Torre David, Caracas

Joan Clos, the Executive Director of UN-Habitat, stated in the opening of the World Urban Forum (WUF) that “the antidote to slums is planned urbanization.”  This is a challenge, as figures and history tend to show. Regardless of planning, slums keep growing as people find creative ways to secure shelters and income-generating activities. To further discuss this topic, various events at the WUF focused on incremental processes, both at the housing and city level.[1]

At the same time, in Venice, Italy, Torre David/Gran Horizonte, by Justin McGuirk and Urban-Think Tank, won the Golden Lion for the best project of the Common Ground Exhibition of the Venice Biennale.  Torre David is a 45-storey office in Caracas that was abandoned in an almost-completed state in 1993. The building stayed vacant until 2007, when a group of families started occupying the building.  The residents formed a cooperative to collect dues and manage space. Now, 625 families live in 28 of the 45 tower’s stories.  The residents managed to obtain electricity legally, rig up toilets to a rudimentary plumbing system, and develop a delivery system for supplies.

Those two events are related to whether housing/neighborhood incremental processes can be a policy option.  The basic question is: when planning cannot precede human creative ways to secure housing, how else can they be reconciled?

Discussions in Naples highlighted the following:

  • Stop thinking about people as simply beneficiaries; they are full actors, and both authorities and donors need to spend more time on working with them.
  • Technical assistance is key.  Collaboration between citizens, architects, and developers/contractors is crucial to ensure quality.
  • People do not look simply for housing, but for a bundle of opportunities.  Neighborhood Upgrading Programs still use less than 10% of the funding for income-generating activities.  The question remains: What should come first: infrastructure or income-generating activities? And since everything (including better infrastructure, income-generating activities, and services) should happen, how about scaling up incremental neighborhood upgrading processes?

[1] Two events included the participation of the IDB: “”Innovations and Financing in Neighborhood Upgrading and Incremental Housing”, co-organized by the IDB and Habitat for Humanity International, and “The Search for High Density Incremental Affordable Housing,” organized by SIGUS-MIT. Two books by the IDB were presented at the WUF: Room for Development, Housing Markets in Latin America and the Caribbean and Slum Upgrading: Lessons Learned in Brazil