Sunday, September 03, 2006

Golf vs. Roof

The Mayor of Caracas, Venezuela has declared that he wants to condemn two elite golf courses to build new housing for the poor, The New York Times reports. “We’ve done studies that show that 20 families survive for a week on what’s needed to maintain each square meter of grass on a golf course,” Mayor Juan Barreto said.

While this 'forced acquisition' may or may not have President Hugo Chavez's blessing, the paper notes that "squatters occupy units in more than 140 buildings in Caracas, either illegally or with the approval of city officials. Mayor Barreto, who once pursued doctoral studies in sociology, has ordered more than a dozen takeovers of buildings, including a 96-unit residential complex in El Rosal, a district with soaring postmodern office towers and the Caracas stock exchange. Mr. Barreto made apartments in the building available to families of firefighters who were homeless or had to commute from far-flung areas to Caracas to work. The firefighters now live in 46 of the building’s one- and two-bedroom apartments."

What's your take: golf or roofs?


e-tat said...

That's an entertaining question. I propose we answer it with quasi-statisical factoids. Such as: how many golfers will be displaced? How many of those displaced are former commuting firemen now housed in El Rosal? How many of the other displaced golfers have sustained serious fire damage or injury due to tardy arrival of commuting firemen? Last but not least: does Mayor Barretto golf?

rn said...

All extremely important numbers to know, e-tat! And how about this question: are golf courses sustainable?

Anonymous said...

I once listened as a friend of my family argued that the construction of a new golf course on Long Island was a good thing because it would help perserve open space. Our friend said that he saw the golf course as a way to protect the environment from further development. The jist of the argument was that if the golf course hadn't been constructed, the area on which it is now situated would have turned into yet another McMansion subdivide. To his mind, a golf course was preferable to more housing development.

As infuriating as that logic might be, I must admit that there's is a small measure of truth in what he said. While arguing that a golf course protects the environment might not pass the laugh test with NRDC/Sierra Club folks, others figure that you have to take what you can get.

As for instinct is to say fuck it: tear down the golf courses and build some shelter. Necessity trumps luxury.

rn said...

Is it ridiculous to suggest offering the golfers a deal: if they pay stiff user fees that will be used to bring infrastructure to squatter neighborhoods, they can keep their links.

This could be something that could work in Nairobi as well, where Kibera borders a fancy golf course (indeed some of my friends in the shantytown work as caddies) but the ritzy golf club otherwise does nothing for its neighboring community.

e-tat said...

It's nice to see that post still generating responses. I gather that I've also made something of a reputation for myself... ;)

As for golf course licensing fees, yes, it sounds like an incentive to help all those environmentally-and/or-socially conscious golfers feel a bit better about themselves.

(a)synchronous said...

hey robert,

I'm analyzing the golf course acquisition as one response towards addressing Caracas' housing deficit, but haven't come across many critical and in-depth responses from housing experts. I find plenty of AP/Reuters and articles from El Universal, etc. but little else. Can you offer any recommendations if you have seen some articles of note? Many thanks in advance...

rn said...

hey (a)synch:

I think you've probably seen the coverage I have. The Guardian wrote about it in late August
Reuters had an interesting analysis suggesting that the country's housing crisis was hurting President Hugo Chavez's political base.

But 'in depth' responses? I haven't seen any. Perhaps because this may be more of a populist trial balloon than an actual housing policy move -- something that's easy to say but hard to do, that sounds good to the poor, but may simply be a political and public relations move rather than an actual attempt to find more land on which to build affordable housing.

If anyone from inside or outside Venezuela has a different viewpoint, please post it here.

Anonymous said...

It WOULD be interesting to get input from environmentalists and housing experts. Without this, the mayor's claim can only be political.

I lived in Caracas years ago, and even then it was terribly congested and dirty. The golf courses are on opposite shoulders of the valley, both some ways east of the center of the city. My guess is the city grew out to surround them. One potential problem with excavating them could be the 'green zone' effect they may contribute to the city, with respect to CO2/oxygen exchange. In a city as over-developed as Caracas already is, this could be a real issue.

As for housing - Caracas is already bursting at the seams, so piling up more people in ever-reduced spaces wouldn't seem to provide a long-term answer. If it seems unlikely that people would return to farming, once having been 'urbanized' perhaps Chavez should consider relocating the capital and government offices, as was done with Brasilia in Brazil. That would cause a large migration of people [and would also create a lot of new jobs.]