World Town Planning day will be observed on November 08 all over the world -- an event which appeals to the conscience of citizens and public authorities in order to draw attention to the social, economic and environmental impacts resulting from the development of cities and territories. This year, the theme of the day is 'Sustainable Cities and Communities'.
Housing is the basic foundation of any community and it is also a basic need of the citizens. Access to adequate housing is a fundamental human right. This right is well recognised in almost all constitutions and charters in national and international levels. So, in order to achieve sustainable cities and communities, policies regarding housing development must be sustainable. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs, 2016-2030) also emphasise on making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable in Target 11. The core concept of sustainable housing is access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services, and upgrading of slums. The housing situation of Bangladesh is getting more acute with the passage of time. In a rapidly growing city like Dhaka, housing comes up as a major problem. The development of housing and related infrastructure can't cope with the growth of population. As a result, the gap between the increasing housing needs (due to rapid urbanisation) and supply is becoming wider and wider every day. Lack of adequate housing for Bangladesh's large urban population is obviously a key problem in all of the cities and secondary towns in Bangladesh. The Planning Commission stated in the seventh five year plan (2016-2020) that housing deficit in urban areas grew from 1.13 million units in 2001 to 4.6 million units in 2010. The deficit is projected to reach 8.5 million units in 2021 if investment in the housing sector does not keep pace with the growth of population.
Affordability issue is another serious aspect of housing problems. Real estate market rarely pays attention to the needs unless it is supported with the ability to pay. The private developers are focusing on providing somewhat luxurious housing for the higher income classes. The situation is particularly worse for the lower income groups and the poor who live on marginal settlements built by small land developers or by the occupants themselves without any security of tenure. Slum and squatter developments are also increasing day by day in the large cities of Bangladesh. In the light of these realities of urbanisation and its consequences in Bangladesh, it is necessary to design policies for sustainable housing in a manner that provide balance between environment and urban growth. This not only involves developing sustainable building technologies applicable to various climate regions, economic conditions and residential customs, but also entails management innovations for urban governance.
The basic aim of urban planning is to create livable cities, and without doubt, livable residential areas or dwelling places. Residential areas, habitats, and dwelling places --whatever may be the terms -- tend to focus primarily on sustainability where the needs of the individuals, family or groups are met without compromising the environmental conditions and the needs of the future residents. Thus housing is one of the most important issues. According to the United Nations and UN-HABITAT, sustainability can be defined as meeting the needs of today without compromising the needs of future generations. Sustainable housing has the potential to produce good quality housing at a price that is affordable both in the short and long term. Thus, sustainable housing must aim at economic, social and environmental sustainability from planning to implementation phase and at the same time result in housing that is affordable, accessible and environmentally less damaging.
Sustainable housing has a key role in the quality of human life. The positive impact of housing can be increased through the application of principles of: environmental protection, economic effectiveness, social inclusion and participation, and cultural adequacy. Like most other developing countries, sustainable housing is, however, yet to gain its due prominence in Bangladesh. The social, cultural, environmental and economic facets of housing are not addressed in an integrated policy. The so-called pro-poor housing programmes often provide accommodation of poor standards, in remote locations, with little consideration to the residents' lifestyle and livelihood strategies. The rapid housing developments create amplified carbon footprint and further negative impacts on the environment. Decent and safe housing remains a dream for the majority of the population. Poor, disadvantaged and vulnerable population may lack affordable and adequate housing, face unhealthy and unsafe housing and physical barriers, and/or related discrimination and exclusion. Those living in substandard and informal settlements often lack water, sanitation and other public services. Moreover, natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods and landslides as well as human generated disasters, have resulted in large-scale damage to housing and human settlements in Bangladesh.
The UN Charter on Sustainable Housing has made several recommendations which would be very effective policy directions to ensure sustainable housing in Bangladesh. According to the charter, housing should be planned, constructed and used in a way that minimises environmental impact and promotes environmental sustainability. This should be addressed through: housing practices that contribute to reducing the carbon footprint of buildings throughout their life-cycle; improved environmental and energy performance of dwellings; resilient urban settlements which, when possible, use renewable energy, and proactively take into account climate change; housing stock that is resilient to natural and human-generated hazards, enhanced through adequate planning, design and safe construction; green spaces around and within housing areas; compact housing settlements with planned growth to prevent urban sprawl.
Housing should be both a sustainable element in a vibrant economy as well as a sector for meeting people's needs. This should be addressed through: secure and neutral tenure (i.e. with flexibility between owning and renting); land registration information and services that support investment in housing and the promotion of secure land and housing tenure; transparent, efficient and effective accounting, regulatory procedures and mortgage rules in order to ensure appropriate mortgage availability, protect consumers, enhance their housing security, enlarge housing choices and reduce the risk of homes being lost; increased investment in sustainable housing promoted through public-private partnerships and other financing instruments; housing construction performed based on the use of building codes and standards etc. Housing policy and debate should be advanced with an enhanced emphasis on engaged and negotiated civic involvement, social inclusiveness, public health, transparency, and a concern for ethical processes. This should be addressed through: instruments of state support for adequate, healthy, safe and affordable housing, including access to basic utilities and services which promote social cohesion and contribute to meeting the housing needs of various social groups, including marginalized and vulnerable groups and people; increased availability of housing options, particularly affordable and social housing; housing and land tenure policies that support social justice; national housing policies developed through deliberative and democratic processes based on expert knowledge, extensive data collection, transparent reporting of statistics; extensive and inclusive public debate about all aspects of housing development; research and exchange of knowledge on all aspects of sustainable housing; effective, clear, and transparent governance at all levels, including institutionalized procedures for appeals to decisions related to housing.
Sustainable housing development scheme should be socially, economically and environmentally appropriate. The type of accommodation, support services and amenities provided should be appropriate to the needs of the people to be accommodated. The best available construction techniques should be used. Efficient use should be made of land, infrastructure and energy. Design and orientation of dwellings should take account of site topography so as to control negative wind effects and optimise the benefits of sunlight, daylight and solar gain; optimum use should be made of renewable sources of energy, the use of scarce natural resources in the construction, maintenance and management of the dwellings should be minimised.
To summarise, successful design of a good quality sustainable housing project depends on the balance struck between a ranges of factors. Issues such as accessibility, security, safety, privacy, community interaction, availability of appropriate services and the provision of adequate space should be given due weight. The needs and reasonable expectations of residents are of fundamental importance. If every housing related policies and development schemes are undertaken and implemented in the ways described above, we can ensure a better housing for better life of both our present and future generations as well as achieve a certain level of Sustainable Development Goals successfully.
Tanvir Ahmad is an urban planner.
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