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Call for Papers: CFP RC21 Antwerp: Rethinking the urban housing shortage in the global South: incremental housing as a node for intersecting flows of city-making

RC21 Conference, Antwerp, July 6–8, 2020

Session organizers: Griet Steel, Femke van Noorloos and Abigail Friendly, Department of Human Geography & Planning, Utrecht University

Sustainable urban housing stands at the nexus of multiple SDGs (SDG11 figuring prominently), with spectacular urban growth, exacerbating inequality, environmental degradation and housing shortages as some of the pressing issues. Incremental housing – a step by step approach to housing construction in which the built environment is improved by owner-builders as money, time and materials become available – is a key driver of contemporary urbanization worldwide. Taking place in informal ways and driven by urban residents rather than the state, incremental housing practices remain challenging to integrate with formal state-led city-making. However, these experiences vary widely depending on inequalities at different scales, people’s roles and power positions, policies and regulations related to incremental housing and city-making, and broader structural forces shaping land and housing markets and urban development more broadly. Scholarship on incremental housing continues to focus largely on tenure, building materials and housing conditions at a local level, while incremental housing is embedded in – and dependent on – larger urban and regional systems and flows. Housing is inserted into a broader context of city-making , including flows of labor, people, finance, knowledge/ideas, technologies, design and infrastructure. Mapping these dynamics is necessary to understand fundamental questions of where, how and why initiatives aimed at addressing the urban housing shortage in the global South advance or get stuck. Academically, a further reconceptualization of incremental housing is needed that acknowledges the embeddedness of local incremental building practices within broader industries, markets and practices of city-making. Given the reality of incremental housing practices across the Global South, academic debates need to understand the complexity of these challenges.

In this session, we aim to focus on how the process of creating incremental housing produces a variety of ever-changing embodied experiences for dwellers-managers over time, depending on how they engage with flows of building materials, finance, and labour, together with land, design and infrastructure. By focusing on these embodied experiences of incremental housing flows, we aim to scrutinize how to overcome dilemmas related to urban incrementalism, long-term, city-wide planning, and compact cities in the Global South. We are particularly interested in receiving submissions from scholars from the Global South.

In particular, we welcome papers that analyze city flows, chains and circuits that emerge from incremental housing practices by focusing on:

  • the functions and experiences of different actors such as self-builders, suppliers of materials and finance and informal brokers, identifying winners and losers in incremental housing dynamics, including the generation of employment for specific groups;
  • the industries and value chains that emerge and change, including financial or credit systems, where materials come from, go to, and flow together; and
  • the reasons why certain housing developments stand empty and why repair and recycling  are not used optimally, for example for emptied vertical blocks and older housing estates.

Urban researchers largely recognize that contemporary cities are constantly in flux and created and recreated through various flows and relations of people and materials, and not the stable products of past planning decisions ‘frozen in space’. Nevertheless, modern urban planning tools, methods and procedures often continue to reflect the idea of planning as the creation of something stable and long-lasting, such as zoning or land-use plans. They emphasize stability instead of dynamic connections, interlinkages and movement. By focusing on the actors and the lived experiences of user-driven, self-organized industries of building, maintaining, repairing and renewing/upgrading, the panel aims to put an innovative light on the embeddedness of ‘local’ incremental and self-managed building practices within broader industries and city-making practices.

Submit an abstract at:

For more information, please contact Femke van Noorloos ( or Abigail Friendly (