Jun 21, 2010

Shadow Cities - the cities of tommorw



The Building and Zoning Codes can be quite complicated, just ask anyone who's waited in line at the Honolulu Dept of Planning & Permitting to get a building permit.

At AKDS, our goal is to simplify the permit process and walk the fine line between code compliance and reality.

As a member of the (ICC) International Code Council, the organization that writes the Building Codes, we were recently polled in a Strategic Planning Survey.

As an international organization, the ICC's mission would seem counter to the trend that a growing % of the Global population has no need for a Building Code. On a worldwide basis, a growing % of people live in "Shadow Cities," clusters of make-shift structures, some built over night.

In Honolulu, we have seen a broad range of homes in various states of disrepair. Some people built with permits (and presumably to the standards established in the Building Code) and some without. The regulatory barriers to obtaining permits and gov't approvals will only become more burdensome over time. This is expected to reduce the supply of housing and increase the price of housing (both for tenants and land owners).

In Turkey, the gov't acknowledges there are too many people and not enough resources. Shelter is the priority, not Code Compliance. So the people there build homes called Gecekondu or Mushroom Houses (see pic on right). Under Turkish law, if the home can be built overnight, it can legally remain without a permit. [see also Robert Neuwirth's book: "Shadow Cities"]

This is an example of what happens when the there is insufficient affordable housing; people will build their own. When Demand for shelter exceeds Supply, increasing numbers of households will create their own. The Building Inspector then, becomes little more than a peddler of luxuries and lexicon, who's purpose eludes the day-to-day existence of the common person.

What role should Building Codes have in our future and in our neighborhoods? (And how about Urban Planning?!) 

For what it's worth, here's my feedback to the ICC survey:
"SIMPLIFY the codes. If people (even professionals) cannot understand it, they cannot comply. Too many details, too many requirements = greater non-compliance.

It would help to have a hierarchy of safety provisions in the Code. Not just a mountain of requirements.

Also, a majority of people in the world cannot afford a conventional home/shelter. A growing % of the global population lives in squatter villages or makeshift communities, and they have NO NEED for a Building Code. What will the ICC do to remain relevant in the future?"