Review: City Talk II tackles the changing face of housing

Last Monday, a hoard of urbanists sat in front of their computers to discuss the changing face of housing as part of our second #citytalk tweetchat (no idea what a tweetchat is? – more info here). Hosted by This Big City and Future Cape Town, our second chat featured Kasey Klimes of Secret Republic and Gavin Silber of Cape Town’s Social Justice Coalition as special guests, alongside countless other eager tweeters.

The discussion was even more fast-paced than our first chat, with the eight questions we discussed reaching over 44,000 people. Don’t worry if you missed out – we’ve taken a look back over the chat to share our favourite comments.

We kicked things off by asking how housing is changing in your city, with @JeremySenko, @urbanchords and myself noting that newer developments were producing smaller houses in Vancouver, Chicago and London, respectively. @HumeStreet commented that Dublin was still struggling with ‘the fall out of crash’, and @health_data raised the issue of ‘endless upgrades and lots of building for the super-rich in New York City. Thankfully, it wasn’t all negative. @CaptainPlanIt praised the atmosphere in Columbus, Ohio, due to there being ‘a ton of apartments going up in our downtown & lots of discussions around walkability’.

We moved on to ask how governments can make the most of their limited social housing budgets. @GavinSilber emphasised the importance of spending wisely, noting ’ the South African government spends millions on capital expenditure, but very little on maintenance’. Community engagement was also discussed, with Gavin saying ‘a lack of meaningful community engagement leads to investing in things communities don’t need, and prevents buy-in’. @KaseyKlimes commented that there may be a bigger issue than budgets, stating that ‘in the United States, government  involvement in housing has a long tradition of only making matters worse’. @JonasKayla raised the issue of collaboration, commenting on how Toronto is considering partnering with not-for-profits in the provision of affordable housing.

Getting empty properties back into use was our next topic of discussion, with @DrivingMissD suggesting a listing of all empty properties in a city should be made readily available. @KaseyKlimes noted that empty properties owned by a city ‘could be used as grants to talented & entrepreneurial individuals’, something @elyanaja agreed with, saying ‘if we could also provide them with some materials (paint, etc) they could build their homes.’

We then asked for some innovative examples of housing provision, for which Joe Peach of @thisbigcity praised a development in Rotterdam where the shell of a street was built and sold, allowing owners to design the interiors themselves. However, this development targeted the wealthy, causing @GavinSilber to say ‘the best approaches are mixed – combination of upgrading slums, providing new serviced sites, & low-income homes.’

Our next topic of discussion was whether home ownership would become a thing of the past, with @livablecities stating ‘it’s hard for 20-somethings to even dream of owning a house in London in the next 10 years’. @CaptainPlanIt said ‘I think it’s going to be less popular. Population is just too mobile and debt-ridden to keep buying homes’. @sustaincities agreed that attitudes were changing, saying ‘as much as Generation Y likes renting, homeownership will never go away. nor should it – creates certainty in the market’. @urbdispatch noted that home ownership was evolving, adding ‘home ownership will never change, but the idea the the “American dream” is to own a home is changing.’

We then got on to the complicated subject of gentrification, asking ‘is it a bad thing?’ @thisbigcity noted that ‘cities have always evolved and will continue to’, something @sustaincities broadly agreed with. ‘Responsible gentrification’ was raised by @what_up_son – an idea which received much endorsement. @KaseyKlimes summed up the concept (excuse the pun), saying ’ Some math: Gentrification – expulsion = equitable revitalization.’ @JonasKayla focused on the positive, praising how it ‘has done alot for lots of older neighbourhoods and heritage buildings’.

The challenge of making cities desirable places to live for families was next up, followed by a flood of tweets mentioning the importance of quality schooling in city centres. @krstype put it well, saying ‘eventually the savvy young people that moved to the city will have children. Great schools will keep those people in the city’. Access to green space was also mentioned more than once, though @JonasKayla presented a broader interpretation, calling ‘a distinct sense of place’ critical in creating ‘vibrant places’ that are appealing to families.

We wrapped up our second #citytalk by asking ‘what will housing be like in 2050?’ @GarethCPearson didn’t hope for much, imagining ‘diverse, livable, 5-storey, rooftop food-growing, bike-riding cities’. @DrivingMissD added to the list, asking for ‘collaborative community consumption + smarter, greener home-school-work systems’. @KaseyKlimes predicted ’ a natural social, economic, and environmental equilibrium. By choice or force, we will be there.’ @Oslolso spoiled the fun with a much needed reality-check, saying  ‘What we want/like now will not exist in 2050. Cities keep evolving & we will always have different views on wants’.

If this summary has wet your appetite, you can follow the entire discussion here. And if you missed this #citytalk, come join us on March 14th when we will be discussing ‘urban identity’ with Philips Livable Cities.