Slum Dwellers & Students Planning Partnership in Kitui, Kenya

Community members helping to locate spatial issues@Baraka MwauBy Baraka Mwau (Studio Facilitator) for CURI / SDI / AAPS


The Kenya partnership of Slum Dwellers International-Kenya Affiliate and Centre of Urban Research and Innovations (CURI)-University of Nairobi (UoN) commenced field activities for the Kitui Learning studio in the first quarter of this year. The studio is part of a broader collaborative programme implemented by Slum Dwellers International and the Association of African Planning Schools under a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the two organizations, “in order to promote initiatives, plans and policies which encourage pro-poor and inclusive cities and towns in Africa.” Through this framework, the partners have previously implemented similar studios in Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Namibia.

The ongoing collaborative studio programme is financed by Cities Alliance through the Catalytic Fund (CATF) of 2014, under the theme “Creating Momentum for Change through Innovative Information Generation and Engagement at the City Level in Africa”.  Besides Kenya, there are other three learning studios running under this fund in Namibia, Zambia, and Uganda. These learning studios are designed to build partnerships between informal settlement residents, local planning schools, and local government.

Drawing from past experiences, the Kenya partnership designs and executes these studios in a way that sets a foundation for future engagement in order to build on the positive outcomes that stakeholders find important to sustain over a longer period, beyond the planned studio period. This is interpreted as a strategy to manage community expectations that arise during the studio process. In doing so, more sustainable platforms of co-production and collaboration among various stakeholders are nurtured.

The Kenya partnership has been working together on similar projects, including a studio in Mathare Valley and undertaking a joint research project in Mukuru informal settlements in Nairobi. Previously, these projects focused on individual informal settlements, and as observed, they also targeted informal settlements located in Nairobi, Kenya’s largest city.

However, following access to the CATF, the Kenya partnership has up-scaled focus to the municipal-wide scale and introduced studio activities to intermediate cities, the first being Kitui. It should be noted that intermediate cities and small towns dominate the geographical distribution of urban centers (in terms of their numbers) in Kenya, and their increasing aggregate population is significant in reducing Nairobi’s primacy-the city accounted for 33 percent of Kenya’s urban population in 2014.  For example, Kitui is the administrative capital and the largest urban centre of Kitui County, with a population reported as 109,568 people.

Kalundu Street@Baraka Mwau

Kenya’s intermediate cities like Kitui face similar challenges, though at a different scale, as those experienced by the large cities. These include: inadequate or total absence of formal urban planning and design, inadequate infrastructure and housing, environmental degradation and urban sprawl, informal settlements, and weak urban economies. Nevertheless, these towns are anticipated to feature prominently in the structural transformation expected due to urbanization across the country, hence the renewed focus on intermediate cities and small towns.

From October to December 2015, the Kenya partnership engaged in preparatory activities for the implementation of the Kitui learning studio. This resulted in a joint work plan for engaging the informal settlement communities and the county government of Kitui. Besides the overarching objectives of training planning students and enhancing community participation in planning, the Kenya studio will also contribute towards generating basic data on informal settlements of Kitui (as a baseline survey); engage stakeholders in developing a concept for town-wide informal settlements strategy; and engage stakeholders in participatory planning sessions for select precincts in order to demonstrate various planning and design options for intervention. The studio will also focus on various aspects of the town’s informal economy and will build on ongoing planning and development interventions in the town.

On the 5th of February 2016, the partnership held a meeting with the Kitui County Ministry of Lands, Infrastructure & Urban Development, with the aim of introducing the studio to government and to seek buy-in from government. This meeting was a major milestone for the studio. Led by the Chief Officer in charge of lands, infrastructure and urban development, the Ministry welcomed the project and pledged support to the process, including assigning a planning officer as a studio focal point. The county government pointed-out the relevance of the studio in strengthening community participation and collaborative environment for government-community engagements for informal settlements improvement and overall, in enhancing equitable urban development.

After the successful meeting with the county government, the studio team embarked on community mobilization to prepare for collaborative data generation. This culminated in the formation of community planning teams and a data collection exercise that ran for two weeks in March, covering the 5 town’s major informal settlements (Kalundu, Majengo, Kunda-Kindu, Mjini & Mosquito), ‘pockets’ of informal settlements, and major market areas, including informal street markets. The two-week exercise included the active involvement of planning students and academic staff of the University of Nairobi, an urban planner from SDI Kenya, community leaders, research assistants, the studio facilitator and, young planning professionals (as studio assistants) in consultation with county government’s focal point officer.

The field work entailed training of community members who later teamed up with students to form a joint field team to: administer household questionnaires and profile questionnaires in settlements and markets; perform settlement mapping, photography and sketching; conduct interviews with key informants and targeted focused group discussions. Prior to conducting the field work, students had reviewed some background information, including documentation of recent planning processes in the town.

Majengo Streets-Open spaces for Children@Baraka Mwau (2)

The benefits of this critical phase of the studio did not only accrue to students, but also to community members. Among other lessons, students were exposed to practical, diverse issues of the country’s urban context that are generally not taught in the classroom. For instance, they were able to get a more realistic picture of the housing conditions in Kitui – rather than the stereotypical shacks, Kitui’s informal settlements are characterized by sub-standard housing made of brick walls and an evident heterogeneous spatial-economic landscape defines what the town regards as informal settlements.

On the other hand, the community members also gained a lot from the learning process. For a number of community members who supported the data collection this was their first opportunity to interact with geographical information such as satellite images and maps, a process that evidently impacted on their perceptions of what urban planning means to informal settlements. Additionally, it was evident that the focused group discussions facilitated deeper engagement on various issues facing the communities and the town as a whole.

After the successful joint data collection exercise, the studio participants will move on to data analysis, compilation of lessons learnt, and preparing for engagement around the data findings with the communities and county government.

Putting Community Data to Use in Three Kenyan Cities

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UN Habitat’s Global Land Tools Network (GLTN) Urban Cluster Work Plan Project was conceptualised and developed by GLTN’s urban civil society partners at the Partners Meeting held at the Hague in November 2013.  The project was facilitated by the secretariat of GLTN, and coordinated by Shack / Slum Dwellers International, serving as the urban CSO cluster lead organisation.

The program was implemented by cluster partner organisations: Asian Coalition of Housing Rights, Habitat for Humanity International, Shack / Slum Dwellers International and Academic Cluster partner organisation, African Association of Planning Schools. Broadly the project aimed to activate and engage these GLTN partner organisations in activities that will improve security of tenure for poor urban communities in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

The project was focused on promoting capacity development, awareness raising and alliance building within the Urban civil society cluster and among other clusters to contribute to the GLTN vision of a pro-poor, gender-responsive land interventions, with particular emphasis on increasing grassroots women’s land tenure security at country level.

