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2009, 12 oktober
The Stanford Housing Conference
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Résumé and Press release.

In the weekend of Friday 2nd and Saturday 3rd of October a conference was held at Stanford Valley Farm on the development of sustainable low income housing for the village of Stanford. The venue was organised by the Stanford Housing and Development Co-operative (the SHDC) supported by Netherlands based architect and researcher Frederik Groos of Groos & co architects. The SHDC aims at a development model for the future of the village of Stanford that integrates housing with social and economical development. Central to the development concept of the SHDC is the idea that the acute need for decent housing should be aligned with the conservation of the unique natural and heritage qualities of the village and region.

The aim of the conference was to map out possible strategies towards integrated development against the light of the housing delivery backlog and the quality of the delivery of low income housing in Stanford (and elsewhere) so far. On Sunday 4th of October, directly following the conference a workshop was organised. The workshop aimed at formulating a rough development model on the basis of the information gathered at the conference. Key role-players in the design and development of low-income housing were invited to present their finished projects and vision for future developments, based on the issues of integration, socio-economic development and urban design. Amongst others were real estate developer Amor Strauss (TCN), architects Luyanda Mpahlwa (MMA) and Heinrich Wolff (NoeroWollf architects), urban designer Ndaba Ndzombane (Mplan) and urban and housing design researcher and educator Amira Osman (University of Pretoria). More than 40 participants attended, from the local region as well as professionals from abroad.

The participants presented projects and alternative approaches to the conventional housing delivery model that, as participants agreed, perpetuates social and racial segregation. Issues like densification, the need for spatial diversity and hierarchy and mixed-use urban patterns were visualised and discussed. Another issue raised was how to better incorporate informal strategies into the formal delivery model of housing, in order to initiate a process of incremental growth and adaptation to unforeseen circumstances. Architect Heinrich Wolff for example showed how one could build decent houses that allow for changing patterns of use.

Frederik Groos presented a draft development approach based on a housing model that enables incremental growth of the individual house. The urban pattern is based on a rectangular grid that allows for incorporating other functions like small workshops and studios but also for agricultural activities. The provincial road was presented as a major barrier that should preferably not be crossed. Hermanus based architect Oliver Wolf (Wolf & Wolf architects) presented an initiative to develop a Centre for Appropriate Technology (or CAT). The CAT is envisaged as being a laboratory for green development with educational and information facilities, as well as a production plant for sustainable (appropriate) products for the building industry and other sectors. The CAT should be a development hub and catalyst for the production of houses, local food and small businesses. The plans for housing and CAT were presented as interdependent and contributing to the economic and social development of the entire Stanford community. The overall aim is to work towards an integrated approach to community development through housing and sustainable economic development.
Some participants criticised the presented approach as focussing too much on the housing delivery as such. The conventional delivery of low-income houses creates a monoculture of shelter without contributing to meaningful place making and the creation of identity, let alone job opportunities. By lumping together the low-income development, the presented model would not distance itself convincingly from that mono-functional model. Amor Strauss emphasised that financing mixed-use low-income developments is a major hurdle that will not easily be overcome.

During the workshop an alternative approach was suggested which would focus more on integrating the historical layout grid of the village in the new housing development. More emphasis should be given to creating job opportunities through incorporating existing qualities into the development model. One such opportunity is the provincial road, which now skirts the village and, in its present form, hardly contributes to the dynamics of the village of Stanford. Slowing down the road combined with a new development on the east side of the provincial road would create a different dynamic. New commercial activity can be used to enliven the road and can easily be combined with new (social) housing developments. The creation of job opportunity would coincide with the development of new housing, which will benefit both. This zone of economic opportunity will be crossed by a natural ribbon of wetland which has the potential of being further developed as a recreational zone. The provincial road and the wetlands were suggested as the lifelines of Stanford. Participants agreed on the necessity of further investigating spatial and programmatic opportunities before finalising an urban design proposal or related housing typologies.

The workshop concluded that this initiative would not succeed without strong structuring capacity. Ward Councillor Allen Berry of Stanford, who was present at the workshop, supports the presented ambition and is prepared to investigate into accommodating the vision presented at the workshop into the municipal policy. A steering committee should be created to align the ambitions of the SHDC with the Spatial Development Framework and to communicate with stakeholders.

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