**Cross posted from the Muungano Support Trust blog**
The Urban Studio is a unique interdisciplinary academic initiative undertaken to address urban issues that challenge the quality of life in cities, more particularly informal settlement. The planning studio endeavors to engage the community in an urban problem solving effort. Through an initiative of the Association of Africa Planning Schools (AAPS) implemented by African Planning Schools and SDI affiliate NGOs more than 100 students in urban planning, architecture, design, anthropology, business, nursing, political science, urban geography and others have participated and partnered with urban poor communities, community based organizations on projects intended to make informal settlements more sustainable.
On the afternoon of Monday 20th of January 2014, Muungano wa Wanavijiji, Muungano Support Trust and its collaborating partner, Centre for Urban Research and Innovation teams visited Kiandutu Informal settlement, Thika to launch a joint urban community participatory studio. The studio is part of a collaboration initiative between the Slum/Shack Dwellers Association (SDI) and Association of Africa Planning Schools (AAPS) implemented by African Planning Schools and SDI affiliate NGO and community groups aimed at exploring innovative ways for slum upgrading and addressing other challenges facing the African cities.
Kiandutu Informal settlement is among the largest informal settlements in Kenya and arguably the largest informal settlement located outside Nairobi City. It lies within Thika municipality, now under the Kiambu County Government, and to a regional context within the Nairobi metro region. The settlement is expansive, occupying an estimated 100 acres of land and with a population of about 24,000 people and 8,000 households (Muungano wa Wanavijiji Enumeration report). This is one of the targets informal settlements in Kenya’s major towns that the Kenya Federation of the Urban poor (Muungano wa Wanavijiji), MuST has prioritized for upgrading through infrastructure, security of land tenure and housing. This settlement is further clustered into 10 No. clusters (Mtatu 1 & 2, Mukinduri, Biashara, Stage Wariah, Kianjau, Molo, Mosque, Centre Base A & B). These clusters display a unique socio-economic and spatial dynamics but generally there is a high level of heterogeneity throughout the entire settlement. These clusters have emerged gradually through the organic growth of the settlement over time
The urban studio intends utilize participatory methodologies for community planning, where young planners (students) and community members, actively engage in problem solving and urban visualization, for a better urban future. The presumption is that informal settlement dwellers are best placed to lead in framing solutions to their daily challenges in their process of negotiating the urban life and that urban planners can perhaps harvest this towards the formulation of inclusive urban policies, and in the upgrading of informal settlements.
Earlier, in year 2012, the community of Kiandutu had been actively involved in carrying out an enumeration and mapping activity set out to profiling the settlement. This had formed the first phase of a joint studio. On the 20th of January 2014 the community got an opportunity to receive the published report on Kiandutu profile. Mr. Karisa, the CURI’s project co-leader and a University of Nairobi Senior lecturer handed over the reports to Mr. John Waweru and his leadership team before giving a highlight of what the report contained. He insisted that the report was an effort to put Kiandutu on a map, and that it would form part of the advocacy tools when approaching governance offices. He commended the strong participation of the community in a process that if properly navigated, would lead to fruitful returns.Further on, he introduced the next phase of the project, which would require all partners to come together again and push the agenda to a planning phase. Its aim would be to produce an upgrading plan that seeks to reassure tenants of security of tenure while spatially and economically integrating the settlement to the urban development shaping Thika Town.
On its part Muungano wa Wanavijiji, Chairperson, Rashid Mutua pledged the federations’ commitment to journey with Kiandutu community as it continues to struggle and negotiate for security of tenure and proper planning through partnership based on the principles of community led planning. The chairperson cited the SELAVIP house improvement project, where so far 21 community members of the settlement have benefited and now the proposed Kiandutu sanitation project as an eye opener to government and community pioneered upgrading projects.
This has become a common vision by all the stakeholders due to Kiandutu’s proximity to Thika town. Thika town is located in Kiambu county and falls 40 kilometers North of Nairobi, making it a major satellite town to Nairobi. Furthermore, Kiandutu lies next to the Thika municipality’s industrial area and can be accessed off the Nairobi-Garissa National Highway (A2) making the settlement a prime land eyed for huge economic and residential developments. This is clearly evinced by the real estate, middle-upper class residential developments and shopping malls that are currently shaping the landscape of Thika town. With the completion of the Nairobi-Thika superhighway, the rate of development can only go higher, thus giving Kiandutu community little time to breathe. Kiandutu also covers an approximately 1.1 sq Kilometers [which is public land], of the total 93.5 sq Kilometers of Thika sub – county, making it an eyed jewel for the new county government.
Within the next two months, the partners will engage with the sole purpose of the community developing a pragmatic process and strategy for upgrading the settlement, while integrating the settlement within the spatial development of Thika and the local economy. This studio is expected to produce outputs that the community can own and use in their efforts to upgrade the settlement and secure tenure. At the same time, the studio is expected to expose urban planning students to urban informality and particularly present them with an opportunity to work jointly with the community of Kiandutu in real problem solving.