Making slum upgrading work in urban Africa
Africa's slums are growing at twice the rate of its cities. By some accounts, sub-Saharan Africa will have upwards of 332 million slum dwellers by 2015. While millions of dollars have been spent improving the conditions in Africa's urban informal settlements and the lives of the people who live therein, overall these efforts have amounted to little more than a drop in the ocean. Join our six panelists to explore the options for stemming the growth of these sprawling settlements and improving conditions in those slums that already exist: Irene Karanja of Muungano Support Trust (SDI) (Kenya); Claudio Torres of the UN-HABITAT Participatory Slum Upgrading Unit (PSUP) (Kenya); architect, urban planner, and World Bank Municipal Development Program consultant Sara Candiracci (Mozambique); Aditya Kumar of the Community Organization Resource Centre (CORC) (SDI) (South Africa); Jhono Bennett of the University of Johannesburg (South Africa); and Marie Huchzermeyer of the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa).
Click on the pictures to see each panelist's perspective below.
Irene Karanja — Executive Director of Muungano Support Trust, a secretariat of the Shack/Slum Dwellers International Federation (SDI) (Kenya)
Over the last 25 years, slum dwellers from cities in Africa have successfully mobilized into collections of Federations of the Urban Poor.
These federations have collected their own financial resources in the form of savings and data pools, creating citywide profiles and extensive slum censuses. Unknown to the world, slum federations have managed to produce a large volume of documented knowledge about themselves that has transformed how the government delivers important services to its poor citizens and how financial instruments can be innovated by financial institutions to serve the needs of the poor.
Using data collected from the profiles and censuses, Muungano Support Trust, a local NGO working with the federation of Kenya, has provided advisory services to the Government of Kenya and the World Bank, in order to help them intervene and provide housing solutions to over 10,000 families in the Kibera and Mukuru areas of Nairobi.
The trust has also worked with university planning schools from the local and international academia community to influence how transforming planning discourse can untrap informal human settlements from the snares of historically rigid city planning standards.
The private sector has grand opportunities to turn urban poor communities into important players within the city. Financial resources from the poor are beginning to challenge and put pressure on the private sector to innovate solutions. Federations have interventions that are facilitating this to happen.
Data collected by communities with the support and technical capacity of organizations such as Muungano Support Trust, shows that there is a missing link that government interventions are not able to fill and development assistance is failing to cover.
Insecurity of tenure remains one of the biggest challenges to improving the lives of slum dwellers in Nairobi. The government needs to release land for human settlement, whether it be public, private, or contested. If this does not happen, development aid will continue to subsidize the costs required for technical services to innovate various kinds of solutions for what are essentially locked scenarios!
Irene Karanja is the founding Executive Director of Muungano Support Trust (MuST), a secretariat of the Slum/Shack Dwellers Federation in Kenya. She is a specialist in participatory research, community organizing and capacity building for the urban poor. For over six years, she has transformed the use of participatory techniques for data collection into a major instrument for planning the upgrading of slums. She has organized a strong constituency of slum dwellers to assume leadership of these settlements through savings groups, housing cooperatives and women's associations.
Claudio Torres — Architect, UN-HABITAT Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme (PSUP) (Kenya)
African countries represent the majority of the least developed countries (LCD). Taking into account the fact that in most of these countries, the urban population growth is expanding at a faster pace than the national one, it is important to make three considerations in answering the question: "What will it take to make slum upgrading work in African urban centres?"
Governments should be prepared to 'give away'. National and local governments should weigh out the costs and risks of perpetuating the status quo and should fulfill the right of adequate housing for all at a pace that copes with the increase in poor urban households. They should prioritise, for example, the free provision of land for the urban poor, in the understanding that there will be no real estate profit and that no particular individual will benefit — a challenging task in a context where African post-independence elites have generally improved their own lives with little regard to equity and social justice.
Strategies for the provision of adequate housing for the urban poor should go beyond market logic. In trying to come up with housing strategies that appeal to investors, the focus has shifted from the upgrading of the slum dwellers' living conditions to the beautification of particularly degraded areas. This unchaining of a series of transaction costs results in a gentrification process that relocates the problem without giving it a solution. Slum upgrading strategies should strictly be conceived through a human rights approach.
Adequate housing strategies should trigger self-relief dynamics in overcoming poverty. The problem of urban poverty is too big to miss the opportunity to engage concerned communities in devising its solution. The Latin-American slum upgrading experience has demonstrated that giving the right initial impulse to poor urban communities actually encourages a progressive and proactive self-upgrading attitude in slum residents, reducing the need for government funds to improve the living conditions of the urban poor. A strong involvement of the community can also help to reduce the risk of benefiting the wrong people, a common shortfall in superficially planned slum upgrading interventions.