The Urban Cluster Work Plan laid emphasis on collaboration and partnership between both GLTN partners in the urban cluster and across clusters. The intended outcomes of this were: joint advocacy positions on land tenure security within the global processes of developing post-MDG goals  – the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as participation in Habitat III; and improved land tenure security for poor communities working with the GLTN partners.

The Asian  component was led by SDI’s India affiliate organisation, SPARC.  In Africa regional activities were implemented by two partners: the African Association of Planning Schools, which is part of the Academic Institutions Cluster of GLTN; and SDI’s Nigeria affiliate Justice and Empowerment Initiatives (JEI).

This post will focus on the the collaboration between the African Association of Planning Schools and the SDI affiliate in Kenya to undertake analysis of data, packaging and engagement with city authorities around the use of data in three Kenyan cities. The Centre for Urban Research and Innovation (based within the Nairobi University’s Department for Urban and Rural Planning) acted as the implementing agency.

As a partner of GLTN, SDI’s Kenyan affiliate has practiced community enumeration as a tool to improve tenure security over the last 15 years. The key thrust of this work was to demonstrate the ways in which community data can be used to promote increased tenure security.

This partnership allowed for the realisation of the continuum from data collection to planning. It deepened how STDM and community enumerations may be used as a tool in improving land tenure security.

The intervention consisted of three sub-activities:

  1. Policy brief on alternatives to forced eviction in Thika Town
  2. Situational Analysis of land tenure in Nakuru’s slums
  3. The application of community enumeration and profiling data in an actual planning process. This was undertaken in the zoning of the Mombasa city.

Policy Brief on Alternatives to Forced Eviction in Thika Town


The implementation of the urban work plan in Thika town produced a policy brief on alternatives to forced eviction.

The paper developed argues for land sharing as an alternative to eviction of informal settlement dwellers occupying public land. The paper was prepared through discussions among slum dwellers, the County Government of Kiambu, who is the land owner, and the land tenure researchers offering an advisory role.

Community enumeration and mapping data formed part of the basis of these discussions. This provided for a more informative discourse and analysis of various land access policy options and tenure systems that can be leveraged both by the county government and the informal settlement community.

The paper formed the basis for an on-going discussion between the community of Kianduttu settlement, Muungano wa Wanvijiji, and the County Government of Kiambu.

It legitimises community-collected data, allowing for its use in negotiations for alternatives to forced eviction, and progresses the community push for regularisation of land tenure. In order to achieve this, the paper establishes the constitutional basis for land tenure regularisation. It provides a series of alternatives provided under the land laws and makes policy recommendations.

Situational Analysis of Land Tenure in Nakuru’s Slums


The intervention in Nakuru was targeted at analysing community collected data along side other secondary data and creating a brief on the informal land situation in Nakuru. It also aimed at recognising efforts and initiatives by informal settlement dwellers to address land security challenges.

Qualitative data was gathered through social mapping and Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) with community members and other stakeholders in the settlement. The FGDs were conducted on 2nd December 2015. The purpose of the FGDs and other formal and informal interactions with community members and other stakeholders was to gather qualitative insights into various issues of the settlement, as well as validating information collected through household enumerations. These were conducted in a participatory manner using a checklist of open-ended questions. Consultants ensured that all members in each FGD had an equal chance to contribute to the discussion.

Mapping was undertaken while doing the community survey with full participation of settlement leadership. The focus of the mapping process is to help in the depiction of settlement boundaries, cluster boundaries, roads, drainage systems, schools, and other community facilities. It focused on the spatial dimension of the people’s realities as expressed in their background information. Resource mapping in the settlement was also done to help in charting land use and command areas, resource access points, and more.

Quantitative data was gathered through household surveys, referred to as enumeration. This was conducted by a team of experienced field investigators under overall supervision of social development economist and other members of the core technical team of the consultants under the guidance of SDI Kenya. The objectives of the household enumeration were to: understand the demographic/socio-economic profile of the households in the settlement; know the status of and issues related to ownership and tenancy structures; assess resident’s access to infrastructure, social amenities, and services; and understand the environmental conditions, health and various social issues.

This involved various processes:

  1. Boundary demarcation and clustering of the settlement: With the support of the community leadership the research team identified the boundaries of the Nyamarutu settlement which was to be covered during the enumeration process. Further the area was divided into four clusters: cluster A, cluster B, cluster C and cluster D.
  2. House numbering: This involved giving a reference number to all the households in the settlement. These numbers are used as an identification value during collection of information. The reference number was designed based on the identified clusters, settlement and the number of households in the settlement (settlement / cluster/structure number).
  3. Sampling design: A full enumeration was carried out to capture each household’s socio economic information. Callback’s were done for households that were not present during the day. This was mainly done at night to ensure that all households were captured.

Using Community Data for Zoning of Mombasa City


In Mombasa the citywide engagement had a different entry point.  Early in 2015, the County Government of Mombasa announced their intention to develop a Strategic Integrated Urban Develop Plan (SIUDP). The plan would draw in technical support from JICA and private sector consultants. However, as a precursor to the plan the county government was required to present a spatial analysis of the current situation of the city. Recognising the Federation’s unique skill set of mapping human settlements and infrastructure within cities, the County Government requested their support to develop the city spatial analysis.

A significant impact of this federation support has been the recognition of Mombasa’s slums as part of the city’s fabric. Previously absent from the way the city zoned land use, the slums are now a zoning category known as High Density Low-Income areas.

Through discussion with County government, the planning department will adopt STDM (Social Tenure Domain Model) as the principal land information system that will anchor the zoning planning process.

Federations Put Data to Use in Lagos, Nigeria


UN Habitat’s Global Land Tools Network (GLTN) Urban Cluster Work Plan Project was conceptualized and developed by GLTN’s urban civil society partners at the Partners Meeting held at the Hague in November 2013.  The project was facilitated by the secretariat of GLTN, and coordinated by Shack / Slum Dwellers International, serving as the urban CSO cluster lead organization.

The program was implemented by cluster partner organizations: Asian Coalition of Housing Rights, Habitat for Humanity International, Shack / Slum Dwellers International and Academic Cluster partner organization, African Association of Planning Schools. Broadly the project aimed to activate and engage these GLTN partner organizations in activities that will improve security of tenure for poor urban communities in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

The project was focused on promoting capacity development, awareness raising and alliance building within the Urban civil society cluster and among other clusters to contribute to the GLTN vision of a pro-poor, gender-responsive land interventions, with particular emphasis on increasing grassroots women’s land tenure security at country level.

The Urban Cluster Work Plan laid emphasis on collaboration and partnership between both GLTN partners in the urban cluster and across clusters. The intended outcomes of this were: joint advocacy positions on land tenure security within the global processes of developing post-MDG goals  – the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as participation in Habitat III; and improved land tenure security for poor communities working with the GLTN partners.

