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Monday, January 24, 2011

MDG 2015 – Areas that need to be addressed: Point #1

After researching the efforts of the Millennium Development Goals outlined by the United Nations, I have outlined a brief history of the initiative and my reasons for why these efforts need the support of the like-minded professionals who may read this article. However, there are two related areas that I believe the Millennium Project could better address, and I would be remiss not to mention these areas and hopefully attract some attention and/or start a discussion to address these areas of need.

Point 1: Is there an actual Master Plan for the Millennium Villages?
I have often said that “the way we build affects the way we live” and nowhere is this more evident than in developing nations. The physical infrastructure is poor at best and building codes are practically non-existent. Buildings are constructed wherever there’s adequate space with little regard for location, access, or basic relationships to other structures.

Part of the Millennium Project process will involve the construction of various support structures including schools, hospitals, affordable housing types, etc. If these buildings are not properly sited, it will not matter how well designed they are because the urban infrastructure that develops around it will not be very effective and affect the lives of the citizens in a negative way. If the goal of the Millennium Project is to end up with sustainable places, time and effort needs to be invested in making sure that the master plan of these villages ensures a sustainable lifestyle.

Any master plan developed for the Millennium Villages needs to take a long-term approach in the 25 – 50 year range. The idea of the Millennium Project is to set a solid foundation for these villages upon which any further development and growth can be well managed, efficiently designed, and sustainably maintained while improving the quality of life.

The importance of having a master plan in place for all the Millennium Development Goals to be achieved cannot be emphasized enough. There needs to be a general idea of where everything is to be located within reason, and more likely a feasible phasing plan developed which will also act as a guide for the raising and allocating of funds. With an adopted master plan available the community will always have an official urban landscape guide of where every planned structure is to be located a year from now, 10 years, 25 years, etc. This leaves little room for error and enough flexibility to still be creative and dynamic while remaining sustainable.

The other important aspect of having a master plan in place is a notion that is rarely addressed and very difficult to comprehend by the developed western world, the issue of Land Ownership in most African countries. In most developed countries, you know the exact amount of property you own because you most likely have a deed that corresponds to a physical property line that has been surveyed, documented, and is legally binding. In most developing countries such documents do not exist. Most land is owned by the royalty and/or self appointed people of importance. Land is paid for and ownership transferred with a handshake. Now what happens when you’re ready to build and return to your bought and paid for property to find it already occupied by a structure not your own? What legal recourse do you have?

From personal experience in Ghana, people hire guards to watch over their virgin lands during the period between buying the land and finished construction. In some instances, you can be mid-way through construction and for one reason or the other, put construction on hold. With no guards around, other families come to live in your unfinished building. The official property owner has no legal recourse to evict these unwanted tenants and in most cases has to forcibly remove the unwanted tenants. Unfortunately people being killed over land disputes have become common place in most African cities.

Once we acknowledge the ambiguity that exists with regard to current land ownership in most developing countries, we have to accept the importance of a master plan for two reasons; 1. The master plan cannot be established without having accurate and accepted documentation to the rights of the properties in question. 2. The accepted master plan, a transparent document supported by the community will yield no surprises during implementation because the entire process from land survey, acquisition and development has been accurately documented and is now legally binding.

Current research is being done on issues of land ownership through actual surveying, documentation and planning by Professor Ahene at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania that the UN may want to pay attention to and perhaps incorporate into their Millennium Villages initiatives.
Through all my research I have yet to hear of any such plans being developed or required of the Millennium Villages and I believe this will lead to a very inefficient development process and most likely derail future efforts of the MDG. I would highly encourage UN officials to look at this issue and take appropriate measures to ensure the legacy of the Millennium Project stays true to its original intent.

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