|Stormwater Drainage and Land Reclamation for Urban Development (HABITAT, 1991, 94 p.)|
|I. URBANIZATION AND THE DEMAND FOR URBAN LAND|
The current position and trends in urbanization in developing countries have recently been summarized in a UNDP Strategy Paper (see box I.1). This rapid and sustained growth in the size of cities and towns creates a correspondingly huge demand for and pressure on land, principally but not exclusively for housing. In addition to land for housing, however, there is a need for land for urban infrastructure - roads, drainage and utilities - and for commercial, industrial and recreational purposes. While there is such a need for land and while in practice, as will be noted below, land is being used for urban purposes, there is in many respects a crisis in urban land-use policy in many cities around the world - a crisis that has been caused by a desperate mismatch between the official supply of land and the demand for it. The root cause of this crisis must briefly be outlined.
The root of the current crisis is that, usually with the best of intentions, governments have adopted policies which have unfortunately and far too frequently contributed to land shortages rather than land availability. These policies have emphasised control and regulation over land use and its supply, rather than enabling and facilitating its release. These policies generally stress the maintenance of inappropriate standards - standards often inherited and accepted uncritically from former colonial powers - rather than focus on the appropriateness and affordability of such standards. Government policies have also either shied away from, or attempted to impose inappropriate legal regimes on, traditional land-tenure practices which have consequently inhibited the release of land with clear titles for urban use. Finally, these policies generally place too much emphasis on public ownership, management and development of urban land, and the resulting heavy bureaucracy normally impedes the release of land. Some examples of these defective policies are given below.
Control and regulation of supply and use
There are few better examples of attempts to control the supply and price of urban land than the Urban Land (Ceiling and Regulation) Act 1976 of India. A respected commentator has this to say about the Act and its operation:
This Act was aimed at socializing all land in excess of a given quantum on payments of a nominal amount, thus making available large chunks of strategically located land for use by the common man. Exemptions can be granted from the operation of the Act. The phenomenon of granting exemptions to large property owners, bogus cooperative societies who enter into agreements to purchase land, commercial builders etc. is universal with the result that the very purpose of the Act has been defeated.
The National Commission on Urbanization has likewise concluded that the Act has failed to achieve any of its objectives. This has not, however, prevented a very rapid rise in urban land prices all over India and a concomittant shortage of affordable land for housing for the urban poor.
Nigeria may be instanced as another country where similar legislation - the Land Use Act of 1978 - has done nothing to bring more land forward for urban development, but which has created yet another layer of bureaucracy and corrupt practices which must be overcome before land can be developed.
Even where the supply of land is not controlled, its use too often is. Inappropriate metropolitan models of town and country planning legislation (some of them dating back 70 or more years with emphasis on control of development, and the obligation to seek, via official forms, permission to build a house) simply render the self-build efforts of the poor illegal and liable to demolition.
The maintenance of inappropriate standards
Two aspects of this deficiency are plot size and building regulations. Over-large plot size requirements in Jordan, for example, have severely handicapped efforts to develop low-cost housing until a downturn in the economy caused the plot owners themselves to see the good sense of subdividing their plots in order to increase their income and also to reduce building costs. Many site-and-service schemes have been beyond the reach of the urban poor simply because the price of the large plots has been beyond their capacity to pay, and the high costs of running services to the plots have further raised prices.
Box I.1. Current urbanization trends in developing countries
The relentless growth of cities is inevitable and irreversible. Standing at 2.4 billion in 1990, the world's urban population will rise to 3.2 billion in 2000 and 5.5 billion in 2025. The developing countries' share in these totals - 63 per cent in 1990 - will rise to 71 per cent in 2000 and 80 per cent in 2025. By the end of the 1990s, Mexico City will have almost 22 million residents. Calcutta, Shanghai and Bombay will each have more than 15 million, and 13 other cities in developing countries will have more than 10 million: Seoul, Cairo, Dakar, Delhi, Lagos, Beijing, Bangkok, Manila, Jakarta, Karachi, Tianjin, Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro. In addition to the growth of these megacities, the growth of small and medium-sized cities will also continue.
