Planning for high density in low-income settlements. Four case studies from Karachi
In many large Asian cities, planners have begun to clear informal inner-city settlements and replace them with commercial and middle-class neighbourhoods, seeking to project an image of modernity and prosperity to foreign investors. Low-income residents of these settlements are often relocated to high-rise apartments on city peripheries. Evidence suggests that households in low-income apartment blocks experience more social problems than their counterparts in informal settlements and have more difficulty buying homes or running home businesses. Thus, low-income communities may grow poorer when relocated to apartments.
Governments justify the construction of high-rise apartments on the grounds that it is the only way to achieve high densities while adhering to building bylaws. Here we show that, on the contrary, planned settlements of individual houses could meet — and in some cases considerably exceed — the density requirements for low-income apartments in Karachi, Pakistan, while improving the physical and social environment. We conducted case studies of four low- to lower-middle-income housing sites in Karachi, including three settlements of small plots and one apartment complex. We then carried out a hypothetical redesign exercise to explore how high-density settlements could be constructed on these sites without compromising on living conditions. Although settlements of small plots can grow to high densities as residents expand their houses, apartment blocks are more lucrative for developers because there is more housing for sale immediately after construction (i.e. more value is added per unit of land). We discussed this with developers and designed two small-plot settlements whose houses could grow incrementally, based on their proposals, which would represent profitable alternatives to apartments.