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.