The Asian  component was led by SDI’s India affiliate organization, SPARC.  In Africa regional activities were implemented by two partners: the African Association of Planning Schools, which is part of the Academic Institutions Cluster of GLTN; and SDI’s Nigeria affiliate Justice and Empowerment Initiatives (JEI).

This post will focus on the profiling and mapping activities undertaken by the Nigerian Slum Dwellers Federation and JEI Nigeria in Lagos, Nigeria – Africa’s largest city with a population of 23 million, two-thirds of which lives in slums.

Within the context of the SDI, Cities Alliance, and UCLG-A supported  “Know Your City” Campaign, the Nigerian SDI affiliate supported citywide slum profiling and mapping through:

  1. Community-led profiling of slum settlements in Lagos;
  2. Data capture and return to communities;
  3. Customization of profiling/enumeration questionnaire to Nigerian realities and harmonizing of data collection and capture processes with STDM; and
  4. Creation of maps and other tools to visually represent city-wide profiling data to be made accessible to the public at a new Lagos profiling hub in the heart of Lagos Mainland.

Community-Led, Federation-supported Slum Profiling in Lagos

Between May and November 2015, the Nigerian Federation supported the profiling of 28 slums in Lagos. 15 of these settlement profiles were supported by the urban cluster work plan.

The data collected in a slum profile consists of a boundary map of the settlement, mapping of basic services (like water and sanitation), a tally of all structures, photography, and the collection social economic data through focus group discussions covering 300 data variables. (To learn more about SDI’s slum profiling work, visit The profiling tool is inclusive of all questions contained in the STDM standardized community profiling questionnaire.

With the aim of carrying out city-wide profiling of all informal settlements in Lagos, JEI and the Nigerian Federation continued to train new Federation members interested in supporting community-led profiling, with a focus on youth members who have added capacity to learn how to use new technologies and energy to lead work in the field. The growing cadre of trained and experienced Federation volunteer profiling facilitators trained under the GLTN grant are going to be key to achieving city-wide profiling in the mega-city of Lagos in the coming years.

Building off of the informal settlement profiling completed thus far, JEI and the Federation have also worked to identify as many slum communities in Lagos as possible. This has happened in a variety of different ways, including: 1) identifying communities neighboring those that have already carried out profiling through in-person visits, 2) identifying communities clustered along the shore of Lagos Lagoon visible from afar when crossing the Lagoon on boat or via the Third Mainland Bridge, 3) brainstorming lists of communities that Federation members are aware of located in different Local Government Areas in the state, and 4) analyzing satellite imagery and other available data/reports to identify where informal settlements are located throughout the city. We are using this growing list of informal settlements as a bar against which we can measure our success in reaching new communities.

Data Capture and Return to Communities

The data capture process has been handed over to the federation teams, who enter all data into SDI’s global Know Your City data platform. To enable this process, both SDI and JEI undertook extensive training for community volunteers, who also had some computer skills. This has had the benefit of creating a feedback loop between the data collection and capture process and the communities. All profiled communities received a two-page community factsheet on the data collected, allowing for verification and subsequently for data updating.

For the communities profiled, this was the first time that they saw themselves ‘on the map’ and getting a more concrete sense of their population and other key statistics they can utilize. This has many practical benefits such as communities better recognizing their assets and their needs, as well as less concrete benefits such as greater communal action within communities.

With the concurrent support from SDI the Nigerian federation is able to leverage on the collected data. Currently JEI is working with communities to ‘put the data to work.’ For 7 Lagos informal settlements, one way this is happening is through a collaboration with Cornell University Department of Architecture which is working with the Federation’s profiling data and other community inputs to develop prototypes for simple, built solutions to some of the challenges that the Federation has identified as cross cutting, particularly as relate to water and sanitation.

This includes the Typology of Toilets and Water Points in Lagos Informal Settlements, and the Standard Building Methods for Structures Above Water in Lagos Informal Settlements. For other communities, the Nigeria federation is exploring a follow-on household-level mapping aiming to secure their land tenure through negotiations with a traditional land-owning family and subsequent formal land registration.

Customization of Profiling & Enumeration Questionnaire

At the outset updates were made to the standard SDI profiling questionnaire (with is inclusive of the STDM profiling template) to accommodate the Nigerian realty. Utilizing this questionnaire has resulted in overall cleaner and clearer data due to elimination of confusion among Federation profiling facilitators or communities. These are major achievements that enable profiling to move efficiently while responding to Federation communities’ needs and interests.

Following feedback from the Nigerian Federation, the service mapping form has been updated to add categories/sub-categories that are more responsive to local context. This service mapping data is a key resource in our collaboration with the Cornell University Department of Architecture.

With the aim of finding means of increasing the tenure security of Lagos’ informal settlements, JEI is now developing a new module to add onto the standard profiling questionnaire that will include more detailed, Nigeria-specific land tenure-related questions that the Federation will be piloting, beginning in February 2016. To develop the relevant questions we researched what similar tools already exist and where there are best practices that can be drawn on. This included conversations with other’s including a former USAID land tenure expert who worked in Nigeria, and a new start up NGO named Cadasta that is working to help make more flexible the land tenure tools that already freely available.

Simultaneously, JEI’s legal team has researched Nigerian land law and the available processes for formalizing land tenure. With the additional land tenure data collected with our new land tenure focused profiling module, during 2016 JEI and the Federation will work with communities in which the Federation is most active to develop tailored strategies towards greater tenure security.

Creation of Information & Knowledge

Since its launch in early June 2015, the Nigeria Slum / Informal Settlement Center has served as the main meeting point for the Nigerian Federation to engage with the data that they collected through the community profiling and mapping processes.  JEI and the Nigerian Federation have convened dozens of meetings to review data collected, discuss how to reach more communities in order to achieve city-wide profiling in Lagos, and have also together begun building plans to put the data to use

In addition, the Center has served as a space for the convening of the urban poor and others, including other civil society organizations, journalists, development partners, and individuals interested in the Federation’s work. Through these interactions the Federation has shared – through words and visual representation – their data-driven priorities, opening a perspective on Lagos rarely seen by politicians and the upper classes.

The impact of this Center is felt far beyond Lagos as well, as it has and will continue to serve as the convening place for exchanges of new Federation chapters from elsewhere in Nigeria and West Africa, as well as a growing repository for information about communities that is for communities. As the Nigerian Federation continues to grow, the Center will continue to be its base, the point from which the Federation will launch new chapters across Africa’s most populous country in the coming years.


Check back here in the coming days part two of this post which focuses on SDI’s collaboration with the African Association of Planning Schools to undertake analysis of data, packaging and engagement with city authorities around the use of data in three cities in Kenya. 

