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CHANGING PARADIGMS IN AFFORDABLE HOUSING, QUALITY, AND LIFESTYLE THEORIES

Abstract
By : Ashraf M. Salama, Urmi Sengupta

 
Affordable housing has long been an important planning and design concern in large urban areas and around the peripheries of major cities where population growth has led to an increasing demand for descent housing environments. The issue of affordability has attracted researchers and scholars to explore planning and design determinants, financing mechanisms, cultural and social issues, and construction and building techniques. This interest has been the case for several decades since affordable housing themes have offered a rich research area that involves many paradoxes that keep presenting challenges for planners, architects, and decision makers. Housing costs are increasing in most cities and incomes are not increasing at the same rate. Governments, on the other hand, are unable to provide sufficient housing stock to bridge the gap between demand and supply due to decreasing housing budgets and the lack of investment. Undoubtedly, the issue of housing affordability is widespread worldwide. Governments have responded to this issue through ways of cost reductions in order to make homes available at a price that a user is able to pay. However, this area of concern has been a permanent preoccupation of housing technocrats consumed in the quality and location of the housing unit, often overlooking other socio-cultural and psychological dimensions adhered to it. The academic community is no exception; it has responded to the issue of housing affordability by conducting research that places emphasis on the physical aspects of dwellings, while oversimplifying other critical demands placed on affordable housing provision by society and the environment. Housing quality is a composite good with a variety of attributes, including: structural condition, standard of services, amenities, location, usable space and occupancy standards. It can, at the same time be laden with physical, economic and cultural dimensions. The user assigns a pattern of preferences (spatial, social and visual) to the housing unit that corresponds to the degree of acceptability which are set within the context of housing quality and life-style preferences. Houses are, thus not only art forms or machines to live in but also goods with immense economic and social value. People purposively (or un-purposively) use the externally defined meanings of ‘housing’ to situate themselves with others who share their values and life-styles in asserting their social status and identity. Understanding how these issues of affordability may relate to people’s preferences and lifestyles mandates an understanding of housing quality and lifestyle theories. Traditionally, the terms affordable housing, design and the life-style preferences of the low income population have been seen at best, in isolation and at worst, contradicting each other. In essence, measures to provide affordable housing ignores the fundamental principle that housing comes with the standard bundle of services and under-appreciates the lifestyle and cultural values of the targeted population. Recognition of the impact of life style theories on housing quality and affordability is therefore an emerging phenomenon that deserves a considerable research and a critical conceptualisation. Increasingly, and especially in the developing world, this has manifested in the suburban development in major cities through developers selling the ‘western dream’ that embodies a new set of housing quality, housing design and life-style preferences and albeit the cost. This rides on the notion that housing today signifies a unique expression of the chosen life-style, one’s pride and sensibilities. The advent of globalisation accompanied by expanding middle class has accentuated this form of ‘western-romanticism’ which is increasingly defining the new ‘cultural preferences’ of people that need not necessarily align with local preferences on spaces, materials and built-form or people’s affordability level. Such processes are altering the historical and semiotic way we viewed the issue of housing affordability. It is believed that ‘Affordability’ has to be seen more holistically combining housing production process, the product and the cultural adherence and expressions of the users. The worsening housing affordability problems over the years in tandem with failure of government policies makes it imperative that alternative approaches and possibilities are explored. It is a complex, interdisciplinary query that needs an inter-disciplinary approach to answer. Building on the earlier publications by the guest editors (Sengupta 2006; Salama, 2006, Salama and Alshuwaikhat, 2006, and Salama, 2007), this issue of open house international places high value on establishing links between issues that pertain to affordable housing, quality, and life style theories as manifested in socio-cultural factors, user preferences, and environmental attitudes. In essence, the papers selected for this edition address timely and pressing issues that continuously present themselves on the map of polemics on affordable housing both in developed and developing contexts, from Ecuador to Australia, from Turkey to Bangladesh and India, and from United Kingdom to Nigeria. Key issues of some of the papers presented in this issue are highlighted to reflect emerging understandings toward developing responsive affordable housing. Alina Delgado and Frank De Troyer introduce a model for addressing affordable