HOUSING BY PEOPLE: Towards Autonomy in Building Environments by John Turner

HOUSING BY PEOPLE: Towards Autonomy in Building Environments

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John Turner, who has helped people house themselves in Peru and studied American self-help projects, is in the line of Patrick Geddes (City Development, 1904) and Lewis Mumford as a friend of organic communities and grass-roots housing; laterally, he takes the anarchist approach of Paul Goodman, Ivan Illich, and E. F. Schumacher: what people do themselves is more efficient, more effective, more enduring. Government housing schemes--ubiquitous in Turner's native Britain--and private development are alike, he finds, in that they squander capital and non-renewable resources without providing satisfactory, economical housing: witness the collapse of the Pruitt-Igoe project in St. Louis, the insurrection at New York's Co-op City, other debacles in Britain. More devastating still is the result of exporting urban-industrial expertise and central planning to low-income countries: in Mexico City, ""some of the poorest dwellings, materially speaking, were clearly the best, socially speaking, and some, but not all of the highest standard dwellings, were the most socially oppressive."" That a jerry-built shack can serve a family better than a modern house is due to the number of variables that measure value: location and access to people and places; security of tenure and transferability; privacy and comfort. Together they argue for ""loose-fit,"" locally administered housing systems, whether in Third World squatter colonies or run-down British neighborhoods; and so does the greater economy to be derived from community resourcefulness than from industrial productivity. Turner follows through with guiding principles and a step-by-step program; but his book, which subsumes and updates much previous writing in this vein, will make an impact on laymen by the questions it addresses. Why is it that ""so many houses over 400 years old are in good condition, while so many less than 40 years old [are ready] to be demolished?"" Why do the professionals who tear down slums repair a section for themselves? Why is Brasilia a stopover and Mykonos a second home?

Pub Date: Feb. 22nd, 1977
Publisher: Pantheon