“As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.”

Woody Guthrie

The photo is from a Haleola’ili’ānapono in Honolulu (living building on correctly managed land). It is of the materials delivery system initially to get construction materials up the hill where the house sits and now used for getting the week’s Costco shop into the net-zero house – a home that produces 100% of its own energy and water. We toured the remarkable home at the end of our celebration of UN World Habitat Day.

During the conference on affordable housing, there was constant reference to land. Land price is one of the key drivers of housing costs. One myth is there is a shortage of land. There is a shortage of properly managed land. Vacant lots and empty building dot our landscapes while new “luxury” condo buildings go up for international investors to park their money.

In her message to the conference, Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif, UN Habitat Executive Director asked us to add an “R” to the paradigm of Reduce-Reuse-Recycle. Rethink – rethink how we use our land and the reason we develop real estate. Our problems are not intractable. In fact the solutions are quite simple. They may be difficult to execute, but our future depends on our ability to build communities rather than exclusive enclaves. We must rethink virtually every policy and system put in place since the “Me” Decade. Let’s all take action today to respect, renew and reclaim our land and our communities.

Bill Blog 2

UN Habitat City Prosperity Initiative

Notes from FIABCI Meetings at MIPIM in Cannes

1.   Cities are growing in size 5 times faster than the population. Lower land prices lead to growth on the urban edge. This leads to a reduction in density across the city. Soon there are no economies of scale for public services as the city moves further out from the center, no jobs in the periphery and thus long commutes and environmental degradation. This in turn leads to a cycle of economic risk.
2.   Cities need to be aware that urbanization will continue and take advantage with better growth planning. What is the quality of growth? In many cities, public space is being lost to private developers at a rate of 15 to 20% per year. This leads to a lower quality of life. Data shows short term gains in property value, however over the longer term data shows that the loss of public space leads to a loss in property values.
3.   Public subsidies for housing continue to shrink. Informal housing is now more than 14% in many cities across the world. In many cities two families are living in 24 sq meters of space. For the lowest income groups, 25% have no formal access to housing – even with public housing subsidies.