An integrated development strategy with affordable housing and greener cities were highlighted as key means to create a well-tempered Bhutan at a two-day conference that ended on November 8 in Thimphu.
Over 100 officials came together to discuss issues pertaining the urban cities today at the conference. Jonathan FP Rose, an American real estate developer, urban planner, and author widely known as a developer of affordable and environmentally responsible communities held the discussion.
Jonathan FP Rose said that Bhutan was rapidly urbanising.
“In the villages, the whole family lived together and there is no issue about housing for young people or seniors but in the cities we do have these problems. We are growing a problem of affordability.”
According to the Bhutan Living Standard Survey Report (BLSSR) 2017,Bhutan’s mean monthly house rent is about Nu 4,800, which rounds up to 34 percent of the average monthly household income in the country.
United Nations Centre for Human Settlement 1991 standards define housing as affordable when its’ cost equals not more than 30 percent of household income.
Ministry of works and human settlement’s chief urban planner, Tashi Penjor, said that Bhutan’s mean monthly house rent wouldn’t be a concern if it also applied to the urban areas. “In urban areas we tend to spend more than 50 percent of our income on housing, thereby making affordability a concern and an issue.”
Today, lack of proper agency to provide housing for those working in private firms, lack of a housing framework, professional developers, and high interest rates were some of the major challenges in developing affordable houses in the country.
Tashi Penjor said conversion of dwelling units into institutional and commercial uses to optimise their returns was another issue.
According to the draft of the Low Income Housing Analysis, 2013, there are more than 6,656 private buildings within Thimphu municipality with a total of about 53,320 dwelling units.
“If you take an average household of about 4.1, then Thimphu should be able to accommodate an average of 140,000 people. Thimphu has less than 140,000 people. But there is a huge housing shortage,” Tashi Penjor said.
Lack of implementation, and details in the structure plans were also some of the issues, Jonathan FB Rose said.
“Thimphu has a fantastic town plan and it has fantastic principle but nobody is following it. We need more rigorous and more disciplined implementation. We also need to figure the details for example there is no landscaping plan for the street, no idea on how to plant trees along the street and what should the sidewalks be made of.”
Jonathan FB Rose recommended developing an affordable housing national strategy.
He said that when working towards affordable housing, serving various groups of people, and generation of land were important.
“I deeply believe we need to distribute affordable housing rather than just build affordable housing clusters because that become slums,” he said. “The best way to distribute it is to have affordable housing inclusive of all developments and with that we need to create financial incentives for private market developers to be able to do that.”
On thromde’s plan of pedestrianisation of the Norzin Lam, he said the plan would provide a stress-free and more relaxing place for families and individuals.
“I hope it starts as soon as possible; we have seen that when we create multiple pedestrian spaces, the business of retail shops goes up not down,” he said.
Besides various challenges, achieving a well-tempered Bhutan is possible with its the environment, and vision, Jonathan FB Rose said.
“Well-tempered Bhutan is one that draws from its beautiful traditional past, its amazing ecology and it integrates all those principles into its future development so that there is a continuity of Bhutanese spirit,” he said. “If you begin working towards well-tempered Bhutan immediately, within 20 years you will make substantial progress and I really think that would be a laboratory for not only Bhutan but also for the world.”