For decades this growth was seen as inimical to human development. Cities already benefited disproportionately from national development efforts, urban development was more costly than rural development and the growth of cities merely added to unemployment - these were the prevailing views. So, government policy and international assistance gave greater attention to the countryside.
Today the growth of cities is seen increasingly as essential for human development. The GNP per capita numbers are much higher in countries with more of their people in cities. The economies of scale in large cities generate goods and services far in excess of their share of the total population. This higher productivity of urban labour means that wages are higher and unemployment opportunities greater, especially for women. Cities also give their residents the knowledge and skills to become more productive - a propitious cycle. Cities promote the modernization of agriculture, provide markets for farm goods and reduce pressure on land.
Despite the obvious efficiency advantages of cities, the negative consequences of urbanization for low-income groups are overwhelming. Simply, many city dwellers in developing countries live in crushing poverty - more than 300 million, or a quarter of all those in urban areas. That number promises to swell. By 2000 more than half the developing countries' poor will be in cities and towns: 90 per cent in Latin America, 45 per cent in Asia and 40 per cent in Africa. Their living conditions are alarming, for their numbers far outstrip the supplies of water, waste removal, transport and clinics. Nor do they and their richer neighbours help the environment using natural resources and discharging wastes in disturbing quantity, with all the predictable effects.
Source: Cities, People and Poverty (New York, United Nations Development Programme, 1991)
Few countries have yet made any effort to revise their building regulations to allow for more appropriate standards. In some countries and cities the building regulations are more than 50 years old and are still legally in operation. For example, in Nairobi insistence of antiquated standards in the regulations held up the commencement of a major site-and-service project; and in Madras official refusal to allow low-cost unconventional materials and practices to be used in site-and-service schemes effectively prevented the urban poor from benefiting from them.
The African continent has many examples of inappropriate efforts to grapple with customary tenure. For example, in urban Lesotho, a World Bank land-reform programme broke down because of suspicions that it was designed to facilitate foreigners acquiring choice urban plots under a law which only they could understand. In the United Republic of Tanzania and in Zambia, a refusal to permit an officially recognised market in land led to the development of a vigorous alternative market, with major problems of security of tenure due to the consequent absence of any official documentation relating to title. In Nigeria, the imposition of public controls on an evolving market in land merely inhibited the evolution of the market without providing any positive benefit.
Public ownership and management
A favourite device is the creation of an urban development authority which is empowered both to purchase land in advance of use (and release it in due course for use by the urban poor) and to develop land itself. The example of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) shows that, whatever the theoretical merits of the policy, in practice it can have disastrous results. In Delhi 20,000 hectares of land were notified for compulsory acquisition and frozen for private development, and the DDA, in order to balance its accounts, has allocated nearly 50 per cent of the land it has released to the urban rich and less than 10 per cent to the urban poor. Land prices have at the same time rocketed. According to a commentator:
... regarding of its efficacy in serving desired goals, the fact remains that this policy for Delhi, supported by hefty financial aid from government was sought to be replicated in other states with calamitous results... Funds or the expertise to assess needs, plan and execute development programmes or to manage the land were not provided.
Urban development and capital development authorities in Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria and the United Republic of Tanzania have a similarly dismal record of providing affordable land for the urban poor, many of whom labour to construct buildings they will never be able to afford to use.
What might be the results of continuing with such inadequate policies? The following are suggested as the more likely outcomes.
(a) Land prices will continue to accelerate and there will be a corresponding decline in the number of people who will be able to purchase or rent houses or building plots;
(b) There will be a continuing increase in urban slums. People will not cease to come to cities, but they will cease to be able to do other than slot into already overcrowded squatter settlements or take part in land invasions;
(c) The development of ever larger squatter settlements without adequate services or infrastructure will cause major urban health problems and a rapid deterioration of the urban environment;
(d) Large cities, full of the unemployed and the poor (too few of whom will have a stake in the system through the ownership or secure possession of land or regular employment), will be beyond the capacity of city governments to deal with and may begin to pose problems to the security of the State and the stability of the local political system.