How cities can address housing challenges

What you need to know:

  •  Urbanisation as a force for socio-economic transformation has led to the evolution of towns across Uganda to municipalities and  cities

In 2017, more than half of the world’s population lived in cities. This population is expected to rise to two thirds by 2050. 
Cities are a source of urbanisation, engines of growth and hubs of creativity and culture.
 Urbanisation as a force for socio-economic transformation has led to the evolution of towns across Uganda to municipalities and  cities.
This evolution has been attributed to four major factors including; gazzeting of new urban areas; natural growth; re-demarcation of the boundaries of selected urban areas; and rural-urban migration. As a result, growth in the urban population is seen mostly in the new urban areas.
 In 2020, prior to the declaration of the new cities in Uganda, the urban population was estimated at 10.6 million people, a nearly threefold increase from 3.9 million people in 2002. 

Undoubtedly, the creation of 15 new cities will result in unprecedented growth of the urban population. The question is how prepared are the cities to comfortably house their citizens? 
Kampala was for long, the only city in the country - the centre of modernity and business. A place many Ugandans wanted to associate with.
 Today, the capital city is the embodiment of disorder characterized by numerous informal settlements and unguided urban sprawl particularly in its outskirts. 
Although a number of interventions are being implemented to improve Kampala City, several lessons can be drawn from its current state to facilitate better growth of the new cities.

First; Urban planning plays a key role only if it is implemented by city managers and embraced by city dwellers. 
Prior to the 2010 Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) Act that created the Kampala Metropolitan Physical Planning Authority, five physical development plans had been developed with the aim of guiding and managing infrastructural development in the city. 
The first plan of Kampala was drawn as far back as 1912, focusing on areas occupied by the Europeans and Asians. 

Although subsequent plans were all encompassing of the areas and the people living in Kampala, they were  left to gather dust and were either never fully implemented or not implemented at all. 
As the population of Kampala grew, the demand for housing and services concomitantly grew unguided and beyond what the state could offer through the national housing projects. 

Slums grew uncontrollably as the city landlords rushed to build structures to serve the growing population needs. With most of the population falling in the low-income bracket, the structures had to be affordable to a low-income earner leading to the development of slums and informal settlements.
 In fact, some planners in Uganda argue that Kampala is indeed one large slum with pockets of development.   Perhaps if Kampala had implemented the plans that had been made over the years, the situation would be different. 

Secondly, it is important for a city to have the necessary infrastructure to guide development. Urbanisation is a process that is bound to happen. 
While this process is key to a country’s development, the World Health Organisation has identified it as one of the key challenges for public health in the 21st century citing infectious disease outbreaks, unhealthy lifestyles and environmental threats. 
These have already occurred in Kampala and are likely to happen in the new cities if their growth is left unguided.

 Urbanisation can be harnessed to improve public health through developing policies that enhance safe and healthy living in cities. Sustainable Development Goal 11 commits the world to making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. For Ugandan cities, this involves planning for the 60 percent of the urban population that is living in substandard housing with poor sanitation and poor accessibility. 

It is imperative that new cities are proactive and foresighted in the management of their growth and development. The housing cooperative model is one of the many solutions that can help new cities that still have lower populations, low density settlements and land for development. They are based on the principles of solidarity and cooperation to save, access credit, design and build well planned houses that members can afford. 

In Uganda, cooperatives are not a foreign concept. Farmer cooperatives have in the past succeeded in linking farmers to markets and protecting them from price fluctuations. Housing cooperatives would protect citizens from the forces of gentrification and evictions. This would therefore be an ingenious solution to the housing challenges often experienced in low income communities in cities and other urban populations.
Fiona Nshemerirwe Kabwama
General Manager, Uganda Housing Cooperative Union



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