The $300 House: A Hands-On Approach to a Wicked Problem

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

When the New York Times printed “Hands Off Our Houses,” an op-ed about our idea for a $300 House for the poor, we were both delighted and dismayed – delighted because the $300 House was being discussed, and dismayed because authors Matias Echanove and Rahul Srivastava, co-founders of the Institute of Urbanology, didn’t seemed to have read the series of blog posts about our idea.

Nearly every criticism the authors levy in their op-ed is answered in 12 blog posts, a magazine article from January/February 2011, a video interview, and a slideshow that integrated community and commentary, which were published between last October and this May.

In critiquing our vision, the authors cite Micro Homes Solutions as “a better approach.” In fact, the leaders of that venture were invited several months ago to contribute a blog post to our series as a way of joining the discussion and helping us understand what they’ve seen on the ground there. They declined to be part of the conversation.

The authors also write that students who tried to write a business plan to serve the poor and who visited poor urban areas of India found “the reality here is far more complex than their business plan suggested.”

Yet a fundamental tenet of our project and the blog series about it is that slums present complex challenges that can’t be fixed with a clever shack alone. Rather than creating an echo chamber of rah-rah rhetoric, we told blog authors to focus on one of the many knotty issues that Echanove and Srivastava cite in their critique. From the start we asked: What are the complexities of financing these homes? How do you get energy and infrastructure into such dwellings? How do you get corporations to invest in a significant way? We acknowledged that we didn’t have the answers. “Just because it is going to take longer than it should doesn’t mean we should walk away,” wrote Seth Godin in one of the posts. “It’s going to take some time, but it’s worth it.”

Source: Harvard Business Review (link opens in a new window)