Aiga Stokenberga - Stanford University
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Rosa lives in the Patio Bonito settlement on the southwestern periphery of Bogota. Each day she travels over an hour each way to reach her workplace in a well-off family’s home near the Central Business District. There are reasons to stay in the neighborhood, however. One of the main among many: she rarely feels like she is on her own here in this community of neighbors and extended family with whom she moved here many years ago when Patio Bonito was just beginning to form.
Figure 1. Largely informal housing in the Kennedy locality (Source: Aiga Stokenberga)
For households with low or unreliable incomes, informal networks of social relationships can help increase day-to-day wellbeing and make it easier to cope with crises. Partly for this reason, networks have been found to influence the decisions of households to migrate from rural areas to cities and to continue to drive their subsequent intra-urban mobility.
Taking into account the roles and the spatial distribution of relational networks can improve our understanding of housing consumption decisions and inform urban policies. As I found out through early interviews with Bogota’s public officials in charge of housing policies, the importance of personal support networks for the quality of life of low-income households is a major influence and constraint on their willingness to relocate and can therefore also affect the rate of uptake and long-term economic sustainability of public housing projects.
To understand what are the trade-offs that low-income households in Bogota are willing to make between living near their extended family networks and improving their residential environment along other dimensions, I implemented an original choice experiment and a survey in two of Bogota’s low-to-medium income localities, Bosa and Kennedy, an area where the majority of residents rely on informal or unstable incomes and where dense informal residential settlements surround one of the first formally planned affordable housing communities.
The choice experiment showed that the surveyed individuals prioritize proximity to their extended family more than accessibility to the Central Business District. As might be expected, those who have relied on help from extended family members in a personal or economic crisis situation have a stronger preference for living near extended family compared to those who have not, as do those who are able to rely on extended family ties for various resources.
New urban realities, such as the urbanization of poverty in developing countries, call for residential location choice explanations that are not restricted to physical housing quality and transport costs to the workplace but also take into account factors related to the decision-makers’ social preferences and dependencies. By combining quantitative location choice modeling and social network analysis, my research places an important economic decision – that of housing consumption – in a social context and expands the notion of ‘economic rationality’ by more thoroughly characterizing the livelihood strategies of the poor.
The empirical evidence on the high value placed on proximity to family networks can help inform a number of urban policy decisions, for example, the choice between in-situ slum upgrading and large-scale population resettlement and the design and spatial location of formal affordable housing to ensure that they are able to accommodate ‘extended households’ or at least provide good connectivity to those parts of town where most of their new residents are likely to relocate from.