Housing that puts people first

by Darren
Housing that put people first

While the government is continuing its quest to provide all citizens with housing, mixed-use developments provide a way to create a more balanced society.

“Everyone has a right to have access to adequate housing as stated in our Constitution, which adds that the State must take reasonable legislative and other measures within its available resources to achieve the progressive realisation of this right,” the minister of human settlements, Lindiwe Sisulu commented during a press conference, reiterating that the government will continue to provide housing for needy South Africans.

According to Sisulu, the government has built and created housing opportunities for 4,3 million people to date, which amounts to approximately 20 million beneficiaries. Amidst economic constraints, the government is prioritising child-headed households, the elderly and disabled people as recipients of Breaking New Ground (BNG) houses, also known as RDP houses.

Another focus area for the government is the upgrade and prevention of informal settlements through the National Upgrading Support Programme, emphasising in-situ renovation wherever possible, as a way to provide people with suitable houses where they live.

“We have also established the Housing Development Agency, whose primary responsibility is to procure state, private and communal land and buildings for use in the development of human settlements and release land for the development of human settlements,” Minister Sisulu said at the Habitat III Thematic Conference on Informal Settlements held in April.

Habitat III secretary-general, Dr Juan Clos, pointed out that the number of slums around the world continues to grow with 10% annually and is most acute in Africa at an average of 61,7% of the population.

Those who rise out of poverty, aspire to own or rent homes in well-run urban areas or suburbs and ultimately experience a better life. And it is in this gap where there is an ongoing need for more housing supply for the workforce income group.

Mixed-use development
An urban planning concept that really speaks to the needs of people is mixed-use development, which in a broad sense allows people to live, work, shop and play in the same area without having to travel extensively. In addition, projects that include different types of housing, from bachelor flats to three-bedroom houses for example, provide residents with the opportunity to grow and advance within the same community.

According to Dr Kyle Shelton from the Kinder Institute for Urban Research, different topographies, financing, markets and developer visions all influence the outcome and make one development differ greatly from another. However, he highlights a few key elements that most of the time form part of mixed-use developments: Having at least three distinct uses, a connective green space, and the ability to allow users to live, work and play in the same area.

“As urban and suburban residents call for more walkable neighbourhoods – replete with homes, recreation and work places – developers are responding with more and more mixed-use projects,” he states.

And this is true in many areas in South Africa, from lower-cost developments to high-end projects. The trend of mixed-use developments emerged in South Africa in the late 1990s and early 2000s with the developments of Century City in Cape Town and Melrose Arch in Johannesburg, according to an article in Property Mogul.

Today many more exist and are being constructed and planned, such as the Linksfield Integrated Mixed-use Development, comprising of a central hub, commercial development, a retail precinct, a residential estate and inclusionary housing, aiming to be a truly multi-class, multi-racial working and living environment.

Relevant in all areas
Urban design and housing architect, Linelle Visagie from DISTIL Architecture, points out that, in a South African context, mixed-use developments are imperative for repairing the segregated city planning inherited from apartheid, which still has a very negative effect on urban environments.

However, she cautions that it is important to not only consider mixed-use or integrated developments as a possible solution to the challenges of low-income markets and segregated neighbourhoods, but to be aware of the improvements they can make to high-end areas.

“It is just as needed in the vast amount of estates built in the sprawl around our cities, which are extremely problematic. The problems we face in our urban environments don’t know class or income,” Visagie states.

Changing the urban landscape
Probably one of the biggest impacts of mixed-use developments is that it brings people closer to where they work. “Mixed-use developments aid in pedestrianizing urban environments and integrating public transport systems into them, which in turn leads to a reduction in and better flow of traffic,” Visagie explains.

Also normally being high-density, compact developments, the need for roadways is reduced. Compact developments also increase the efficiency of the infrastructure that serves them.

Visagie further points out that mixed-use developments encourage the creation of neighbourhoods with a legible urban structure and urban centres within close proximity, supporting a sense of place. What’s more, they improve the design quality of a neighbourhood by providing diversity of building typologies and urban spaces, thereby combating the notion that all buildings should look alike in a neighbourhood, estate or development.

“The trend is for new developments to have a set of design guidelines so that the neighbourhood or estate looks uniform. In my opinion this is very negative, as we end up with everything looking the same, and any close-by amenities are usually grouped within a mall of some sorts that one can’t easily access without a private vehicle.

“Mixed-use developments are part of urban environments that provide for a diversity of activities and functions, access and choice. This is maybe the most important underlying characteristic of any successful urban place,” Visagie states.

Easier said than done
Getting practical, mixed-use developments are extremely complex. While the principles make sense, achieving the ideal result means a complicated process, considering a large variety of factors and involving many stakeholders who all have an impact on what is realised at the end of the day.

“Setting up the correct policies, for example, is a very complicated but important part of achieving better urban environments, but it is something that does not reside within the scope of a developer’s work,” says Visagie. “Another strong area of influence is what the banks and financers of these projects are willing to fund. For example, shops adjacent to residential units might pose a fire risk and won’t be approved,” she explains.

Other dynamics include the needs and perceptions of the end-users, the state of the market, town planning regulations, feasibility studies and more.

“There are so many factors that determine what will ultimately be built,” says Visagie. “However, this does not mean the responsibility of creating sustainable and integrated neighbourhoods lies elsewhere. It is the responsibility of the entire project team to make a project not only feasible and profitable, but to also consider the extreme impact it could have with regards to sustainable, social and economic consequences. The constant planning back and forth in considering cost, external factors and the provision of a well-designed end-product is what makes these projects so interesting.”

Full thanks and acknowledgment are given to SAnews.gov.za, kinder.rice.edu and DISTIL Architecture for the information given to write this article.

Benefits of mixed-use developments:
•    Speak to the needs of people.
•    Allow people to live, work, shop and play in the same area.
•    Give residents the opportunity to grow and move in the same community.
•    Repair segregated city planning.
•    Address the sprawl around cities.
•    Aid in pedestrianizing urban environments.
•    Afford integrating public transport.
•    Better flow of traffic.
•    Increase the efficiency of infrastructure.
•    Create neighbourhood centres.
•    Allow diversity of building typologies and urban spaces.
•    Provide for diversity of activities and functions, access and choice.

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