‘Living Cheek by Jowl’: Socio-legal explorations of the challenges of housing intensification

30 Jun to 01 Jul

Coordinators: Sergio Nasarre Aznar (University Rovira i Virgili, Spain), Helen Carr (University of Southampton, United Kingdom), Nicole Johnston (Deakin University, Australia)

Description of the meeting

‘Living Cheek by Jowl’: Socio-legal explorations of the challenges of housing intensification responds to the global phenomenon of urbanization, the importance of which has been demonstrated by the global pandemic. The United Nations predicts that by 2030, urban areas are projected to house 60 per cent of people globally and one in every three people will live in cities with at least half a million inhabitants (United Nations 2018). One significant consequence is housing intensification, which is often a ‘top down’ policy initiative designed to manage urban growth and promote affordable housing options but can also be an individualistic ‘bottom up’ response to the unaffordability of living and working in cities. The increase in housing intensification has many impacts. High rise, vertical living and home sharing are now normal in many global cities and present a range of governance challenges, particularly in pandemic conditions. Smaller homes and speedy provisional shelter to host newcomers are built, house building is rapid and for profit, larger homes are sub-divided, building standards decline, and there is a return to inter-generational living. Whilst urbanization has attracted extensive scholarship, there has been little exploration of the relationship between law and housing intensification from the perspective of the home, asking questions about appropriate regulatory frameworks, models of property governance, dispute resolution mechanisms, and well-being and social justice. This workshop is a timely and significant intervention which provides an international, scholarly and socio-legal response to the role of dense housing in pandemic conditions and the UN call to understand key trends in urbanization and contribute to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly sustainable development goal 11, to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

The first of the four workshop themes concerns law’s responsiveness to housing densification. Three papers suggest emerging research agendas. Johnston points to building defects found in newly built multi-owned properties, seeking to determine how law has contributed to the crisis around build quality. Alterman focuses on what she describes as the new human experience of residential towers, arguing that there is insufficient multidisciplinary research into the long-term challenges they raise, including the spread of disease. Hegarty suggests that law has forgotten that residential buildings are homes as well as assets. Three further papers look at law’s protective function. Two are concerned with overcrowding: Uribe Vilarrodona asks theoretical questions about the relationship between overcrowding and the right to the city, whilst Quintiá Pastrana takes a comparative approach to the regulation of over-crowding and hidden homelessness. Mahomedy and Boggenpeol tackle the issue of informal settlements in the global south and the potential of participatory planning to empower citizens. Each of these three papers will integrate insights from the pandemic.
The second theme, adapting norms for denser living, has three papers which consider the strengths and weaknesses of law in relation to housing intensification. Leshinsky uses a socio-legal and cross-jurisdictional lens to explore real estate law and consumer rights in the context of high rise vertical mixed use buildings. Harris considers judicial responses to the challenges of dense housing, particularly neighbor disputes in condominiums. Lippert uses empirical research to consider noise nuisance in condo/strata housing arguing that the challenges of intensified urban housing spaces are shaped by multiple forms of law and legal consciousness in different cities and jurisdictions.

The second three papers in this stream look at models of responsiveness. Hunter look at the regulation of student housing in the United Kingdom to assess whether such regulation may be adapted to other forms of housing. Schmid draws upon the experience of Berlin to consider whether rent caps provide a solution to housing intensification, and Nasarre Aznar considers the risks posed by shared housing in its huge variety of forms.

The third theme, social justice and housing inequality is most attuned to housing intensification and the pandemic asking what legal/policy interventions may be necessary. Tunstall interrogates data on housing space in England and Wales to reveal stark differences in the distribution of housing space and to reflect upon the consequences both pre- and post-pandemic. Ahlinder looks at the conflicts in co-operative housing associations in Sweden, particularly those arising from home sharing platforms and the needs of disabled residents. Garcia Astrain investigates a Basque Country initiative, alojamientos dotacionales, which in 2019 was recognized as one of the best 50 European housing solutions. Carr presents the findings of a British Academy funded project, Making, unmaking, remaking home in lockdown Margate, which focuses on experience in multiply occupied housing in a deprived English coastal town which suffered disproportionately from the pandemic.

The final theme, narratives of property, takes a theoretical approach, accepting that property theory with its traditional emphasis on individualistic ownership is becoming outdated. The first three papers consider changed understandings of property prompted by housing densification. Dunkin reflects upon how apartment living requires legislative change and significant attitudinal and cultural shifts. Blandy argues that the meta-narrative of property must be developed and expanded to take full account of the everyday experiences and accounts of shared property in the context of housing densification. Vols reflects on the challenges to liberalism, paternalism and human rights by housing intensification, drawing on empirical findings on anti-social behavior in areas of housing densification.

The second three papers are concerned with how housing intensification impacts on power relations. Bettini’s interest is in the collective dimension of multi-owned housing and explores the extent to which multi-owned housing sites operate as ‘collectives’, the levels of participation by individual owners in the governance, and the social interactions between neighbours. Bright examines property as power and power as resistance learning from the fire safety crisis in UK high-rise blocks of apartments after the fire at Grenfell Tower in 2017. Garfunkel uses new-institutionalism to examine the shift from “management” to “governance” in contemporary high-rise, high-density condominiums. She suggests that high-rise condominiums are emerging as top-down market-based governance sites which are highly surveilled and controlled.


Our experience in Oñati

On Thursday 30th June and Friday 1st July 2022, 20 scholars from 4 continents presented papers in   Living Cheek by Jowl: Socio-legal explorations of the challenges of housing intensification, the first full face-to-face workshop run by the Institute since the pandemic. The workshop was originally planned prior to Covid, but the importance of its concern with the global urban experience of housing intensification only increased as a result of the pandemic and the emergent evidence that dense housing increased the experience and severity of the disease.

Papers reflected the wide-ranging interests and diverse disciplinary and geographic backgrounds of the participants. A number of sub-themes including ‘social justice and spatial inequality’, and ‘shaping the city’ were explored with the problems of high rise living providing a particular focus. The workshop engaged with ideas of community, governance and high-rise buildings, alternative housing tenures, precariousness of housing and housing exclusion, public good, healthy housing and sustainable development, challenged theoretical models focused on property as power and exclusion and sought to establish new research agendas.

The organisers, Sergio Nasarre-Aznar, Helen Carr and Nicole Johnston, are very grateful for the enthusiastic and scholarly engagement of participants and to the Institute and particularly Malen for all of the support they received prior to and during the workshop. It took a long time for the sun to make an appearance, but the conviviality and intellectual energy generated by the workshop more than made up for the cold and the rain. We are confident that the international network of socio-legal and other academics working in this important area will thrive and produce high quality  outputs of relevance to a broad academic audience.

For more information: 

Workshop Coordination Team

Avenida de la Universidad, 8
Apartado 28
20560 Oñati (Gipuzkoa) - Spain
T: +34 943 78... Ver teléfono
E: workshop@iisj.es