Academic Partnerships to Co-Produce Knowledge

SDI affiliates continued to work closely with academic institutions to co-produce knowledge through undertaking collective planning studios. SDI’s position is that these types of engagements expose students and academics to informal knowledge and conditions that call into question existing presumptions, planning frameworks, infrastructure standards and laws. Through this experience the capacity and knowledge of slum dwellers as capable actors in developing upgrading plans and precedents for their own communities is illustrated. Collective studios are the first step in training the next generation of planners who will one day become officials shaping the development and inclusivity of cities. If practical collaborative studios (between planners and the urban poor) become embedded in University curricula, inclusive planning practices can become the norm rather then the exception.

“In communities we know the number of settlements, services and origins of the people. We know how they spend their money and how they would like to develop their areas. You cannot plan from the office but if you go to the ground and speak to people and learn from them it can help you plan better.” – Katana Goretti, Ugandan Federation

Reforming the manner in which planning students are educated is one step towards shifting planning paradigms in Africa. On this basis SDI entered into a MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) with Assosiation of African Planning Schools (AAPS) in 2010, promoting co-operation between country affiliates and local planning schools. The MoU recognizes that the most effective way to change the mindsets of student planners is to offer direct experiential exposure to, and interaction with the conditions and residents of slums. In this manner students will be exposed to the value of informal knowledge and community participation in planning for settlement upgrading. During this period SDI affiliates and AAPS have conducted six collaborative planning studios in which students, staff, and urban poor communities engage directly in data collection, analysis, and the development of upgrading plans. Studios have taken place in Uganda, Malawi (two), South Africa, Kenya, and Namibia. In many cases local government officials have been invited to witness studio outputs and participate.

In Kampala, Uganda a studio with Makerere University planning students led to detailed reports reflecting informal challenges and upgrading plans that were submitted to local governments. During the studio the Ugandan Federation referred to themselves as “community professors.” Two concurrent studios took place in Blantyre and Mzuzu, Malawi. In Nancholi, Blantyre Federation members worked closed with the University of Malawi-Polytechnic to identify upgrading priorities and develop plans for improved circulation and drainage. In Salisbury Lines, Mzuzu, poor drainage and groundwater pollution were key priorities around which collective planning took place. In South Africa, students spent six months developing upgrading plans in conjunction with residents of Langrug informal settlement in Stellenbosch. In Gobabis, Namibia, students from the Polytechnic of Namibia undertook a site analysis of the Freedom Square informal settlement. Loraine, a community member from Block 5 in Freedom Square noted:

“The site analysis brought to light to how I see my surroundings. I learned how to use a GPS as we were doing the mapping. I also got to see which areas are suitable to build my house on and which aren’t, in order to avoid flooding, during the rainy season.”

It is important that studios become part of annual university curriculums, entrenching new approaches to planning over a sustained period and encouraging the participation of city governments. In all the aforementioned countries commitments have been made to replicate the studio process. Across the SDI network affiliates are exploring these types of engagements. For example a further studio recently took place between the Zambian affiliate and the University of Zambia in Lusaka. The municipality is looking at the possibility of implementing some of the proposals that emerged and has pledged to quicken the process of declaring the targeted settlement a legal residential area, as it is currently an illegal settlement under the 1975 Town and Country Planning Act.

In February 2013 a further planning studio was organised between the South African communities of Mshini Wam, Shukushukuma, and Ruo Emoh and architecture and planning students from the University of Melbourne to investigate new solutions for informal settlement upgrading and housing development. In Shukushukuma, plot sized placeholders were cut to scale and laid out on an aerial photograph. The location of visible infrastructure was mapped, such as electricity poles, toilet blocks, and water taps. The Mshini Wam group looked at alternative typologies for densification and formalisation after re-blocking projects. A visual fly through model was created, building on the new layout of re-blocked settlement.

During the year a German Agency for International Co-operation (GIZ) sponsored initiative was also undertaken to investigate the conditions for successful projects and partnerships between local government and urban poor communities. The report produced drew on experiences in Harare (Zimbabwe), Pune (India) and Kampala (Uganda) – locations that were visited by the investigating team. The team consisted of David Satterthwaite from the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), Celine D’Cruz, an SDI Coordinator and co-founder of SPARC, and Sonia Fadrigo, a Core Monitoring Team member.

In 2013 SDI affiliates continue to consolidate partnerships with academic institutions with the goal of cementing collaborative efforts (e.g. planning studios) within university curriculums. SDI’s strategic medium term goals recognise the value of producing citywide data about informal settlements. Data can be used both to engage government and to assist in implementing projects that move beyond single settlements and tackle poverty at scale. Urban planners, architects, surveyors, and managers can, and must, play a vital role in critically engaging with this data. By accepting the validity of such data (and assisting in its co-production) academia can add both political and practical value increasing impact and scale.

To read more about SDI’s partnerships with academic institutions, check out our Annual Report. 


Community Planning Studio Addresses Sanitation Challenges in Nairobi

Kiandutu Community attend a studio session at the School of the Built Environment, University of Nairobi

*Cross-posted from Centre for Urban Innovations*

By James Wanyoike, CURI

On 23 May 2014, members of Kiandutu community from Thika attended a whole day joint urban planning studio at the School of the Built Environment (ADD), University of Nairobi.  The participants were community planners collaborating with a team of planning students from Department of Urban and Regional Planning and a grassroots non-governmental organization, Muungano Support Trust (MuST) in the upgrading of Kiandutu informal settlement. The studio, which started in March this year is sponsored by Slum Dwellers International (SDI) and the Association of Africa Planning Schools (AAPS).

Urban informality still remains an urbanization phenomenon that is insufficiently addressed by urban policy and planning in the Global South.  This stems partly from the observation that traditional and contemporary education and urban planning practice do not resonate with the realities of urbanisation in the region. Both SDI and AAPS have committed to transform urban planning education, and by extension its practice in Africa, by equipping upcoming urban planners with the relevant skills to address the challenges facing the African city, notably – informal settlements. The theme of the Thika urban planning studio is titled ‘An integrated sanitation studio for Kiandutu Settlement, Thika.’

The focus of the studio is to address a critical problem faced in all informal settlements in Africa: the absence of adequate sanitation services. Through earlier surveys and enumeration done by the University of Nairobi and MuST, the community of Kiandutu revealed that their priority problem is sanitation. The understanding of integrated sanitation evolved from community participation for a better appreciation of sanitation as a broader concept and function whose intervention calls for an interconnected understanding of settlement characteristics.  It is strongly believed that such an understanding will lead to more responsive and durable interventions. Specifically, it is hoped that the approach shall achieve the following: appropriate facilities designed and built well at the right locations: optimization of level of use and sustaining number of users; co-production – “doing it together” – in design and construction; collective responsibility in operation and maintenance;  community ownership and good will to make things work; improvement of overall sanitary situation  –  water, sanitation, and hygiene – and a healthier and more productive community.


