In this article, Edward Pulagis discuses the importance of urban planning functions and responsibilities to the different levels of government, city municipalities and local councils
OWNING a home is important to the spatial footprints of the relationship between housing, transport networks and employment, location and quality of homes within neighbourhood contexts.
Housing is an important commodity and an important focus for contemporary urban planning.
It goes without saying housing is an organising force in the urban economy.
Simply because it expands on the rationale of urban planning as a public policy tool for government intervention in the urban development process of towns and cities.
One of the main purposes for modern urban planning is the creation of safe, healthy and functional living environments through minimising negative social, economic or environmental impacts of private development.
This is accomplished through a method of scaling, downloading and off-loading of urban planning functions and responsibilities to the different levels of government, city municipalities and local councils.
For instance, in the United States and Australia, the urban planning function lies predominantly with state and local governments.
The housing system
By the 19th Century, rapid industrialisation, urban migration and worsening urban health problems led to significant changes in the sanitary conditions of workers in many of the industrial cities of Britain, America and Europe.
Overcrowding of cities also led to more coherent town and country planning framework especially in the UK and the US.
One such planning framework is Ebenezer Howard’s “Garden City” model which set about new, self-contained towns serviced by modern mass transit with improved housing standards and significantly lowered residential densities.
The housing system comprises a series of intersecting features and characteristics.
There are two important features the social and economic significance in the housing system.
Social significance of housing
It is evident housing holds significant social benefits which distinguishes it from other commodities.
At a personal level, moving into the city to take up study or work can be quite daunting, the first priority is seeking a place to live.
Basic shelter is one of the fundamental human need.
In the United Kingdom 96 per cent of the people who took part in Destitution in the UK study agree that having a home is the absolute essential for people to acquire.
Furthermore, the quality and condition of housing also matter and not just about the building.
Paramount to the well-being of the homeowner or the occupant is the connection between having a good home with proper health standards.
As outlined earlier unhealthy living conditions in Britain and the US triggered public campaigns to better create, rebuild and manage healthier cities implemented through regulations and standards that improved the physical conditions of housing.
In the 21st Century, there is still renewed interest to greatly improve connectivity between building a good home to its associated built environment.
A house is potentially a home where found within its neighbourhood setting is both the social characteristics and physical amenities inclusive of walk paths, playgrounds, local shops, services and schools etc.
Housing is intricately connected to the urban setting.
Which means that it is more than just to purchase or rent a house as a market transaction.
But it is also about the kind of opportunity housing provides for the consumer to other local public goods and services.
This helps explain why issues about the social dimensions of the neighbourhood setting are often debated themes in academic and policy literature about housing and planning.
Economic significance of housing
Housing is important to the economy.
The housing construction or investment sector alone is important contributing between 2.5 per cent and 13.5 per cent in GDP.
In countries like Australia the share of the economy is higher due to higher demographic and urban growth rate than countries with low growth rate.
However, in countries like the UK with low urban growth rate there might be high levels of expenditure on refurbishment, conversion or extension alone.
Housing is a substantial sector in the economy meaning that it has a significant voice in the government policy arena.
Amidst being prone to speculative booms and busts in the market housing is capital intensive in that in engages a fixed asset with a very long-life span.
Although housing can be deemed as an expensive capital asset it lasts for a long time.
Consumption may differ between renting and owning, where in the former the landlord invests in the asset while the consumer signs a periodic contract to occupy the house in return for paying a regular rental fee.
Planning and housing in the PNG context
The current urban growth rate of PNG is around three per cent which means there could be around a 20 per cent urban population, with a million over urban residents, within the next five years.
The challenge remains for maximized and equitable urbanisation benefits at the different levels of government.
An important point of observation is the growth of unplanned settlements and illegal settlements in the city.
One reason is the lack of good City Development Plans to prevent the growth of unplanned or illegal settlements in the peri-urban fringes of cities. Often encroaching on state and customary lands.
Another observation, cities like Port Moresby and Lae can develop into future “mega-hubs” of the country.
This means demand for public housing and the private rental market continuous to grow.
A key variable is the unregulated housing system and real estate industry in the country.
In retrospect public housing might be provided by local authorities, through agencies set up by governments, or voluntary non-profit organisations.
Government housing corporations and agencies are purposely established to provide secure, decent housing at less than market rent to households in need with relatively low incomes.
It seems in PNG that has not been the case.
By contrast, private rented housing is open to almost anyone with some variations such as tenancy terms and rent increases.
Housing the city, where is the future heading to?
Comparative studies on the house building processes suggest that there remains considerable variation to many working-class families or individuals living in the city to access first home ownership schemes (FHS).
Housing market instability seems to attract a lot of interest in the media.
In some countries high and rising house prices is considered as a form of increasing wealth and economic success. However, the rational argument says, people are not well off when house prices are higher.
Also rising house prices often disadvantages young people or young families who are priced out of the market, forced to live in insecure or expensive private rented housing.
Many are unable to accumulate wealth or remain longer in parental homes.
Port Moresby’s housing dilemma continuous to produce newer and more gentrified communities such as the Kennedy and Sky View Estates.
There are applications of restrictive zoning mechanisms with the key focus on gentrification ‘the process whereby higher income/status groups tend to colonise newly favoured or redeveloped areas and displace lower-income residents and break up their established, supportive communities’ (Gurran and Bramley 2017).
This often creates isolated communities exclusive and excluding, through gating and security measures far from well planned, mixed and diversified neighbourhoods with well-connected transport and land use plans to key service centres.
In short, there is a need to improve the housing and planning laws in the country, including all immediate, long term expansion of all urbanisation policies and strategies including physical planning regulations.
To appropriately carryout the implementation of key urban plans that will ensure that government efforts, resources and programs are focused on priority needs of the urban areas such as the provision of affordable homes and access to first home ownership.
In addition, the work of urban planners is very important because they provide both written and verbal urban planning policy advice to national, provincial and district governments on urban development growth issues.
Engagement in preparation of well-balanced urban development and strategic concept plans will give effect toward developing well-balanced urban communities.
- Edward Pulagis (PIA, assoc.) is a graduate planner at the University of Sydney, NSW