It is estimated that by 2050, a rapid increase in urbanisation and population growth will result in more than 1.23 billion African city dwellers. This means that more people will be living in cities than the combined populations for urban and rural classifications of the Western Hemisphere. What is the scale of new urbanisation in relation to the existing?  This will result in an urgent need for 800 new cities on the African continent.  Most of these new cities will be small to intermediate sized cities and towns. This requires a substantial realignment of the way urban, service and housing development is implemented. What communiTgrow proposes is a regenerative approach that allows for the constant growth and adaptation of the systems and environments that are necessary to support city development and its inherent sustainability.

The communiTgrow approach to housing draws on the African and South African contexts in general, in order to formulate a conceptual framework for housing that is informed by the broader context. This is interpreted and refined for Wescape, so that housing plays a regenerative role in society. The approach seeks to locate the issue of housing demand and supply in a contextually informed framework that recognises the current realities of the urban setting. It seeks to move away from the often prescriptive and formulaic responses that dominate many affordable housing programmes within developing urban economies, and are driven by outmoded approaches and models. Unfortunately these dominant approaches and programmes generally fail to comprehend the value of the home or household in the regeneration of social norms and behaviours within cities.

The affordable housing sector faces a variety of challenges, including inadequate funding mechanisms, given socio-economic levels of the homeowners in this segment. These challenges suggest that a new approach is required if private home ownership is to increase in a significant way. The communiTgrow approach to housing represents one such “new” way through its emphasis on the development of homes as the centre of community development. The communiTgrow approach to housing not only places private home ownership at the centre of community development, but sees home ownership as the fulcrum around which the community revolves. Herein lies the uniqueness of the communiTgrow approach.

The obvious focus of housing is to fulfil the basic need for shelter, but its true value lies in its ability to act as foundation for the connection of the family unit to the wider social network, whilst also fulfilling a financial role as an asset with value that can be leveraged. The household, above all, serves a critical function as a home in which relationships are nurtured, learning is engendered and habits and behaviours are birthed and transferred, often between generations.

African households do not fit the typical nuclear family model that has served as the basis of Western housing development programmes. Many African households are female-headed, often by mothers and grandmothers. Single parent or grandparent households have become the norm, and are in part due to the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in African countries for which adequate treatment cannot be obtained. This has also resulted in a wave of child-headed households. Extended family networks, which traditionally played a strong role in ensuring that a diverse, supportive network is available to absorb the pressures that households are subject to, are becoming increasingly fragmented and defunct.

These factors require close inspection when considering the responses to the challenge of low-income housing in Africa. Moreover, the role of the community in relation to households needs careful consideration, as the community constitutes the networks of players that adapt to different pressures and exploits new opportunities for growth i.e. to regenerate. communiTgrow places tremendous focus on positioning the family unit/homestead as the centre of life and interaction.

In order for housing to be part of a regenerative urban development approach, it needs to fulfill its role in increasingly wider circles, reaching further into social fabric, economic activity and the civic sector. Communities mediate this reach, as it is through the players and networks within communities that coordinated action and support is engendered at different scales (i.e. household, neighbourhood, etc.). Consequently, homes need to be seen as facilitators for transition into the broader community life and local economies, acting as the builders of these bridges.

Online edition & free download of communiTgrow’s book “2 BILLION STRONG” available here.


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