The studio is based on a cluster concept. Three clusters were selected, two of these – Biashara and Molo – are project-led, where SDI/MuST are piloting one sanitation project in each and are close to the proposed trunk sewer, creating the possibility of future connection. The third cluster – Mtatu B – is isolated from the proposed sewer line, making the possibility of future connection to the trunk sewer inconceivable due to distance and gradient limitations. The first few weeks saw the planning teams conceptualizing the studio’s scope and objectives. This was followed by primary and secondary data collection and data analysis, to be concluded by planning and designing of integrated sanitation solutions for Kiandutu settlement.

To welcome the Kiandutu community to ADD was the Dean of the School of the Built Environment (SBE), Prof. T.J.C Anyamba, and Dr. Samuel Obiero, the chairman of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning (DURP). The introductions were made by Prof. Peter Ngau, who warmly received the guests to the University of Nairobi.  Dean praised the university-community collaboration as a big a step and part of university policy. This was something the University valued and encouraged as part of the university engagements. It would not only benefit the community involved, but also expose students to the reality of the situation on the ground.

Prof. Peter Ngau expounded on the rationale for the studio and its importance to the university and the community, not forgetting the partners Slum Dwellers International (SDI) and the Association of African Planning Schools (AAPS). Arch/Planner Charles Karisa, the studio coordinator and Mr. James Wanyoike, his assistant both organized the day’s presentations and discussion sessions. In the presentation the teams highlighted the objectives of the studio, the methodology used in the studio, the existing conditions in Kiandutu, emerging issues and the recommendations. This was also backed up by the community planning team validating the facts provided in the presentation as the reality of the situation in Kiandutu. Mr. Karisa highlighted the principles underlying the studio. They include sustainability, environmental design and management. The presentations marked a mid-stage in the studio. The next phase will be formulation, design and building of the proposed sanitation facility at the three cluster points.  The conclusion of the joint studio presentation was marked by kikuyu – traditional community singing and dancing at the façade of the ADD building – a performance never before witnessed in the University.

CURI, 26th May 2014


Shaping Human Settlements Through Partnerships Between Slum Dwellers and Academia

By Peoples Process on Housing and Poverty in Zambia (PPHPZ) & The University of Zambia (UNZ)

Kalikiliki-Lusaka, Planning studio

It is indisputable that the urban poor have the propensity to drive socio-economic transformation in their respective settlements through a coherent and systematic process of organized participation starting at the grassroots level. Vital to this transformation is the need to establish a powerful relationship between communities, local authorities and central governments – with government playing a powerful role in developing policies that directly affect the urban poor. In Zambia, and other developing countries, policy implementation remains a big challenge owing to the failure of officials to fully comprehend the realities on the ground and actively include grassroots communities in the development processes that affect their lives.

In an attempt to enhance mutual learning and planning with communities, the Zambian SDI alliance partnered with the University of Zambia’s (UNZA) Spatial Planning masters students to put theory into practice- conducting a participatory urban planning studio. The students are mostly officials from local and central government, as well as from other civil society organizations. It is envisioned that the students will be able to influence policy implementation given their current positions within government structures.

The urban planning studio aimed to practically demonstrate participatory slum upgrading possibilities in Kalikiliki informal settlement. The approach was largely bottom up, placing the grassroots community at the centre of the development process in order to come up with a Local Area Plan tailored to the wishes and aspirations of the Kalikiliki community. This report documents the processes and milestones that have been realized through this studio process.

Community Led Mapping and Enumerations

The Zambian federation conducted a mapping and enumeration exercise in Kalikiliki (Lusaka) under the Know Your City project in 2013. A myriad of developmental challenges surfaced from this exercise that are characteristic of most of the un-regularised informal settlements in Lusaka, and Zambia at large. The salient issues were lack of secure tenure, decent housing, improper solid waste management, and WATSAN (water and sanitation) access. As a follow up to the Kalikiliki mapping and enumeration exercise, the masters students sought to build on this repository of information and have an action oriented plan towards improving the appalling living conditions which characterized life in Kalikiliki.Kalikiliki-Lusaka, Planning studio

Signing of Memorandum of Understanding

On 10th December 2013, PPHPZ and UNZA signed an M.o.U to formalize their relationship. The M.o.U aimed to improve the Masters of Science in Spatial planning curriculum offered by the University and promote the goal of inclusive Zambian Cities that integrate the interests of informal residents.

The Masters of Science in spatial planning is the first of its kind being offered by the university and The Ministry of Local Government and Housing has sponsored ten officials drawn from local and central government to undertake the programme in an effort to build the capacity of the city planning fraternity. The programme thus provides a great opportunity to transform city planning in Zambia, with a bias towards hands on experience with informal areas and the massive challenges the urban poor face.

ZHPF/PPHPZ lecture critiques

The ZHPF (Zambian Homeless Peoples Federation), through the Kalikiliki saving schemes, were from time to time requested to give lectures on participatory slum upgrading to the masters students at UNZA. The lectures were important moments because this was the first time the federation was teaching educated and experienced professionals in a lecture theatre. The focus of the lecture critiques was to bridge the gap between theory and practise in the participatory slum upgrading discourse. This was achieved by drawing from the lived experiences of the Zambian Federation.

 One of the most interesting lectures focused on building standards. The Federation posed the question of “whose standards?” In earlier lectures some students had taken a purely theoretical approach arguing that slums should be razed and “decent” housing built for slum dwellers. However, the Federation argued that there is no government that can afford to embark on such a colossal endeavour, and that the most practical option is in situ upgrading. The Federation also made a strong case that whatever legal standards are adopted should conform to realities on the ground.

Community validation meetings

 The ZHPF were largely responsible for mobilizing the residents of Kalikiliki to participate in the upgrading of their settlement. The ward councillor (The Honorable Benjamin Chanda), Lusaka City Council officials, ward development committees, churches, water trusts, market stall holders, senior citizens and other community based organizations (CBOs) all participated.  One of the key strategies employed to disseminate information was announcing activities through various churches. Pastors played a crucial role in encouraging congregations to participate, which resulted in large numbers of people taking part.

 5 validation meetings were held with the residents of Kalikiliki who actively participated in the shaping of the local area development plans developed through the studio. These validation meetings helped to reinforce social cohesion in the community as residents came together for the common good.

