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The iShack: Quick, But Sustainable, Fix for South Africa's Housing Crisis

In a project initiated by the Sustainability Institute, and backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, development experts are taking innovative steps to address South Africa’s housing shortage.
November 8, 2012, 5am PST | Erica Gutiérrez
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As South Africa experiences some of the highest rates of urbanization in the world, housing demand is far outstripping supply, and the government's housing backlog continues to worsen. One enterprising solution? Reach for the low hanging fruit by upgrading temporary housing settlements, reports Emma Bryce.

Though informal settlements are often composed of improvised dwellings made from scrap, these are what many South African residents proudly call home. "In fact, the level of organization and sense of community that exist in informal settlements after many years of growth challenges the perception of outsiders that they are simply chaotic blots on the landscape," Bryce observes.

Rather than destroy and rebuild, the iShack or "improved shack" aims to address one of the main issues afflicting residents - the lack of energy sources. Through a flexible design, the prototype equips "informal homes with solar panels and energy-saving features that make them more livable," reports Bryce. She adds, "[o]f course, the premise behind these upgrades is that the settlements are here to stay."

The iShack project is expected to run for a trial period of a year and half, during which time 100 more prototypes will be installed in Cape Town's largest informal settlement, Enkanini. Depending on the project's success, it may be expanded to parts of Ghana and Tanzania.

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Published on Monday, November 5, 2012 in The New York Times
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