Urban Planning and the Housing Industry

Exploring the framework for a “Balanced Development” model


Ramses Rashidi

©2008 Center for Balanced Development  (www.cbdus.org)


In the last article we talked about fragmented development trends, the growing need for energy sources and the oil industry. Here, we are going to further examine the fragmented nature of growth and development in modern times. Specifically we are going to focus on urban planning, the housing industry and how it’s changing the dynamics of our social identity.


Urban Growth and Fragmentation in Modern Civilization

We have come a long way since the days of living in the caves. Indeed, looking at the earliest history of civilization, we can see that our primitive lifestyle and the survival mode of existence was very similar to that of the animal kingdom. The evolution of human species has been truly spectacular. We have evolved from a hunting and gathering way of life within our habitat on earth to traveling to other planets. Our progress and development, however, has unfolded in stages and through thousands of years. The development of the tribe, which is still in existence in some parts of the world, signifies the early awakening and realization that living collectively is far more conducive to security, sharing responsibilities and being able to achieve more as a group. The emergence of townships, city-state and nations further testifies to the positive experience of community-building and expanding the circle of unity to achieve higher levels of progress and human development. However, in the recent history, as civilizations has become more sophisticated and as the concept of collective-living has reached mega dimensions, we are experiencing a level of  fragmentation in the social structure that is somewhat similar to the cave life. The chaotic and stressful life in large urban centers, is pushing us to socially withdraw and to find peace and comfort away from society and in the privacy of our homes. We are rapidly embracing a trend to be more and more reclusive. This trend is further intensified by emphasis on individualism and the increase in criminal activities in the modern civilization.


To make matters worse, the urban planning schemes, influenced by special interest groups and lack of attention to the accompanying social developments, are pushing us further towards greater and greater imbalance and dysfunctional communities. Meanwhile, traffic, pollution and stress are taking their toll on our lives and the environment. The migration of rural population to the big cities in search of opportunities for work and advancement also adds to the list of challenges facing our urban centers. According to the United Nations Habitat report; already half of the world population live in urban areas and the trend is on the rise. We are witnessing the creation of ever-expanding ghettos, slums and homeless folks in the shadow of major metropolitan areas. People living in these areas often lack good nutrition, clean water and proper sanitation which, in turn, pose a growing threat to their own health and the development of epidemics among the masses. The ghetto dwellers also represent a social fragment that the system oftentimes denies and ignores. All too often, they simply do not officially exist.


Today’s large cities, which are supposed to be the pinnacle of modern achievement and the source of national pride, are in fact excellent examples of social and economic inefficiencies institutional neglect, and inequality. The ecological balance in these areas, most often, is totally off the scale. Clean air, water, sewage, trash, infestation and numerous issues facing large urban areas keep getting more difficult to address. In reality, we are just trying to patch things up and hope for the best.  The Social balance in these mega cities is not any better. As the spiritual nature of the human beings and the need for association is challenged, the social structure is starting to come apart at the seams. This rift is highly visible in the number of cases that are being handled in the busy court system as well as estrangement and apathy which has become all too commonplace these days.


The Housing Industry and the Global Disparity

Having looked at the urban life in the modern times, we turn our attention to one of the most basic of human needs – the need for shelter. No matter where we live, as human beings, we need a nest where we can build our family relations and where we can socialize with our friends and neighbors. The concept of home has been in existence throughout most of recorded history. It represents cultural identity as well as personal necessity and a social norm.


Today, home has a different meaning. It’s a status symbol. It represents personal achievement and success. It serves to protect the individual much like a “fortress”. A modern home is a place where we hide from the hectic pace of the contemporary life. Often times, we don’t know much about our neighbors aside from occasional greetings. In the more affluent parts, we might drive into and out of our homes, totally avoiding any kind of social contact in the process.


Modern man has also made “home” as a means of speculation and investment. Driven by supply and demand, homes are now seen as a commodity that have helped numerous individuals to amass riches and join the ranks of the “lucky” and the successful. In this process, we also see some young people that struggle to buy a home and then experience the trauma of a foreclosure as the economy takes a down turn. In fact, the next generations will be even more hard pressed to buy a home as speculation and the rising cost of owning a home skyrockets.


Against this backdrop of life in the developed countries, we see a global shortage of housing and basic shelter across the entire planet. Whether we are talking about the refugees of the war-torn areas or the young professionals and workers of developing countries, there is a great and growing global disparity when it comes to having a home and the basic standards of living. For millions, home has increasingly become merely a life-time dream that may never come true. We are indeed in the midst of a global housing crisis.


Urban Planning and Housing in a Balanced Development Model

Obviously, urban planning and housing play a major role in creating balance within a society. Here, we must realize that the wishes and aspirations of the individual should be harmonized with the well-being of the community - preferably the global community - and the environment. In developing modern urban regions as well as the rural districts, the respective planning department must include criteria that would ensure the proper utilization of natural resources, transportation efficiency, harmony with nature and inclusion of green space, allocation of public grounds, including plazas, parks, schools, playgrounds and designation of commercial and industrial areas.


The concept of home in a balanced development model, serves the individual as well as the community. It is a place that nurtures creativity and learning, unites the family and friends, brings the neighborhood closer together, respects its natural surroundings, produces less waste and serves the comfort of its inhabitants. Home is a sacred ground and a family temple that need to be respected. It belongs to us while we are on this physical plain of existence and serves our journey through this transitory stage of life. According to the American-Indian old tradition of ownership – the land belongs to me where I put up my tent and to Mother Nature when I’m gone.


In the next series of articles we will further examine the growth of agriculture and food production industries.


Ramses Rashidi (ramses@cbdus.org) is the founder and director of Center for Balanced Development.

The center is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing resources and services to foster global balance in social, personal, ecological and economic development.