housing preferences. Their work is developed, with a focus on socio-cultural issues, through a “methodological pluralism” approach, in order to identify people- oriented variables and assumptions. The model is based on a case study in the city of Guayaquil- Ecuador. Field work was undertaken to test different aspects of the model. Delgado and De Troyer articulate implications and limitations of the model toward inclusion of housing preferences while meeting local conditions and cultural values. Addressing multi-contexts that include Colombia, Egypt, and Indonesia, the work of Dina Shehayeb and Peter Kellett establishes a framework within which key phenomena relevant to the notion of home range and the actual use of dwellings can be examined. In essence, their framework is based on the argument that the dwelling is more than just an enclosed private space; it involves a diversity of indoor and outdoor spaces that accommodate a multitude of activities to fulfil latent functions and meanings. Shehayeb and Kellett identify lessons for planners, architects, and policy makers concerned with making housing more appropriate and affordable. Within the Australian context, R.J. Fuller and U.M. de Jong argue that the environmental impact of modern housing is significant. Australians have resisted the need for increased urban density as their capital city populations grow, while new houses have been built on the peripheries of the existing cities. Their work discusses the environmental ‘affordability’ of current Australian housing and argues that this must be considered alongside traditional affordability criteria so that a more holistic approach to affordable housing is envisaged. Along the same interest in addressing environmental aspects as a key quality in affordable housing, N. K. Burford, J. Thurrot, A.D. Pearson review the context for future housing provision in the United Kingdom. They offer an examination of two existing medium density terraced housing developments. Their examination reflects two contrasting approaches: one derived from low-energy principles utilizing minimum space standards, while the other reflects the need for high quality spaces but at premium cost. Burford et al. propose a new medium density terrace model that deals with these conflicting demands to demonstrate possibilities for providing affordable, higher density family housing whilst conserving energy within the context of the United Kingdom. Jallaludeen Muazu and Derya Oktay examine the socio-economic and environmental impacts in four affordable housing developments in Yola, Nigeria. Deducted from literature reviews on affordable and sustainable housing a survey questionnaire is developed and utilized to explore key affordability factors. Their findings suggest that due to inadequate availability of housing inputs in Yola, the four housing developments do not seem to have met affordability or sustainability imperatives. Muazu and Oktay’s work can be seen in terms of offering an empirical evidence to overcome shortcomings, while providing a basis for governments’ housing commitments towards developing new policies for community involvement in housing provision processes, while meeting other affordability parameters. Addressing lifestyle and affordability choices in traditional housing of old Dhaka, Iftekhar Ahmed argues that the recent rapid urbanization has led to a discontinuity of the traditional housing form of old Dhaka, leading to a disintegration of the mix of lifestyle choices and affordability. He states that following popular market trends, they are often replaced by housing blocks in a higher density ignoring the need for a diverse mix. Utilizing a mixed research method approach that involves conceptual analysis, interviews with local residents, and an examination of archival records and aerial maps, this work identifies lessons from the traditional housing form that may contribute to a new responsive affordable housing in Dhaka. Within the context of Turkey, Miray Gür and Neslihan Dostoğlu address housing policies, and supply and demand issues. Assessing user satisfaction in the public housing of Bursa, their study reveals interesting results and concludes that issues that pertain to quality is critical to successful housing projects and that the incorporation of socio-cultural factors into other typical physical aspects would lead to a more habitable higher quality housing environment. Undertaken in the context of Izmir, the work of Ebru Cubukcu offers an examination of social-economic and cultural factors in two different types of affordable houses; social houses and gecekondus, and foster the argument that affordable housing is not only about cost reduction. The papers included in this issue can be seen as manifestations for changing paradigms in understanding affordable housing. In the old paradigm, the value of housing is assumed to be in the quantifiable attributes of dwellings, sometimes including their immediate environments. In the new paradigm, housing values lie in the relationships between the process, the product, the users, and the social and environmental contexts. In essence, affordable housing, in the old paradigm, has been conceived in terms of what it is, rather than what it does for local populations and the way in which people interact with built and natural environments. In this respect, we emphasize that by looking at socio-cultural factors, environmental issues, and the typical physical aspects as integral components of affordable housing process promising ends can be reached.

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