By Dr Andrew Jones
Rapid urbanisation is a defining characteristic of our time. By 2050 more than two thirds of the world’s population will reside in cities. If trends continue unchecked, we can expect humanity to have become almost exclusively urban within decades. This unprecedented transformation is also highly uneven, with most of the future urban growth concentrated in Africa and Asia.
Urbanisation is not bad per se – it can be a vital catalyst for economic, cultural and societal improvement. But rapid and unplanned urbanisation presents dire human and environmental consequences, not least the challenge of where so many new city dwellers will live. In many parts of Africa and Asia urbanisation has become synonymous with informal settlements, with an estimated 40% of the world’s urban explosion happening in slums.
For families living in these conditions the cost is high. Children living in slums are almost twice as likely to contract malaria than children living in quality homes. Those children are also at significantly greater risk of poor mental health, sexual violence and a lack of education.
Humanity’s Greatest Opportunities
The affordable housing crisis is one of humanity’s greatest challenges, but it is also one of our greatest opportunities. Enabling hard working families to access decent, safe accommodation that offers more than simply shelter. It creates a financial, economic, social and cultural asset which has the potential to break the poverty cycle for good.
Affordable urban housing also brings a wealth of wider benefits, for example every house built creates five new jobs whilst every £1 invested can stimulate at least £2.50 of economic output that could help liberate a £13 trillion global market.
Wealth of Wider Benefits
Against this backdrop, affordable housing has received heightened attention from policymakers, urban planners, investors and academics. Despite the urgent need, the problem of delivering affordable housing at scale for people on low incomes is far from solved.
The challenge ahead is vast, but it is also an untapped opportunity. Reall is spearheading an affordable housing movement which needs political will and financial innovation over the long haul to narrow the current 1.2 billion housing deficit. These efforts will be essential in determining whether the megacities of the future will be fit for all of us to inhabit.