Kalikiliki-Lusaka, Planning studio

Final presentation of Kalikiliki Local Area Plans

 After broad consultations with the community the final local area plan was tabled before the Lusaka City Council for possible adoption on 6th March 2014. Students generously shared their thoughts on and experiences of the Kalikiliki planning studio and its outputs. Most appreciated the principle of community participation, the emphasis on community empowerment, consensus building, and the fact that government was brought closer to the residents of Kalikiliki. Speaking through their class representative, Mr Jamie Mukwato (The Director of City Planning, Livingstone City Council), the students said the following about their experiences in Kalikiliki.

The project in Kalikiliki gave us an opportunity to genuinely engage with informality. We have always considered the issue of informality as peripheral to our daily planning work. The Kalikiliki project thus provided a new lens to examine the relationship between informality and urban planning in Zambia.  The studio gave us an opportunity to examine our planning values and ethics in a country where informality accounts for over 70 percent of the urban population. Generally, planners do not engage with the informal sector in the way we did during this project. Informality is here to stay and as planners we need to look for a way to work with our people in the streets and in informal settlements. During this planning project we developed multiple skills. These included learning how to work with the community to formulate a plan that responds to the massive challenges they face on a daily basis. It was an appropriate learning experience that built the desire to respond to the real challenge of urban poverty. The process sharpened practical skills in dealing with people from different backgrounds.  For upcoming planners the studio offered a great initiation into the world of planning.   

There was significant community representation with local leaders and community members expressing satisfaction with the process. Representing the Lusaka City Council, Mr. Chanda, the ward councilor for the area stated that:  

“The final plans that have been jointly formulated opened up the space to actualize our dreams for an improved Kalikiliki settlement. Both the settlement-wide and precinct plans have provided me with a course of action to immediately start development activities together with the community, especially around solid waste management. I thank UNZA, PPHPZ and other partners for the initiative in this much-neglected settlement. I pledge my commitment to help take the ideas developed, including the need to have this settlement declared as legal, to the council chambers and the area Member of Parliament.”

Pastor Tembo, on behalf of the community, noted that:

“The project has given the community an opportunity to discuss strategies for improving living conditions. We have been looking for a partner to promote upgrading activities including community-led waste management. We are ready to work with UNZA, PPHPZ and other stakeholders and will support any initiative meant to upgrade our settlement. This is our home and we have been living here for decades, so why continue to regard our home as an “illegal” settlement? On behalf of the Kalikiliki Pastor’s Fellowship Association, the church and the community, I wish to say that the future of the more than 20,000 people depends on initiatives like this one and not on disturbing the way of life for a community who have been here for over 30 years.”

The Lusaka City Council was represented by the Senior Community development Officer, who reflected that:

“It proved to be a challenge for Local Authorities to access houses, especially in the western end of the settlement where houses are haphazardly erected. The proposed plans by students will assist in improving access within Kalikiliki.   These plans will not be wasted and we will consider implementing some of the ideas tabled. Working with the Millennium Challenge Account Zambia (MCAZ) and other partners, we will focus on implementing proposals on waste management, water and sanitation, improving access and eventually achieve full regularization of the settlement. We will also work to ensure that the issuance of occupancy certificates is expedited to cover every resident in Kalikiliki. This will ensure easy administration of ground rents and the overall effective management of the settlement”

The Kalikiliki Federation leader Mrs Mulauzi added:

“The federation provides a forum for all the residents in the settlement to take charge of their lives by having an opportunity to access finances for both short and long term investments through savings. If you are worried that you will not have finances to improve your house after the upgrading process, come and join our movement. Our “husbands”, (PPHPZ), are always there to help us with the necessary skills needed for our survival and continuous improvement. They make appointments for us to meet senior government and donor officials such as ministers, the mayor, and other important partners. So do not be left behind, come and join us now.”

Key milestones of the studio

The spatial planning studio demonstrated the efficacy of partnering with organized communities in compiling development plans that address vital grassroots challenges. The studio provided the students with practical insights into the experiential knowledge of slum dwellers.  The technical expertise of students, combined with community knowledge, allowed for the development of spatial development frameworks.

The studio methodology was a departure from conventional academic approaches. Kalikiliki slum dwellers lectured students and in so doing reduced the gap between practice and theory. By placing communities at the centre stage of the planning studio an enabling environment for mutual learning and co-production was created.

Kalikiliki-Lusaka, Planning studio

As a result of the solid partnership between the Kalikiliki and The UNZA the community was able to attract the attention of the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) in Zambia. MCA is one of the largest global development donors and is considering implementing some of the proposed upgrading interventions tabled in the spatial development frameworks for Kalikiliki. This furthers the goal of the studio moving beyond a mere academic exercise.

Furthermore the studio enhanced social cohesion among the Kalikiliki community as they came together to propose development plans for their settlement. This also fostered the relationship between the community and the ward councilor, ward development committee and the local authority. It is understood that the plans will be adopted by the Lusaka City Council and set a precedent for other local authorities in Zambia. Efforts are now underway to ensure the adoption of the plans during the next full council meeting.




Learning Differently: Community Planning Studio with AAPS in Namibia

AAPS Studio in Namibia

**Cross posted from Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia blog**

Following the first studio the community was anxious to embark on the second studio.  These studios have increased in importance considering the introduction of the Mass Housing initiative of the Government of Namibia; NHAG-SDFN proposed the participatory planning process of communities to be a cornerstone for informal settlement upgrading.  The second studio took place from 7 to 10 March 2014, involving the same group of town planning students from the Polytechnic of Namibia that participated in the first studio during September 2013, now doing layout planning as third year town planning students.  The learning during this studio was not limited to academic participants but included officials from the Ministry of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development, the Opuwo Mayor and Property Officer representing team members from the UN-Habitat Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme, a Community Development official from the City of Windhoek, and officials from the Gobabis Municipality.  Federation members from South Africa and all regions of Namibia, as well as a staff member from CORC with previous studio experiences in the network also participated in the weekend’s activities.

During the opening session of the second studio in the settlement, the students presented the proposed layout plans in the form of posters based on the findings of the site analysis.  The CEO of the Gobabis Municipality welcomed the participants, stressing the importance of settlement residents and the Municipality to start doing their homework to prepare the settlement for Mass Housing Programme that will benefit the settlement in the coming months.

’’The site analysis helped the community to look at improving the settlement.  We have to change the living standards in Freedom Square.  We wanted water, toilets and electricity and land.  During the feedback discussions with the municipality, it was indicated that water lines can be extended in the settlement.  Waste management was also an important issue that was identified by the residents.  Since the last studio, we have more people migrating into Freedom Square and settling with family members, but not a lot of new shacks are being built.” Rufus Mbathera, community participant as part of the Freedom Square overview of the previous studio during the opening session. 

The community experienced flooding the Friday night and requested a visit to the affected areas.  A walk through the settlement therefore preceded the planning session by inspecting the recently flooding area, which was indicated on the map using GPS.  The town planning lecturer explained the drainage pattern on the settlement map, which the community needed to consider when looking at the drainage pathways and proposed road layout for the settlement.

