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


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.

Pineapple Studios: SDI at 2012 AAPS All Schools Conference in Nairobi


By Skye Dobson, SDI Uganda & Secretariat 

There were a number of comments from professors at the AAPS Conference in Nairobi (October 16-18) about the name that should be given to Urban Studios. Should they be called practical planning studios? Reality studios? How can they be distinguished from the studios to which planners are accustomed? For SDI, as one programme officer pointed out, “they could be called pineapples for all we care, as long as they do the work and have productive outcomes.”

This reality check was, in many ways, the reason SDI was invited to this gathering of planning professors from across Africa. A partnership between AAPS and SDI is working to make planning more responsive to the realities of life in developing cities by bringing planning students into partnership with slum dweller federations in SDI’s network.

Sheela Patel, one of the founders of SDI and chair of the organization’s board, gave the keynote address, which undoubtedly ruffled the feathers of a few professors who questioned the focus on slums, informality, and even the urban sector.

Sheela didn’t sugar coat her relationship to planners either. “I used to love to hate planners”, she said. As the years passed, however, she came to realize it is necessary to examine the reasons why planners were not serving the needs of the urban poor and work to change it.  She said her blood would boil as a young professional when she would be forced to sit across from a planner who ordered eviction after eviction, but she focused on finding the cracks and the loopholes, that would enable a critical mass of urban residents to generate solutions. For the critical mass, finding solutions was easy. The city could not plan for what it did not know.

She urged participants to work toward disconnecting planning from 19th century principles and recognize that planning is deeply political. Despite endless platitudes to the urban poor, she argued, the judiciary continues to uphold deeply exclusionary urban planning systems. This, she warned, could have terrible consequences for the cities of the developing world where she doubts young, impatient, and aspirational populations will not be prepared to wait for years for their cities to recognize them. She said the time has come for African planners to move away from Eurocentric models and generate their own.

AAPS is deeply cognizant of this need and the conference highlighted the urban pineapples conducted by SDI affiliates and AAPS member schools. The studios highlighted were conducted in Uganda and Malawi and the Kenya federation shared its experience working with students. The presentations highlighted the benefit to students and communities through such partnerships. The sense that the university is an ivory tower with little to no relevance to the urban poor was turned on its head. Each studio aimed to infuse Africa’s future planners with the knowledge that planning developing cities simply cannot ignore the reality of life in the informal settlements where the bulk of the urban population resides. As student Sam Nuwagira, a studio participant from Uganda, remarked, “As planners we are taught that we are gods. The studio helped me to see that the gods are the community as they have the knowledge about their areas.”

This point was reinforced by federation member and “community professor” Katana Goretti, “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.” As part of the urban studio in Uganda, Katana delivered lectures at Makerere University, took students on transect walks through Uganda’s slums, and helped student planners understand the necessity of planning with communities. 

Critically, the studio work will need to impact upon the planning curriculum. There was much discussion about how this might be possible and also much concern about the bureaucratic barriers within universities. This discussion will continue within the AAPS community. Many professors present expressed interest in conducting similar studio to the ones conducted with SDI and countries such as Nigeria, Mozambique, and Rwanda expressed interest in starting SDI affiliate federations.

For SDI the vision is to see organized communities become the drivers of pragmatic and inclusive urban planning. Building partnerships with actors typically charged with urban planning – such as municipal and city councils, urban ministries, and academic institutions – is seen as the most viable strategy for incrementally generating systemic changes to the practice of urban planning. Critically, partnerships – like pineapples – can look good from the outside, but be brown, mushy, and useless at the center. True partnerships involve negotiation and engagement between equals. Community professors still face challenges being perceived as such, but SDI believes it’s headed in the right direction.