Claudio Torres is an architect with 10 years experience in the field of slum upgrading and housing in an African context. His work has taken him from the slums of Nairobi to settlements in Somaliland and South Sudan where he has worked as an architect, monitoring and evaluation expert, project manager, and construction expert. Torres has worked extensively in Nairobi's Mathare valley slum with the Italian NGO COOPI, helping to set up an office in the field from which he coordinated a series of different programs. He is currently a consultant for the Participatory Slum Upgrading Program (PSUP), a division of UN-Habitat.
Sara Candiracci — Architect, Urban Planner and Consultant, World Bank Municipal Development Program (Mozambique)
Urbanization in Africa is growing and national governments and local authorities are faced with the challenge of guiding cities' growth while dealing with other constraints, including limited financial resources; weak institutional, management, and technical capacities; lack of proper urban policies and financial mechanisms to mobilize and regulate investments.
To strengthen the ability of African cities to generate wealth, prosperity, and economic and human development, national governments and local authorities need to define a clear vision for the future of their cities and their informal settlements.
Cities must be seen and treated as complex organisms whose elements are interconnected. Informal settlements should be seen as an integral part of this organism, and not as a "sick body" to be fought. They constitute a precious resource for the city and its population and must be included in the urban grid.
Each and every stakeholder, whether it be the national government, local authorities, civil society, the community, the private sector, or the donor community, have a role to play and must be partners in the development and implementation of this vision for the city. In particular, the active participation of the local community is essential in finding lasting solutions, and to guarantee ownership and sustainability, social cohesion, and integration.
The implementation of comprehensive and integrated improvement plans in informal areas would be ideal; however, it takes a long time and requires considerable financial resources. Considering the constraints in local financial and institutional capabilities, it is preferable to adopt an incremental approach, whereby small-scale interventions are first envisioned and planned in an extensive development plan, and then are carried out gradually through community participation.
Priority must be given to the improvement and provision of infrastructure, basic services, accessibility, safety, and the creation of economic opportunities. Concurrently, special attention should be given to outdoor public spaces, where a vital part of the community's social, cultural, and economic activities is conducted. Improving these spaces would improve the framework of daily life and bring dignity, beauty, and utility to informal and poor areas with minimal resources.
Sara Candiracci is an architect and urban planner with 10 years experience in the design, management, and implementation of several urban planning and slum upgrading projects in Latin America and Africa with different organizations including UN-Habitat, the Inter-American Development Bank, and various NGOs. She is now working at the Municipality of Maputo, Mozambique, as Urban Planning Advisor for the World Bank Municipal Development Program. She is also conducting her PhD research on the potential use of urban cultural heritage in urban regeneration and planning, considering Maputo as case of study.
Aditya Kumar — Deputy Director, Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC), an affiliate of Shack/Slum Dwellers International (South Africa)
Over the last 20 years, the South African government has been hailed as having the most progressive housing and poverty policy environments in the continent. Besides making welfare grants available to previously marginalized communities, it has made provisions to provide housing to any citizen earning under R3,500 ($350)/month.
Although more than 2.3 million subsidized homes have been built across the country, the impacts of the housing policy have fallen short. Informal settlements have gone up by 900 percent (from 300 to 2,700) while there are an estimated 2.1 million people on the waiting list for state-subsidized housing.
Realizing the constraints of the housing program, the State has rapidly shifted its emphasis to informal settlement upgrading. New regulatory frameworks like Outcome 8 have been developed to allow for provision of basic services and tenure rights.
While the aims of Outcome 8 and its aligned policies have been well defined, in my view there are still gaps in addressing the bigger issues. Firstly, how incremental informal settlement upgrading is implemented must be defined: are we trying to address tenure rights or basic services, land or housing, dependency on the state or self-reliance through livelihoods? Secondly, there is the manner in which informal settlement upgrading is being rolled out. Currently it doesn't account for strong community, civil society, and NGO participation, nor does it address the broader issue of project finance, outsourcing, and party politics.
The process of upgrading is about learning and letting go, about making space for communities to innovate with the state, about creating a city-wide network/movement that can change the spatial patterns of the city and strengthen citizenship.
