Adopting collective frugality in rethinking, re-planning, re-imagining urban informal settlements

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Submission Summary
Contemporary global urbanization continues to heighten at unprecedented rates. In the global south, cities have been growing rapidly in population size and expanding to form huge metropolis which present manifold development challenges. As the drumbeat about the urgency to address cross-cutting development challenges becomes louder, cities have increasingly adopted and applied the conventional planning toolkit to control and guide urban development. Subsequently, urban plans have been aligned to the stringent standards of the toolkit. Owing to the complexity cities, this approach has turned counter-productive especially for the urban poor, with striking impacts of forced evictions, demolitions, destruction of property and disruption of livelihoods. This substantiates the insufficiency of the conventional planning toolkit to address the slum realities and exacerbates inequality. Against this backdrop an alternative planning approach was adopted in preparation of Mukuru Special Planning Area Integrated Urban Development Plan (Nairobi, Kenya) completed in early 2020. Mukuru; one of the largest of over 150 informal settlements in Kenya and home to more than 100,561 households (301,683 persons –466 persons/acre) had overtime been plagued by an array of pertinent development challenges. While the settlement manifested a staggering number of challenges, it also presented an equal astounding number of unique development opportunities. Cognizant of this, a community-driven settlement profiling approach was initiated in 2016 which yielded an invaluable drive for community action in advocacy towards evidence-based planning. This prompted the local government to declare Mukuru a Special Planning Area. The declaration provided a rare window to influence how slum inventions are designed and implemented not only nationally but globally. A two-year planning process commenced with an aim of improving infrastructure, promoting health, sanitation, public safety, order, and human dignity whilst minimizing displacement and mitigating the (in) direct impacts of developments on the environment. Given the existing conditions, this seemed a rather ambitious goal, unattainable through the conventional planning approaches. An innovative planning approach was requisite. This became the genesis of a people-centered, alternative planning system which I dub the “Collective Frugality in Rethinking, Re-planning, Reimagining urban informal settlements”. The approach was characterized by: collective action of hundreds of Mukuru residents at the heart of the planning process, coalition building with tens of organizations (local government, civil society, academia, and private sector) who were mobilized into 8 consortia built based on the thematic sectors of planning, iterative planning with series of scenario modelling which tested viability of different planning standards and evaluated the social costs and benefits. This approach has developed, refined and demonstrated what the notion of communities-at-the-center-of-planning actually looks like. With no financial resources allocated for plan preparation, this frugal community planning approach was able to successfully produce: alternative planning guidelines for informal settlements, 7 Sector(thematic) Plans and a Mukuru Integrated Development plan which has drawn interest from both local and national government. Notably, had the conventional planning standards been applied, the final plan would have caused 100% displacement of the residents. However, developing a number of iterations based on alternative, practical standards minimized the displacement considerably to 12.53%. Additionally, recent developments have seen the national government invest 1.5 billion Kenya shillings for infrastructure development in Mukuru and has further declared more settlements as Special Planning Areas, with the aim of adopting the alternative all-inclusive planning approach. To attain the global targets i.e. sustainable development goals, and to build health-resilient cities, urban planning practice needs to rethink and understand the organic nature of cities - although conventional standards are instrumental, not all urban contexts can be simply programmed using the conventional tool kit: One size never fits all!
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Submission Type
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6: Creating Healthy and Inclusive Urban Environment
Urban environment and climate change specialist
Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies, Slum Dwellers International- Kenya
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