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A major proportion of urban housing in developing countries, and also in some European countries, is developed outside officially sanctioned processes. This is less a reflection of a global desire to break the law than of the existence of inappropriate planning regulations, standards, and administrative procedures. Many countries have inherited or imported their regulatory frameworks from outside, and these were designed to meet very different conditions from those currently facing countries in the South. By attempting to impose such approaches on populations which are invariably too poor to be able to conform to them, the danger is that respect for the law and official institutions in general will be undermined. For urban development to be socially, economically, and institutionally sustainable, it is therefore vital to assess the extent to which changes in the regulatory frameworks are required in order to lower the bottom rung of the legal housing ladder so that the urban poor can start climbing it. This paper serves as a ‘position paper’ for an international research project to evaluate the social and economic costs of such frameworks for new urban development.

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