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Safe and Sustainable Housing

Cities have been the heart of society since the first cities arose. While cities have proven to order society in a way that is crucial to human development, it seems that we have now come to an era in which the increasing pressure on the environment may become a threat to our ways of living, in particular in terms of housing. What requires most attention: urban regions.

Currently, the average housing demand across the globe has taken enormous proportions due to population growth as well as a shift in demographics. Despite what the term ‘housing crisis’ might suggest, the global housing crisis is much bigger than just housing. Not purely residential destinations matter, the world faces enduring issues of availability of transport and the nearby location of public services. The shortage of land must also be solved, as due to limited land, supply exceeds demand and therefore increases the land price. In a nutshell, to manage the housing crisis, managing global development is a way to start. 

SDG11

As housing is a timeless matter which involves every single person on this planet, political and administrative guidance is crucial to its development. It is for this reason that the subject of housing was included in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). 

The SDGs consist of 17 goals, each complemented by targets, events, publications, and actions, concerning peace and prosperity for both the people and the planet. At its core lies the idea of multilateralism and international policy shaping. Recent global efforts have resulted in the inclusion of a stand-alone goal on cities and urban development: SDG11, entailing ‘to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. The goal targets topics like urban planning, transport systems, water, sanitation, waste management, disaster risk reduction, access to information and education, and capacity-building. The aforementioned are all relevant issues to sustainable urban development. Moreover, there is particular attention to the interplay between other SDGs as a way of approaching urban management. In the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, major groups and other stakeholders are called upon to report on their contribution to the implementation of their policy. While the UN is a global organisation, the Agenda has a particular focus on experiences of localisation, the facilitation of bottom-up and inclusive processes, and the formation of multi-stakeholder partnerships, hoping to bundle forces and make a difference. 

Voluntary Local Review

In order to assess the success of determined goals, living labs of so-called Voluntary Local Review (VLR) have been initiated. A VLR is an analysis of set goals in a specific local context, allowing for local authorities to identify their priorities and territorial specificities. Therefore, it is a means to report SDG progress. According to the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, conducting a VLR can unlock meaningful opportunities for cities and regions. Specifically, VLR allows local governments to listen to the needs of the people and reflect them to local policymaking, invite for self-reflection, provide for a process that is data-driven, and can be used to plan for action to achieve a desired future. Its significance lies in policy being both designed and executed by locals. On top of that, VLR provides a local take on the global conversation on sustainable development. As such, the VLR is considered to be an important vehicle to accelerate action in, for example, urban development. In the past few years, well-known dense urban regions like New York City (2018), Bristol (2019), and Guangzhou (2020) have already implemented VLR and continue to use this way of governance.

Shimokawa

A successful example of such VLR can be found in the town of Shimokawa in Japan. Despite Shimokawa’s relative isolation, small size, and limited financial resources, in 2018 the town took up the challenge of conducting rigorous monitoring, review, and follow-up. Their success is built on giving the process to the community and to take notion of the fact that action starts with just a mind-set. Another key point in Shimokawa’s VLR-governance was the implementation of backcasting: a planning approach that sets a specific future outcome and then forecasts policies and programmes in reverse, connecting the specified future and the present state. After the success of the town, their experiences were used to develop the Shimokawa Method as an ideal version of VLR. 

Civic urban development

As previously mentioned, the housing crisis’ main challenge concerns a lack of space in urban regions, resulting in an increase in land prices and no to little opportunity to build new. Then, one way to solve the housing crisis may be an intervention of the market through politics in order to make housing affordable again. Local governments could provide subsidies for housing concerning all segments of society, creating an urban environment with an equal distribution of income groups. Another solution involves investing in public transport. In doing so, accessibility will improve and thus average daily activity spaces will grow in size as well. Indeed, a careful allocation of space is required to make optimal use of available land. There is a need to monitor private and public use of land and act in accordance with predefined land purposes. 

What stands out is that in an attempt to improve the current state of housing, incorporating local desires in policy-making seems beneficial. VLR seems to distinguish itself as a way of enabling effective developmental action. It proposes solutions to the allocation of space on an alternative scale. After the success of Shimokawa, more urban regions will likely follow. The one crucial point: develop policy for the people, by the people.

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