How can appropriate housing enhance human development?

A decent home.

Human development is a complex term that has been used in multiple contexts and in many different ways, relating to a wide range of issues. From the definition of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (which defines human development as concerning from physiological needs to self-actualization, in a pyramid-style hierarchy) to more complex perspectives, human development concerns the rights of people, which go from basic physical needs to intangible aspects such as dignity and community interaction. One mainstream perspective sustains that the many elements of sustainable human development are organised into three dimensions: social, economic and environmental. For example, the social sphere of human development refers to issues such as social integration, education and stability. Poverty is usually under the economic sphere, and the environmental dimension includes the degradation of the natural habitat, to name a few examples. Some issues such as health or education may concern more than one area.

As stated by organisations such as Habitat International and UNDP, housing and sustainable human development are closely linked together, since housing can either enhance or degrade human development in each of the mentioned areas. A decent home is the basis of the possibility for many people to obtain security and prosperity, as well as other basic needs such as privacy, health, safety and social integration. This explains the essential role that adequate housing can play on the achievement of sustainable human development.

Housing solutions to enhance human development: some examples

The World Habitat Awards are an international competition that aims to identify, recognise and support housing initiatives addressing multiple aspects of human development. This is based on a broad understanding of housing and its many connections with sustainable human development, and on the belief that initiatives in this field can be part of a wider approach to enhance people’s lives.

Through the Awards, several initiatives have been identified that address one or more issues of human development. For example, focusing on the economic side of human development, the Awards have put forward housing solutions which tackle poverty through promoting housing affordability (Healthy Natural, Low-energy and Inexpensive Houses, Belarus), or which enhance income-generation opportunities (IGLOO project, France), to name a few. Working on the social aspect, the Awards have recognised projects that promote social inclusion (Building Partnerships to Eradicate Poverty, Poland), and address the needs of vulnerable groups (Social Housing in Supportive Environments (SHSE), Serbia). Finally, regarding the environmental side of human development, initiatives have provided solutions that contribute to environmental sustainability and energy efficiency (Sint Antoniuspleintje, Belgium), or that promote technologies and materials that minimise the impact on the environment while ensuring affordability (Cheap and Clean Electric House Heating for the Poor in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan). These examples demonstrate not only the importance of housing to improve the lives of people in multiple ways, but also the opportunities that exist to contribute towards sustainable human development through comprehensive approaches that consider the human habitat in its complexity.

By Ms Mariana Gallo
International Programme Officer
Building and Social Housing Foundation

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