AAPS Studio in Namibia

Thus for the design, participants had to take the current roads and water catchment areas into consideration.  During the site analysis of the first studio, community members discussed how the water runs southwards from Block 9, which is on higher ground, down to Block 1 and 2.  One of the barriers to the natural flow of rain water in the settlement was the weir stockpiled by the municipality to prevent cars from taking a shortcut through the area.  This restrained the natural flow of the water, causing the water to collect at the lower parts in Block 1.  This was identified as a huge problem as the area is occupied by households which are normally flooded during the rainy session.  During the previous studio the community members also talked about the seasonal migration that takes place within the settlement when houses relocate to avoid flooding and as it was very heavy rainy season the damage caused by the rain was evident and some households already relocated their structures.

AAPS Studio in Namibia

Maureen, a federation member from South African emphasised the importance for a proper layout: ‘’ambulances and police can get easier access into and out of the settlement if there are problems , this is important for safety and security of the residents” she said.

Sanitation options were explained by the Gobabis Community Development Officer, when sharing the Local Authority’s experience with alternative sanitation in Kanaan, the informal settlement bordering on the north-eastern side of Freedom Square.  Due to high water tables in the area and the absence of proper management the dry sanitation installed in this area was not found to be feasible.

The need for major access routes, social spaces and stormwater management and the needs of the elderly were discussed within the various smaller block groupings formed during the site analysis (first studio).  The initial exercise considered the entire settlement to establish a broader development framework.  Some groups were eager to verify of the structures in the blocks, whereby the need was emphasised to start focus on how the individual block design will fit into the larger settlement.  Community members indicated major access routes and roads, meeting areas, hazards and major flooding areas in the settlement.  Each group presented their outcomes on the bigger settlement map.

‘’We should put ourselves in the shoes of the elderly, they should point out the routes they use to go to town, clinic or to the shops, so that when the roads come, they maintain the current movement routes in the settlement.’’ Student participant

Urban agriculture was raised by Block 8 and 9 on the northern edge of settlement and Block 1 and 2 in the south western corner, when considering the planning for the establishment of community gardens, in response to the natural flow of water in the settlement.  In Block 9 this will act as a catchment area for water flowing from the high part of the settlement located on the foot of the hill, and in Block 1 & 2 the garden will be located on the lower side of the settlement prone to flooding.  The produce from the garden will be used to feed the elderly and the orphans in the settlement.

The location of shebeens in the settlement caused heated debates covering aspects of registration, ongoing noise through all hours of the day and night, while acknowledging it as a source of income and hence the need for suitable locations.

Reblocking and layouts continued on Sunday in the teams comprising community members, town planning students and professional staff according to the demarcated blocks in the settlement.  Due to threatening weather conditions it was decided to move the “community office under the tree” to the Epako community hall after lunch.  All was amazed that even more community members turned up to complete the designs for their blocks.  Each group presented its layout in preparation for presentation at the official closing session on the Monday morning. 

AAPS Studio in Namibia

The second studio was closed on Monday in the presence of various dignitaries, including the Ambassador to Spain, Regional and Local Authority Councillors, while the keynote address of the Deputy Minister of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development was delivered by the Acting Director of Housing, Habitat and Technical Services Coordination.  The community presented their layouts and designs to the guests. 

‘’You, as members of the community, are key in the successes of the programme, without you it would not be possible.  You are the ones that guide the process with the support of the implementing agencies.’’ Spanish Ambassador, Her Excellency Diaz Orejas

‘’It is important that we came together to do the planning as the community, but it is also important to share what we have learnt with the rest of the community, those not present at the meeting.’’ Charlie, Freedom Square community member

Future sustainability through income generation and recycling: Community shares experiences with South Africans

Sunday morning started off with a frenzy of discussions and demonstration of income generating projects, with the focus on bead making using paper and urban agriculture and planting of herbs.  Maureen informed participants of the many herbs that can be used for healing – mint in tea, cinnamon and lavender to help with sleep.  ‘’All this different types of herbs can be planted in a small space in your yard’’.

To learn more about SDI’s studios with AAPS you can attend our event at the World Urban Forum in Medellin, Colombia, “Planning Differenlty: Community Based Slum Upgrading Studios” on Wednesday 9 April from 2:00-4:00pm in the Yellow Pavilon, Room 12

Namibia’s First Community Planning Studio: Preparing for Slum Upgrading in Freedom Square, Gobabis


*Cross posted from the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia blog** 

Students and community members share their experiences on the site analysis exercise in Freedom Square Informal Settlement in Gobabis.

The planning for the Freedom Square informal settlement came about as a result of an exchange that took place in March 2012 to Cape Town and Stellenbosch with Municipal councillors and officials from three local authorities (Gobabis, Grootfontein and Keetmanshoop) to learn about how communities and local authorities use enumeration and mapping information collected by the community to upgrade and plan their settlements. Following the exchange, the municipality proposed the re-blocking of the Freedom Square informal settlement in collaboration with the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia (SDFN) and Namibia Housing Action Group (NHAG). The exercise was sped up by the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the municipality and SDFN-NHAG on 15 August 2013. With the assistance of SDI and the Association of African Planning Schools (AAPS), the re-blocking exercise involved the Land Management and Architecture Departments of the Polytechnic of Namibia (PoN) based on the MoU signed between PoN and the SDFN-NHAG in February 2012. 

The exercise started off with feedback by residents on data collected and structures mapped through the Community Land Information Programme (CLIP) that was carried out between February and June 2012 in the settlement, with the support of NHAG and HabitAfrica, assisted by the Spanish Cooperation.

With assistance from the community and guidance from the lecturers and NHAG staff, the students carried out the site evaluation – community members teamed up with the students visiting each structure in the nine blocks, employing local knowledge to clarify the use of structures, accessing of services in and outside the settlement and explain the way of life of residents in the blocks.

Feedback on the exercise was given to the community and the municipality. The importance of community participation in the whole exercise was echoed and appreciated by many of the students, who were able to get a better understanding of the cultural dimensions of site planning and settlement layout through an insider’s perception.


The students gave us their cooperation, we worked well together and through the whole exercise I improved on how to do mapping in the community. (Ludwina, CLIP team member from Block 4),

The site analysis brought light to how I see my surroundings. I learned how to use a GPS as we were doing the mapping. I also got to see which areas are suitable to build my house on and which aren’t, in order to avoid flooding, during the rainy season. (Loraine, Community member Block 5)

The students gave us cooperation during the mapping exercise, usually we just hear of GPS, but don’t know how to use one, through the exercise I learned how a GPS works. By using the GPS we learned that we can update our information of the people that moved. (Rufus from Block 2)

Maria gave feedback on the layout to the community and was very excited about the whole process “it was a wonderful weekend, we showed the students everything in our block, and I learned more about the water flow“. Diana added that in block three, working with the students they mapped out the unsafe areas, which gave more light on the dangers in the area.


