Exploring social-cultural explanations for residential location choices : the case of an African City - Dar es Salaam

Abstract: This study explores the factors urban residents consider when making residential location decisions. The context of the study is informal residential areas in a rapidly urbanising African city – the city of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. A central concern in the study is how the urban poor make their residential location decisions; the assumption is that with income limitations the urban poor rely on other non-economic resources to enable their residential location decisions in the context of rapid urban growth and urban poverty. The study attempts to question residential location choice concepts that rely on economic approaches as well as question explanations based on the developing world experiences.The study suggests that in the absence of reliable incomes, social networks and informalchannels prevail in the decision-making process. The concept of social capital where networks and social relationships are used as a resource by individuals or groups to achieve goals is explored in a residential choices framework. Demonstrated through in-depth interviews with heads of households settling close to the CBD (termed the inner city), the intermediate informal residential areas and the peri-urban residential areas; the study shows how socio-cultural factors play a role in the decision makingprocess of households. This is illustrated inter alia, in the form of informal channels for information on accommodation and residential plots, being accommodated rent-free by a relative, the actions of subsequently making short-distance moves to a location within proximity of a relative, or seeking people of the same socio-economic status. The context within which the actions have taken place has also been shown to be important in corroborating the network and relationship elements in the concept of social capital. The uncertainty that residents in rapidly urbanizing cities have to deal with on an everyday basis calls for networks and relations as an important resource for survival. The study goes further to suggest how urban planning practice can learn from the social processes. The study is based on qualitative methods such as in-depth interviewing with heads of household and key informants.