Our Urban Future Requires Radical Housing Innovation

Humans are rapidly becoming an urban species. Today, more than half of us live in a city, with that proportion expected to rise to 66% by 2050, equivalent to over 6 billion people (United Nations, 2017). Keeping up pace with the housing demands of this historic migration is already showing signs of fatigue. In Karachi, Pakistan, 40% of the population live in slums and squatter settlements. In Cairo, Egypt, more than 1 million people sleep in the city’s cemeteries and mosques every night. In Kolkata, India some 3.5 million people live in legal slums. A recent survey of a typical two-story apartment in Delhi found 518 people living in 49 rooms, or 1.5 m2 per person (Kleeman, 2008). Are these new global realities an inevitable, and unavoidable, consequence of urbanisation?

If tomorrow’s megacities are to overcome this unprecedented housing challenge, radical innovation in housing is needed. “Managing urban areas has become one of the most important development challenges of the 21st century. Our success or failure in building sustainable cities will be a major factor in the success of the post-2015 UN development agenda,” agrees John Wilmoth, Director of UN’s Population Division. Indeed, depictions of makeshift shelters in growing megacities as symbols of growth, development and human ingenuity disguise the deep urban problems they represent. Overcrowding, bad sanitation, pollution and environmental degradation cultimate in disease and high mortality rates. Of the 93 million slum residents in India, for example, 81% have inadequate access to sanitation while 15%, have no form of toilet at all. Urban migration has not led to the expected benefits of development for everyone.

Responsible urban planning is key to creating and sustaining inclusive development. The 2014 revision of the World Urbanization Prospects concluded that access to basic services, such as healthcare and sanitation facilities, are key to creating sustainable urbanisation. While the report places a large emphasis on public sector infrastructure development alongside increased affordable housing provision, there are opportunities for the private sector to provide these two interrelated needs. Chototel has responded to the urgent need for urban infrastructure through integrating access to affordable housing with access to uninterrupted utilities and community infrastructure. Our closed loop utility system, for example, provides access to clean drinking water, sanitation services and electricity to all guests, who would otherwise struggle to access these amenities. Tackling the global housing challenge is not only about provided a roof over people’s heads, but also about providing the infrastructure necessary for individuals and families to prosper.

The challenges of rapid urbanisation also require us to look outwards. With millions crowded into city centres, strains on public services and unprecedented traffic congestion are inevitable. Mumbai, India, for example, is the second most densely populated area in the world with over 30,000 residents crammed into every square kilometer. Chototel’s pilot project is instead located in Nagothane, 75 kilometres outside Mumbai, with transport links into the city. Without the same strain on space that exists in the city centre, guests can benefit from outdoor space, including a walking trail and children’s play area. Recognising the importance and developing the potential of surrounding towns and cities is vital as city centres grapple with overcapacity.

New thinking in housing is needed to respond to the rise of megacities. This thinking must not be blinded by the pressing need to built more. Rather, we need to focus on responding to the demand for more houses in ways that are integrated, sustainable and ultimately contribute to the creation of cities that foster healthier, and even happier, lives for their inhabitants.

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