Nina from Block 6 had this to say, “Through the exercise I learned more about my community and their needs, members in my community who did not join the exercise were very grateful that I assisted the students. I learned about the different trees in the community , and that we should not cut the protected trees. It was a wonderful experience; I had the opportunity to see my house on the aerial photograph. The people in our block are very excited and ready to start saving, we have already selected a tree under which we will have our meeting on Saturday”.

Eunice a student from PoN: ‘’Awesome!  During the exercise I learned that it is important to strengthen the community, this experience helped me have a different perspective on informal settlement residents, that they have a willingness to see change in their surroundings.

Hilaria: Previously believed that working with the community is difficult, the exercise showed me that it’s an easy process and a planner’s job should not be desk bound. I hope to work in more informal settlements.

Janine: It was fun, I loved the experience, the community was eager and willing to participate in the exercise. The elder people in the community were among the ones committed, I believe it was that they have hope for a better environment, as they have been living in the area for a long time. Through this exercise more community members I have observed are starting saving groups. As a future town planner, the experience showed me the importance of community participation in planning.

Adriano observed that using the local vernacular helps open participation and that the community do want to stay in a planned settlement.
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Laina: People here are in need of water, toilets and clear roads for vehicular access, this exercise gave me a clear picture on how to plan for informal settlements.

Martha: Advocacy planning, I believe, works better when consulting the community , bottom up planning is better than the conventional planning approach , as planners get to know the needs of the community and plan according to their priorities.

Sacky: The whole exercise confirmed my career choice as a future town planner; this showed me the benefits that may come out of a planning exercise, and it can change the lives of the community for the better.

Eva: There is always the belief that informal settlers are not willing to participate in their own development. This exercise showed me a different picture, as there were community members who actively participated, I call them the brave hearts, as we worked the whole day and they stayed with us until the end. Planning from the office is not as important as planning from within the community.

Gerson: Am very interested in seeing the final outcome of the exercise and hope to come back.

Participation of municipal officials  

Municipal officials were present during the preparation meetings and the activities during the weekend.   Two dedicated meetings with the officials took place, one on Friday before the studio started and one following the activities in the community.  Mr Mbala, the new Strategic Executive for Local Economic Development, Urban Planning and Health indicated that the Council should not continuously resettle communities from one location to the other, but should aim for proper planning which can result in secure tenure for the residents.

The urgent issues identified by the community include waste in open spaces  and the need for more  water taps.  The officials are looking into addressing these issues with the community. The community, students and other stakeholders will participate in the layout planning and re-blocking studios during the first six months of next year. 

Taking Academia to the Slums: AAPS Attends the 5 Cities Seminar

Langrug Site Visit

Langrug informal settlement hosted an SDI-AAPS studio this past year.

By Noah Schermbrucker, SDI Secretariat

Last week’s 5 Cities Seminar focused on building relationships; relationships between urban poor communities and government, between federations of the urban poor in different cities who face similar, yet unique, challenges and between the formal and informal worlds that shape rapidly urbanizing cities.  Throughout the conference, urban planners from the African Association of Planning Schools (AAPS) have joined communities and officials to learn about incremental informal settlement upgrading.

Partnerships with university planning schools can produce tangible results and leverage resources for urban poor communities. Over the past year, AAPS and SDI have facilitated a number of planning studios (In Uganda, Cape Town and Malawi) with various outputs (e.g. settlement-wide upgrading strategies, circulation and infrastructure designs, and detailed maps of previously undocumented settlements). The studios have started to remove planners from the comfort of their offices and challenged antiquated norms and standards, ensuring a serious engagement with urban poor communities. These engagements need to be sustained and not once off interventions so that their value is not significantly diminished.

On the third day of the 5 Cities conference, planners from across Africa held a separate reflection session where they received a detailed brief on the Cape Town planning studio which took place in the beginning of 2012 and discussed the other studios that had taken place in Kampala and Malawi.  The Cape Town studio, a partnership between the South African SDI Alliance and The University of Cape Town has taken place for the last two years. The 2012 studio was a 6-month engagement with Langrug, the informal settlement that the 5 Cities delegates visited on day 1 of the conference.

Langrug Site Visit

Students with backgrounds in urban planning and architecture worked with the community to produce upgrading plans for the settlement to be used by the local municipality with whom the community already has an MoU. A significant challenge is what actual impacts such long terms plans have, and if more immediate short or medium term plans would have led to more immediate results for the community, rather than grand scale long term visions.

Further discussions ranged across a number of studio related topics, including what type and level of students have worked on the studios, how studios should become sustainable permanent fixtures in the curriculum, the importance of drawing in government officials to maximize political capital and momentum and how the studio, in a dialogic engagement between community leaders and students, should set community priorities and have tangible outputs.  

An important point raised by Professor Mtafu Muanda from Malawi was about working in communities that do not have a large SDI presence. He related how the planning studio in Salisbury Lines, Mzuzu had worked with a much larger community and there was a relatively insignificant SDI federation. He explained that for a studio to be effective it had to draw in the whole community and not just a select group of federation members as this fragments the community and might undermine traditional leadership structures. In the case of the Blantyre studio, the Federation used the studio to mobilize the larger community and make them aware of their activities. The traditional leadership structure, and their buy-in into the studio, also assisted greatly with making the studio a community wide process.

Mzuzu Studio-Salisbury Lines-Sanitation Mzuzu Studio-Data collection-Developing Strategy

Images from the SDI-AAPS Studio at Salisbury Lines settlement in Mzuzu. 

In addition, new studios were mooted, especially outside of South Africa, for the upcoming year. In Tanzania preparations are already underway for a collaborative studio between the SDI affiliate (CCI – Center for Community Initiatives) and Ardhi University; a Namibian studio will take place later in the year and the possibility of a studio in Zimbabwe was raised. The point was stressed that such studios need to become a part of the curriculum and not singular events.

Just as planning does not occur in a silo, separated form local contexts of informality, neither does the shaping of a city. The links between legislators, planners, implementers and communities are evident, although all too often not given enough consideration.  Because of these links, it makes sense that AAPS planners form part of the 5 Cities programme and learn about informal settlement planning and upgrading, themes that are relevant to experiences and conditions of informality in South Africa and across the African continent.

Building relationships between planners and urban poor communities is an important part of SDI’s ongoing efforts to link the formal with the informal. There is certainly a space for planners within such partnerships, as long as they are positioned not as “top down” professionals but as co-learners who work with the community to produce tangible results based on community priorities and grounded reality.