Revolutionary Planning: The Mukuru Special Planning Area, Nairobi

by James Tayler

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As of 2017, the Kenya slum dwellers federation – Muungano wa Wanavijiji – has organized 1,026 groups in 21 cities and towns. In Nairobi, the Mukuru belt of slums forms one of Nairobi’s largest informal settlements. A 2016 structure count by the federation established the settlement’s 100,561 units comprised of residential households, businesses, institutions, and utilities. In March 2017, these settlements were declared a Special Planning Area (SPA) by the County Government of Nairobi. This landmark declaration offers an opportunity to rethink the conventional city planning toolkit as it relates to large-scale inclusive informal settlement upgrading. It also offers a welcome commitment to the tenure security of Mukuru’s slum dwellers. The declaration allots a 2-year period for a participatory planning process to develop an innovative area-based upgrading plan for Mukuru. Cognizant of the rare and urgent opportunity this presents, the federation is undertaking intense organization of the Mukuru settlements into women-led savings groups and neighborhood associations. This should help to ensure robust community participation at every stage of the planning process and the incorporation of local businesses and enterprises in the upgrading and service delivery value chain. The federation is committed to ensuring youth are not excluded from this process and are organizing them to contribute to the visioning and execution of the redevelopment through SDI’s Know Your City TV and other Muungano youth support programs.


The Mukuru SPA declaration is the result of action-based research and interactions between the Nairobi County Government and a number of institutions that work with the Mukuru community, through support from the International Development Research Center (IDRC) and SDI. Partnering organizations include Muungano wa Wanavijiji, SDI Kenya, Akiba Mashinani Trust, Katiba Institute, Strathmore University, University of California Berkeley, and the University of Nairobi. These organizations have worked with county government to establish thematic consortia assigned the role of contributing to an inclusive master plan. Each thematic consortium develops a solution that encompasses the community vision, financing, legal, and spatial dimensions. This process is aimed at producing policy briefs that offer a representative vision and range of solutions to be consolidated through a series of planning studios.


The federation’s enumeration data reveals a debilitating poverty penalty that this project seeks to unlock. Redirecting funds currently spent on exploitative, informally-managed housing, services, and land, and developing strategies for channeling these funds towards upgrading, will serve as a precedent for citywide resilience-building efforts. These resources are not mere pocket change: Muungano and its partners uncovered that slum residents in Mukuru pay some 45-142% more for electricity, 172% more per cubic meter of water, and more per square meter for a shack than middle class housing residents do for formal housing. Dismantling this poverty trap and improving lives and livelihoods is the objective of the Mukuru SPA consortia whose work is scheduled for completion by March 2019.

The Kenya slum dweller federation efforts contribute to improved city resilience by setting precedents for actively engaged citizens to be part of urban planning at scale, by engaging in proactive multi-stakeholder collaboration, and coproducing appropriate land use and upgrading plans.

Read more about the Mukuru Special Planning Area here.

 This post is part of a series of case studies from our 2017 Annual Report titled ‘The Road to Resilience.’ Emerging from the field of ecology,  ‘resilience’  describes the capacity of a system to maintain or recover from disruption or disturbance. Cities are also complex systems and a resilience framework addresses the inter- connectedness of formal and informal city futures. Moreover, it enables a nuanced reflection on the nature of shocks and chronic stressors – recognising that the latter are particularly acute in slum dweller communities and that this critically undermines the entire city’s economic, social, political, and environmental resilience.As with personal resilience, city resilience demands awareness, acknowledgment of reality, and a capacity to move beyond reactivity to responses that are proactive, thoughtful, and beneficial to the whole. The most enlightened individuals and cities will be those that understand their responsibility to the most vulnerable and to the planet. Our 2017 Annual Report showcases some of SDI’s achievements over the past year on the road to resilience. Click here for the full report.