An Approach to Housing Development


An Approach to Housing Development by David Macfie

In SA, housing the poor is obviously a huge issue. All of the housing targets are missed and there is a lot of corruption involved that messes up the allocation process. So I was giving thought to this problem, specifically relating to removal and replacement of squatter camps and “townships” full of shacks. Note: Diagrams at the end of the article. (Click to enlarge)

I tried to address all of the following:

  1. Creating employment and developing skills
  2. Building better quality “RDP” houses
  3. Incorporating infrastructure such as communications, roads, electricity, water, sanitation, parks and gardens, allotments and recreational facilities
  4. Scalability so that additional buildings can be added in a way that doesn’t involve breaking stuff that has already been completed
  5. Resource Management of materials and human resources

I wasn’t too fussed about space because I think we have plenty of land.

Overall Concept

I first tackled the design of the towns or villages that would be built and came up with the concept in the attached diagrams. The “Onion Ring” design is based on the following design concepts.

  1. The Town Center contains:
    • A Shopping Center or mall.
    • A School complex catering for grades 0 to matric.
    • A Library situated in the school complex.
    • Sports Fields and Facilities usable by the School Complex and the residents of the “Onion”. Fields and Facilities should cater for major sporting codes such as Soccer, Rugby, Netball, Basketball, Hockey, Athletics and Swimming as a start.
    • A Post Office and a Police station.
    • A Clinic.
    • And anything else that makes sense.
  2. The Roads infrastructure should have circles at each intersection rather than robots, cycle lanes on both sides of the road, then servitudes also on both sides of the road to carry infrastructure such as sewage, water and electricity as well as infrastructure for telephones and internet. (Fibre) Pavements should also be there at the side of the servitudes farthest from the road.
  3. The housing “Rings” border the Ring Roads infrastructure and minor roads will connect to each house in the ring. The same servitude ideas will apply to get infrastructure to each house. All buildings should be built to be “green” using reusable energy sources to power geysers and so on.
  4. The Green Area “Rings” should include areas for allotments, orchards, Parks and gardens and recreation areas like skateboard rinks.
    • In the old days in England, particularly in the poorer areas, land was set aside for “allotments”. Here people could rent a piece of land where they could grow enough fruit and vegetables to sustain an average family through the year. Some people weren’t keen on the work involved, but many managed to feed their families consistently. Hydroponics could be added to this idea and education and training could be provided to get people going with on-going support along the way. Allotments could be provided in several places throughout thesehuman settlements so that people didn’t have far to go to reach their plot and people should be taught how to harvest in such a way as to get seeds for next year as well as produce for this one. Other examples in this area are “Fish Farms” and Game Farming within the green areas between onions.
  5. Each Onion is designed in repeating sets of rings round the Town center – a circle road Ring, a Housing Ring and a Green Areas ring. There should be repeating sets of these rings – as many as can be supported by the “Town Center”.
  6. Each Onion should be “self-supporting” in terms of schooling, shopping, infrastructure and governance. Each onion should have its own “Town Council” of voluntary, resident, elected individuals who will run the services of the Onion. Services should be provided by people who are resident in the Onion’s community. People working in the Town Centre should also be resident in the community as far as is possible.
  7. Expansion will take place Onion by Onion in the pattern shown on the second diagram. Green areas between onions should be used for livestock and agriculture to further support the community and provide a revenue source.
  8. One advantage of this design is that the infrastructure design is based on known numbers once the specifics of the Town Centre have been pinned down so expansion is done on a modular basis and existing infrastructure is not affected. Town planning therefore becomes easier. Also expansion doesn’t require a whole new set of planning – it uses the same model for each onion.

Resource Management

This topic is key to the whole idea. Obviously it cannot be handled the same way as it is currently. The present system is far too slow. It is beset with management issues, lack of available resources, particularly people and skills shortages so the new approach must take account of these obstacles. My idea is based on partnerships with carefully chosen suppliers. The main points are as follows.

  1. National Government departments must agree to the responsibility of staffing the Police station, the clinic and the Post Office.
  2. Where-ever possible all jobs in the Onion should go to people who live in the Onion. This gives each and every individual “skin in the game” in respect of all things that happen in the Onion. Where outsiders are hired, part of their contract should be to train and mentor their own successor from within the community.
  3. Each Onion will have only one Prime Contractor and a set of approved sub-contractors to handle to work tasks.
  4. Each Onion will have an approved set of materials suppliers with carefully negotiated supply contracts that guarantee required quantities and delivery requirements. Rates will be agreed up front and frozen for the duration of the contract for the Onion.
  5. All labor Contractors will have, as part of the agreement, a number of additional responsibilities:
    • The responsibility for selecting suitable candidates from the local community to train in all trades required to build an Onion – bricklayers, plumbers, electricians, cable joiners, quantity surveyors, foremen, project managers and so on.
    • The responsibility of setting up training programs that result in certification approved by the NQF.
    • The responsibility of employing, managing and mentoring these candidates through the construction of the Onion.
    • The responsibility of maximizing the local contingent of staffing for the project. NOTE that the candidates chosen will be allocated houses within the Onion so that they have a vested interest in the outcome of the project.
    • The prime contractors must have an incentive to create Self- Sustaining teams that, over the first couple of projects, build the skills to finally be able to take the responsibility of “Prime Contracting” – in other words the community will eventually be able to take over the expansion program of their own community. The Initial Prime Contractor must accept that his contract contains the agreement of his own redundancy. Once the town has reached its final size, the community project teams will be available for other projects both within the nation or in greater South Africa so future earnings potential exists. (I could see a future where the approach and the teams could be “sold” to elsewhere in South Africa and the African continent to invigorate the delivery of housing to replace shacks where-ever a need is present).
    • Conceptually these teams could be subsidiary companies of the original Prime Contractor or they could form an independent company or a series of independent companies.
  6. One advantage of this approach is that each Onion would end up with a fully trained set of artisans who live in the Onion and who will continue to do business there – again reinforcing the self-sustainability of the Onion.
  7. Obviously, the speed of development will increase as more Self-Sustaining teams are created as each will become the Prime Contractor in another Onion.
  8. The initial speed of development will depend on how many initial Prime Contractors are selected.