New Internationalist

Issue 276

Issue 276

[image, unknown] New Internationalist Issue 276


The material that follows has been provided by New Internationalist

Simply... The Ideal Home

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For consumer societies the ideal home is the ultimate buy, a private shelter from the outside world, packaged with gadgets and comforts supplied by industries that spend a fortune peddling a fantasy. But this 'ideal' creates more problems than it solves in an outside world that won't go away. In the South, some innovative housing projects for homeless people have started a thoughtful process by asking themselves what their ideal home would be like. The NI goes back to the drawing board to set out some of the basic principles on which decent homes have to be built.

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AVAILABILITY

  • There must be enough homes to go around.
  • Availability is not just dependent on the number of houses but the type of household - in the West smaller households and more people living alone mean more homes are needed (and of a different kind).
  • World population growth means more homes are needed - and the resources to build them.
  • A 'market' in homes always leads to a deficit - high-rent slum accommodation makes more profit than building decent homes for the poor.
  • If housing shortages have ever been solved, it is as a result of public policy and shared initiatives.

    N.B. The majority of the world's homes are built and maintained by those who live in them.


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    SUITABILITY

  • The best homes are 'culture specific' - they reflect how people live in a particular culture, as well as in private life.
  • They adapt to local conditions and materials: e.g. cooled by ventilation in a hot climate, warmed by insulation in a cold climate.
  • Modern city buildings are a major problem because they require vast energy inputs for heating or air conditioning.
  • Good, secure homes are protected by clean water, sanitation and appropriate siting (with no danger of flooding or landslip). They conserve energy and materials.


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    AFFORDABILITY

  • We spend a huge proportion of our income on our home. ( If we have an income) Housing scarcity increases this price, playing on insecurity and fear of homelessness. Property speculation and use of homes as status symbols have a similar effect.
  • The housing market neglects affordable homes for the poor: profits on property will decrease if houses are less scarce.
  • The key to affordable housing is the participation of those needing decent homes. Grandiose schemes without such participation invariably turn into housing disasters (even if they make money for construction companies).
  • Violent swings in the market value of houses contradict the idea that the ideal home provides financial security.


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    FLEXIBILITY

  • Our housing needs vary through life...
  • As children - somewhere safe for our parents to look after us.
  • As young people/independent adults - somewhere free of restrictions.
  • As parents - somewhere with space for children.
  • As individuals in old age, sickness, disability, distress - somewhere adapted to our physical limitations or need for support.
  • A house designed for a young family (e.g. stairs, large garden) may be useless for elderly or infirm people.
  • People can end up trapped in houses that are too large or too small, too quiet or too noisy. These feel less and less like home.
  • In extreme cases people are put in institutions called 'homes'.


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    ACCESSIBILITY

  • A house that is distant from work, schools, health and social care networks, is no home at all. More time is spent travelling than at home.
  • Car-based societies that neglect public transport leave the carless (often a vulnerable group anyway) locked in their houses.
  • Deregulated economies demand that people move to where there is work. This kills communities and promotes migration to cities that lack housing already.
  • There is no sign yet that the 'information superhighway' will reverse this trend by turning homes into workplaces. If it did there would be the problem of homes 'invaded' by work from which there is no escape.

    Inflexible housing means we adapt our lives to a building, and not vice versa.


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    RESPONSIBILITY

  • The best housing is created by communities and reflects their participation. Mass housing - whether by governments or private developers - rarely achieves this. Both tend to result in ghettos - public spaces shrouded in fear or private homes as 'secure' bunkers.
  • Communities that take reponsibility into their own hands or build 'informal' homes for themselves often face official hostility, inadequate capital finance and no access to public services.
  • Making housing and living conditions an urgent public priority would improve health standards more than any other single factor.

Illustration by P J POLYP

©Copyright: New Internationalist 1996

 

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