Aditya Kumar is the technical coordinator and deputy director for the Community Organization Resource Centre (CORC), affiliated to Shack/Slum Dwellers International, currently working with informal settlement and backyarder dwellers of South Africa. His previous experience has included post-war reconstruction of Palestinian refugee camps (Lebanon), post-earthquake disaster housing reconstruction (India), affordable and social housing and large urban development projects (Los Angeles and Boston). His work has fostered multi-stakeholder partnerships between local communities, CBOs, government bodies, academic institutions, and International NGOs, with a key focus on strengthening community-driven design, planning, and implementation. The reconstruction of Palestinian refugee camps has also been shortlisted for the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.
Jhono Bennett — Architect and Lecturer and Researcher, University of Johannesburg
The National Development Plan's Outcome 8 agreement is behind the South African government's current shift towards in situ housing upgrading as a means of redevelopment. This goal of upgrading 400,000 informal settlements has been developed under the mandate of the National Upgrade Support Program.
Large-scale construction consortiums are working alongside the government, in collaboration with various planning, architectural, and non-governmental entities on the current Reconstruction & Development Program.
While these initiatives are creating an institutional framework to begin addressing the needs of informal settlement residents in South Africa, there is little focus across the board on training effective practitioners who can play crucial intermediary roles not only in informal settlement upgrading but also in the nation's spatial redevelopment.
From my experience in this field, it seems that there are a disproportionately small number of practitioners who have the understanding, experience, or empathy required to engage with the dynamics of informal settlement communities and the complexity of working within the social, economic, and political intricacy that exists between grassroots entities and government structures.
A major factor for this condition is related to the lack of opportunities for spatial design practitioners (engineers, architects, planners, etc), to be exposed to these complex environments. As a result, many 'professionals', as well as many government officials, often display dangerously simplistic views on how to 'fix' the problems at hand.
From my work and experience in academia and the NGO sector, I believe that empathetic spatial design practitioners hold the key position to engage effectively at the 'community' level while addressing the larger spatial inequalities of post-apartheid South Africa.
My aim lies in understanding and sharing contextually appropriate training, practice, and precedents through critical engagement with South Africa's residents of poor and unsafe living conditions in order to further develop this 'additional role' for socio-technical spatial design practice.
Jhono Bennett is an architect who works at the University of Johannesburg as a part-time lecturer and Independent researcher, while managing the operations of 1:1 — Agency of Engagement, a non-profit entity which he co-founded to provide a design-based collaborative service between grassroots organizations, professionals, academia, and government.
Marie Huchzermeyer — Masters Program in Housing at the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)
Internationally, there has been unprecedented focus on 'slums' in the new millennium. In southern African cities, informal settlements are certainly a concern, although in Anglophone countries the legacy of British colonial planning has to some extent kept these settlements out of middle-class sight. Where informal settlements have intruded into visible locations, as for instance in Lusophone Luanda, recent efforts have been made to remove these to the city periphery. In South Africa, a somewhat reverse government discourse targeted 'visible' informal settlements for 'in situ upgrading'. This approach was adopted by the high profile N2 Gateway Project in Cape Town, which originally targeted all informal settlements that lined the motorway from the airport to the historical city centre for upgrading. In the years that followed, this project morphed into the Luandan approach — the removal of visible informal settlements. In the Cape Town case, removal was to a controlled decanting camp on the far side of the airport. Yet the public was told that the commitment remained to 'in situ upgrading'. The term was simply given a new meaning, namely for the state to demolish and then build new housing to modern standard for a different clientele.
With this juxtaposition of informal settlement treatment in Angola and South Africa, I'd like to provoke debate on the core meaning of 'informal settlement upgrading' as well as the political uses associated to the meaning. For me, the essence of in situ upgrading is the recognition of two important points. One is that the unevenly developing economies in southern Africa, in the absence of radical change, will not facilitate the replacement of all informal settlements with planned and fully serviced residential developments for the households currently in these settlements. This recognition prevents 'wishing away' the reality of urban informality. The other is that informal settlements result out of determination, initiative (often collective), creativity, and complex decisions by poor households. These must be respected and supported where possible.
Marie Huchzermeyer convenes and teaches in the masters programme in Housing at the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of the Witwatersrand. This base has allowed her to provide support to rights-based struggles from within informal settlement for 'real' in situ upgrading. Her recent work includes a 2011 book "Cities With 'Slums': From Informal Settlement Eradication to a Right to the City in Africa," and a comparison with Brazil in a 2004 book, "Unlawful Occupation: Informal Settlements and Urban Policy in South Africa and Brazil."