A Missing Chapter: Housing Development In The Global South

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View from our Santiago Apartment photo by Travis Alber is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Note the non-traditional medium-rise apartment housing in Santiago, Chile. Not necessarily a product of westernized free enterprise influence.

If you’ve been reading affordablehousingaction.org for a while, you might wonder why there are so few stories about housing in the global south. There hasn’t always been much to report as the field is often characterized by stories of shantytowns and favelas, sometimes contrasted with large residences built in the colonial era. Łukasz Stanek’s article, which is published in e-flux architecture, tells of a different kind of housing altogether.

Stanek shares information about housing developments in a host of countries and the financial, technical and logistical support that helped to build them.

Why don’t we know about these developments? Perhaps one reason is that all of the support came from communist countries. Stanek argues that we have a lopsided view of urbanization in developing countries because this part of the story has been excluded in western thinking.

The article covers a lot of territory and a broad time frame, beginning in the 1940’s, and extending to the present day. For example:

  • The domestic post war housing program in Russia was founded on modular construction. There were more than 200 house building factories dedicated to this purpose. The neighbourood housing blocks included spaces for social supports.
  • Russia and its allies deployed technical expertise to the global south, which in turn influenced the shape of cities and housing there. The experts were directed by local leadership.
  • A range of instruments was used to finance the supports. These included loans, commodity trade, barter and gifts.

Western narratives typically credit free-market practices for the economic advances in the global south. The development of modern housing in these countries, together with the growth of economically important construction industries, has not received attention in the west. Stanek suggests that this is both a more believable and balanced — not to say politically troublesome —  foundation for understanding urbanization in the global south.

For much more on this story of housing and urban development, read in e-flux architecture: Gift, Credit, Barter: Architectural Mobilities in Global Socialism