government chose to make a public housing park that currently accounts for 40% of Hong Kong's accommodation. But access means an average wait of 6 years. A few years during which people have to live poorly in precarious housing.

Megacities are more unequal than the average for the countries in which they are located, and this translates into segregation

It is with this objective that CSSHK imported from European cities the idea of ​​using shipping containers to temporarily house families waiting to access public housing. Since construction costs and time are minimal, the only thing that needs to be resolved is the question of land, which they obtain from private donors or with public plots that are awaiting tenders for various works. So far, 500 families have been able to benefit from this initiative. A modest figure, Yang acknowledges, but one that should inspire the government to "provide more public housing to address the long waiting time."

The next challenge for the entity is to go further and have a "holistic approach" also in social housing. “Housing is related to loneliness, mental problems and health,” Yang explains, and for this reason he claims that it is necessary to “have a pleasant environment, with access to services, mobility, and green spaces, which improves living conditions .”

One of the main housing challenges is adapting cities to the climate emergency


The growth of cities in Latin America has occurred unevenly, with high informality. A large part of the population has built their homes outside of any planning plan, with personal resources. “In countries like Peru, more than 70% of the population accesses housing informally, that is, by self-construction, on occupied land, without property title,” explains Eduard Cabré. "In these cases, urbanism is limited to delimiting public space from private space in order to have streets, so that very dense neighborhoods are not created where there are no streets that guarantee a certain mobility and health."

The Argentine architect Ana Falú explains that, unlike European cities that are “compact”, Latin American cities are “unreachable, extensive, and much more unequal”. For this academic, who was regional director of UN Women, this "is linked to the enormous housing shortage that has grown obscenely." “There is fierce extractivism from urban land, and the city remains in the hands of a few,” she claims.

"Inequalities in Latin America" ​​define "the conditions and the place where you live," says Falú, who defends that "it is not the same to be a white woman who works and travels by car than to be a woman of some ethnic origin who lives in a neighborhood where public transport does not reach and there is no accessibility of services”. In this sense, Falú claims that the “interdependent nature between housing and the city”: “The dwelling alone does not solve daily life”, he maintains.

Eduard Cabré spoke in the same direction, explaining that "there have been many housing programs that built housing detached from the city, on the outskirts, without any type of service, and what this has produced is that many people who had a house, they have ended up abandoning it and have gone to live in a more precarious way in the center of the city, which is where there are job opportunities”.

However, Falú claims that many transformative initiatives are being carried out, both public and private, with the aim of improving the living conditions of these people. He highlights "the experience that Mayor Claudia López is developing in Bogotá, the Islands of Care" which, as she explains, "are spaces located in the peripheral neighborhoods that have the greatest need for attention and the greatest demand for care so that women save time, the scarcest good in his life”. Falú also defends “collective housing”, which is being promoted in Argentina, “that incorporates the gender perspective, with spaces for the collectivization of care tasks.”

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