Building sustainable and inclusive urban futures

Incremental housing and city-making flows in the Global South

Incremental housing is a key driver of urbanisation worldwide. This project explores incremental building practices as a key vantage point to understand socially relevant, just, inclusive and realistic solutions for persistent housing shortages, particularly in the Global South. This is a seed money project of the Tranforming Infrastructures for Sustainable Cities hub.

A key challenge is how incremental housing practices can be better aligned with formal urban development and planning done by the state, often in collaboration with international organisations and the private sector. This is very urgent, given the scale of the housing challenge in the Global South and the global climate and sustainability agenda. Approaches beyond the local scale are required. While the Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda show a global call for sustainable cities, there is a lack of hands-on experience on how this might match with dominant practices of incrementalism. It is important to combine the flexibility, adaptability, and technological innovations of incremental housing with the advantages of long-term, strategic, city-wide planning to achieve sustainable and inclusive urban development.

Cabuçu, São Paulo
Cabuçu, São Paulo. Credit: Roberto Rocco

This project identifies ways to foster innovation such as core housing, decentralised infrastructures, and vertical incrementalism. By mapping the flows and systems of design, building materials, labour, finance, and infrastructure around incremental housing, we aim to identify what combinations between the formal and informal aspects and actors of incremental housing work best along the entire value chain. In this way global donors, urban planners, infrastructure providers, developers, architects, local governments, and civil society organisations will be able to improve incremental housing policy and practice.


The project is a collaboration between Dr Femke van Noorloos, Dr Griet Steel and Dr Abigail Friendly (all Human Geography and Spatial Planning, Utrecht University), together with other academic, societal, and private sector actors.


Van Noorloos, F., Cirolia, L.R., Friendly, A., Jukur, S., Schramm, S., Steel, G. & Valenzuela, L. (2019). Incremental housing as a node for intersecting flows of city-making - rethinking the housing shortage in the global South. Environment and Urbanization.